I’ve not written much lately, and a few of you have asked, “Are you okay? We haven’t heard from you in a while.”
The easiest explanation is that time has been scarce. Teaching at the university, serving as Transitional Pastor at a local church, and working on a few other projects and events have jammed my calendar to near-overflowing. During Spring Break, Anita and I went to see our son, Eliot, in Chicago. It was a great trip: we saw Hamilton, celebrated birthdays, savored some of the Art Institute’s treasures, and spent time with Eliot and some of his friends in wonderful restaurants. I wouldn’t trade that trip for the plans I’d originally made to use those days to catch up on work. So, it’s true that time has been in short-supply.
Another reason for scarcer writing is bewilderment. What might I say that would be helpful and meaningful about the swirling and perplexing problems which we face? High school students are more articulate about gun violence than I could ever manage to be. Many commentators and editorialists have thoughtfully, even prophetically, critiqued the hypocrisy of “evangelical” religious leaders who “give mulligans” to a president whose values, policies, and practices simply contradict the teachings of Jesus. Many others have decried the paucity of genuine leadership and moral courage among congressional officeholders. Other than saying “Amen; I agree” with the students, the critics, and the decriers, I’m flummoxed about what to say.
I’m also dealing with “survivor’s confusion” (not the same as, but related to, “survivor’s guilt”).
As most readers know, I’ve been dealing with Multiple Myeloma for a little over four years. For 2½ of those years, I felt terrible most of the time. The disease and the treatments had corrosive effects on my body and mind. I came to edge of death. The losses I sustained, the diminishments I underwent, and the fatigue I felt convinced me that I wouldn’t live much longer.
Feeling the nearness of death, I faced mortality as fully as I could manage.
I left a job for which I didn’t have sufficient physical or emotional energy.
I took stock of what I’d done and hadn’t done. For some of those things I celebrated and gave thanks; for others, I lamented and confessed.
I clarified what I still hoped to do and got in touch with a compelling sense of urgency.
I resolved to be a good steward of my pain and to share with others whatever I could learn from it.
Throughout these years, I’ve prayed along with the refrain of a tender and trenchant song by Audrey Assad:
Bind up these broken bones
Mercy bend and bring me back to life
But not before You show me how to die
No, not before You show me how to die
Because I felt so badly, I focused on: “Not before You show me how to die.”
There are two reasons to learn how to die. One, obviously, is so that we don’t come to the end of our lives with unfinished business, deep regrets, and unexpressed love.
The other is so that we are ready, at last, to live. “Mercy bend and bring me back to life/but not before You show me how to die.”
Until I am, in the language of hospice care, “actively dying.” I’ve been shown as much as I can see about how to die.
Now, mercy is bending and bringing me back to life. I’m surprised to be alive, and I’m so very grateful.
And confused—delighted but confused—because alive is not what I expected to be. I didn’t think I would see my 61st birthday.
The confusion has affected my writing. I don’t want to write about cancer, pain, fatigue, and death, experiences I’ve been writing about for years now.
I’m making my way toward a new point-of-view.
The confusion is clearing. I have an unexpected opportunity to live—who knows for how long?—as fully, mindfully, joyfully, and gratefully as I can manage. I want to write in those ways, too.