They say misery loves company. And admittedly, there are times, when you’re going through something difficult, that it is a relief to come across someone who is sharing that same struggle.
I regularly stumble across the fact that I make a lot of assumptions and inferences. Some are harmless enough but some are really unfair and potentially damaging. Example: for years I assumed that a child causing a ruckus in Target had parents that were lazy and inconsiderate. Then I had a child, lol. And at some point prior to that, also learned about autism, sensory processing disorders and the like. Granted, some parents of kids who act out are lazy, inconsiderate people. But some are crazy-amazing human beings with endless love and patience. They are better people than I am because, honestly, when my kid freaks in public my biggest concern is that people DON’T think I’m inconsiderate or lazy – not what my child’s needs are. Those crazy amazing parents often don’t give a hoot what you think of them – they are sorry to be annoying you, but they mostly are in it for the long haul and they’re focusing on the baby steps of helping their child make his or her way in this difficult, judgy world.
Last night I went to bed anxious that the impending snowstorm was going to wreak havoc on my already cumbersome commute. I fretted about getting enough sleep (I’m coming off of a rough chemo weekend) and leaving early enough to get my Tuesday morning meeting.
Something really cool happened to me yesterday. I got to meet someone who had an impact on my life about one year ago. This was my second year attending the Jubilee Professional conference in Pittsburgh. It’s a conference where really interesting people give blessedly short talks (sorry…typical short attention span of an 80s kid) on matters of faith and vocation. It’s pretty cool stuff. And they have good snacks.
What if I treated you, every day, in every way, like you were the absolute best version of yourself? Like you were really, really awesome. The YOU that God created you to be. The you He is gently pressing you toward?
When you have cancer, some people just come out of the wood work. Of course there are the usual suspects – those family and friends that you know are with you no matter what. But, I am back in touch with some people that I honestly thought I would never hear from again. Some of my friends have become even better friends. Some people I always thought were kind of self-absorbed have really gone out of their way to reach out and show love and care. People who don’t owe me a thing have sent cards, letters and gifts. It’s incredible and I can’t overstate how grateful I am.
But here’s the other thing. Some people…don’t. There are a few people who have become conspicuously absent in the face of this disease. At first, it just hurts. Like…how could so-and-so disappear when I need them most? I mean, what kind of person shrinks into the shadows at a time like this? A selfish person! An uncaring person. A rude, thoughtless, hurtful person.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Because there is definitely a short list of those people for me. And every time I think of them, I am just flabbergasted that they haven’t been around. Some, it was immediate and abrupt. Have not heard a peep since the diagnosis. Others more so kind of have faded away. Again, I’m totally amazed and grateful for the support I have – it is significant and fulfilling and need-meeting and just incredible. But there are little holes in my heart where those absent people should be. People that I thought wanted to “do life together” no matter what.
It’s really kind of crappy to have this illness and the crappy treatment and also have the hurts associated with people who just can’t be bothered. The imperfect human part of my heart is hurt and mad. I want to unfriend them on facebook, say mean things about them and send them a box of dog poop in the mail.
But the Holy Spirit lives in me. And what He has to say is this: People are scared.
People are scared of cancer. Scared of sickness. Chemo. Vomiting. Bald people. (I’m not one of those bald people, but people think I am, especially those who haven’t seen me.) They are scared to see a friend sick and hurting. They are scared to potentially watch someone die. They are scared to get closer to someone who (through no fault of their own, it should be noted) just signed up for a crap load of pain, drama, inconvenience and changes. They are scared to GET CLOSER to someone who MIGHT NOT BE AROUND.
I understand. I know that feeling. I’ve watched someone die. And I definitely was faced with a choice at one point – to get closer even though I knew what the end might look like. And it didn’t end how I wanted it to. It was hard and sad and heartbreaking. It challenged my faith. It made me so sad it felt like pure anguish. BUT…I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. To know that I was there means EVERYTHING. To know I didn’t shy away. I didn’t hide. I didn’t make excuses. I showed up. I brought pumpkin flavored coffee and rubbed feet and held hands and prayed. That doesn’t make me some special person. I’m only saying it because you know what? It made me BETTER. My heart is softer. And bigger. I love MORE because of that experience. I am blessed because I was there. And I would hate myself now if I had made a different choice.
So, if you’re faced with this situation, please consider a few things:
Your friend needs you. They notice you’re not around. TRUST ME. Sometimes us cancer people are forced to lay around and do very little but think, and sometimes our thoughts turn to those we miss.
If you haven’t been around and you think it’s too late now, IT IS NOT.
If you go, and you visit or call or whatever, it might be weird…but it might be FINE. It might be WONDERFUL.
If you bite the bullet and dive in even in the face of fear, you’ll learn a lot of things – what suffering looks like, how to love someone going through something hard, how to think of someone besides yourself, what strengths you have that you didn’t even know you had. How to show love when you are totally incapable of fixing what is wrong.
If you don’t, you will regret it. Whether they get better or not. I mean, seriously?! Do you really want to be that jagoff who ran for the hills at the face of adversity? (It never ends well for that character in the movie.)
And if you’re in the suffering seat – if you have the cancer or the tragedy or the crisis and you feel a little bit abandoned, consider this:
It’s not that they don’t love you. It’s just that they are terrified and they don’t know what to do. Pray for them. Do your best to forgive them and try to understand – they are broken; something inside them is a little wonky and they probably don’t know how to fix it.
And finally, I say to those of you who have dived in head first – with me or with other people that you love – especially if it scared you….you are the heroes. You are a blessing. You have made something terrible much, much easier.
Having cancer really puts things in perspective. You kind of stop sweating the small stuff when you are literally sweating from the chemo-poison raging through your body. Gross, I know.