Monday, March 18, 2013

What I can handle

Chemo week two is in progress.  The "pump" (I don't hear it pumping, but apparently it is) is delivering the last of my chemo cocktail between now and some time Wednesday, and it remains attached to me until then.  It's a bit of a bundle, not large but awkward, and keeps me from sleeping on my right side if nothing else.
It can be a long day in the transfusion chair.  Fortunately, my professors are kind enough to supply me with plenty to do while in that chair.  In my approximately four-and-a-half hour stint there today I read for Old Testament and Sacraments and completed a morning prayer service to lead the week after spring break (and worked Ray Bradbury into it).  Not bad, but not a form of study inducement I recommend.
Today was different from two weeks ago; at least one patient in the transfusion room was not old enough to be my parent.  For the most part they either have company with them, are glued to the TV (the two are not mutually exclusive), or are asleep or trying to sleep.  At least I add variety to the room, I guess.
The thing about being treated for cancer in one area -- the rectum, in my case -- is that the area in question is not, by a long shot, going to be the only one affected by the course of treatment.  My bladder had nothing to do with this and is yet getting freaked out by the treatment, if nothing else than by getting a continuous feed of liquid for four and a half hours every other Monday.  It isn't the only part in that region, either.  It gets a little difficult to keep up with so many body parts in rebellion.
Eating is also becoming an interestingly unpredictable experience.  I truthfully have no idea at this point what will settle well with me and what will create problems.  Fruits have been cooperative so far, but vegetables far more unpredictable.  A nice salad might sound good right now, but only if I can camp out near the bathroom for the following 24-36 hours.  Beans and peas seem to be o.k., but corn is a raging disaster.  Meats seem more or less cooperative, breads problematic at times.  It's an adventure, and not always one I'm ready to handle.
More than once of late I've seen riffing on the horrid platitude that people exchange, in a well-meaning but disastrous way, with those who have been beset by some hardship or tragedy:

"God won't give you more than you can handle."

One such riff is humorous: a Facebook card that adds the sentence "Apparently God thinks I'm a badass."  The other approach, in more than one source, is a sound and well-needed theological debunking and dismantling of the saying itself.
Let's be clear: I am NOT "handling" this, certainly not by myself.  My wife needs to be elevated to sainthood, I don't give a tinker's damn if she isn't Catholic.  Not only is she taking on even more of the everyday things, she's also handling the business side of the cancer, which should be an automatic in for sainthood.  You believe in supporting the poor, Pope Francis?  Get on it.  By the time this is over we will qualify for sure.
Professors have gone out of their way to keep from drowning me and have been far above accommodating.  Fellow students have quietly stepped in to keep me from wiping out of classes when I've had to miss more than once.  My little on-campus job is still there.  The ministry development office has adjusted to my need to change my plans for internship this summer and next year.  Folks at the church(es) we've attended have constantly been there for support.
Hell, no, I'm not "handling" this.  Not even remotely.
It might seem cruel to say that God deliberately does give us more than we can handle (though not nearly as cruel as saying God creates some specifically for eternal torment, and Calvin got away with that), but maybe it's so.  Of course, it isn't a random bit of torture; we are reminded precisely that we cannot handle things by ourselves.  We aren't lone rangers, and those who insist on riding that way are completely divorced from what God wants us to do and how God means for us to live.
We live dependently on our sisters and brothers in Christ.
We do not handle it by ourselves.  We do not "in our own strength confide" to borrow from Luther's hymn.  We do not beat cancer by ourselves, we do not beat unemployment by ourselves, we do not beat prejudice by ourselves, we don't beat anything by ourselves.
And when we aren't the ones being beset by tragedy or hardship, we're supporting and carrying and bailing out our sisters and brothers who are.
And I have just typed about the most anti-American bit of scribble I've done yet in this blog.  We are the land of "rugged individualism" and all that.  This probably explains why we have done such garbage in the name of Christ.
I've railed against establishment Christianity before.  I'll spare you.  But American Christianity had more or less the culture for much of America's history and absolutely squandered it on comfort and power and moralizing.  We don't know how to live dependently on one another.  We don't know how to trust one another that much.  We have no concept of how those Christ-followers lived in Acts 2, and we'd probably be horrified if we did.
I have not "handled" this illness and treatment, not at all.  I've been carried through it.  I've been bailed out.
And that's what living in the body of Christ means.

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