Thursday, November 20, 2014

Survivor's guilt

I'm less than a month away from the second anniversary of my surgery.  Woohoo.

I will always be able to remember the anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shootings; the first reports of that mass murder were just coming in while I was in the prep room waiting, I thought, to get resected and spend the rest of my life with a bag attached to my side.  That such was not the case was my pleasant surprise in coming to.

Today (or late last night, depending on your point of view) saw another campus shooting, in the main library of my doctoral alma mater at that.  Those just happen now, and The Powers That Be insist this is somehow necessary for Freedom.

Today was also a memorial service on the seminary campus for a classmate who died last week after a struggle with cancer in the brain.  I knew she was a little older than me, but only found out this week that she was the same age as my youngest sister would have been had she lived.  That sister died about fourteen and a half years ago, from cancer in the brain.  Some of us get virulent, killer cancer.  Some of us get "lucky" with cancer, if the word "lucky" can ever be used with the word "cancer."

Maybe I get it again someday, and am not lucky.  I'm a good candidate to do so someday.  Anyway, I've realized that having been through a major illness like that was going to form a lot of my pastoral care in ways that would have been different if I hadn't gone through it; being on the receiving end of pastoral care was my clinical pastoral education.  I'm now realizing a different aspect of that experience and its less-helpful impact on my potential as a caregiver.

Why did I get the less-destructive, or slower-growing, or otherwise non-fatal cancer?  I get that "the rain falls on the just and the unjust," but some of us sure end up being more drenched than others.  My sister is dead, my classmate is dead, and I have to go to the bathroom inconveniently often.  There's no fairness, no justice even, in that.

This is a headspace that won't work.  At some point, presumably, I'll end up in a call, and I'll have to be pastor to a person dying of cancer, and that headspace won't work.

We are called to minister in a world that still doesn't really have a good grasp on cancer, in the long run, my own recovery notwithstanding.  We are called to minister in a world where too many people treat a sports team as their preferred object of worship.  We live and work and preach in a nation where a little mass murder in the library is The Price of Freedom, and being able to get health care for cancer or a gunshot would or anything else without going into monster debt is a pipe dream.  We live in a world, frankly, where I have to wonder if Jesus would actually last three years of itinerant preaching before getting crucified.

Whether it's my former classmates already serving in a call, or those of us not quite there yet, or those of us who never will quite get there, this is the world.  Frederick Buechner follows that phrase with "Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don't be afraid."  There are days or weeks when seeing the beautiful things is awfully hard in the face of the terrible things, and the last seven or eight days have been such a period, right after coming off a wonderful high point, which somehow seems more devastating.

I'm beyond the age of throwing youthful temper tantrums.  I have things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  I will be grateful for what it is to come.  But there are days when the only prayer I can pray is "Why?" and that's not going to change just because I have a "Rev." in front of my name, presuming we actually get to that point.

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