"Something may come and turn our life around but eventually, we will once again find the sun"
I have several friends and family members who are dealing with varying stages of a cancer diagnosis. Some feel betrayed. After spending a lifetime of right eating, exercise and healthy living, the cancer still prevailed. Or in their minds, their body failed them, or life failed them, or God failed them.
Being a cancer victim, or being related to a cancer victim is a roller-coaster ride of joy and sadness, of faith and doubt, and ultimately of understanding right priorities. Somehow, the 24/7 of Trump news is no longer news worthy. What does matter is holding on tight to those you love; of sending love thoughts to your loved one as she lay sleeping. What matters is sitting quietly in the back yard, just you and your partner soaking in the sun, the warm wind, the scent of spring flowers and enjoying the presence of each other on this earth in this moment.
It is a humbling experience to tell others about this disease that has affected one’s entire family. Tears come easy and frequently. But, so do prayers. I have one family member who has literally hundreds of people praying for her. Her friends, the friends of her spouse, the friends of her children, the people she works with and the networks of friends they know; everyone is offering up prayers for healing and strength; asking God to be with her and her family during this trying time. The prayers are not to remind God of what he should do. I think God knows what to do without us telling him. I believe the prayers are intended to simply remind the one in such pain that they are loved. Over and over again, each prayer is a whisper to the universe that this person is loved by those close to them and by those close to those who are close to them. They are loved by all they touch in life.
The Taoists teach that where there is sadness, there is also joy; that both emotions are the yin and the yang of each other. Of course, there is no joy in cancer. But there is joy in understanding that life is impermanent and that to enjoy it, we must appreciate life’s many joyful small moments. My wife Jennie is starting a batch of sun flowers from seeds planted in soil in an old green plastic ice cube tray that now sits on our kitchen counter next to the window. The little sunflower stalks are just two inches tall, but they know how to find the sun – even at this early stage. When the sun rises, all twelve of the tiny flowers strain to the east to catch its rays. I will turn the tray around so the plants will face west, but slowly they all turn again to the east, tracking the energy of the sunlight. Perhaps these small plants are a metaphor for life. Something may come and turn our life around but eventually, we will once again find the sun.
My friend observed that when talking with others about her cancer, she could quickly identify those who have suffered in some deep fashion and those who have not. Those who have suffered didn’t offer up platitudes. They didn’t pat her arm and tell her everything will turn out alright. They simply hugged her. They asked what she needed and how they could help her. Those who have traveled a journey of pain or sorrow know that what is most needed is a trusted companion; someone to lean on if required.
For my friends and family facing this new life challenge, I have resolved what I am going to do. I am going to let them know they are not alone; that I will be there for them if they want my help. I will let them know they are loved through words and actions. And, I will help them find the sun once again in their life when they are ready to move past the pain.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.