My October 2011 diagnosis with uterine cancer has triggered in me a number of fundamental changes. Before cancer, I was conscious of my own mortality, but not worried about it. I figured that I had time to get my life in order. I had some goals. I wanted to accomplish some things before I died. I wrote those goals on an index card and stuck that card to the computer monitor on my desk. I wanted to enjoy time with family and friends. I wanted to publish a book. I wanted to teach full-time. I wanted to live by water. I have no idea what happened to that index card, but my goals have changed.
I want to live longer than five years without cancer returning so that I can feel that I have put it behind me. I want to forgive some people against whom I have harbored a grudge. I want to be forgiven for wrongs that I have done. I want to forgive myself for not having been the person I might have been if I had been stronger or kinder or smarter or somehow better. I don’t need an index card to keep those goals front and center.
Before cancer, I had very little experience with physical pain. Now it is a part of my day. When it began, the pain was sometimes a tidal wave that drowned me. I spent many days and nights crying out in pain, pleading to God for relief from it. Over time it has ebbed quite a bit. In the aftermath of that experience, I have had to figure out ways to deal with pain rather than let it overcome me. I stopped keeping a journal that tracked my pain so that it no longer preoccupied my every hour. This helped me to change my focus from suffering to healing. I have hope that healing is taking place. I would like to help others heal, too.
I have let go of some old grudges. I am at work on letting go of a few more. That has proven to be rewarding. If you are angry with someone, then I highly recommend resolving to “get over it.” A grudge is remarkably similar to pain. It commands my attention and saps my energy so that less is available for more critical activities. Giving up on grudges means that, when I sit down to count the many blessings in my life, I no longer haul out some of those, “if onlys” or “but fors” that leave me feeling less than happy with how things are today. Now that I have given up some old grudges I find myself much happier with the way things are. I feel better today about many things than I did before was diagnosed with cancer.
The people against whom I have held grudges have not had to do anything to obtain these releases. It feels good to let the grudges go rather than to treat them like accounts against which I need to collect. I won’t embarass anyone if I tell you about a few of the silly grudges I have held. You will have to trust me that some were not as easy to give up but their release has made me feel much better.
[I set out to write this paragraph and realized that no petty grudges came to mind. The great thing about having let them go is that I now have to struggle to recall them. I then decided that I was happier not trying to recall them for this blog.]
I want to be forgiven for wrongs I have done to others. In some cases the people I fear that I have hurt are no longer here to hear my apologies. I apologize anyway. I have not led a perfect life. My chief errors involve not taking enough time for certain important tasks, not exercising enough patience with others’ human frailties, and caring way too much about how I am perceived instead of how I behave.
One of my failings has been to over manage situations. I like to fix things and, in my rush to get things done, I sometimes am quick to offer solutions and then consider a matter finished. I try now to listen more before rushing to offer solutions. There are times people want my help. There are times when people just want to speak. I can make time to listen. I am perceiving a much larger world by listening to others before telling them what to do (not that I have been all that successful at managing to stop telling people what to do).
I don’t think there is a person in my family who is reluctant to care for others with human frailties. My dad used to open the doors to anyone in need of help. During the great Chicago snowstorm of 1967 my dad realized that some of the electricians that worked for him were stranded at a nearby job. He got them and brought them to our home. They stayed with us for several days. It was uncomfortable. The snow was so deep and none of our “guests” lifted a hand with snow shoveling. My mom was keeping their stomachs full, but we needed some essentials to do that. My dad was the one who trudged to a store with a sled and then dragged the sled back. My mom has volunteered her services to Meals on Wheels, SeniorNet (where she taught seniors to operate computers), and the Kenneth Young Center (where she still performs clerical tasks at the local center for people in need of social services). My sister makes quilts for injured soldiers and for sick children. She and her husband Jeff travel around making presentations to young men and women returning from the wars overseas. My brother is always fixing things for people. I do that as well, although not with a screwdriver or a hammer.
After all the wonderful support I received during those first six months after my diagnosis, I am working hard to “give back” in any way I can to the community. It is not enough yet, but I will keep looking for ways to help others if I can. Some days all I manage is to share encouragement, but I am committed to the principle that one of the greatest measures of justice is mercy. I do not want to be judging any more than I want to be grudging. I want to give with renewed freedom.
It is going to cost me sometimes to be a better person. There are times when it would be easier to sit by and watch bad things happen to others. I hope that I will always have the courage to do the right thing and say the right thing. And, if I fail, I hope that I will make amends. That’s what I most want to do with the time I have here. In the wake of experiencing a catastrophic disease, I am humbled and grateful. I see more purpose than ever in earning forgiveness.