Dear, dear friends,
I’m going to give you all a little test. I wonder how many of you can remember what you were doing on July 18, 2012. I’ll give you a clue, it was a Wednesday — does that help? OK, here’s another clue, weather was the big news story here in Boston that day. Check out the news report from that day:
Earlier this afternoon, Boston was issued a tornado warning by the National Weather Service, who forecasted severe thunderstorms, torrential rain and heavy winds for Suffolk County until 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. As the storm rolled in, the sky turned nearly black and lightning erupted from the clouds. The city took on a dark, ominous and eerie feeling this afternoon, as many waited in anticipation of the potential tornado in the Boston area.
Do you remember having a “dark, ominous, eerie” feeling that day? I certainly do! In fact, I was having all sorts of feelings, painful feelings, feelings I’d never had before. Feelings I didn’t know I had in me. The overriding feeling was shock, because July 18, 2012 was the day I got the absolutely stunning news that my brain was hosting a tumor. A tumor! That certainly wasn’t part of the plan — and I had plans! Good plans, organized plans. Plans for the new home Paul and I had purchased just six weeks before. Plans for parties and celebrations with our families. Then there were my daughter’s plans. I was gearing up to help Angelique plan out the rest of her academic studies at Haverford College.
I had plans for my parish, Sacred Heart Church in Lexington, where I had recently been elected to the Pastoral Council. We were in the height of summer so, naturally, I was planning for family fun — for trips to the beach, for vacation days in a cottage on Cape Cod, for music, for sunshine, for fireworks. And let’s not forget work. I was actually running ahead of my sales goals and my plan was to make 2012 the year of my ‘big bonus’. Then there was my sales team itself. I was the ‘Queen Bee’. It fell to me to see the “big picture”. I was the one with the plans that actually had a chance to succeed.
So many plans; but brain cancer wasn’t on any of them. Brain cancer was a bit of a curve ball. Even on that very first day I could see that this tumor business was going to put a crimp in my plans; but I wasn’t able (or wasn’t ready) to see that my entire life, my very place in the world — my ‘World of Control’, my modus operandi, was changing completely. Nothing would ever be the same again.
So, my beloved friends, we have arrived today at the anniversary of that most remarkable of days, that ‘dark, ominous and eerie’ day. So, on the occasion of this anniversary, let me propose a toast, a toast to an entire year of battling cancer. Should I wring my hands? Should I curse the heavens and say, “Woe is me”? Is that what you’re expecting? Well, allow me to surprise you!
As I come to the end of the year that has been like no other, I find that I am a changed woman. The Master Planner’s plans have fallen apart, each and every one. I’ve been evicted from my position of control. In fact, now that I’ve been evicted, I’m coming to see that I never really did have control — it was all an illusion — it was all smoke and mirrors. My plans aren’t the plans that matter and they never were. This was the year I figured that one out. For fifty seven years before that I didn’t have a clue!
You’ll laugh, but I swear it’s true. God spoke to me in a dream a few nights ago. He said, “You’ve been asking me ‘why’. You want to know why these things have happened to you. Believe me, it’s all part of the plan; all part of the Grand Design.”
God asked me, “What pained you for all the years of your life? What was the hurt that never could go away? Wasn’t it the feeling that you were unloved? Well, do you feel unloved now? Do you feel as if you’ve been acknowledged by the world? What about respect? Do you feel as if you’re respected, as if you’re a person of value? Do you feel you make a difference in the world? Have you figured out how to love without conditions? Have you learned — finally, after all these years — that you can just sit still and be with me? That’s all you’ve ever needed to do. That’s all I ever wanted — even while you were knocking yourself out trying to do everything.”
It’s a funny thing, you know, to receive a message from God. There’s a feeling of — how shall I say it? — satisfaction. Deep down satisfaction. I’ve always had the idea that I’m being picked on. I kept score of all the ghastly, no-good, unfair, awful, disgusting, heart wrenching things that happened to me, and my ‘scoreboard’ brought me to the conclusion that God had nothing better to do than to kick me around. How come I never kept score of the good things? Let me clarify: I never used to keep score of the good things. These days I see so many things to be grateful for I can’t even keep track of them.
So, I’ve had some bumps along the road of life. Bad bumps. Shit happens. Everyone gets a little good, a little bad. Nobody gets an insurance policy. Tragedy comes along, nobody knows why, and nobody gets to make a cosmic claim for damages. That’s just the way life is, but I’m good with it. When it comes to life I’m nothing but good with it.
Anniversaries are a time for reflection. I’m reflecting on the fact I could never have found this road on my own. I had to get brain cancer. Now, I’m not saying that the brain cancer is a good thing. It certainly didn’t make me a hero or a superhero. It’s just that I’ve become somebody who’s figured out that she has a lot to be grateful for — lots, and lots, and lots.
My heart is open now. Love is there for me to give and, amazingly, it’s there for me to receive. Today I’m going to celebrate what I’ve learned on this journey, and, believe me, I’ve learned what nobody else could possibly have taught or explained to me. I’ve learned that there are amazing people in my life — and my heart is open to all of them. For so long, for so very, very long I was terrified of being alone. No longer. It turns out that, all this time, I never have been alone. Not truly alone. I’ve learned that I’m not being picked out for special punishment. I’ve learned to be grateful for each and every day. To be grateful for even the tiniest things. There’s no denying that bad things come along with the good; but that’s how it is for everyone, and it doesn’t mean I’m being picked on or punished.
I’m no longer afraid of what is going to happen next. There’s a plan. Not my plan, God’s plan. There’s a plan and I’m part of it. I’m here for a reason. I’m not here to stay. Eventually, I’m going to have to leave this world; but the plan is for me to leave this world a better place. The plan is that the people I leave behind can look at my life and figure out something about their own lives — and to learn what a meaningful gift life is.
I’m still outraged by injustices. Homelessness. Hunger. I’m outraged that we care so little about educating our children. I’m outraged that we forget that every child is God’s child. Your child is God’s darling; but so is the child across the street, or across the world. I’m outraged by the extreme consumerism we rely upon to make us forget that we’ve forgotten how to live. I’m outraged at war. I’m outraged that people don’t understand just how important it is to do your job. Yeah, I’m talking to you! Quit looking for excuses and get to work!!
I’m celebrating this anniversary with the two people who mean the most to me on this planet. It’s hard to believe, but this has been a wonderful year, and I pray that God will give me another. But it’s not up to me. I’m praying that my doctors will find the treatment that works for me, treatment that works to stop the tumor from growing. I’m praying for myself, of course; but I’m not just praying for me. I’m praying for everyone who has to face the horror of a glioblastoma. I pray for a cure. I pray that you could be spared.
Finally, I can see that I’ve had a wonderful life. Thank you, God, for taking me on this path. The path I was walking before this adventure ever started was a path that seemed normal enough; but I wasn’t learning what I needed to learn — I needed some remedial teaching.
Dear God, please bless all the good, kind people in this world. Who knew there were so many?
God, please give Paul and Angelique the courage and support they’ll need to walk this walk with me.
That’s prayer enough. I’ve already been given a mountain of gifts, each one more wonderful that the last. My friends, I want you to know that I’m not going to have any ‘whine’ on this anniversary. Just gratitude.
Happy Anniversary to Me!