“I’m not sure I’ve seen a Rejoice for a while” a good friend wrote yesterday. Very true. But today is a good day to fix that: I am filling in 12 hours while a derailed train further south is tidied up, and then my train will, hopefully, depart.
It wasn’t exactly writers block that silenced me, I have been tongue-tied, or finger-tied, for several months. I haven’t known what to write because The Miracle, whatever it was, didn’t stick. The dramatic, unbelievable improvement wrought by a little white pill lasted only 5 months. It still does its job, but other breathing symptoms encroached on the newly won ground.
It’s a story I didn’t want to tell. I like to tell a good tale, something triumphant, and I dislike the taste of weakness. And to be honest, it was a story I wasn’t entirely happy to think about either. Last year I convinced myself that I knew what the diagnoses was, believing it to be a treatable condition even though the Neurologist patiently said he didn’t agree. It was a hard landing, to say the least, and yet here I am one year later in a similar trap. I thought I had learned the lesson, but once again I dared to gaze on the promised land of a treatment and a long, capable life. How do we process such disappointment?
Most of us ask: “Why?”
I have a friend who was suddenly incapacitated in his twenties; you may remember meeting him in these pages on occasion. Christopher awoke on an ordinary morning to discover he could no longer use one arm, could not walk, or speak, or to some degree even think. His life is very tough. We talk frequently, Christopher and I, and he says over and again, “Why, … Why?” I often reply that there is no why, all there is, is is. (That’s a tricky little phrase: three ises!). There is no moving on until we embrace the day at hand.
Or we might try: “What if……”
A perilous rumination! What if the miracle drug had shown itself three years ago? Six years ago? What might I have achieved then? I had to deal with a similar trap almost a decade ago when I finally succumbed to a wheelchair: What if a health practitioner had advised that step early in the game? Surely someone amongst the myriad of doctors and therapists involved might have though it worth mentioning. I sometimes think I could even have kept my job.
Events that make no sense are the hardest to deal with. At such times the scale of my disappointment sometimes exposes my dreadful immaturity. If misfortune has some tangental purpose it is far more easily embraced. If a well planned holiday evaporates into thin air hours before you were to leave the disappointment can be overwhelming; but when you discover that a child is ill, or you land a big contract because you stayed at home in your office, it all makes sense; we may even feel grateful for the unwelcome turn of events. Right now I want be on a train, heading home to see two young granddaughters, and their parents, who have been travelling for months; but instead I have just spent a couple of hours with a great friend who lives far from here. He happened to send me a picture of the Harbour Bridge, (a little habit we have when travelling) and we soon realised we were both on trains heading in opposite directions towards Circular Quay. Amazing! Any redemptive purpose makes a world of difference.
Well, so much for the theory. In practice I am holding on tightly to the ground the miracle drug yielded in June last year. Back then I had returned to the recorder consort I play with at the Conservatorium, and although the going has been rather tough a fortnight ago I played a solo passage from the Bach Cello suites on bass recorder in a small concert. Ground worth defending! At long last, in fact on Friday this week, the training for pastoral care practitioners in the local health service begins. I’ve tried four times in recent years to volunteer with the chaplaincy programme – and I shan’t give up now. Ground worth fighting for! I’ve been taking drawing lessons at the art gallery this term, and as proven non-drawer, I’ve been quite surprised with the results.
Ground to be taken! And best of all, perhaps, Teen Girl, with whom I took endless bus-training trips last year is grasping her independence in leaps and bounds. Last week she managed to sneak out of the house one morning without saying goodbye, and found her way to TAFE on two connecting busses without our help. I had rung the TAFE to say she was unwell and wouldn’t be there; and they rang straight back to say, “She’s here!” Riding a wave of success she somehow escaped the house on the next two mornings – with no goodbye – and found her way to a different location completely unaided. “But that’s what teenagers do!” she told me on the phone last night, and we couldn’t be more proud. And she and I have more ground to conquer yet
I wonder, sometimes, if the trials that make no sense are a test of trust: if there is nothing to placate our loss, no hidden purpose, what then do we believe?
*All there is, is is. Well, perhaps “is” isn’t ALL there is……
Post Script. (Optional further reading).
The twelve hour delay in Sydney was fourteen in the end, but I am now onboard the homeward overnight train. When I was at university the night train was called, for reasons I can’t recall, “The Rattler”. Probably because it rattled. It stopped at every little town and siding, or in the middle of nowhere for who knew what; and it took forever. The preferred place to sleep, if you could find an empty one, was the overhead luggage rack. If you could climb up and wind yourself in under the hanging brackets (which at 6’7” was always a trick), you could get a good nap. It had a nice comfortable curve to it, the luggage rack. Which has nothing at all to do with my post script.
I attempt on most mornings to copy a thought provoking quote into my journal, and I come back to chew it over again at some point, often late at night. Quotes come more often than not from Scripture; but others come from books, poetry, films, or something from a conversation or from the radio: whatever grabs my attention. For some reason I decided last night what I was going to write in the morning. While I was packing for an early morning rush to the station some little underused bit of brain had selected a familiar New Testament passage, one that I love dearly. This is it, make of it what you will:
Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I will say Rejoice.
(You can see the appeal, can’t you?)
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Any thoughts to share with me?