I’ve got something serious I want to talk about today, so no humorous stories this time.
Following my most recent hospital stay, I have had some significant improvement in my overall health. I can now get up and move around the house without trailing thirty feet of oxygen tubing behind me and can walk short distances without a wheelchair. The adjustments to my medications and some antibiotics seem to have helped me quite a bit. I realize that this is just a temporary thing and I don’t expect to have this much freedom forever, but for the moment I’m celebrating.
Conversely, while I’m doing better, I have a good friend who is about to pass on. The pulpit minister of my church, a man I have known for many years, lies in a hospice bed. His doctor’s prognosis is that a day or two more is all that he has left. He has cancer also. While I have renal cell, his is myeloma. Both diagnoses are pretty much a death sentence. Neither can be cured at the present time. The only hope is to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible. We are both the same age. He became aware of his cancer some time before mine was rediscovered, but I estimate we’ve both probably been suffering from our respective diseases for about the same amount of time.
His wife, a professional writer, has been posting progress reports every couple of days on her Facebook page. A fluent and expressive writer, her descriptions of the pain and suffering that they have been going through, the small glimmers of hope, the poignant comments and the encouraging messages from others have been difficult for me to read and often bring anguish and tears. I am about to lose a good friend. This is a man with whom I have shared moments of joy, sorrow, and a joke or two. I’ve helped him with many projects for the church. I’ve seen his family grow up. He has shared many thoughts and anecdotes from the pulpit as well as privately.
And now he is about to leave us. This post is a hard one to write. I want to express my sympathy without getting too maudlin, yet the heartache is real for myself as well as our entire congregation. And I feel a little bit guilty somehow. Why should he be dying while I am doing better? Life is not fair, I realize that, but it seems so unjust. For a man to be struck down in the prime of his life by something out of his control is just wrong on every level. I’m sad, I’m angry, I want to scream “You’re not playing fair, God!” And yet, in the back of my mind lurks a sobering scripture; “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Nobody said life was fair. Just because you live a good, moral life doesn’t mean you’ll be somehow exempt from suffering. No matter how many people you help, no matter how many good things you do, it is what it is. It’s hard to accept, but you can’t get around the reality that life must eventually come to an end whether you’re ready for it or not. And no amount of good deeds is going to change the outcome.
In the face of that fact is that doing good things is a big part of what being a Christian is all about. Walk in the light, not the darkness. Follow the Golden Rule. Love your neighbor as yourself. Turn the other cheek. We trust that it’s not all in vain, that our faith and hope in that which is unseen will be rewarded when we pass on to the other side of the veil. In the end I believe it’s worth it all, you’ll not convince me otherwise. A lifetime of suffering is but a moment when compared to eternity. By the grace of God we endure and are able to face it without fear. I don’t want to rush it, but when he shows up on the doorstep, I plan to look death in the face and say “Bring it on!” And I do believe that’s how my friend will greet him as well.
Death is not the final chapter of life, it's just the end of the prequel.