3 Difficult Things to Learn in a Lifetime
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Life is very difficult no matter what a person’s position in life, young or old, rich or poor, sick or well. Some people do have life conditions thousands of times better than others, no doubt. Even so, life is still difficult. Three difficulties we have to constantly learn to deal with, and yet never master, are feeling our core experiences of life, being able to wait well, and being able to endure the word, “no.” Even though we never fully master these challenges, if we can just do them well, our lives become enriched, no matter our condition.
All three experiences have in them the potential to live fully in the midst of difficulty. Being enriched by the ability to feel core experiences, wait, and endure “no,” allows us to live in the courage of hope. We can hope with high expectations. And at the same time, we can have an acceptance that stops us from confusing expectation with the demand that life go like we wish it would. It won’t.
Whenever I hope for something, I am envisioning something I do not have. Hoping, wishing, wanting, risking, reaching, desiring, thirsting, hungering to have something, someone, or someplace that we do not yet have puts us in a position of fear, a core feeling condition no one seeks. Even as we move towards what we hope for, we will experience waiting, the delay of arrival, the postponement of gratification, the wondering what will happen that could stop fulfillment, the condition no one likes. And even as we wait, we all have known the waiting that turns into a destination of pain. The pain of“no,” the arrival that never comes, the gratification we dreamed that doesn’t occur, and an answer to our wondering we do not like.
When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I said to my urologist, “Well I guess I’m a urology patient now.” He said, “No, you are a cancer patient,” which I did not even remember he had said until Sonya repeated his words afterwards. It didn’t seem real yet. I knew that I could get cancer, knew no special dispensation that would make it not me. Sonya and I know loss, defeat, pain, so the diagnosis carried no pity. Even so, I couldn’t even take in the words, to the point that I had to hear them from Sonya a second time.
Sonya is an artist, among other things. She was working on a series of gifts for people, making blankets for friends and treasured newborns. She would crochet to gather in peace, so to speak, to think, pray for others, offer her love to others, meditate on life as her hands moved, and to get away from things she is powerless over. I do clearly remember seeing the tears in her eyes when she said, “I don’t think they make enough yarn for this one.” This problem was not going away; feeling it, waiting, dealing with the word, “no,” to the hope of the biopsy results, was ours to have.
The doctor told us that we as a team would watch it, do another biopsy later after a time of waiting while checking PSA levels in the blood. At Sonya’s urging we rigorously took on nutritional cures for several months. The PSA continued to climb. Another biopsy was done after months of hoping and working towards a cancer-free change. Cancer remained, and the word “no” to hopes of alternatives was clear. I had surgery, and after months and months, I’m still regaining pre-cancer living. I have had two checkups so far, and today I am cancer free. I’m grateful. Even so, when they call to report the results of the blood draws that I continue to do, my heart rate goes up, and I hold my breath without meaning to. I hope, I fear, I wait for “yes” or “no.”
Cancer has changed our lives, even cancer that was caught in time, a kind of cancer that has great remission rates if caught in time. A friend of a good friend of mine died of prostate cancer the same day I had my own surgery. I know how fortunate I am. Fortunately, too, I had some practice before this latest life event in the core feelings of living; I know the benefits of feeling the truth of my own heart. I’m pretty good at waiting, especially on the big things that include a lot of inescapable dependence on God and others; and I have faced and dealt with a bunch of “no” to hopes.
This time, feeling has brought me closer to others; waiting has become, even more than before, a deepening experience of daily life—we are all waiting; and “no” has become more tolerable because “yes” is so much more gratifying than before. The report of being cancer-free is a “yes” for which I am grateful, having just lived through the “no” to hopeful expectations.
I have been “reduced” more deeply to being human—feeling, waiting, and hearing, “no.” The kind of human that more compassionately grasps peoples’ fear, sadness, loneliness, anger, hurt, shame, guilt, and gladness. The kind of human who knows more deeply the struggle of waiting that pushes me to seek the presence of God in the midst of daily life. Also, I know even more deeply that “no” comes to all of us who hope. At the same time, no matter what the difficulties of life’s struggles, I live in the courage of hope’s eternal reach. I have the hope of high expectations and lowered demands that feeling core experiences, continuing to wait, and enduring “no” can give us.