Friday, December 21, 2012

Waiting Room Advent

“Joyfully participate in the sorrows of life.”  -- Buddhist saying

We are in the season of Advent, a time for waiting.  I’m spending this first day of winter waiting in a hospital cafeteria.  My wife Kathleen is enduring her third medical test in the last week to determine if her cancer has returned and metastasized in her bones.   One out of four breast cancers move to the bones where it is, in Elizabeth Edwards’ words, “treatable not curable.”   Since Kathleen has had breast cancer twice in the last 18 years I am afraid to know her odds.

The first time Kathleen got cancer in 1994 I blurted out something cliched that was probably not the right thing to say at the time, but I believed to be true.  “This is going to be one of the best things that ever happened to us.”  My terrified wife didn’t yell at me or punch me out.  We held each other and in time discovered that much good can come from the fears of having a potentially terminal illness. 

I haven’t been inclined to say those words in the last week.  Waiting in hospitals and doctors’ offices for news about tests which will determine how your life will - or will not - unfold isn’t my idea of holiday fun.  It is hard to remember the hope, love, joy and peace that each Advent candle represents when thoughts and fears of cancer’s possible return fill one’s head.  And yet lighting a candle, or four, has a soothing effect on our spirit and soul.  There is some comfort in knowing we aren’t the first to wait for news we may or may not hear.  There is much comfort in knowing that others are lighting candles too - not only for our worries and fears but for those worries and fears even farther away.  

The Buddhist saying above is a mantra that I have tried to own as a motto for my life for many, many years.  They are words that are easier to say and live when happiness and joy are abundant; not so much when illness and death are in the air.  The sorrows of life are devastating at times.  They can seem overwhelming, but the waiting, the expectation of them, often worse.  Especially in a hospital waiting room where it is easy to forget the healing and life that is also in the air.

Light a candle and wait.  Sometimes that is all we can do.  Joyfully?  Maybe not.  But hope, love, joy and peace are always around.  Sorrow too.  It is the price we pay for life.  One of the best things that ever happened to us.