no easy answersNOTE: hubby and i are respectful of all religious beliefs and appreciate all the prayers that have been sent our way. the following is my analysis of a spiritual conflict that we've experienced in the face of hubby's relapse.
let me just begin by stating that neither of us are overtly religious. hubby and i currently do not belong to a church and have not attended regularly anytime in the past five years. hubby has deeper religious roots in his childhood than i do; his family upholds close contact (and almost perfect attendance) at the local united church of christ in the small town where we grew up. i, on the other hand, was baptized lutheran, briefly attended presbyterian during childhood, and took over sunday morning milking duty on the farm when i was 13 so that my mom and dad could go to (another presbyterian) church. after moving to north carolina, my family joined the local united methodist house of worship, in accordance with their apparent belief that the details aren't important as long as you're living to serve the Lord.
i have my own ideas and convictions about many of the subjects that are taught in sunday school, but have always been attempting to find a way to make my ideas fit someone else's system (much like the title character in j. blume's "are you there, god? it's me, margaret"). a brief flirtation with unitarianism in college yielded no benefits as i read about the religion but never found a church to attend. i like my hubby's denomination (the u.c.c. seems to be more progressive than most other protestant sects), but i still don't really feel like i get anything out of going to church when we attend as visitors. i DO fervently believe in treating others as you would like to be treated, no matter what race, class, ethnicity, or sexual preference; doing one's best to take care of our planet and leaving as small of a footprint as possible; and being honest (some people would say to a fault).
this struggle to qualify my belief system with those of my family and peers has become increasingly difficult during our experience with leukemia. the first time that i sincerely questioned the presence of a higher power was the evening that hubby was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit at the pittsburgh children's hospital in 2001. it was 10 pm, and i was alone with him in his regular hospital room when the medical team made the decision to admit him. after he was stabilized (and i spent 30 long minutes in the icu waiting area, feeling very young, vulnerable, and alone) the team told me that i could come in to see him. the usual feeling of relief was quickly replaced by dread as i saw about a dozen tiny bodies, some still in incubators, covered with wires, paddles, drip lines, and swaddled in enough medical tape to hold it all together. hubby was the oldest patient on the floor by at least 14 years (he was 19 at the time). the other kids were too young to even really have a concept of what was happening to them. most of them drifted in and out of consciousness, but those who were awake screamed bloody murder. i will never forget the sound of those screams. at that point, i was thankful that at least hubby was old enough to understand what was happening to him, and ENRAGED that someone, anyone, could let this happen to so many little kids. 'what kind of higher being,' i thought, 'would let this happen to little ones who come into this world with a clean slate?'
and so my religious ambivalence was forever crystallized by that one evening. the pediatric intensive care unit was the closest place to hell that i ever hope to be.
the anger that was formed that evening at the children's hospital still resurfaces occasionally, most notably when i try to think what kind of bad energy hubby or i might have inadvertently put into the world to warrant having leukemia twice before the age of 25.
lately, i've noticed that when many people engage in small talk about a cancer patient, the big guy (or gal) upstairs finds his way into the conversation pretty frequently. the comments range from 'this is all part of god's plan for you two,' to 'cancer is evil at work.' i definitely appreciate the sentiment expressed by those comments, as well as everyone's thoughts and prayers. however anyone wishes to send good energy our way, i will take it, i am NOT picky.
the comments themselves have started to rub me the wrong way a little bit. some people seem to use the 'plan' comment to invalidate the anger and sadness that hubby and i feel sometimes when we're dealing with everything, as in, 'everything will work out, this is god's plan for you.' cancer does NOT make anyone saintly or mean that the afflicted are part of a higher calling. this is a horrible, terrible disease--stop telling me that i should be okay with it 'cause it's part of a plan!!
and while i definitely agree that if there is a devil, he would cause suffering similar to that of a nice strong round of chemotherapy, the 'cancer is evil' comment is loaded. most of the people in the bible who had evil fall on them did something to deserve it (jesus of course being the notable exception). and i'm sure not suggesting that hubby is christ-like. but if someone makes that comment, are they trying to insinuate that perhaps hubby and i are getting punished for our sins a bit earlier than most people do?
posted by amanda @ 5:03 PM