Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Overwheming Sorrow

First, I recalled myself holding Marmar’s hand with Papa’s arm around my shoulder, his hand on my back as we crossed a tarmac towards the plane.

Fallen Sparrow and I were talking on the phone when I read his and Pentimento’s posts on Lot’s wife. Suddenly I broke into tears. FS has the gift of remaining patiently silent and did so as I fumbled for tissues and then told him that reading the two posts, was causing me to flashback to my early childhood in Brazil. I said, “It never occurred to me until this moment how much my mother lost in leaving her home.”

I recalled Marmar and myself being escorted from Grandp√©re’s office to another room. We passed Ti Eduardo’s body. Ti lay face up on the tile floor. Blood covered the top of his head and his chest. His beautiful, brown eyes stared, sightless at the ceiling. He did not move. I wanted to stop, to take in this sight, to touch him, to understand this incomprehensible thing.

Marmar spoke one word: “Walk.” I walked, my hand in hers, incomprehensibility left behind. Alone with her in a sitting room, Marmar pulled me close as she sank into a chair. I stood between her knees, her arms circling me. She broke down crying and groaning. More incomprehensibility. I did not cry.

When Papa came in he held us both. Marmar cried. Perhaps Papa did as well. I don’t remember. I did not cry. At some point I needed to use a toilet. We were not allowed to leave the room. Papa emptied a vase and held it for me. I wet my sock. I did not speak – only pointed at the sock and cried. Papa removed the wet thing and dried my foot with his handkerchief. He held me and Marmar again as we cried: she for her father and brother, I because of my wet sock.

When the angel of the Lord commands Lot and his family not to look back, I do not think he is creating a supreme test to determine whether they will be faithful. Instead, he seeks to protect them from a horror they cannot encompass. He warns them so as to save them from the becoming enmeshed in the destruction that befalls the cities on the plain.

Some things are too big for us. Some losses so great, they will destroy us. Some experiences so fraught with destruction, that only by God’s grace can we avoid being engulfed too. We have been created to shut down emotionally, to be unable to take in that which is overwhelming. But that very act of shutting down can become destruction if there is no awakening: when Lot’s wife looks back, what she sees is so overwhelming she becomes “pure, distilled tear-stuff, the physical manifestation of sorrow." But for the grace of God, beginning with Marmar’s command to “walk” which pulled me away from the devastation, to a wet sock – a comprehensible reason to cry, to this day when that devastation has taught me to forgive, that fate could have been mine.

On the feast day of “St. Maximilian Kolbe" I found myself realizing that he too faced the overwhelming. Being condemned to starvation in a lightless bunker drove one man to desperation; Fr. Kolbe offered to take his place. How look into the face of those who have lost their humanity so badly that they can starve ten men to death? How face such utter sorrow? God gave him immense grace at that moment and during the ensuing days.

I think I can better understand the apostles who fled the crucifixion. In all history, that must have been the greatest horror anyone could have faced. How look on the sight of the man you know to be God being tortured and killed by those he came to save? How survive that? Sanity would drive them to hide, to believe they had perhaps been mistaken. But those who stayed – his Mother, John, the other Mary - those who bore it without being utterly destroyed, we know they received tremendous grace, were given the ability to see him die without becoming “the physical manifestation of sorrow.”

His grace is real, overcomes the most devastating sorrow. None of the ugliness in this world, not even the horrors men release on each other can impede the grace that is ours through Christ. And perhaps, one day we will meet Lot’s wife whose utter sorrow will have been transformed into absolute joy by the sight of His overwhelming love.

(I intended this post for last week but Humira, a fancy name for chemo in a cuter package, combined w/ methotrexate (another type of chemo) leaves me more exhausted so it takes me longer to get things done. Que sera!)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Work of Charity In Our World

Since I'm home most mornings (I try to plan drs' appts, errands, etc. later in the day), I've been reading the short form of morning prayer from Magnificat. This morning I was struck by the words:

"As we leave the work of prayer for the work of charity in our world..."


The work of charity in our world often seems to be a job - something beyond the stregth of the busy, the ill, the average person. We imagine such works will always be difficult employment. We forget that the smallest tasks are the most difficult to do, the easiest to ignore or discount. But the work of charity in our world actually consists in hundreds of ordinary gestures such as reigning in our tempers, helping a sick friend with laundry, flirting with a baby, showing a bit of cheerfulness, helping an over-loaded mother onto the bus, being appropriately outraged when a bus driver zooms off while a frail person is still trying to climb the steps, even just saying "Excuse me" instead of fuming because someone is blocking the path. Those tiny gestures always expose us to other people as Jesus exposed himself on the Cross even if they cause no physical or emotional pain. They simply take us outside ourselves, outside the private shells we erect when we leave for the day and make us more like Christ. They're never beyond the strength of the weakest nor do they prevent us from fulfilling our real jobs.

God is so kind. He has made each moment full of opportunities to love others as He loves us. He has not made love too dificult for anyone: the cross is always bespoke, custom fit. It's the accessory that no man or woman should ever be without.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Potentially Magic Medicine

It's called a TNF inhibitor and is ultimately another form of chemo. I'm already taking methotrexate which is also a form of chemo. The medical cadre agree that it's going in the right direction - they disagree on whether this is the right treatment as well as on exactly what they're treating but all say it's the right direction.

The amazing one is my internist who tells me this may not work but that he knows I'll be okay making it through the next six weeks while we give it a try. He has come to know me over the past five years and is certain that even if I continue to be in pain, I will be okay. Doctors who trust me are not my part of my usual experience. My rheumatologist didn't believe I was seriously ill even though she was prescribing stronger and stronger doses of methotrexate and more and more pain medication until I broke down and was weeping so hard she couldn't make out what I was saying. And still, on the forms she rates me as "moderately ill." 'Tis a wonder.

I am so grateful that God led me to my internist - he's a hematologist/medical oncologist. His specialty is another wonderful thing because even though I don't have cancer, the treatments for serious rheumatological diseases and cancer are the same. And he's an expert! (And, because I'm more susceptible to certain cancers, he watches me like a hawk.)

God is very good. Very, very good. And my internist is right. I will be okay because I'm okay now. Had you asked me two years ago if I could withstand this amount of pain, I'd have said, "No f---ing way!" (And I would have actually used the "f" word - I'd have believed it appropriate.) Yet here I am, in constant pain with episodes of unbelievably intense pain along all sorts of other lovely experiences. (I'll have to remember to write about being hungry much of the time and the Ambien: "I want my lemon bars" experience.) My life is full of joy and laughter and great friends and lovely discoveries (I'll also have to write about shopping for heels while recovering from anaesthesia). There are so many prayers going up to God for me. Thank you all so much - your prayers are such lovely gifts. And there's suffering which God is combining with the suffering of others to fashion the perfect medicine to heal some horrid brokenness in the hearts of my brothers and sisters – medicine that is gloriously efficacious; perhaps a few others who don't know him are coming to know him partly because of my experience.

I hope the new medication works. Whether it does or not, God is very, very good and I am very, very fortunate.