She was from Lebanon, a woman who spoke Arabic as her native tongue, but also fluent English that you can’t fault, and in a high school in Australia she taught French. I guess a little like the backstory of someone you would expect to see in a romantic drama. “I have four children,” she said, “Sixteen, fourteen, twelve, and ten. The first two, they were conceived with IVF, and the two younger ones, naturally. They are like little plants, so precious to me, as I watch them grow,” she gestured her hands upwards with a smile, but her smile quickly dropped, “… I don’t want to die.”
“That is what we’re trying to do,” Joan replied Nora, “to control this disease as much as we can, and give you relief from symptoms, so that you can do the things you want to, for as long as we can… But with how things are going,” Joan said as she looked at the CT scan, “I don’t think I can give you five years…”
A silent gasp. “Five years? Only a minimum of five years?”
Joan bit her teeth. It wasn’t a minimum, but the opposite, rather. “…No,” Joan corrected at a lower tone, “I don’t think I can confidently say even five years…”
“Even less than five years?”
A slow nod. Silence, as what had just been told sank in.
And then she started to weep. Actually weeping. Tissues. Empathic faces from us. She continued to weep. A million confused thoughts fired in her mind.
There in between her sobs, she managed, after a while, to say out loud some of what she was thinking. “Five years…,” she said in broken sentences, “In five years, my eldest son will just be starting university. I want to help him pack, and see him off. And my daughters… I’ll never be able to see them get married?” And she starting weeping again.
Joan reached out her hand to hold Nora’s. “I have a 15 year old daughter. I think I can understand.”
“Oh, may God bless you to be able to live a full life!”
I suppose I’ve held similar conversations enough times to not feel too awkward to be sitting quietly in the room. Of course I might have used slightly different wordings, and surely I don’t have a 15 year old daughter to throw into the conversation.
But just listening in this time, I realised even more profoundly that here was someone with her heart’s desires taken away before her. She can never get them now. They are, from now on, not hers to even daydream about when she so fancies to, anymore. Not ever, forever.
I immediately thought of some of my experiences, and the experiences of my friends around me. They can’t compare with Nora’s, but at least I think I can relate a little, and I think the underlying issue might be similar. Also, what are we assigning saviour-like attributes to?
Recently I met up with a friend who had completed university several years ago, who is getting older, but still unable to find a stable, proper job. Imagine his suffering in this current modern society. And another friend who had broken up only recently with his long-time girlfriend. He had “I’m so hurting” written all over him. And a couple who has had a miscarriage. They were grieving over a lost one that could have been. Flowers from their friends and family graced their kitchen and living room. (I will understand if you conclude that you would rather avoid being my friend lest some misfortune befalls you!)
More and more I am convinced that it is crucial to develop a proper, correct theology of suffering, now. And I wish, somewhere in my subconscious too I suppose, that I could do more of standing by people and say, “It’s okay, I’m here with you,” as Jesus did and does.
I have been feeling quite fatigued from work, so I took a week off. People at work were surprised that I did this — I guess I should take more time off!
And it was so good. The rest was incredible, and coupled with glorious weather, I enjoyed every moment of it. I woke up to the rays of sunshine and had coffee with good music. Read books that warmed my heart and made me smile. Went to a park and watched kids play. Visited the gym since a long while and worked up a good sweat on the tireless treadmill. Played a bit of the piano — something like a familiar friend whom I find safe and comfortable expressing myself to, who has listened to me through my growing up, but neglected by me for a long time now (you can see I’m being very poetic here). Caught up with friends for brunch in a tucked-away alley, and lunch in a slumberous restaurant. It seemed like my hard work in the recent months — the waking up to the stars when the city was still asleep, and late tram trips back home still thinking about work — has been worth it for this week of rest.
And I wondered if this could be a foretaste of how it would feel to enter the future rest that Hebrews chapter 4 talks about. A glorious rest, after this journey on earth, fighting the good fight, walking the narrow road, splinters and all, sometimes feeling so tired, sometimes finding it so difficult. Painfully pruned, and pressing on, we are on our way home. And as Paul wrote in his letter to the Roman church, “I consider the sufferings of this present time not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
For the longest time I couldn’t work out the details for the background, until one evening walking back home from work I realised I had this view of the Melbourne Star all the while just outside where I live. It looks even more spectacular in a frosty night when its lights don a psychedelic colour coat. Ah the small things in life.