When I was little, every now and then, my Sunday night feeling escalated to a whole new level. Now I realize it was probably a classic case of pretty serious anxiety, but at the time, I thought it was just me. I remember the feeling of helpless fear; of being so overwhelmed that I didn't know how I'd ever make it to the next minute.
Usually it was thoughts about death that worked me up into this terrible tizzy. I was petrified that my parents were going to die and the thought of losing them suffocated me like a dark, heavy tarp being thrown over my head. I could lie still in my bed, but in my head I was thrashing around under the tarp, trying to figure out why and how and what I should do next; what I could do next. I remember thinking, What if this awful feeling never goes away? But miraculously, it always did, and the next morning, I thought that the worried girl from the night before was a bit of a lunatic.
I remember one of these terrible nights as if it were yesterday. I remember being so embarrassed to tell my parents what I was feeling, so while my Dad watched TV and my Mom read, I asked them a bunch of questions instead. I had probably done the same thing the week before and the week before that. I remember framing my questions in terms of natural disasters, another thing I feared far more than was healthy. Could we ever had a tornado here? A tidal wave? How do you know that it wouldn't wipe away our whole house? Or you?
As a parent myself, now I see the situation so differently than I had before. Now I realize that my parents were probably just trying to decompress after a weekend full of entertaining three young kids. I'm sure they didn't want any deep questions from an anxiety-ridden third-grader. They just wanted to rest.
But my parents are amazing so they reassured me. Tornados and tidal waves don't come to Canton, Massachusetts. We will be fine. We're not going anywhere.
I went away, wishing I was satisfied. But I wasn't, and I remember coming back sometime later. I will never forget what my mother told me.
She said something like, Even if we did die, you would be fine. Human beings are amazingly resilient and they bounce back. You would be OK.
As a parent with a child who asks 30 questions before bed, and 50 questions on nights that we're especially exhausted, I realize that my poor mother was probably just sick of the questions and sick of her more conventional answers not getting me anywhere.
But at the time, her answer absolutely shocked me. How could she even reference death with such nonchalance? Especially the death of the two people that were the center of my entire universe? And how could she ever think that I would be OK if something happened to them? I knew I wouldn't ever be OK, and that was that.
* * *
When one is forced to enter the "kingdom of the sick," he or she meets new people there. I've met new and wonderful people there, or at the very least, I've heard their stories.
For instance, I heard Bridget's story and I've followed Ashley's as if she was my own cousin. Mary, who I knew before my own cancer, became a friend on a whole new level after it, and I still can't believe that I got to be with her at Dana-Farber for her last treatment. As I think about these three tiny women with enormous spirits, I quickly realize something they all have in common. They were (or are) deeply religious.
Talking about religion for me is about as comfortable as putting on a pair of Spanx after a Chinese food buffet. Things don't exactly slide into place. But that doesn't mean that I don't think about it (religion, not Chinese food buffets) often, because I do. Especially now that I have learned about how much it appears to have helped, and continue to help, women that I look up to as so truly remarkable.
But let me be clear -- this post is not about religion. There's no way I'm ready to take on such a weighty topic. This post is, however, about faith. Since I learned that an aggressive form of cancer was silently invading my body, I have not come to be more religious. But I absolutely have become a person of real faith.
My cancer journey has taught me that everyone has, or will have, times when they feel so desperate and scared and helpless that they don't believe they can carry the weight of their own mind or body from one second to the next. When that happens, the only thing to do is surrender. Some people surrender to their God and they ask their God to carry them. From what I've seen, He has.
As I said goodbye to Mary for the last time, I couldn't stop crying. I am so embarrassed to admit it, but at that moment, Mary, unable to even sit up, comforted me. She told me that she trusted God. I could literally feel the peace that her God had brought her. Part of me was so relieved. Another small part was jealous. Still, I cried like a fool.
Lately, as I've battled through some dark times in my own head (I still think every little pain is cancer), I've reminded myself of my own faith. It's not conventional, but it's very real.
I have faith in people. I have faith that they have studied hard to learn about cell biology and that their advances with proteins and antibodies will save my life. I have faith in the teachers who taught them and the books that they read. I have faith that progress is being made every day.
I have faith that the good ultimately outweighs the bad, even though sometimes we may feel like the scales are tipped in the wrong direction. I have faith in the generosity of our loved ones and of complete strangers and of the many people somewhere in between.
I have faith in my doctors, and in the colleagues with whom they discussed my case. I have faith in the laws that they follow. I have faith in the beams that hold up the Yawkey building because I've seen the names spray painted on them and I've seen the love that went into those letters.
I have faith in my family. I have faith in their resiliency, because I've seen their strength; I've seen them fall, and pull themselves back up again. And I've seen such unbelievable resiliency in other families -- in Bridget's family, and in Todd's -- that I believe even more deeply in what my own family is capable of.
I have faith in the music and the literature that carried me through some of my darkest moments. I have faith in friendship -- old and new and undiscovered.
I have faith in love. And I don't believe that it comes along only once (no matter how much Brian hates when I suggest that he would (and should) find someone else if Heaven forbid...).
I have faith in myself -- in my own resiliency; in my body that, for so long, I felt had betrayed me. I have faith in my own mind that has trudged back from the corners of caves to find light again.
And I have faith in miracles. I believe that things happen that we can't explain -- magic -- that may be influenced by something or someone so big (or so small?), so complex (or so simple?) that we could never begin to comprehend it.
I have my doubts, and those times are hard. But I always seem to find a way to bring myself back to my faith in these people and these things -- in the world's absolute beauty, and in my belief that what my Mom told me years ago really is true; that even if my worst nightmare were to come true, everything, everyone that I love really would be OK. Because in spite of it all, human beings really are amazingly resilient. I have the deepest faith in that.