When someone in my circle dies of cancer, it’s personal. I know it “shouldn’t” be, but it is. On a stone tablet somewhere, etched in painstaking detail, on the side of a mountain, are the rules of life: the shoulds and should nots. At least that’s the way I imagine it. Of course, there is no such place, and the shoulds and should nots are just a part of my imbedded stuff, but they guide my life now just as they did when I was a little girl. Written on that tablet is the rule against making myself the center of the universe. A friend died. It’s not about me. But despite the rule, it’s personal.
It’s personal because the loss of someone I know to cancer, especially someone kind and wonderful, forces me to take inventory. It forces me to ask, “God, why not me?” Someone who just radiated life and warmth; with a child and family is gone. Why not me? And because I’m not one for the easy answer, I can’t content myself with a truism or a platitude. Mingled with my grief is a feeling of unworthiness. Why not me? Most times, I can rationalize my way out of it, but I find it becoming more and more difficult.
Taking stock of my life was easier when I had a role. When I was a pastor. Or a chaplain. When I was doing good work. But now, living with chronic illness and chronic pain, the feeling of unworthiness is difficult to shake. When I had a role, I knew I was paying rent for my place on the planet.
Growing up Black and middle class, it was a value I was taught. Wherever I am, it’s my duty to make that place better. And God knows I embrace it. I always have. That was a should that gave my life meaning. I sang about it as a Girl Scout (“brighten the corner where you are”) and I still believe it’s better to light my one little candle than to stumble in the dark.
But then came cancer, and pulmonary fibrosis, and lupus. Don’t misunderstand me. I have neither lost my faith nor my desire to make the world a better place. But I can’t deny my lungs are wrinkled and stiff, when they should be smooth and pliable. I have a cannula stuck up my nose and a splint on my right hand, and just getting out of the house is hard. But that’s not the difficult part of taking stock.
Taking stock means being truthful, and the truth is, my rent is delinquent. Maybe my, “why not me” is really questioning why I haven’t been evicted. Taking stock is not the comfortable exercise it once was.
Not so long ago, my life made sense to me, even if it made no sense to anyone else. I helped people. I made a difference. But cancer struck, and then pulmonary fibrosis. And then lupus, and now I wonder, will my life ever make sense again? Somebody died, and mixed with my grief are so many emotions. It’s personal. Even if it shouldn’t be.
Have you ever been in a space like this? Do you have some advice for me? I’d love to hear it. Please feel free to share, and don’t hold back. Thanks.