I spent yesterday with Bill while he received his first round of chemotherapy. I am determined not to turn Liberating Word into a cancer journal, but, in talking about all of this, Bill remarked, “We are not that special.” I, of course, told him that he is very special, but he is right. We are not alone in this journey with cancer. Hundreds of people have made it or are on it even now.
Many of you have written or posted about your own experiences, and I even have been with some of you when, like Bill, you were told that your time was short. So, even that is not unique; but our specific experience is unique to us. No matter how many people I have sat with, prayed with, counseled, or even loved through cancer, none of them were Bill, so this is different for me. That is true for you, too.
We all try to relate to one another by seeing the other person’s experience through the lens of what we have been through or are going through. That is natural and appropriate; it is how we access the empathy in our hearts and souls. The danger is—and perhaps I should speak only for myself here—the danger is when we draw our empathy from our own experience it suddenly becomes about us.
That can’t be avoided entirely, but we all need to be keenly aware of it. If we are not, what happens is, when someone we love and respect, especially someone whose faith and spirituality we esteem, gets sick or, God forbid, dies, it strikes at the very core of our own faith. If it can happen to them then they must not have been so spiritual after all. If they were then our entire spiritual house of cards is threatened. We get anxious because our world is endangered, and our response to the other person is a projection of our own fears, mortality, or vulnerability.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Ash Wednesday is coming. The church will put ashes on everyone, look us all in the eye, and say, “YOU ARE going to die so deal with it.” Then you might better be able to help others because you aren’t special. Sooner or later we all have to deal with it.
Rev. Michael Piazza