Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holding It All In

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate,  and my spirit faints.
Psalm 77:1-3 NRSV

After I had finished treatment, I attended a meditation practice and healing circle. At the end of our practice, we made two circles with our bodies, one facing out and one facing in. We lifted our arms to form a canopy that each of us walked under in turn while the others—mostly women, mostly not-young—sent healing to us.
            The first time I walked in a healing circle, I cried. Yesterday, I saw two women across from me in the circle, tears streaming down their faces. When the circle ended, I went to one of the women, who was still trying to gain control. Not sure whether to risk a hug, I touched her shoulder lightly and asked if she would be all right. “Yes,” she said. “You just hold it all in.” Suddenly I realized what I’d unconsciously willed myself not to see: her thick, lustrous hair was a wig.
            Her words brought everything back: the effort to repress it all, the willing myself not to share, to unburden. “It” varied. Sometimes “it” was fear for my very life or anger that this was happening to sweet, undeserving me. At other times “it” was sadness at the loss of health and the likely shortening of my lifespan. “It” was also a weariness, regardless of how long I slept, deeper than that caused by any all-nighter I’d ever known. And “it” was the way even water, never mind food, had begun to taste bad.
Let’s see—on whom do I want to shove this burden? I knew my friends and family were already worried, praying, and helping. No more burdens for them. My oncologist saw women every day in the same or worse shape, and, as a healthy young man, was blessedly ignorant of cancer’s day-to-day realities. I was also learning that the only people who “got” what I tried to say were those who’d already been there, some of whom were once again struggling with their own health issues, or were second- or third-time chemo patients I met. How could I complain to them?
When I was in college “Take two psalms and call me in the morning” was our prescription for difficulties. I am struck by how perfectly Psalm 77 describes my experience of cancer. Crying, moaning, sleeplessness, feeling cast off, the endless questions: what did I do to bring this on? has God’s love ceased? is God not powerful enough to help?—and then the turn in the psalm, when the writer begins to remember the past mighty deeds of God, to talk himself or herself down from the ledge. We do not need to “hold it all in.” God is big enough to handle our anger, fear, or sorrow. God works wonders, the psalmist reminds us; not, perhaps, the spontaneous and permanent remission we want, but wonders we could not have imagined before becoming a cancer-dancer.

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