For you have rescued me from every trouble, and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.
Psalm 54:7 Book of Common Prayer
At a recent check-up for one of my cancers, only two “miniscule” spots showed up; my oncologist decided to ignore them for now. I am thinking of myself as being rescued, my cancer cell foes in ruin. I still consider myself to be in remission. This morning, I suddenly visualized the word remission as a steel bridge, one of those fancy nineteenth–century bridges that worked curlicues into the design: the humps of the m and n, the curves of the s’s, the rounded o.
To drive from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula to Key West, one drives on a two-lane highway that includes the Seven-Mile Bridge. It’s easy to panic on that bridge, especially driving a van with high school students traveling to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home, as I did several times. The water stretched on both sides; in the mid-1970s, there were stretches of it without guardrails. But it got us where we were going.
To me and to my friends with cancer, remission is a blessed word. It’s not the final destination, though. It’s a way to be between here and there, whether there is another recurrence, complete healing, or death. It’s a span over the water of our lives with cancer. Because the cancer is there, just as the water under a bridge is there. Cancer is the fact we live with, even when we choose to ignore it.
In Morning and Evening Prayer Rite I, the formula that the priest uses to pronounce forgiveness after we confess our sins includes the words “grant you absolution and remission of all your sins.” We don’t do much remitting any more. It’s a term from Latin; it means “to send back,” and that’s a great thing to do with money (the original context) or sin. The third meaning in my Merriam-Webster is the definition I love—relax. When we are in remission, we relax a bit, enjoy the scenery, which is blessedly free from chemo, surgery, radiation, blood work, scans, and scopes. We take deep breaths, feel again what “normal” might be like, even if what we have is a “new normal.” We allow the sturdy remission bridge to support us over the choppy, white-capped water, and we smile in the sunlight.