Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30, King James Version
I’ve just been reading an article on fish farming in Tanzania in the latest magazine from Heifer International. One fish farmer decides to take seriously his pledge to pass on the gift of fish fingerlings he received; he teaches his blind neighbor to be a fish farmer as well. The blind man recounted that the hardest part was breaking the sun-baked soil to dig a pond. Then he went on to say the other hardest part was hauling the manure without modern tools.
It made me smile, this charming sentence that’s not grammatically correct in English, where hardest is the superlative degree, and two of them are not possible. Then I realized that I could use that to talk about cancer.
Because for me, everything was the other hardest part. The pain that stopped my life, the waiting for surgery, the diagnosis, the port, chemo, losing my hair, discovering a second cancer, the repeated surgeries for that, waiting between appointments to see if the cancers had returned—all of these are the hardest part. For someone as stubborn and independent as I am, even allowing people to help me was the hardest part.
With the ovarian cancer (the dangerous one) in remission for almost four years now, it should be getting easier. In some ways it is, but the fear and dread of recurrence never leave entirely. I’ve seen too many women back for second, third, fourth, fifth rounds of treatment to be complacent or say, “I’ve beaten it.” My gynecologic oncologist says that ovarian cancer is like a dandelion head after it’s past blossom, and that little cancer seeds spread throughout the abdomen like dandelion seeds on the breeze. He’s a thorough man, and so thoroughly washed out my abdominal cavity after the surgery. Still.
It’s Holy Week, when I am supposed to be focusing on the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. I think every bit of it must have been the other hardest part. It didn’t take his knowledge as the Son of God to see what was going to happen. When Jesus proposed going to Bethany, just outside Jerusalem, to heal Lazarus, “doubting” Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).
Jesus never promised us an easy road or a life without burdens. He offered his followers a yoke, the kind they use on oxen. The difference is that this yoke is easy, because he’s the one we’re yoked with, and he carries the heaviest burdens so I don’t have to. When the burden of the other hardest part becomes too heavy, I know I’ve tried to shoulder part of the burden that isn’t mine to carry. And I can set it down.