I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot.
Psalm 31: 12
The psalmist is human, and so gets in gloomy moods, just as we do. I think the writer is overstating the case. Today is the day we buried my mother, thirteen years ago; she is not forgotten. I hear her voice often, and the older I grow, the more I understand some of her ways. I find myself apologizing for not grasping sooner the toll age and disease can take on a body or a mind.
As for the broken pot—well, it just depends on what you want it for. If the pot has only one purpose, and it’s too broken for that purpose, then yes, it’s useless. Broken things call forth creativity. I remember in college reading an essay in the Crack-up, a collection of pieces by F. Scott Fitzgerald. He speaks of the uses of a cracked plate, which is how he thought of himself by the time he wrote that essay. You could put leftovers in the fridge on a cracked plate, even if you wouldn’t use it at a company dinner.
Cancer can make us feel, for the moment, forgotten or useless, but only for as long as we allow it. If I’m too tired to do anything requiring physical effort, I can pray for others. That’s not nothing. Even now, in remission, some nights if I have trouble sleeping, I start with friends on the East Coast and move west, praying for them in geographical order. I generally get to sleep by the time I reach the Mississippi. I have friends who knit warm hats and scarves for folks at the local St. Vincent de Paul.
We’re so used to measuring our worth by what we do that we forget to be. We forget that friends and family love us for who we are, not for what we do for them. It’s my mother’s kindness that I miss, her wry sense of humor, her street smarts, her creativity. And yes, her Christmas baking and the roses and tomatoes she tended, but those aren’t the first things that come to mind.
Many years ago, a pastor told me, “If a thing’s valuable enough, you fix it, you don’t throw it away.” He wasn’t talking about broken pots; he was talking about me, in one of the lowest, most difficult times of my life. Jesus said we are valuable to God, more than sparrows, more than broken pots. Cancer does not render us useless; we remain God’s beloved children.