Today has been a day for relaxing and writing. I spent the morning working on a flyer and doing other stuff for the Parliament. I wrote article for "The Western Friend." Then I made lunch for a friend who came for a visit. Finally, I planted some impatiens outside my door. This involved swinging a pick axe and yanking up some spider plants. I made sure I apologize to the plants I was whacking.
Tonight I am going to a free concert at Marina del Rey with Cathleen and Ruth, members of my Meeting. I am looking forward to hearing some Vaugh Williams, Debussy, and Rach's 3rd.
Here's what I wrote in my article, called "Live Your Life as if Everything that Happens is Something you Prayed For: Some Lessons from a Cancer Journey"
I have learned many lessons from [my cancer journey], but I want to share just a few here.
To married couples who have expressed admiration for how Kathleen and I behaved during our cancer journey, I say: Everyone who marries, and is faithful, will probably undergo something similar to what we experienced. When you marry, you make a vow to love someone “in sickness and health, till death do us part.” Sooner or later, you will have to decide whether or not to keep that vow. Not everyone does. Some decide to divorce their spouse, or have an affair, or act in other ways that seem to me deplorable. But if you decide to be faithful, you will have an opportunity to deepen your love in ways beyond imagining. I enjoyed twenty wonderful years of marriage, and in many ways the last year was the best. When my wife had beautiful long hair, it was easy to love her. When she became bald and had a tube sticking out of her chest, it was still easy to love her. As Shakespeare says, “Love does not alter when it alteration finds.” Despite, or perhaps because of our adversities, our love grew stronger. We drew closer to each other, as well as to our family and friends and to God.
I also learned that that our Quaker testimony on community takes on new meaning and importance during a life-threatening illness. It takes a whole community to bring healing and hope to those facing a health crisis or the loss of a loved one. I can’t imagine how anyone could endure such experiences alone, or without some kind of religious faith.
Community can be especially important to those who are unmarried. Our spiritual community can become our spiritual family.
From the very beginning, my meeting set up a care committee to meet with Kathleen and me. Over the course of our cancer journey, this committee visited us at home as well as in the hospital. These visits included times of worship as well as sharing and were enormously helpful.
We also received phone calls, cards, and emails that cheered us up and reminded us that we were not alone. Our caringbrige blog became a way to stay connected with our friends and family on a daily basis.
We took part in a cancer support group at the Wellness Community and become part of the wider cancer community by going to conferences and other events geared towards cancer patients.
I came to know in a new way people who had survived cancer and had life-changing experiences. One of them was Rolene Walker, who survived breast cancer and is now walking from San Diego to Santiago, Chile, spreading a message of environmentalism. Rolene and I have been friends for twenty years. When she heard about Kathleen’s situation, she called us from Mexico City to give us support and encouragement. I was deeply touched.
During this past year, my heart has opened up in new ways to people who are struggling with health issues. I started taking elderly people to the hospital, and listening with more care and attention when people told me of their bouts with sickness.
Little by little I came to understand what “pastoral care” means. Quakers do not have paid pastors, but we nonetheless need to provide pastoral care for each other as we go through life’s challenges. It is helpful to be trained for this role—and many Friends who give pastoral care have been trained as psychologists or social workers. But sometimes experience is the best teacher.
For most of my life as a Friend, I have seen myself primarily as a peace activist. But during the past year, and especially now that my wife has passed on, I also see myself also as a kind of pastor. A pastor is someone who listens compassionately, who cares deeply, and is present for those going through difficult times. This is what I now feel called to do. It is something that I feel many Friends [and others] could also do, if we helped them to discern this gift and to develop it.
You don't need to be a professional to be pastoral: you just need to listen with your whole heart!