As promised in my last post about some of the more unhelpful (though semi-entertaining) things people said to me during cancer, this week I wanted to share what was conversely very helpful, but as I started writing and compiling everything, the post was becoming too long. So, this is the first in a short installment of posts on being present in the struggle.
The idea of “presence,” of people simply being with others in the struggle and alongside the struggle, has come up in many of the readings for my graduate courses both last semester and this spring semester. (Sidenote: by “presence,” I don’t mean “presents”…although the chemo day care packages my aunts sent me were pretty great alternatives to people tritely saying the wrong thing!)
In honor of the Winter Olympics, I thought I’d share with you my top three favorite things people told me when I was going through cancer…and by that, I mean these are the three statements that were meant comfortingly but probably should have just been replaced by a hug and silence.
Lest this sound too cynical, know that I understand these words were spoken from sincerity and out of a loss for the right words to say, so I’m not bitter at all. However, there are times when, if you don’t know what to say, sometimes it’s just best to admit that and give someone a hug (but more on that in my next post!).
So, here we go with the bronze, silver, and gold of my favorite things people said followed by my (sarcastic and internal) response.
I started graduate school in August and have been meeting many new people as a result. Just as I moved to Hawaii a couple months after I finished chemotherapy and found myself having to explain a lot of my back-story to the new faces I encountered, so now I find myself having to give a lot of context as to why things have been a bit busy…because I happened to write a book that also just happened to come out in the fall. People frequently ask me why I decided to write a book, and though I often doubted my reasons along the way—thinking there was a good chance I was legitimately going crazy—I’ve had two main reasons.
I was reminded of the first reason when I read something by Parker Palmer for one of my grad school classes. In his book Let Your Life Speak, Palmer explains his reasons for writing about his experience with depression, and I resonated with his words. Here’s what he says:
“…my depression was largely situational. I will tell the truth about it as far as I am able. But what is true for me is not necessarily true for others. I am not writing a prescription—I am simply telling my story. If it illumines your story, or the story of someone you care about, I will be grateful. If it helps you or someone you care about turn suffering into guidance for vocation, I will be more grateful still.”