Post 47: What I’ve Learned from Blogging Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer
June 12, 2014
This is my last post to this blog. First, as to my health status: my condition, myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative syndrome, is chronic. I will continue to need chemotherapy regularly (see Post 42 for my prognosis and the choices I face).
My purpose in my blog was to share some of the poems in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer and who I am as an individual and writer and publisher of the poems in this collection. I believe I have done that.
I also wanted to express my love as a sojourner for the Montana mountains, valleys and streams where I live my life in gratitude and fullness. I hope I have done that.
I am putting this blog together as a book titled Blogging Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. I am planning to blog my other book of poems, Poems Before and After Yoga, Rice Universe Publishing, 2014. I will continue to post to my blog In the Way of Dogs at WordPress.com.
Earlier durng my life in ministry I wrote a piece called “Waiting for God on a Gurney.” Watching and waiting by their nature are so passive, and we tend to see passivity as an inferior state of being. We tend to value the active person more than we do the passive. When we’re given no choice but to wait in a room or in line, we’re no longer free, in control of our own destiny. We’re like an object, a nonentity, a cipher at someone else’s beck and call.
I learned something important about watching and waiting on the day I was rear-ended in Denver. I was in my last year in seminary and serving as a local pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in northwest Denver. Faith was one of three churches yoked together into a parish, and I had driven to one of the other churches–Berkeley United Methodist Church–to drop something off. It was supposed to be a quick trip. We were busy back at our church with all-church clean up day.
On my way back to Faith, at Sheridan Boulevard and 38th Avenue, I pulled up behind a car for a stoplight. I sat watching and waiting patiently at the wheel, when suddenly a car rammed into me from behind. The other driver and I got out of our cars and looked at the damage. It was mostly to her car. We called for a policeman, who didn’t arrive right away. We watched, as traffic did its best to move around us. Finally, our impatience got the best of us and we drove our cars into the Convenient Store parking lot on the corner. To make this part of the story short, the policeman finally came, ticketed the woman who had run into me, and I was finally free to drive back to Faith Church.
When I got back to Faith Church, the members wanted to know where I had been. “What took you so long?” my wife Joan asked. She was a little annoyed with me. I told what had happened–being rear ended, having to watch as annoyed drivers zoomed around us, watching and waiting for the policeman. I said I was okay, but all thought I was behaving oddly. When they looked at me more closely, they all became worried. I must have jolted my neck. “Whiplash” was the word thrown at me. I was probably in mild shock.
No, I said, I was fine. But everybody–especially Joan–urged me to go to the hospital emergency room. I said I didn’t feel right about abandoning all-church clean up day. Everybody said Go to the hospital and get checked out. They were perfectly capable of finishing all-church clean up day by themselves. So Joan drove me to the Lutheran Medical Center in nearby Wheatridge, where I quickly filled out my paperwork. I thought I would be seen next and would soon be heading back to the church.
Wrong! It was fast becoming a busy afternoon in the ER. I wasn’t bleeding, so every time another ambulance arrived, I was triaged to the back of the line. So there I sat with Joan in the now crowded waiting room, watching and waiting into the late afternoon. Finally a nurse came for me and had me lie on a gurney–one of those carts–and I thought, ahhh! now the doctor will see me and soon I will be home.
Wrong again! The nurse rolled me into a nearby hallway, where I had to watch and wait for an X-ray technician to come and take me to X-ray. I lay there, staring up at the ceiling, watching and waiting for I don’t know what. Other gurneys were wheeled by, bumping into mine and rolling me into the wall. Sorry! the nurse or orderly would say. Sorry!
I thought, This is what it means to be a patient, Christ on a cross. Soon they will be poking a needle into me. I thought of the patients I had been visiting in nursing homes and in the hospital and I suddenly understood something about their situation. I felt like a thing, a piece of meat lying on a cart. I wanted to get up and walk out. There’s nothing wrong with me, I said to myself. I don’t have to put up with this (when the doctor x-rayed and examined me, he simply sent me home for some rest). But I did not get up and walk out. I watched and waited with my thoughts, or as Henri Nouwen might say, I watched and waited with God on my gurney.
What I’ve learned in my current situation is that my experience of waiting for God on a gurney is not exactly the same as waiting for God in a cancer infusion room. There are similarities, and there are insights I gained on that Lutheran Medical Center gurney that still hold. But there is now a startling definiteness to my wait, for there is something wrong with me. Intellectually, I know that some day, later rather than sooner, I will die, as we all must. But now “Time’s winged chariot” is no longer a simple metaphor that I can admire then push out of my mind. I hear it everyday as I live my life with as much zest and gratitude as I am capable of, and I thank God for my wife, children and grandchildren and for each new day the swallows, sparrows and robins nest in our birdhouses and trees.