I visited with Robin today. She is dying of metastasized breast cancer. She is a nurse, and so knows at a clinical level, at head level, what is happening to her. She has seen it all more than once. But she is also, now, the patient, and at heart level wants to believe that this time, in her case, it may be, could be, will be different.
She is dual-relational with herself, in other words, trying to find hope, which is to say, remain hopeful, in spite of the terminal evidence she knows all too well. She quotes the percentages on the new prescriptions, the statistics on the next set of treatments, tries to find some comfort in the facts. The recitation rings hollow even to her.
Hope does not come from facts or statistics, I think, but from the ineffable. Still, humans beings what they are, we try to find our way through the darkness by narration, in the accurate reporting of the news. Our counselors tell us that freedom, even control--or a bit of control, anyway (if even that proves ultimately illusory)--is achieved when we can say in no uncertain terms what ails us. Real comfort, though, and real hope, comes not from expositing the obvious but in the telling of what saves us. Such testimony is dappled with fear and trembling--the grammar of salvation, is no certain or "factual" language--but may ring truer than chemistry or calculus.
I read Robin Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation;/ whom shall I fear?/ The Lord is the stronghold of my life;/ of whom shall I be afraid?// When evildoers assail me,/ to devour my flesh,/ my adversaries and foes/ shall stumble and fall.//
"That is deep," she said.
It is the same Psalm I read my friend Karen, about whom I wrote in Praying for Dear Life, as she lay dying of lymphoma. I told Robin that I really think I really do believe what I always say to folk: "Because God is God, and because we are God's children, all is well." I really believe I really believe that, all appearances to the contrary, despite the ways things appear and what we are forced to experience and feel--that "though heaven and earth, the Dow Jones and most relationships, and life itself pass away--all really is well."
It is my prayer that I really have such confidence, which means, I guess, that I am dual-relational with myself--uncertain whether my ministrations will finally minister also to me. In other words, I cannot know whether I truly have the kind of faith I encourage in others till I myself lay dying.
At that point I will know whether the hope I have proclaimed as refuge for Robin and others is refuge for me, an undimmed light in that present darkness. And sometime after that, whether my faith will indeed be sight.