“Is life a role of the dice? ”

Perhaps I am entering that period in life when good health is becoming more precarious, or maybe it is simply the fate of some whose lives are closely linked with mine. With the New Year, three of my peers are battling cancer. They are friends who have enriched by my life, though not necessarily more than acquaintances with each other. We have worked side by side or raised children together and shared family life.

This is not the first time I have had a run-in with this disease. My parents died of cancer, my mother at a relatively young age and my father after surgeries and therapies became ineffective. I cared for them at the end of their lives and watched as the disease took its toll.
The difference now is that cancer seems to have become more common among friends made in college and colleagues of my generation. Their diagnoses are more visceral than when the battle raged among my parents’ set. We talk on the phone or linger in the restaurant as they share stories of doctor visits and we try to decipher what the coming months will hold for them. They talk of side effects from treatments and adjusting career plans.

The only thing that separates me from them is an unfortunate luck of the draw. It is not a question of selfcare or lifestyle. Their prognoses range from, “assurances of recovery” to “the doctor wished he had detected the tumor four years earlier” and it feels random.

Is life a role of the dice? Honestly, I cannot answer that question. I understand that good health is a temporary condition for all of us. We can only hope to extend it for as long as possible. Life is beautiful, and we fight for more.

I came across a few lines on hope that have resonated with me, written by Father Gregory Boyle. He has been working for thirty years with men and woman caught up in gang violence. He has seen hope lost and reclaimed. He writes,
“Hope is not about some assurance that everything will work out but rather about a confidence that purpose and luminous meaning can be found here, no matter how things unfold.”

Lately, when I pray for and with the suffering, I find myself petitioning less for cures and more for meaning. I find myself choosing my words more carefully when praying over the loved one in the hospital bed, even to the point of keeping a long silence.

It’s not that I have less faith than I did when I entered the ministry so many years ago, it’s that I have been learning how to embrace the life we have been given. Praying is different from wishing, in that wishing is a longing for what we don’t have. Wishing is about incantations, crossing fingers and coming up with potions. Praying, in the words of Julian of Norwich, brings us to an awareness that “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Too often in our grasping, we confuse the two.

In recent weeks I have had some deep bellied laughs with my three friends, and yes, I have either cried with them or gone home and cried. But, the conversations have also been holy and good and without strain. Indeed, at moments, even joyful. To be well is the best that I could ask for them, and for that God has always answered our prayers.

“Be well,” my dear friends, “in all manner of things be well.”