Saturday, March 04, 2006

March 4, 2006 - Seasons

For the past several days, I’ve been laid low with chemotherapy side effects. Nausea, exhaustion, bone pain – I’ve had them all. It’s entirely predictable, but not much easier for having known the side effects were coming.

It occurs to me that I’m living through a whole season of illness. Eighteen weeks of chemotherapy – six treatments, three weeks apart – is about equivalent to an entire season of the year.

The fact that my season of illness coincides with winter seems appropriate. It’s a gray, cold time: a time when I can only hope the arduous treatments are having a positive effect, somewhere deep within. I won’t be able to tell for sure until I have my CT scan in a couple of weeks – and maybe not even then.

In the modern world, the impact of the seasons is mostly blunted by technology. Yet it hasn’t always been that way. In the agricultural economy of generations past, our ancestors had ample experience enduring the long, fallow weeks of winter. This discipline taught them patience. No imported strawberries from the supermarket produce section for them – and no supermarket, either, for that matter. Just last year’s garden produce, floating like scientific specimens in mason jars on the basement shelves, or the root-vegetables moldering in their burlap bags. What meat or fish there may have been was salted or smoked (boiling was the cuisine of choice for that tough fare). As winter advanced, the supplies in the larder grew fewer. There could be weeks of nagging hunger, towards the end of that season of scarcity.

Electricity was, of course, unknown in those days. A kerosene lamp or candles could bravely project an illusion of daytime, allowing an hour or two of squint-eyed reading by the fire, but mostly you just slept through the dark months. When the winter freeze finally ended, and the sun’s warmth returned, there was surely a rejoicing such as we – who grouse about the brief dash from a heated house to a heated car – can scarcely understand.

Whenever in the year it may occur, or at whatever latitude the patient may live, chemotherapy is a wintry season. Life becomes gray, cold and featureless. One day seems much the same as the last, so long as the side-effects persist. If thinking of this experience as a season offers any comfort at all, it’s the realization that, in time, one season will pass into the next and the warmth of the sun will return.

In his own long season of suffering, Job dared to question the Lord as to the meaning of what he was going through. The Almighty’s answer may not seem very satisfying on a philosophical level, for it is mainly a challenge to Job’s right to complain at all:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements – surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?...

Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?...

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?”

(Job 38:4-7, 12-13, 22-23)

I have felt what sort of blast comes forth from “the storehouses of the snow.” I have turned my back to the chill wind, and shivered. While I cannot understand why it is my lot to endure this bitter season, I take some comfort in the awareness that, in due time, another season will arrive to take its place.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry this winter is grey and that the days are feature-less for you. The crocuses (croci?) are blooming just in front of my church parking place. A sign of hope. Seasons do change.


Anonymous said...

I have never thought about the changing of the seasons as you have written, just accepted one changing into the next, and enjoying what each had to bring.Spring is truely just around the corner,the forsythia and the pussy willow buds are showing [my favorites] and the crocuses are bursting upward.Ipray that these early signs of Spring are just around the corner for you, and that you will also burst away from this bleak winter season shortly. Bill