Monday, May 28, 2007

May 28, 2007 - A Humbling Experience

Cancer is a humbling experience.

I'm not talking about the sort of humility that's associated with standing before a crowd at an awards ceremony and saying, "Aw, shucks, lots of other people deserve this coveted award more than me." That sort of humility is usually considered a virtue – although one that, for obvious reasons, is impossible to brag about.

No, I'm talking about the word "humble," used as a verb. To humble others is to force them to their knees, even against their will. Sometimes we can be said to humble ourselves, but the verb ordinarily refers to forcing someone else's compliance.

It's a pretty good word to describe what cancer does. Cancer doesn't necessarily make you humble, in the virtuous sense. A person with cancer is no more likely than anyone else to give the spotlight over to a competitor. Some cancer survivors may count that sort of humility as one of life's learnings, but it hasn't been that way for me, at least not yet.

"Humble" has its roots in the Latin humus, which means soil or earth. What cancer does is place two firm, gauntleted hands on your shoulders and press you down to the ground. Then, it rubs your face in the dirt. It matters not whether this journey from independence to subservience is undertaken willingly. It's going to happen, regardless. Cancer doesn't care. It's one of life's brute forces.

I'm thinking that way as I imagine my calendar for the next few months. I've got many things to do, some of which I've been planning for quite some time: weddings to perform, a trip with Claire to a national Presbyterian pastors' conference, a family trek to North Carolina to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday, my vacation. I've been looking to spend as much of my summer vacation as I can at our little house in the Adirondacks, six and a half hours' drive from home, and – incidentally – my doctors. In a couple of weeks, though, I'll be going under the knife, and that biopsy could change everything – or then again, it may not. In this awkward, in-between time, there's no way of knowing what the next months are going to look like. And that's humbling.

I suppose this is an experience more familiar to people much older than me. Age fifty is not supposed to be the time of life when you have to think twice about writing something on your calendar for two or three months hence, because you're not sure whether you'll feel up to it. I know some eighty- and ninety-something people who have elevated "one day at a time" to a fine art, living from doctor's appointment to doctor's appointment with graceful abandon, but I'm not there yet. A voice in my head screams, this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

This morning, on one of the websites I often visit as part of my ongoing sermon-preparation process, I come across these lines from a poem by John Bunyan, called, "The Shepherd Boy Sings In The Valley Of Humiliation":

He that is down needs fear no fall,
He that is low, no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.

I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much:
And, Lord, contentment still I crave,
Because Thou savest such.

It's true, when you're on the bottom rung of the ladder, you can't fall very far. But, you can't look around and see all that much, either. All of us crave contentment. The trick is, finding it at ground level, with our faces in the humus.

1 comment:

Bryce Lee said...

What you do Carl is you plan anyway.
The disease is there, it's you, I have it albeit
am older than you (61 today May 30)
however I just keep going. So write your futures in the day book, and plan.
Getting your little ole bearded head all confused about futures isn't the way to live and you being a man of the cloth should know all of that.
Darn it, we all do our things our own way, and you know, it all comes out right in the end. You got a wife, two wonderful children, and probably are financially comfortable. I think the term
"Just do it!" applies here as much as anything.

Bryce Lee
Burlington, Ontario
Canada, eh?