Thursday, August 28, 2008

August 28, 2008 - The Gift in It

“If I hadn’t been on this journey, I wouldn’t have met some of the people that I have. I put all my faith in God, and every day you just keep going. Having cancer lets me live my life in a different way than I would’ve. There is a gift in it.”

These are the words of Betsy Poehler, a 42-year old breast cancer survivor who was quoted this morning in our local newspaper. Cancer as a gift-giver? It’s a statement that can be hard for someone who hasn’t faced a life-threatening illness to understand. This sort of outlook is more than a breezy, ephemeral optimism. For most people who say such a thing, it’s a costly, hard-won bit of wisdom.

The image that pops into my mind comes from a Greek myth: the well-known story of Pandora’s box. The only thing most people recall about this story is that Pandora, a young woman of insatiable curiosity, opened a box she'd been forbidden to open, whereupon all sorts of bad things came flying out, like bats fleeing a cave at sunset. “Opening Pandora’s box” has come to mean unleashing a cascade of unintended consequences.

Yet, there’s more to the myth than that. The name “Pandora” means “giver of all” (pan means “all,” dora means “gift”). The gods created Pandora, the first woman. They gave her the famous box (actually, a jar in the earliest versions), which they filled with greed, vanity, slander, envy, warfare and all manner of other evils. The cunningly-crafted box had been built strong enough to contain these horrors, but once opened, there was no getting them back. Pandora lifted the lid, and that was that.

Well, not quite. There was one other gift remaining; a bright, golden spirit called Hope. Pandora happened to see it before it could make its escape, and slammed the lid back down, keeping it eternally available to human beings. To this day, hope continues to be a remedy for all the evils and sufferings that continue to roam the world, wreaking misery.

Hope is the unexpected gift many of us discover in the midst of cancer treatment. It’s among our greatest allies in the long march towards healing.


Anonymous said...

I like to think that connection with God doesn't depend on hope -- but on grace. Hope means that you are dependent on conditions being right -- "I hope that my remission continues" or "I hope that they find a cure".

What kind of a god would it be that you can only look to for your hopes to be fulfilled? Isn't God most present when things are hopeless -- telling you it's OK -- your happiness doesn't have to be dependent on this body holding up or your friends being there or your money not running out? That's the kind of faith that passes understanding.

Carl said...

I'm not sure it's true that hope is "dependent on conditions being right." The deepest sense of hope is hope not in external circumstances, but in God - regardless of what happens.

It's all in how the terms are defined.