Who Cares About Your Questions and Your Cancer?

“Someone thinks you are wonderfully mysterious.” (Statement in my fortune cookie today.)
“I have yet to have any human confirm this,” I wrote on social media. I recieved the following replies.

“Someone stole the Count’s fortune cookie, I think.”, Sister-in-Law. 

“Or possibly the Lucky Charms guy. No, wait, that’s “magically delicious.” Which I’m pretty sure you’re also not.”,  Brother-in-Law.

Snopes seems to indicate that the “mysterious” it’s not true. 

Got excited for a minute.

I ventured out into public today. My first big crowd since returning to Canada from West Africa. Drove two hours to Charlottetown for the final day of lectures at a college. Years back it was an annual tradition of mine.

I was able to connect with three or four people in a meaningful way today while weathering the usual questions from a dozen people.

“So you are back?” I’m standing here, so that is an affirmative it seems, right?

“Is it still unsafe over there?”  Yes!

“Are you going back?”

I never know how to answer the last one. Because so much does not depend on me. Each and every year we never know for sure if we can return to Mali. When we do return  to Mali, every single week we are there we have no guarantees we will still be there the next week. This term I have seen some amazing things take place. But also seen some alarming things unfold that I can not go into details about.

Here are a few conversations I had today.

First,  had a conversation with a middle aged woman, who, herself, had a recent  battle with cancer, just found out good friends are entering that very same sickening family struggle. 

The husband has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. There was a first thought that the tumor was found early enough to provide a slim chance to operate with success. But not so, it turns out today. He went from stage one to a stage three, just that quickly. He is living a very short timeline. He has a wife and two children aged six and under. Wow.

Then met a fellow fishing buddy who lives on the opposite end of Prince Edward Island. Like me, he is trying to scrape a living. He arrived to the lectures today, the only day he could manage it too. Glad we both arrived the same day.

We chatted about traps, engine costs, etc. Then he tells me his mom now has pancreatic cancer and is in stage four. I know the lady. What do you say other than you are sorry? Not an easy thing to watch your mom die, and that is where this is headed, quickly.

A third lady shared how her ex-husband, the father of her only children, has stage four lung cancer. One of his children working outside of Canada is flying home to see his dad while he can. The couple had been divorced a long time, she never remarried. You ​can see the pain she carries for her ex-husband and her children’s father.

That blasted cancer.

After my time in the city today I asked myself several questions. I will share only one of those questions here.

What is the most critical kind of person I need to be to offer any good to any person experiencing living stories of this nature?

Do my theological, economic, existential, or philosophical hangups and debates matter much in the face of these struggles, hurts, or life happenings? These realities will change almost everything coming down the pipeline we call life for these people.

These people don’t need ideology, they need a friend, a lot of hope, and a whole lot of help.

I think we talk to people differently when we realize they are hurting, sad, happy, celebrating something grand, or barely making it through a very hard reality, like cancer. 

We understand the humanness of the struggle now, as it could have been, or already has been us, or someone we love. 

I think the reality is most people have this kind of shit, this hard stuff at various phases in their lives.

From cancer, divorce, betrayal, abuse, a child on drugs, death, sickness, depression, drunkenness, violence, or job loss.

Therefore, I should be talking differently most of the time.

I don’t like the way I talk, and most of the talk just doesn’t matter. Most of my talk, my very own questions, don’t matter much in the face of all this sadness and struggle.

Being a canned answer man, spouting platitudes, is not much encouragement to a cancer patient, nor to his family, or her surviving children.  A parent watching their son or daughter wrestle with drugs, finding a meaningful job, a marriage partner, or aware their partner is about to leave, is not asking the same questions.

Most of the stuff we get hung up over in life, is a waste of life. Who cares?

Not to sound crass, but a few questions the lecturer answered from the audience today I said to myself,

“Who Cares?  With all that is going on in our families, and the state of the communities we are part of, is this what we want to ask the lecturer about? I encountered four cancer stories, encroaching death stories,  in the first hour before lectures. That changes what one is seeing and hearing as first importance.”

I admit, I could not handle listening to the, “Who cares?” that kept popping into my head at most questions asked of the lecturer the last hour (The lecturer was great by the way).  So I left thirty minutes into that part.  I was wrong for doing so, and it is more a testament to my failings than the innocent questions people needed answering.

But I had to go have a good bawl in the car, saying out loud, “In the face of families struggling with cancer, drugs, barely survivable wages or marriages, who cares?” When the word cancer is forced into our life, who cares about how some organize their church, leadership, business, profit margins, programs, or board meetings?

I need to apologize, as the questions were good, invited, and were on topic. They had every right to ask what was important to them.   And I have no right to talk like this. I said I don’t like the way I talk…. in my own head, also. This is why.

Cancer changes how we talk, question, answer (or not), spend time, what we talk about, how we are present, what we will do, not do, what we sense as pressing, or not so much any more.

We value life and relationships in a much more precious way, see them as the gift to be treasured, as it should have been all along. After my car bawl, I set down a few more priorities….  Important ones. The least of which is the one dealing with this refrain, “Who cares?” that was popping up in my head all too often today.

The shitty reality is life is TIME STAMPED, with a very short date of expiration for too many today. They are not debating soul sleeping. Nor am I.

“Be compassionate, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Philo of Alexandria


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