Thursday, April 09, 2009

Not About Me

In the past eight months I've witnessed the deaths of my father and my mother-in-law, I've lost my job, and I've wondered if my marriage was going to survive. Yesterday I learned that my baby sister Libby (and it's hard not to think in those terms; I remember the day she first arrived in our home) has breast cancer that has spread to both her lungs and her bones. Some of this has been my own (un)doing. Much of it has not. It's just life, and death. But it's been the perfect shitstorm, the kind of nightmare scenario that I couldn't even fathom, and that I certainly didn't want to try to fathom. And here's something I've learned through this hellish process, perhaps the only thing I've learned thus far: it's not about me.

Oh, it affects me. All of it affects me. I'm not a stoic, or worse, some loony Christian who refuses to acknowledge the crap for fear of making some sort of "negative confession" that would sap me of my God juice. And this is some serious crap, certainly the biggest load of desperation and dung ever spread at my feet, and the cumulative effects of these events can sometimes seem crushing and overwhelming. I'm not trying to minimize any of it. But it's not about me.

My default setting -- perhaps all of our default settings -- is to interpret life through the lens of personal experience. How does this affect me? How am I coping? But the world is bigger than that, and God is bigger than that, and while I'm not trying to ignore the impact of these events on my life, I also don't want to get caught up in navel gazing. I also don't want to escape. I want to be fully present to these times, as painful as they are. And I think I have been, and I think I am.

Here's the current score: my father and mother-in-law are buried. I miss my mother-in-law, and experience some sense of relief about my father. My marriage is doing well. I still don't have a job, or any prospects of a job. And my baby sister is in for the fight of her life. Please pray for her, and for her husband Mark and daughter Helen. And if you manage to think about me, I'll be grateful for your prayers. If you don't, don't sweat it. Pray for my sister and her family.


singoutloud said...


...and so we send our prayers to the heavens. peace to you and your family in the midst of this.


Andy Whitman said...

Thanks, Hansi. I appreciate your prayers, and I know my sister does too. It was so good to meet you and Jeremy this past weekend.

Natsthename said...

I am not a praying person, but I send good thoughts your way and I wish you and your sister well in these tough times.

I volunteer with the breast cancer 3-day, and I will add "Libby" to the handwritten list of names of both survivors and souls lost to this awful disease.

mg said...

you have our prayers. i think your perspective in this situation is the right one, even though it is not easy. keep pressing on,

Pilgrim said...

I'm sorry for your sister's diagnosis, Andy. We need faith for these times. Will pray for her, along with others I know who are in various stages of it.

Years ago, I spent a year as an office temporary. I learned to look at most things in this mortal life as temporary,and it helps. It's a journey, but we're moving toward the Permanent.

rob vg-r said...

We'll certainly add our voices to the prayer choir ... peace be with you and yours, Andy.

Darren said...

Because Anne Lamott always says it better than I can:

"Don't get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit. Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible. You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession. Martyrdom can't be beat. While too much exercise works for many people, it doesn't work for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering.

But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won't hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination."

Living the Biblios said...

Your post reminded me of one moment during a seder supper I attended on Maundy Thursday...

We heaped on matza bread some horseradish along with a mixture of apple spices.

Life is often bitter, but even then, God is present.

Andy Whitman said...

Darren, I love that Anne Lamott quote. Thanks for sharing it. I went to church this morning, had my fill of Hallelujah and He is Risens! It's not that I don't believe those things, or find hope in those things. I do. But I was struck by the incongruity, the dissonance, of singing about hope in the midst of some serious sorrow. I want to dwell in the pain, and it's not because I'm some sort of masochist. Far from it, in fact. But I can stand good doses of both softness and illumination.

Unknown said...

Wow Darren....softness and illumination....a bit closer to God I'd say, at least the kind of God I'd want...softness and

Prayers for you and your family Andy... and the economy while I'm at it.

Softness and