Ten years ago this month, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, an incurable but increasingly manageable cancer of the bone marrow and blood. At diagnosis, the median survival rate was about five years, so I’ve lived far longer than I then had reason to think I would. While the ongoing treatments I receive cause generally unpleasant and occasionally difficult side-effects, they keep the cancer in check. It’s there (here), but at a very low level. I’m thankful.

Over these ten years, I’ve learned, and continue to learn, about living with persistent pain, near-constant fatigue, and hard-to-describe unsteadiness. I stress living, though I’m also learning about dying. We’re all, always, dying-while-living and living while dying. My experiences with cancer merely make me more aware of death’s relentless work and also, mercifully, make me more attentive to life’s steady gifts. Among them are

  • conversation, laughter, tears, prayers, encouragement, food, and drink shared with family and friends;
  • the marvels of music’s range and reach into depths and heights;
  • the magic of well-crafted language;
  • the flying, singing, and color of birds, skittering squirrels, lumbering bears, and the wagging tails and wiggling bodies of most dogs;
  • exploring cities and towns, creek-sides and riversides, mountain trails and valley paths on foot;
  • stillness and silence;
  • healing, even in the absence of curing;
  • reencountering Jesus as friend, stranger, comforter, and confounder;
  • singing with other Jesus-followers, sharing in the Eucharist’s abundance, rehearsing baptism’s wonders, and taking-in benediction’s challenges and strengths; and   
  • rediscovering that God’s love, joy, and grace are life’s source and goal.

I’m also reckoning with the enlivening death of false selves, of illusions, of the illusion that I’ll ever be free from illusions; and of the lethal myths of separateness and independence. I want to want and to cooperate with the dying of my overmastering ego, as the Spirit decenters, displaces, and demotes it.

In the time left to me, however long or brief (thinking I can know is yet another illusion), I intend to live close to the veil, at the threshold, and at the feet of the Ladder upon whom angels descend and ascend. I hope to say what I hear, describe what I see, and offer what I receive because it is good and glad, hopeful and healing.