On a Sunday in January, I sat down by a friend of mine. He introduced me to the woman sitting next to him who promptly asked if the past four months had been awful. I thought it an odd question; I had barely learned her name. But she was right. Starting in September, things had been rocky - leading to what had been one of the most challenging periods since my transplants. After letting her know this, I added "It's alright. I've decided 2016 is going to be amazing." "Don't hold your breath." She responded, "I practice Kabbalah and it's a Jubilee year. All sorts of trash is going down before the Jewish year comes to a close this time". I nervously laughed and relegated the conversation to the back of my mind. Later that week I was diagnosed with cancer.
All this is to say that, while I know it's been a challenging time for me and Yoni, I know we're not alone. As our second week of radiation and our second round of chemo come to a close, it's strange how close those challenges are striking. Just this past week, we had a truly lovely dinner with the Mom of Corban's best college buddy along with two sisters and wonderful musicians from DC who are studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Per chance, one of them ended up in the ER for most of the weekend and is back there today with a terrible infection. In the past few months, I've met more people who've dealt with serious medical, emotional, financial or personal problems than I have for a long time. And it's been crazy random. A bunch of friends have had their identities stolen. Another friend's son was diagnosed with autism. A childhood friend randomly died in his sleep of a heart attack. Other friends are facing serious fertility issues - while others are battling different kinds of cancer. Financial challenges, troubles with faith and serious questions about marriages - the list could go on. It's been a crazy few months.
It reminds me a bit of 2008/9 when I had my darkest year on record. My father and grandfather died two months apart. My health deteriorated and I couldn't return to my friends or career in Europe. I received my first transplant and was in a coma for over a month. But I believe hard times can set the stage for the wondrous to unfurl. During my last horrible year, I fell in love for the very first time. That man is now napping beside me. This year, we will have been very happily married for 5 years. Corban and Liberty also found the loves of their lives that year. This year, they'll both bring little boys into the world (Libby's is coming LITERALLY any day now. We're SO excited, I just wish I could be with her!).
So today, when my musician friend texted to tell me she was back in the hospital, I wanted to help. The problem was Yoni and I were supposed to be in the hospital all day for chemo and radiation. We texted back and forth for awhile, until I realized that sometimes we're not able to help how we want to. But maybe we know someone who can be of service. I called my mom, who's in Denver with Libby. Soon, she was on the phone with my friend's mom, the nurses and doctors at the other hospital. She navigates bureaucratic red tape as well or better than anyone and, after a number of hours, was able to help them find the information they needed. It didn't make my friend well. But I hope that at least it let her know she wasn't alone. When Kathy and Cathy, an old and new friend from Cleveland opened their homes to me and my family here in Cleveland, they let me know that they're with me. When I opened the teas from Mary, the sweets from Libby, Katie and Jon, the beads from Corban, Kimber, Mercina, Mom, Glorianna and Narae, the shoes from Shiloh, the paints from Dulcia and Mimo, the coloring books from Kizzy, Emily, Glorianna, the Swetts and the Dorons, the stained glass from Eva, the jewelry from Lori, the bread from Elaine and Nancy, the dinners from Mary Joy and Jovy, the sweets from Sui or the flowers from Jeannette, Margot, Nancy, Justin, Helen, Bill, JP and Tam, it didn't make me well, but it did make me feel loved.
While this certainly isn't the most articulate post in my personal history, I guess my point is two fold. First, if this is a hard year for you, you're in good company. If you look a little bit, you'll see that there are plenty of people struggling along with you. Second, the best panacea is reaching out. When we reach beyond ourselves, when we serve others, mourn with others, love others during the dark night of their soul -- bonds of friendship and love are built that make joy sweeter and sustain us during our own shadows of death. The woman at church was right. This has been an exceptionally trying year. Between everything else that's happening, the next 6 months are going to be a wild ride. But the love that you have heaped upon me has replaced my fear with hope -- even confidence. While the trash might be raining for a while yet, I think it's going to a compost pile that will lead to things of true beauty -- even wonder.
Have a wonderful week.