The window frames a spring sky, its blue background set behind the delicious green of new leaf, a green so bright that it seems as though the sun is dancing atop every shoot, setting each aglow. A light, warm breeze plays at the open window. The songs of birds make a four-dimensional show of daylight. With spring well established and everything lush and glowing, it’s hard not to feel a sense of hopeful contentment. But as I write, a soul full with spring and the quiet of a morning with kids out of the house, my desktop displays the morning emails and Facebook posts. One is a journal chronicling the story of a 13-year-old boy who has traveled to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida for cancer treatment. My husband and I used to work with the boy’s dad, and the news of this cancer was a shock (isn’t it always when it’s more than a name but someone you know?). A Facebook status by my old college roommate provides an update on her struggle with lupus that has proven “treatment resistant” and kept her on a steady course of steroids, chemotherapy and gammaglobulin injections. Another friend has flown to Texas for a stem cell transplant in the hopes of curing his leukemia. Another college roommate of mine has been posting updates on Facebook about her 4-year-old niece who is undergoing treatment for cancer. And amidst the chirping of birds, I am struck with the juxtaposition of children with cancer and spring leafing through my open windows, a juxtaposition that gives me considerable pause.
In spite of this suffering, the world spins its days and nights on cue. The seasons come and go like the tides. Flowers dip their dew kissed faces towards the rising light of an earlier sunrise and later sunset. Spring is here. And even though folks I know are at this moment taking carefully metered poisons into their bodies in an attempt to kill off cancer, I rise to morning and go about my day. Much of what I do seems frivolous in comparison, and yet it is part of the cycle of my day and a part of my own developing story. At some point today, I know, that if time permits I will check the local real estate listings to see if that perfect fit of a house has gone up for sale in our price range, the prospect of which does strike me as a shallow thing to do. I’ll also go get those khaki pants my daughter needs for a program she’s a part of Friday night. I’ll return phone calls. I’ll get to the bank, and I’ll be in a hurry to get from there to the various schools to pick up my various kids. I’ll cook dinner. I’ll get onto the kids about leaving their things on the floor. I’ll hug them and, hopefully, take time to talk to each about their day but will likely also get frustrated with one or more of them for not doing something they were told to do. Then eventually we’ll all turn out our lights and call an end to the day. By then my day will have been as much a mix of somber reflection on serious things as a seemingly shallow dance of activity that in the end may not mean a whole lot. Yet the activity is as much a part of my day as spring is a part of its backdrop.
The preacher says, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” Children suffering from cancer while spring blooms is not the only juxtaposition. There’s the number of hungry children who have died while I typed this entry (1 dead every 5 seconds from hunger-related causes) compared with the amount of food my children leave on their plates from dinner. There’s the people who can’t get to a hospital who suffer from treatable illness compared to the opportunity of folks like my friends, who though they receive a terrible diagnosis, have a chance at “fighting” it through drugs and medical care. There’s the amount of money spent in the U.S. on real estate compared with the “houses” I toured in a place called The Colonia, a camp-like neighborhood in Honduras where homes are made out of scrap metal scabbed together with nails and tape. These mixes of prosperity with poverty and health with suffering are not lost on me. They ground my spirits in a reality that is troubling not just because as humans we struggle with death and suffering, but that as humans, some suffer true extremes while others call extreme what is barely suffering. And I have trouble knowing what to do with that, especially when the day today is sunny, and my needs are met and complaints minor.
Because of this great suffering, my tendency is to feel guilty when my day is full of “hopeful contentment” and to conjure images of the potential calamities headed my way. But thank God for Qohelet (the “preacher” in the book of Ecclesiastes) who not only speaks to human calamity but to prosperity: “In the day of prosperity, be joyful.” It is as if the divine whisper is not only “mourn with those who mourn,” but be thankful for the sun when God causes it to shine. I think that’s because he causes the sun to shine in prosperity and calamity, and its shining is always in some way a gift. Suffering abounds, and as a follower of Christ I believe I have a responsibility to alleviate as much as possible. I’m not always sure what that looks like; but I am sure that when days are springy and green, I’d better drink them in and be thankful for the gifts that they are.
Today’s gentle breeze and warm sun are likely a comfort to the parents of a boy going through chemotherapy. I picture mom and dad taking a break for a few minutes, walking down that sterile hospital corridor and out the door into the bright light of spring. As the breeze blows on their faces and they suck in a deep, long breath, I imagine they are thankful for it. They are thankful for the gift of one more day with a son they adore, grateful for the trustworthy calm of sunrise amidst the chaos of cancer inside his body. The emerging spring doesn’t take away the cancer, but its presence is a reminder that in the midst of unpredictability is a God who is faithful, a radiant green leaf against a backdrop of blue.