Yesterday marked two years since my sister-in-law's untimely death from early onset dementia. I won’t sugar-coat it: her decline and death was grueling and awful.
As I was praying for her and her family yesterday, I was reflecting on a conversation she and I had over 20 years ago (!!). We were both in our late twenties. I shared this quote from Hugh Prather with her. She really liked it. It goes:
"We are walking in a ticker-tape parade. That’s all that’s going on. Some pieces of confetti read 'great calves,' some 'chronic sinus,' some 'no noticeable hair loss,' some 'multiple sclerosis,' and some 'third-finger amputation.' Don’t judge your neighbor by what pieces of paper fall on his or her shoulders. Don’t think you are cursed or blessed by what pieces fall on yours." (Hugh Prather, "Practicing Love." The Sun Magazine, March 2000.)
It’s hard though --it’s damn tough-- to grasp how much of our lives are out of our control. Like who might get early-onset dementia. It’s frighteningly random. (I wrote a whole book about it, trying to figure it out.) We like to fool ourselves, create distance from disaster. Find someone or something to hang blame on or a way to take credit for how lucky we are.
And yes I deeply, I deeply believe in prayer and God. I have a deep faith that just happens to jibe with Christ. But --
I don’t think Jesus is Santa Claus. I don’t think Jesus keeps a list of naughty or nice, in or out, who deserves good toys or who gets coal in their stockings.
And in spiritual-but-not-religious lingo, I don’t think chronic or terminal illness is due to a lack of positive thinking, or improper “wellness” routines, or bad karma from this life or a past one.
Sure, we can make supplications to God. I ask for help all the time. But I surely don’t think God is sitting up there like a divine DJ, just hankering to play our specific requests.
What I think, what I’ve come to believe, is that the best that faith can bring us is company on our journey. And hopeful resilience to try again, and try again, even when our hearts are broken.