I have had two distinct experiences in my 26 years wherein I can clearly recall thinking in the midst of them happening, “this experience will change my life.”
One I still haven’t fully written about on Avenue Midwest – my years teaching in the inner city of Cincinnati, Ohio. I think it’s because I still don’t feel I have adequate words to describe that period of my life. So many very low lows, so many emotions, and so much pain. Felt for my students who faced seemingly impossible adversity and for myself, who often felt grossly inadequate and undeserving of such an important job and responsibility. But in those years, there were many high highs and moments of breathtaking joy, too…moments spent alongside those little humans whose minds and hearts burst with potential, or alongside their families, all doing the best they could.
But today I thought I’d touch on that second poignant experience I can recall. It happened just this past Tuesday, and is the reason I’ve been absent from blogging or social media for the past week.
A Solitary Experience I’ll Never Forget
I was in a meeting in my office in downtown Chicago taking a call with a client when I saw a call come in on my cell phone. It was my sister and I ignored it; I could call her back after work. In quick succession, though, a call came in from my mom. It made my heart skip a beat because I knew my sister had been getting tests done for an uncharacteristic seizure she’d had two nights prior.
I apologized, excused myself in a bit of a frenzy, and took the call in the office hallway.
I heard my mom’s voice through harried, quiet breaths; quiet breaths and agonized tears.
I always know when something is wrong within two seconds of being on the phone with my mom. “What mom? What is it?”
Catching her breath, “Honey…Sarah has a brain tumor.”
And for the first time in my life, I actually crumbled to the floor.
You can’t predict how you’ll react in a situation like that and the best word I have retrospectively is involuntary. I broke down, quietly sobbing, right there in my open office. The kindness my coworkers showed me as they comforted me and shared in my hurt was moving through my tears.
Andrew arrived to my office awhile later and we made it home in a bit of a blur to book my flight out to see her in Pittsburgh.
Sunshine Through the Clouds
Over the next day, we’d learn that by the grace of God alone, Sarah was one of the lucky ones. The neurologists and specialists agreed, the tests showed hers was the “best kind of brain tumor” to have; the kind people often live with.
Almost a week later and now cautiously optimistic with more tests and second opinions to come, life has settled down.
I’m not sure any situation can prepare you for tragedy, but I think that situation might have done just that in a very little way. Even in the midst of my shoulders shaking through tears and my mind running wild with the worst case scenarios, I remember thinking, “it still could be worse.”
That situation made me think of all the parents who get a call that does deliver them the worst news. News that their child died in a car crash or because of an overdose. News that their spouse won’t make it. That the cancer is stage 4. That mom or dad or a sibling isn’t coming home.
It’s truly a devastating thought, but I’m not sorry for thinking it.
In my sister’s Facebook post updating family and friends about the week’s situation, she said, “Einstein once talked about a fish trying to learn math and sometimes I think that that picture is similar to the concept of us humans attempting to understand things that are far out of our realm. I’ll never understand why I got good news when so many people better than myself don’t.”
Of course, she did deserve the good news. But so many others do too, yet still don’t receive it. And we can never understand why it goes either way: why in the face of tragedy, we receive good news or devastating news. It is simply beyond our humanly minds’ capacities, as Sarah reflected.
If only just a little bit, this situation prepared me for what might come ahead in my own life. It prepared me to realize that if and when hardships do come, I’ll have to accept them and may never understand the “why,” at least during my time on earth. But we can stand content knowing Heaven is a place of clarity.
And as Sarah eloquently ended her post, “It’s a reminder that the death rate is one per person. And that doesn’t have to be a morbid thing. Because we can live our lives joyfully and concentrate on what really matters in the face of them.”
You’ve taught me a lot, sister. Add this experience to the list.