Most of you know that I have had prostate cancer. I had surgery in 2009 believing (hoping and praying) they “got it all.” Apparently they didn’t, so in 2013 I had 38 radiation treatments believing (hoping and praying) that would do the trick. Since then I have been checking my PSA at least three times a year. Last fall the numbers started rising again, giving me cause for concern. I was tested in January, and the number remained the same. Again in May it remained the same. Last week I had another test, and the number actually went down! The number still isn’t where I would like it to be but ‘stable’ works just fine for me!
I don’t think I’m alone when I say this is always in the back of my mind. I think most people who have had cancer and survived will tell you that whenever an ache or pain hits you, you ask, “Is it the cancer returning?” While it doesn’t paralyze me, the thought is there. But the gift one is given through this experience is the gift of a greater appreciation for each new day of life.
Stephen Grellet, a 19th Century Quaker missionary, wrote these profound words:
“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
It’s a simple truth: life is short. We’re all on a long journey called human life. So how’s that journey going today for you? As you travel, are you taking the time to spread some goodness and kindness and love along the way? All of us are stamped with an unknowable expiration date the day we are born and then the clock of finitude starts ticking away. As soon as we enter this world we begin the journey towards our departure.
That’s an obvious truth but it’s one I think many folks tend to forget and even deny. You know the excuses:
“I’ll forgive that person who hurt me some day, but not now. I’m still mad.”
“I’ll give more money to charity some day, but not now. I’ve got to take care of me.”
“I’ll work less and spend more time with my family some day, but not now. My career is my number one priority.”
“I’ll get back to church and God some day when things are less busy, but not now. Haven’t got the time.”
And then some unexpected event happens and all of our plans for “some day” come crashing to the ground. We wake up to the fragility and preciousness of this God-given finite life. Cancer does this. Today we feel great. Then tomorrow we get a scary lab result or find a lump or a shadow on an X-ray. Ask anyone who’s faced or is facing “The Big C” and they’ll tell you that the day they were diagnosed everything changed. Disease jolts us awake. Accidents can too, and natural disasters like a tornado which appears out of nowhere. Just the circumstances of life. And then we realize that we do only pass this way but once. How will we travel this road? How will we live?
Faith in an infinite God constantly reminds us that finally we human beings are all finite. Life is precious. Life is a mystery. We have no idea when our lives or the lives of others will end. When we adopt this attitude of spiritual finitude, of living with the truth that dying comes to all of us, it can radically change the way we live, act, and make our journey in this life.
We can love more and neglect less. That person who needs to know that you love them? Tell them now. Don’t wait. We can give more away knowing we can’t take it with us. All that cash and all our stuff will not fit into the coffin, no matter how hard we try! We can take risks and pay attention to our bucket list. What have you always dreamed of doing? Get to it! We begin to live, not for ourselves alone, but for others too. The smallest life is always the one which only concerns “me.” In the face of death we can become more alive! Imagine that.
You and I will only pass this way but once. What are you doing today with this wonderful life God has given you?
You are loved,