I’ve realized, lately, that I live as if suffering is a shocking and insulting surprise.
How foolish! How could I be this old and not yet understand, at my core, that suffering is simply part of this journey, part of the great gift of life? (And sometimes, a big part.)
I think perhaps the job of this period of my life is to get more comfortable with suffering and to not only learn, but welcome, its lessons.
On this part of the journey, I’ve appreciated the company of Tallu Quinn in her memoir, “What We Wish Were True.”
If you live in Nashville, you’ve probably heard of Tallu Quinn, founder of the Nashville Food Project. She passed away February 17, 2022, at age 42, from a form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma. I regret that I did not know her.
The book, as I understand it, was sewn together from a series of posts she wrote on her Caring Bridge site. It reads like it, with a tremendous immediacy and presence. It has felt to me like I am living with her in the last months and weeks of her life, as she dwells in uncertainty.
(And then more certainty – as her illness progresses.)
The passage I’d like to share with you today begins with a Wendell Berry poem:
We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we
By blessing brightly lit, keeping going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
Wendell Berry, “Sabbaths 1999, VI”
And here is what Tallu has to say….
“I have so many questions and fears, not just about human death in general terms but also about my death in particular. I have learned from my doctors that the brain can’t feel pain, and yet it is the body center out of which pain is experienced. I have also learned that brain cancer is not metastatic, it does not travel to other parts of the body and do a fatal takeover of other organs. I’ve asked my oncologist what people with glioblastoma die from, or in other words, what I might die from. A brain hemorrhage? Cardiac event? Seizure? Coma? And will it be peaceful? I imagine I won’t be alone when it happens, but will I feel alone? Will I be in our bed? Will Robbie [my husband] sleep in that bed afterward? Will I be lucid and able to talk with my family? What will they witness at the event of my death? Will they be scared? Will I?
A few nights ago I was snuggling our son, Thomas, who is now seven years old. I was holding him and, unprompted, he started to pray, “Dear God, could you please make sure to take away all the cancer from my mom Tallu Quinn’s brain? She’s right here in the bed with me if you need to find her.”
But the truth is that I have already been found. Even as I rage through this present sorrow to the unknowable future that will be my early death, I can look back into the past and see all who have loved and supported me. They are the blessings brightly lit… I have been found by Love and continue to be held in Love, while together we keep going toward this blessed light that is yet to us dark.”
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My prayer for today: Dear God, please open my eyes to the blessings brightly lit. Please give me patience to bear the fearful darkness of uncertainty.
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(Humility should to be sought as a virtue, not simply earned as the product of suffering, a friend of mine said at a meeting recently. I’ve been thinking about that.)