A month or so ago, our pastor spoke about the messiness of life and asked how many of us have dealt with addiction, mental health or cancer, either in ourselves or someone we love. I was up in the balcony, so I got a bird’s-eye view.
It was astounding to see a room of 150+ people and half the hands go up for addiction; two-thirds for mental health; then, virtually every hand goes up for cancer. This is a room full of mostly healthy people who live healthy lives. Most are non-smokers and light drinkers with basically healthy bodies, in the prime of their lives.
I knew—or at least suspected—that the sad reality represented by those hands in the air was true, that these issues are everywhere, but seeing it laid out in before me in the flesh was startling and lent an air of … urgency, somehow.
It brought home the universal ugliness we deal with but don’t often discuss. We should. We need to lean on each other and, if we’re people of Faith, on God.
Yes, given my own experience and my mom's stage 4 lung cancer, it's obvious cancer is pervasive. My guess is, more hands would go up for addiction and mental health if there wasn’t stigma attached to them. Most of us are quicker to acknowledge our family member’s liver cancer than their bipolar disorder.
I have had to fight depressive tendencies myself and seen how lower-grade depression—call it higher-level angst—can affect my outlook, my work, marriage, parenting. Not to the point of being a full-blown mental health issue, but definitely as something to be dealt with.
The end of cancer treatment brings its own challenges. The first time around, fifteen years ago, it towed Depression along on a leash faithfully and eagerly behind it for a solid 6 months. This time, I’m doing everything I can to keep it at bay.
Other, more serious, mental health issues have also touched those close to my wife Rachelle and me on both sides of our families.
So it can all get a little heavy when you see hands raised around these universal problems and acknowledge their place in your own life.
The same week as the hand-raising incident, I went for a run in an area called the High Drive Bluffs, a steep hillside area that stretches up several hundred feet that is interwoven with trails. At the bottom, next to Hangman Creek, I came across a fresh swath of gummy black dirt that had been bulldozed through the grass and brush of the protected conservation area. It was baffling.
That evening it came out in the news that the road was in fact illegal.
In response, a fledgling nonprofit called Friends of the Bluff, charged with protecting the area, took up the torch. Over the next few days, dozens of citizen volunteers came together to bring the responsible parties to account.
Because of their activism, the road damage is being remediated, trees replanted and a problem that probably would have been swept under the rug has brought people in closer touch with a rich natural resource many of us, myself included, had taken for granted.
It was rejuvenating to see how people, many who have never met each other, can work together on a common goal to acknowledge the basic worth of the pine tree and the arrowleaf balsamroot and skinks and porcupines.
Rachelle and I have a friend who has stopped working as a pastor and found a passion for working with refugees through World Relief, at just the time when funding for the work is at a low in her organization but public interest, and human need, is at a high. She and her co-workers are passionate about involving churches and individuals more directly in the work of welcoming and assisting those who come here so vulnerable and hurting, so that fewer people fall through the cracks. Because we are all called to love the poor and the stranger, no matter our belief framework.
Two nights ago I was roaming the web and came across this article about Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few. I’m a bit of a late arrival to the Zags fan club and had no idea how Coach Few has embedded care for kids with cancer into the DNA of his life and the lives of his players. It’s a mission he and his wife live out together. It almost brought tears to my eyes.
Then there are local organizations like Cancer Can't, which is building a program to connect cancer victims and their family members in support relationships through a new program called The Next, and Community Cancer Fund, which has raised enough money to fund an endowment that will send kids with cancer to summer camp forever.
The other day I was in a funk and told Rachelle of my worry about dying. She smiled and said “And yet, all signs point to life.” Amen.