I began this post more than two months ago. Other things have overwhelmed me since then. It is now time to share some of what all this has meant to me. It really is another time of life.
After the tsunami, I have taken some months to recover physically. But by mid November I was able to go back to work, probably too soon, but I did. We had Christmas and all of that; then on holidays in January I was able again to go into the surf. That was a huge psychological barrier, but we did it and loved it.
This last week, with news of the huge earthquake in Chile and the tsunami following, it has been horrific. I can read only a couple of paragraphs in the paper and then I have to turn away. My heart breaks for those people. Like the situation in Haiti, we look at the traumatized faces of the people and know just what it is like.
This for me is another time of life. It is another time in two important senses. First, it is different and I will never be the same again. Second, it is an extra or additional time. I feel as if I have been given a second chance, to live again. We almost died—came within seconds of drowning, let alone all that has followed. (The physical stuff goes on, too: Merilyn continues to have a really nasty infection, now in her lungs. So it is for so many of the victims. The infection issues go on and on.)
But this is another time. We have been blessed with more years, more opportunities. I am celebrating this, and then again I am taking hold of this time with a renewed focus. My life will not be the same again. I have been changed, and some of what this means is that I have a renewed sense of purpose and focus. I feel that I have a reason for being here and I must fulfil it. Not, however, in a driven and frenetic sense. On the contrary, I see this time of life in a more measured and deliberate sense. I am going to do the things that really are important, and I am not going to be sucked into the games people play.
This is another time of life. I am committed to the valuing of life, of love, of people. This is easy to say, of course, but that doesn't make it any the less real and important.
All this comes into even sharper focus for me now: as of Christmas week I received the diagnosis that I had prostate cancer. This was another incredible shock. My specialist had been very sure that the tests would come back negative. I had a biopsy done, and there it was: a small, early but nonetheless intermediate grade cancer.
So on February 9th I had surgery. This in itself is remarkable, a miracle. I had a robot-assisted laprascopic radical prostatectomy. The thing is out and gone. No further treatment needed. I was in hospital for just under 48 hours, and have since been recovering at home. My family have been a wonderful support to me, as have many friends.
Living beyond cancer surgery is another time of and another quality of life too. How incredibly fortunate I am that this disease was detected early, that I live in a country where such brilliant care is possible, and affordable, and that I am blessed with a really good prognosis.
So here I am, in another time of life. It is characterized by two things: priorities and blessing. I think the sense of blessing is so important. I am so blessed. I do not say this to deny the frightful and serious reality of cancer, or the horrors of the tsunami. I don't pretend that this has been anything other than a disaster for my family, who have put up with so much, and my colleagues who have had to keep things going in my absence.
Yet through all this there is an amazing sense that it is all going to be 'OK'—no matter what happens. This is not a denial of reality, it is part of my reality. It is not something I have generated through 'positive thinking', or 'keeping my spirits up', or even less by fervent prayer. I think this is a gift. It is God who sustains me, and all of us, in spite of all these things. And that is shown in the fact that this sense of blessedness comes and goes, at surprising times. It's nowhere near within my control. It is given, when it is there, as a kind of underlying presence.
I hesitate to claim anything at all about this, lest people imagine that I am claiming any kind of spiritual grace, or—even worse—lest any person who is struggling should think that this is something I have merited and they have not. Please, please don't think that.
What I am trying to say is something along the lines of what Paul says in Romans 5, about the way sufferings enable us to grow. Paul is very clear that this is something the Spirit is doing in him and in the lives of others. Here are the key verses, though of course their context is crucial to the meaning:
3And not only that, but we* also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s
love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has
been given to us.
The Apostle is saying that somehow suffering enable the growth which he calls 'endurance' and 'character', and through these things (no doubt through struggle, anguish, pain, difficulty—only a fool would think this is easy!) comes hope. Hope is a gift, of God's Spirit. That's what verse 5 is saying. The in-dwelling Spirit is God, the same God who came to us in Christ to redeem us from sin and assist us in all forms of alienation (as the following verses affirm). This God is our hope. That is, God comes to me in the form of an unexplained, undeserved and unpredictable sense of being blessed and being able to reach out for the future. This hope is willing to work for what is good. This hope is able to see the priorities and to step aside from the nonsense, and where necessary resist the destructive influences of power games and manipulations.
This is another stage of life. I am so grateful to be given this time and this hope.