I’ve been overwhelmed by the loving concern of many people in my life, and I reflect on this below. But first, I owe a few updates…
It will come as little surprise that I put on my big boy pants and postponed our trip to Paris, in order to start chemo treatment in a timely manner. Right after I sent out my last meditation/update we spoke to Ron, a retired doctor from my church (he also turned out to be a 27-year colon cancer survivor!). Now age 90, Ron wasn’t sure which decision he would make about Paris and said, ‘it really depends on where you are in your life and what you have to live for.’ That sounded a bit odd at the time, but afterwards it made perfect sense: If I were in my 90s, or if I were traveling to Paris in order to say goodbye to a dying parent or give my daughter’s hand in marriage, I would quite likely delay treatment to make the trip. But none of those things are the case, so it became an easy decision to postpone the trip in order to not delay treatment and risk reducing its efficacy.
My big concern was the family from France who were planning to stay in our home. Wonderfully, within just two days they found a lovely home with a pool just steps from the beach! We were absolutely thrilled for them… It couldn’t have happened to kinder, more understanding, people.
This week also included some very good news: the added tests showed no cancer growth beyond the colonic area. So we’ve met the oncologist and set the treatment plan: I’ll continue to recover for a month and start chemo on August 7. And Janet has called our family together for an early 65th birthday gathering the prior weekend!
Now, as I said at the top, I’ve been overwhelmed and humbled each week by the love and concern of so many people, and I’m certain this is one of the most precious gifts that can come from this chapter of my life.
For decades, I’ve fancied myself a “foul-weather friend.” I coined the term to express the idea that, while I may not be the most present pal when things are going great, I want to truly be there for someone else when things are not.
Over time, I’ve come to realize this good intention can sometimes be a cop-out for my not investing properly in ongoing friendships with dear ones who want more of my time (which I may view as a distraction from my Trenda Agenda), and I’ve had to question my intentions from time to time. But generally, I’m a strong proponent of the idea. There are only so many people in life with whom we can spend vast amounts of time, but there’s a much larger circle of those we care about, and we would gladly alter our schedules to serve them in a time of need.
It has been wonderful to realize how many foul-weather friends I have as I go through this patch of foul weather. One hadn’t sent an email in 4-5 years but heard the news and offered to drive me to my upcoming chemo treatments and stay with me. A recording artist offered to bless me with a private concert in my home. And those were just one days’ offers. Practically each day brings a fresh wave of emotion-triggering and awe-inspiring proposals and expressions of concern. Can you have visitors if we drive 50-100 miles to see you? What can we do from the other side of the nation or world?
Each one stirs something somber and sacred in me, and it often takes me a few days to even respond.
A recent Henri Nouwen meditation unpacked another aspect of being a “foul-weather friend” as one who is comfortable being with during the shadow times of life…
When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.
This dovetails well with Barbara Brown Taylor’s overall invitation in Learning to Walk in the Dark to re-train ourselves not to panic in the shadows like we did as children. For when we can sit quietly in the dark, letting our eyes adjust, or letting our other senses compensate for the lack of light, or abandoning our five physical senses altogether to focus on our sixth sense, only then can we grasp the lessons waiting for us there in the shadows. Nouwen invites us to also sit this way with a friend in a storm.
I think each of us in our more honest moments yearns for the kind of friend Nouwen describes. We know there are times a dear one will not be able to cure us or solve our problem, and we don’t care that they can’t. We simply want them to sit with us peacefully, perhaps making the darkness a bit less scary by their comfortableness in it.
This is what I strive to be for others: someone who can be both available and comfortable to another in their darkness. As a result, I hope those shadows become a bit less daunting for them, or that we can together be attentive and even learn in that place.
And now that I’m the one in shadow at the moment, I realize that this is also the kind of companion I most appreciate. One friend who wrote me commented that “God is gracious enough to accompany us.” Think about what the psalmist David actually says about God in Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”
Latin American Christians and liberation theologians have taught us all about this beautiful idea of accompaniment… that God accompanies us on our journey, and that we can accompany each other. It shifts our focus from thinking we are to be the savior of the marginalized, poor or hurting to recognizing that each person has their own unique journey which they must walk, and yet that we are invited to walk “closer than a brother” with them. Much strength for the journey is gained when someone else walks with us.
So a foul-weather friend is one who offers to walk with you through the storms of your journey, even though they may not send a Christmas card every year or invite you to a baseball game. They can’t “fix” you or your situation, and they don’t try to paper over it with platitudes, religious or otherwise.
I frankly had no idea how many foul-weather friends I’ve been honored to make over the decades. Had this unexpected chapter not opened up, I quite possibly would never have known. I’m sure this is part of what it means for me to pay attention. What a gift I’ve been given through this outpouring of concern. And how blessed I am to have so many thoughtful, caring fellow-journeyers to accompany me.