Wednesday, March 27, 2024

A Quilt Before G-d

Cancer is different than I expected. I remember staying with my dad when he underwent treatments over two decades ago. He seemed far more concerned with the medical staff than about himself. He'd always ask how they were and try to brighten their days.

"Isn't this hard on you?" I finally asked one day.

He laughed. "I'll be all right. Don't worry about me." And that was it. My dad didn't want me to worry. And that actually turned out "all right." He lived through stage 4 colon cancer—something his oncologist said hardly anyone lives through.

Now that I'm fighting terminal cancer, my dad has spoken with me candidly about the hard days he experienced (needing to know where the nearest bathroom was and feeling tired beyond words). He has become an inspiration as I've fought through this. Maybe that's why I asked Mike if we could visit my parents in Arizona. "Somehow, my dad helps me keep fighting. Doctors say I'll never beat this, but my dad gives me hope. He beat it, so maybe I can too." Despite that, after arriving at the airport and waiting at the gate, I felt more tired than ever.

A service agent walked over, helped tag my wheelchair, and said he'd like to move my seat to one with more room.

"I'm okay. Don't worry about it," I said, not wanting to put him out.

But he insisted, and unfortunately, when everyone walked onto the plane, we realized he'd made a mistake. A family with two young children no longer sat together, and my new seat replaced an elderly woman who wanted an aisle seat. Mike and I no longer sat together, and another couple had also been moved apart. This delayed the plane's departure, and to get seated, several passengers quickly moved so the young family could sit together and the older woman had an aisle seat. The rest of us stayed where we were.

But planes scare me and without Mike near me...

I used to be quite a thrill seeker before cancer. I loved cliffdiving and even joined a training program to help civilians lost or stuck while spelunking. But now, entering an elevator puts me into cold sweats. Being in a crowded area brings on claustrophobia. And being on a plane, well, the only way I've previously gotten through it is to close my eyes, lean on Mike, and pretend we're in Jamaica. Yet, I had more legroom than most people on the plane, but I couldn't lean on Mike. 

I closed my eyes. The motion of the plane and clunking of the equipment prepping for liftoff somehow reminded me of brain radiation, where they inserted a mouthpiece over my tongue and screwed a face cage to the table. I couldn't even cry for help as the techs left the room for nearly an hour. How strange that I can be more fatigued than ever before yet still get so terrified over the silliest things. 

If I could just feel peace about this: terminal cancer, fatigue, living in this new normal... 

I finally turned to the woman beside me. Her husband sat a row up from us. "What is peace to you?" I asked.

"Peace..." She smiled, and I'm unsure why, but I knew she'd give the most brilliant answer. Maybe the entire seating mixup happened so I could sit by her. I honestly think it did. "Peace," she said, her ethereal eyes gleaming, "is like a river."

"What does that mean to you?"

"Well, rivers twist and turn. Sometimes, they're fast and slow, but we have to trust that the river will take us where we need to be."

Trust. I really think peace is connected to trust... and acceptance. But it's still hard to accept this new normal. People talk about making a difference, but often, I feel too tired to do much of anything—weary, exhausted, worn.

I told this woman about my journey with terminal cancer and how tough it's been. "I'm trying to find peace with this, but some days are good, and others are hard. I just feel so worn out."

"I want to tell you a story," she said.

Imagine hundreds of people standing at the gates of Heaven. They each hold a quilt to show G-d. Every square displays a moment from their lives so G-d can see everything—the good and bad. But toward the back of the line, a woman stands with an incredibly threadbare quilt. It's been through more than she'd like to admit, and she almost shakes, waiting for her turn. Finally, only one person stands in front of her. That particular woman holds up the most beautiful quilt with achievements and accolades depicted in every scene. "It is quite beautiful," G-d says, "but you need to remember that unless you've made a positive difference for the people in your life, nothing else really matters. What matters is love." He lets her into Heaven, and it's time for the woman with the threadbare quilt to step forward. 

She thinks G-d will tell her that her quilt wasn't good enough. And feeling more worry than ever before, she holds up the frayed ends.

A smile slides onto G-d's magnificent face. "This is the most perfect quilt I've ever seen."

She touches the worn fabric. "Really?" she asks, her voice quivering. "But it's so worn..."

G-d gently asks if he can take the quilt from her, and then He holds it between them. His face shines so brightly even through the fabric.

"Through everything in life..." He smiles, still gazing at her through the quilt's worn fabric. "Through everything, you always saw me."

After the woman on the airplane told me this story, renewed strength filled my bones. I didn't worry about my upcoming treatments the following week or the airplane cabin that had previously felt so oppressive. Instead, I looked at my new friend and grinned. This seemed like another breadcrumb from Heaven, showing me that G-d is in everything. He's looking out for all of us—through the good and the bad... waiting to pick us up even when we might feel the most weary and worn.

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