Tuesday, July 9, 2024

A Lesson in Trust

Mike doesn't believe in G-d, and rather than let our differing beliefs tear us apart, they've knit us closer together. We discuss various religions and debate how people find faith through hardship. I have told him, though, how ironic his atheism is; after all, he's the greatest example of G-d's love in MY life. And oddly, I think my current plight has made Mike want to believe in the randomness of the universe even more.

Despite how opposite our beliefs may be, Mike has admitted that I do have some pretty strange things happen to me, and today was not an exception.

A couple of days ago, I told my mom a story my rabbi once shared. "A pauper wanted to marry a princess," I said, "but the king needed to know if this would-be suitor was even worthy, so he sent him on a quest. 'Find the one thing that can make a rich man weep with sadness and a poor man cry tears of joy.' The pauper searched for years but finally returned empty handed and dejected. It wasn't until he stood at the castle gates that he found the answer. A beggar gave him a ring with the words..." My voice faltered. And at this point in the story—as I relayed this entire thing to my mom, my mind froze, and I completely forgot the words that were written on the ring! We broke out laughing—and Mike chuckled in the other room because, apparently, he'd been listening too.

No matter how much I racked my brain, I couldn’t remember the riddle’s answer. I thought about it during dinner last night and then today as I thought about the word trust. I’ve been really trying to fully place trust in G-d, believing that there’s a reason for everything. But trust is a terribly hard word to understand AND it’s even tougher to put into action. I’d just been thinking about all of this when Mike bounded into the house, looking like an energetic golden Lab—the best of humanity. “You got some mail!” he beamed. And after I opened the package, we both literally sat dumbstruck. 

“You’ve had some bizarre things happen,” he said. “But this is up there.”

“Does it make you believe in G-d?” I asked. 

“No… But I have to admit that sometimes weird things do go on. And I can’t explain why.”

I don’t need to change Mike’s mind. G-d knows I’m the last person who should be judging anyone. I’m currently in the process of converting to Judaism, and some people aren’t the happiest about that. But “vivre et laisser vivre,” right? At least one would hope. I’m tired of being judged, so I don’t want to inflict my own beliefs on anyone else. I’m simply curious.

Anyway, I held up a card that had accompanied the package we received in the mail. Then I read the words to Mike:

In times of uncertainty, remember the wisdom of King Solomon, whose ring bore the timeless letters of “This too shall pass.” Life's journey often leads us through unexpected twists and turns. Trust that in whatever place you find yourself, you are meant to be. Know that every step has a purpose. For only when it's dark can you see the stars shine. Let this ring be a gentle reminder. You may not feel in control over your life, but you are deeply loved by the One who is.

Engraved on the ring in both Hebrew and English it reads: THIS TOO SHALL PASS—the exact words from the ring in the story that I just told my mom. Not only does this feel like a godwink, but it seems like a beautiful reminder that G-d has a plan for each and every one of us. The reason this could make a rich man weep is because riches don’t last. But the poor man would cry tears of joy knowing that “this too shall pass.” Not even hardships can last forever, and that’s a pretty powerful thing to remember when life feels at its worst.

Maybe my fight against cancer is a lesson in trust, but I feel like G-d might be telling me that everything will be okay—one way or another. Whether I do die from melanoma (like doctors keep saying) or if I miraculously beat this, at least I feel like G-d will be by me each step of the way. The good, the “bad,” it’ll all be all right because somehow there really is a plan—for all of us.

(The ring is from TheHonestJewelerShop.com (Honest Jeweler) if you want to see a picture of it.)

Monday, July 1, 2024

It's Not Over Yet

 When someone faces hardships, we assume 100% of people will be kind. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. While 99.999% of people might be compassionate and helpful, a few insensitive things are often said. I learned this when my baby died at Primary Children's Hospital in 2003. We had to take him off of life support, and it was the most horrific moment of my life. Much harder than my battle against cancer, tougher than getting a divorce or being in an abusive relationship, having a child die was hellacious. 

Yet, after his funeral, a woman came over and said, "He would still be here if you'd had more faith." My sister even received an anonymous letter detailing how my baby was born with defects because someone in our family had "sinned." I don't think people always intend for these things to be hurtful. In fact, they're often searching for answers themselves. None of us truly know what happens after we die. It's one of the ultimate mysteries which can mystify and terrify people. I think this is why I lost a couple of friends; they simply don't like facing death at all, let alone personally knowing someone who's fighting it.

In 2020, after oncologists diagnosed me with terminal cancer, my first thoughts weren't even about my own death. They were fears regarding telling my children, husband, and other family members about this diagnosis. I didn't want my children to encounter such hardship at such young ages, and I didn't want to disappoint my parents and siblings. For such a long time, I hoped for perfection. I know I'm deeply flawed, but at least I can try to improve. But having cancer... that's not something to just brush under a rug. If I told my family, they would know beyond a doubt that something was wrong with me. I'd gotten burned too many times. I'd gone fake tanning when I shouldn't have. I'd made innumerable mistakes. And it wasn't just that, but I've been through enough terrible things to know that .001% of people might make insensitive comments to me AND my family. And sure enough, they have. I've had people tell us once again that this happened because of sins. Or if we just had a little bit more faith... If I could be more positive. If I could eat better. If I could trust in: Medicine... G-d... Black Salve... Mushroom Tea... Ivermectine. The list goes on.

I've explained before how tired I've become, especially since the cancer in my L2 is growing and the pain often makes it hard to sleep. Although my oncologist and care team have come up with an incredible new treatment plan, it does feel like a Herculean task to keep going to get treatments.

Anyway, I was just about to go to sleep the other night when I couldn't stop the cycle of sad thoughts. I thought about my plight and what it's done to my loved ones. All of it crashed around me: just too much. After a while of this, I must've really worn myself out because, by some miracle, I actually fell asleep. That's when I ended up having the most bizarre dream.

A man came and said he needed to talk with me. Surprisingly, he looked strikingly like my 16-year-old son, Trey! 

He stood tall and so strong. His short hair framed his face perfectly, and I couldn't get over how handsome he was. I studied his features. He must've been about 21, yet he held the wisdom of ages in those piercing blue eyes. He finally turned to me, showing compassion with every movement, and he said, "You can't go. You're not done."

"Not done with what?" I rebuffed.

"You're not done with what you need to do," he responded, and at that exact moment, I knew he was my little baby who died over 21 years ago. 

When I woke up, I felt so much stronger, with a firm resolve to keep fighting. I told my second-oldest daughter about this when she came over to visit: "I don't know what the heck I'm supposed to do, Sky."

"You know, Mom," she said, "even just being here for us kids, that's enough."

Tears filled my eyes because she was completely right. "That really is," I said. "That is enough." Sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other... Sometimes, the fact that we're even trying... That. Is. Enough. Showing my loved ones how much I care about them is the most important thing I can do with my time now. THAT is my biggest dream, that they'll all know how much I love—and believe in—them.

I've written before about the word accomplished. You know when you see someone who's extremely impressive and people will say, "They're so accomplished." Well, I decided to look up the etymology of the word "accomplished." It originally described a person who simply does what they say they'll do. This could be big or small. But the point is that they finish. So that's what I'm looking at today. Instead of shooting for the stars, I'm happy to be taking steps at all, to continue getting treatments like I promised my husband and our children. I might not be the most impressive person who's done mindboggling things like walking on the moon, but I can say I do what I say I will, and I try. In that sense, maybe I am accomplished, and that feels pretty great.

The funny thing is that not long after this, as my mom and I took out a sack of garbage, we spotted a laminated egg-shaped card in some weeds. My mom picked it up, and her face lit up. "Elisa, this must be for you." Then she read the words aloud. "Find your dream. It's the pursuit of the dream that heals you." She smiled so big. "I guess it's a quote from someone named Billy Mills."

I took the card, and after displaying it in my kitchen, I thought about how I need to throw out the terrible thoughts I've kept filed away in my mind. It's time to stay strong for my loved ones and myself too. My baby said it's not my time to go. So I better keep fighting. It's like a quote my dad loves: "It's not over 'til it's over." So I better enjoy every second of life that I can. We all should.