Thoughts and Prayers
In early June I noticed a sore on the inside of my ear that for the past several months would heal, then open and heal again. I finally had my bride take a picture of it and when I saw it, I thought, ”Ooops, this is not a good thing I’m seeing here”.
My first opportunity to see my dermatologist confirmed my amateur diagnosis. It wasn’t good. He took a biopsy and I asked if he thought it was cancer. He said he thought it probably was. Two weeks later, confirmed. Cancer.
So, what do I do? The cancer and treatment part are pretty straight forward. It’s in a part of the ear that doesn’t permit surgery, so it will be 3-6 weeks of radiation. That’s the easy part.
The next easiest part is letting other people know. Who do I tell and what do I tell them? The treatment means I have to clear my schedule for the next 8 weeks. So, I have to tell those people. Friends? I feel like we have an agreement to let each other know what is going on in our lives that is significant. This would qualify. The hardest part? Fielding the reactions.
In the first six months of this year there was a school shooting once a week. Not once a month, but once a week. (No problems with weapons in America I’m asked to believe, just as a side-note). Some of them we heard about, most we did not.
The reaction most heard was “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those victimized (as if we all aren’t) by this ______ event.” (Fill in the blank: unfortunate, senseless, tragic, sad, awful, disgusting, criminal, etc., but never the word ‘preventable’.)
You may have heard some of the people to whom the “thoughts and prayers” messages were directed, reacted negatively to those words. Some who spoke up said such words felt empty and were not helpful and somehow even felt offensive.
Count me on that list. The prayers part at least. When someone says, “I’ll pray for you”, my toes curl up a bit. I know I’m supposed to appreciate those words, but I don’t, actually. I always say, “thank you”, but I’m cringing on the inside. I know some people who feel great comfort when they hear those words, and I am not trying to discount their experience. For me I have a very different experience with that concept of prayer.
See, I grew up in a world of prayer. Hours and hours and hours a week, dedicated to prayers. I was told that it was magic. I was told if I prayed hard enough my bleeding episodes (I have hemophilia) would stop then and there. I went an entire weekend once praying and reading the bible, without sleep, without eating, even taking my bible and my prayers to the bathroom in the hopes of stopping one bleeding episode as a 15-year-old. I was told that if I prayed hard and good enough my mom would come home from the hospital and be the mom she was before the nervous breakdown. Before the prescription pills. I was told that if the things I was praying for didn’t happen I wasn’t praying right, or long enough, or sincere enough, or I was asking for the wrong things, or I was being too selfish or……. For the better part of two decades of my early life I tried, and I failed. So, admittedly, the word prayer is loaded with a lot of baggage. I understand that my education about prayer was a poor one.
I knew that when I told people about my current condition I would get a fair number of “I’ll pray for yous.” As I anticipated this being a part of what I was going to experience, I wanted to understand what riled me up so much about this. And if I didn’t want prayers, what, if anything, DID I want? I asked a trusted friend to talk with me about this. Here is what I discovered.
If you say you’ll be praying for me, what I envision is that you are saying, “I’ve got you on this list of things and people that I regularly pray for that I’ll read off to God each morning or evening and that lets me go on about my day, (S)He’s got it covered.” I’m not saying that is what YOU do, but that is what it brings up for me.
If praying helps YOU, great. I want you to get the help you might need to deal with the news that I’m in deep doo-doo land. That’s good. I’m all for that. It is what helps YOU and I am very glad it gives you comfort.
I’m MUCH more selfish. I want to be in your thoughts. I don’t want to just be turned over to the person you are praying to. I want YOU. What’s that mean? If you think of me during the day, linger there for just an extra moment or two. Remember me. Recall a moment of fun we had, or tears we shared, or wonders that we witnessed, moments of awe that we experienced, times we fought and made up, times when we had “those” kinds of talks, exchanged “those” kind of looks, the dreams we told each other about, the games we played. Special times and places we experienced.
People are prone to say to us during our deep doo-doo moments, like the one I am having, “Let me know if there is anything you need or that I/we can do”. My answer these days will be, REMEMBER ME. Think of me. I dig the THOUGHTS part of the “Thoughts and Prayers” message.
Maybe you’ll be moved to write me a note about a memory that came to you. Maybe you’ll call me, and we can laugh at one of “our” moments, maybe even weep a little at lost dreams. Maybe you’ll send a text that simply says, “thinking of you”. Even if you don’t, I choose to believe I will feel and be supported by your thought’s energy. That’s what I would like. Maybe in doing that, you are acting as an agent of your God and answering a little boy’s prayers.
I’m guessing I am not the only one who would like this. So, if you have a friend who you might be tempted to say, “I’ll pray for you”, tell them that, and then consider adding the ‘thoughts’ part too.
Our culture is not rich in teaching us ways of being with someone when they are not operating at 100%. I have struggled to find ways of being with friends of mine who have and are suffering. I’m reminded of a lesson I learned a long time ago as a father. Just show up. In person, in thought. If you’re like me, you’ll keep looking and learning. If you have any good ideas that work for you let me know what you do.
One of my all-time favorite songs is from a gentleman who was dying of lung cancer and left this song to those who loved him. He describes the kinds of things I am talking about:
“Shadows are fallin' and I'm runnin' out of breath Keep me in your heart for a while
If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less Keep me in your heart for a while
When you get up in the mornin' and you see that crazy sun Keep me in your heart for a while
There's a train leavin' nightly called "When All is Said and Done" Keep me in your heart for a while
Sometimes when you're doin' simple things around the house Maybe you'll think of me and smile
You know I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse Keep me in your heart for a while
Hold me in your thoughts Take me to your dreams Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes Keep the fires lit And I will be right next to you
Engine drivers headed north up to Pleasant Stream Keep me in your heart for a while
These wheels keep turnin' but they're runnin' out of steam Keep me in your heart for a while”
Warren Zevon “Keep Me In Your Heart For A While”