Çamlıca Mosque, Istanbul
Why do bad things happen to good people? Forget about my cancer. What about kids? Babies? What did they do to deserve suffering? Better people than me have died from cancer, war, neglect, violence, and more. If we believe in a good G-d*/ Spirit/Yahweh/Adonai/Universal Presence (whatever name you prefer), should we be angry that she/he/they allow(s) bad things to happen? These are the kinds of questions that go through our minds when we suffer. Certainly, they have gone through mine.
Being in Istanbul, we hear Salat, the Muslim call to prayer, from nearby mosques five times a day, starting before sunrise. It’s a beautiful sound and reminds me, to stop. To reflect. To pray. Just listen (click on link below).
For what do I pray? That our kids are safe and healthy. That my husband is safe and healthy. That I heal from this cancer and have a chance to keep working, loving, and having fun in this world. It’s a comforting habit. Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent, said, “You either worry or pray. Don’t do both.” Worry is an illusion of control, but a difficult habit to break. It helps that praying feels better.
I also pray for others who suffer, that they find peace and comfort. But I do not blame G-d for human suffering. I blame us. I am not angry at G-d. I’m not even angry with us anymore. I am frustrated. Why? We keep failing to see that the root of human suffering comes back time and again to our lack of empathy and love for each other and our planet. Yes, empathy – deep understanding and resonance – with the original, wonderful, beautiful, glorious design of this planet and universe.
So many of us have cancer now because our human bodies were not designed to process the crap we have put into the environment, our food, and our bodies for far too long. Our genes are worn-out. Cancer and so many other diseases are epidemic, but profitable, from start to finish. I say this as a #RecoveringChemist. I was so fascinated by the way the world is designed, I stuck through a 4 year Ph.D. program in chemistry at MIT. I loved teaching, but was lonely at the lab bench and decided I didn’t want to make chemicals when it was all done. I shifted gears and went into business. Along the way, I got an inside-out view of how and why we choose to do the research we do ($), make the products we do ($), and fail to clean up after ourselves ($).
One other thing was clear back then. Faith and science are not incompatible at all. The more I learned about the way the universe is designed, the more mystical and magical it all seemed. A common problem with science – and the reason people are distrustful nowadays – is arrogance. We didn’t make any of this world. We’re just scratching the surface of understanding it. We don’t control it either, but we pretend we do at our peril. We interfere, design, patent, isolate, synthesize, too often only with profit, power, and promotion in mind. Not the future. Not our health. Not our children. Therein lies the problem.
I don’t believe in a vengeful or uncaring G-d/Designer of the universe. How could she be? Look at the beautiful gifts all around us! Take a walk in the woods. Dip your feet in the ocean. Watch sunrise and sunset, right where you are. I take inspiration from science here. There is no such thing as dark, just the absence of light (photons). There is no such thing as cold, only the absence of heat (energy). I believe there is no such thing as evil, but there is the absence of empathy/love which leads to evil human behaviors and outcomes, usually things we do to each other directly or indirectly. It’s up to us to fix this.
So, then, what’s the role of G-d and prayer in healing? Will faith help reverse my cancer? Do your prayers help me? Definitely. Every note of encouragement, care, and prayer lifts my spirits. Incredibly, I’ve been the lucky recipient of virtual healing prayer with a small but dedicated team of earth angels every single week since I was diagnosed. I grew up Catholic, spent many happy years at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, am a certified yoga teacher, and have enjoyed studying and practicing other religions with friends, especially Judaism. But these healing prayer nights have been some of the best, most profound spiritual experiences of my life.
I don’t expect an instantaneous miracle. I know my body is physically challenged, here in this earthly plane. I know it’s up to me to intervene, and high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma is on the more complicated and dangerous side of the health spectrum. What I seek – what this group gives me – is the time, space, and connection to a higher reality to discern what to do. What not to do. Who can help? Who cannot? They give me peace in the midst of confusion. They give me comfort in the wilderness of physical suffering. I feel the presence of human empathy and the company of something more divine. Sometimes, I have even felt joy, which is important momentum through the highs and lows of the bumpy and unknown road ahead.
When I am healed, I know this spiritual practice will have played an important part. I also know that every kindness, every word of encouragement, every angel-inspired action (putting lights up at our house!) our family has received is inspired by something bigger than ourselves. One of the few good things about experiencing cancer as a family is seeing G-d in so many people around us, over and over. It lifts us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It’s powerful.
So, when people do heal from cancer, is it a miracle? Please don’t say that to the woman or man suffering through hours, sometimes years, of chemo, hyperthermia, special nutritional programs, etc. It’s hard work. We’d love to skip the suffering and go right to the miracle, but we are the physical embodiment of the divine on earth. We have to do our part. We have to do the right work. For me now, this means making good decisions about how to heal my body and having the discipline, endurance, and resilience to see them all through, renewed by some of the biggest, broadest experiences of love in my life.
But I’m just one person with one issue. Our manmade problems are so much bigger. Cancer should not be part of the human experience, yet it’s all too common. We need to wake up, be much better to each other, act today with the future in mind, be much more responsible stewards of our environment and planet (no, we can’t just colonize Mars), and leave this world a better place for our kids. Together, we can do this. It’s not too late. #CurrencyOfEmpathy
‘Tis the season.
Let there be light.
Thanks to everyone who has offered encouragement, prayers, empathy and so many angel-inspired moments to help our family. Deep gratitude to the LeMay siblings (Elaine, Jim, and Jeff) and Carnella Peck for holding down the home front and keeping Grant and Rocky company while we’ve been gone. Last but certainly not least, heartfelt thanks to Akua Saunders, Reiki practitioner, and virtual healer, and our healing prayer group: Leslie Amadhi, Eleanor Hooks, Jane Reynolds, Rachel Robinson, and Elizabeth Welch, for being such wonderful spiritual company on this journey.
*I’ve written G-d out of respect for Jewish friends who use this custom out of reverence.