The sun was low on the horizon of our first vacation day at Orange Beach, Florida, when I finally closed my eyes and drew in some deep breaths. The waves continued to crash in rhythm. The gulls continued to call. The shade of our umbrella moved east across the white sands of the beach as the sun lowered in the west. I began to let go at last.
The string of struggles and heartaches in our lives had gone on much too long for my wife and me. The stresses had piled up on us and done grave damage. We could not avoid the impact, even at the beach.
My wife entered the wordless space by asking me to remind her when she had begun receiving the chemo called Adriamycin for breast cancer. I told her, “That was three years ago, in November.” I recalled the day before Thanksgiving that year when her energy nose-dived. I recounted the disturbing moment at work when she said, “Take me home.” She had already lost her hair. That was hard enough. Then exhaustion had suddenly overtaken her.
She remembered finding the energy on that Thanksgiving Day to put on her wig and some nice clothes. We tried to enjoy a delightful, traditional meal at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Her inner resources lasted for an hour, and then left the room like a frightened bird. Sadly, her energy would appear and then suddenly disappear in those days.
On a relaxing beach, surrounded by wave sounds and clearing skies, we found ourselves talking about the months of taking the chemotherapy called “the red devil” by the nurses. We remembered together how our families had to come to us for Christmas that year. I imagined the scene again when I could not care for her by myself and keep working to support us.
I had been overwhelmed for months without knowing it. My irritability had erupted, and that had surprised me, and shamed me, and finally let me know I was in too deep to carry on alone. I hated to have to ask for family help in caring for my wife, but I really had no choice. Cancer teaches many things, and one lesson I learned again was how much I need help.
We finished that cancer journey more than a year before the day on the beach. We didn’t plan to retell the story to each other. We didn’t mean to, especially on a relaxing beach. But suddenly we were telling of a moment when everything changed in our lives.
Experiences like cancer are profound. They break us to pieces. They burn us and reduce us to embers and ashes. They alter our stories forever. I learned again that our cancer journey is with us forever. The reality of having been conquered by a power greater than us cannot be avoided. Sooner or later the story of our brokenness will find us again.
Perhaps this is also part of why I need my meditation times so badly. There are these broken places. There always have been. And settling into the inner stillness, beneath all those jagged edges, can ease the hurt a bit. I must go to that center point which belongs to God alone. Down there in the dark, in the silent places, Someone is weaving me back together with tiny, invisible hands.
After the meditation, I can sometimes sense the inner weaving is going on. I keep coming back because I want to contact that Weaver, even if we just sit together in silence.