Since Zoë was diagnosed with breast cancer, I have strived to be as loving and supportive of her and this phase of her journey as I could. The day we got the news was the worst day. It was the day we felt our whole world and life change. I remember how one minute we were sitting in Starbucks dreaming about what we were going to do to the backyard next year waiting for my paratransit bus to arrive to take us home. Then the phone rang and the diagnosis came. At the same time, the bus arrived. While we only live a few miles from the store, it was the longest and quietest ride home. When we got home, we talked, cried, processed, and prayed. We made one commitment to each other that day that everything we said and did would be about keeping and maintaining a positive attitude in ourselves, our home, and our interactions with others.
As we have moved through the process, I have realized that moving through this requires one to be amazingly courageous. Whenever, I think about courage, I am transported back to a book I read in seminary by Ruth Gendler who takes feelings and transforms them into people. In writing about courage, she wrote about how Courage has “roots. She sleeps on a futon on the floor and lives close to the ground. Courage looks you straight in the eye. She is not impressed with powertrippers and she knows first aid. Courage is not afraid to weep and she is not afraid to pray, even when she is not sure who she is praying to. When Courage walks it is clear that she has made the journey from loneliness to solitude. The people who told me she is stern were not lying, they just forgot to mention that she is kind.”
Courage weeps and prays. When had I agreed that being courageous meant you did not cry? When had I agreed that being courageous meant you were not afraid? When had I agreed that I was not courageous? When I thin k of people who are courageous I think of people like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk and a host of others who have stood up and fought for what is right or intentionally walked against the path of least resistance. As I compared myself to them, I found myself across the years saying that I was not courageous.
As I have been processing my own feelings as the spouse of someone who is undergoing treatment for cancer, there have been days I have felt far from courageous because I have had moments when I have just wanted to cry and pray. As I read Gendler’s writing about courage, I found myself realizing that the ability to be human, to give myself permission to cry, to have real conversations with the Infinite, to pray with the fullness of who I am is an act of courage. I came to realize that it takes courage to allow ones self to be vulnerable and say this is how I am feeling. It takes courage to not put on a face or try to fake the funk and pretend that you are not feeling what you are feeling. It takes courage to say yes I am afraid, but you know what I am going to go through this with her anyway. It takes courage to state boundaries and stick to them. I realized it took courage the day I told people that this was a positive energy zone and that nobody was welcome here if they could not be positive and bring positive energy. There are a few people we have not heard from since then and that is ok, because I was not afraid to do the first aid that needed to be done to keep our home safe and healthy. I realized it takes courage every day to be able to say yes I am afraid, but it is not going to steal my joy. So today, I see myself as a woman of courage and a spiritual warrior who is able to maintain firm boundaries to create a sacred space and be loving and kind in my relationship with others.