A dear and wise friend wrote to me yesterday after posting a more general update on Facebook. He experienced a seizure a few weeks ago. An MRI confirmed a suspicious growth in his brain. The resulting biopsy revealed a slow growing tumor with one of those long, difficult-to-pronounce names of mixed brain tissue gone amok. We are hopeful that his treatment will go well.
This difficult news triggered some memories in our house. My spouse, Robyn, had a seven year journey with her late spouse, as he was treated for a more aggressive malignant brain tumor.
As all this storytelling and reflection was going on yesterday, actually at the very moment of our pondering of the present situation for one friend and the past experience for a loved one, I received an email from a friend. An out of the blue email. I knew her in Kentucky two decades ago. We fell out of touch when I moved back to Canada 23 years ago. I have often wondered what happened to her; my online searches for her did not manifest any results.
She lived with us for a full final year in a communal house during seminary. During that year, she worked through her devastation and grief. Her loss was the death of her mid-20’s spouse: the result of another very aggressive brain tumor. I remember flying back down in the summer from BC to Lexington to see him in hospital. When we had left the States a few months before, he was a strong, vibrant young man with the world ahead of him and new successful job. He died a few weeks after we visited him. For reasons that will forever remain with him, he chose to be in control of his death and took his life.
She came to live with four of us to create a family for that year together.
How is it that she chose this moment of this day, a day of renegade brain cell stories, out of about 8400 other days (I used my calculator) since we lost contact, to reach out to me? I can attest that the other 8399 days of my life had little brain tumor activity!
Of course, my skeptical, rational side is always quick to offer up my stock set of answers in the face of these considerations: it is dumb luck (and/or its close cousin: coincidence). I can’t possibly place myself at the center of this story. This is arrogant and preposterous… how could these three stories be at all related or find some connection in your own story?
I have a growing other side… a mystical side. As the years have gone by, this side doesn’t need to convince or persuade anyone else.
It asks revealing questions and/or intuits connections in the random patterns.
This side of me just asks questions that it doesn’t pretend to fully answer… but these questions tease me into considering that the world is far more mysterious… that it is all much more of an interconnected ecology than I could have possibly imagined.
Could it be that some connective tissue of soul operates at 3800 km away?
Could she sense some suffering, as she sat at her ipad in Kentucky, that we were processing yet another friend’s story of a journey with a brain tumor? And 8400 days later, she responds to a flash of memory and connection?
Was she responding to some gentle signal that arose from our anguish of revisiting old wounds and present anxiety for a friend?
Is this how we continue to express gratitude to others who have been present for us in our suffering?
Does empathy make us forever sensitive to some… so sensitive that they come to mind at the strangest of times?
… and then I find that she emailed me at precisely the right moment… out of the blue.