Last year, two of my friends struggled with cancer. They were both around 40 years old. Both of them when through excruciating physical problems; both of them, for awhile, looked very different than the friends I knew. Both of them fought their disease as agressively as they were able.
Today, one of my friends is cancer-free. He’s gained back the weight and the strength he lost, he has the color back in his face, and life has returned to his eyes. His hair has grown back, and he has a different attitude that can only be described as humble and thankful.
My other friend died last year. As hard as she tried to live, she just couldn’t do it.
Today I spent the better part of the day at the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. It’s a 24-hour fundraising event, and I was part of the “entertainment.” There are a lot of things I get asked to entertain for, and some of them are more worthwhile than others. But this is one event I’ll always say yes to.
I left the event tonight with a mix of feelings. I felt energized and happy to have been part of such a worthwhile event. I felt satisfied to have done a good job; I felt proud to be friends with people who used their influence to make a difference.
The athletic field where the event was held was full of people, maybe a few thousand of them; all who had been “touched in some way by cancer.” That was a nice way of saying: some had previously had the disease and were now O.K. (my friend was there); others were currently battling it and trying desperately to stay alive; and most of the crowd was there because they had lost friends or family members to cancer. They were there to remember and to express their sadness, their solidarity, and their determination to beat it once and for all. I agree with all that. But I felt something else.
I felt helpless. I wonder if a lot of people in the crowd felt the same way. Because so far, as hard as we’ve tried, we can’t completely beat this thing. We’ve made strides, and more people are cured than ten years ago. One of my friends is cancer-free tonight. But another one is no longer alive. And they both tried just as hard, and both had the benefit of the latest advances. It just wasn’t quite enough for my friend, Melody. Our best efforts aren’t quite there yet; at least, they weren’t for her.
I felt helpless. And I think many others felt the same way. There are so many problems we’ve been able to solve as a human race. But not this one. We might eventually get there, but at this point, it’s a glaring reminder that although we were created to have complete control of the earth and everything about it, we just don’t have that control anymore. It’s a humbling thing to think that though we were created to be healthy, to be whole, and to be in control – we find ourselves instead to be sick, broken, and helpless.
My faith tells me God can heal people; my experience tells me that he does heal some of them. But my faith also tells me that, although he completely understands all the components of this disease and has all the knowledge of how to completely eradicate it – he hasn’t done that yet. Maybe he’ll do that someday; but so far, we feel helpless.
Helplessness can lead to despair and hopelessness. Or, it can lead us to faith and trust. Helplessness can be a painful reminder of all we can’t do. Or, it can be a reminder of the One who can do anything.
Helplessness can lead to desperation at our loss of control. Or, it can lead to desperate clinging to the One who can restore order, health and a small measure of control to our lives.