There’s the story of a pastor visiting a one hundred-year-old member of the congregation. Unable to fathom what the old one’s life must be like, knowing that every moment may be the last, the pastor asks, “how do you cope?”. Without missing a beat the old one replies, “well, I don’t buy green bananas”.
Oh, Christ, not again. On drive-home day from a recent vacation, I was outside the motel with my morning coffee while MSL captured her last few minutes of sleep. My phone rang - a great friend calling to say that her cancer was back. She didn’t have many answers because the diagnosis had just come. “These days of waiting are the very definition of torture,” she said. There will be scans and tests and almost certainly surgery, and chemo all over again, but at the moment, not much is known. Friend asks if I can I break the news to MSL so she doesn’t have to learn it on Facebook. Yeah, absolutely - I’ll tell her.
I feel helpless and small standing in the morning half-light of that parking lot 700 miles away. I don’t know what say to my friend and the words come out in simple phrases of twos and threes: I’m sorry - I hate this - we love you - stay strong.
Our friend is a woman in her early forties with a great husband and four young sons. We used to work together and the coffee machine was right by her desk and we could easily blow an hour with our impromptu brainstorming sessions. We both started blogging at about the same time and she has been a great encourager for my writing. MSL is probably even closer to her with their book club and the girl stuff they do.
Oh Christ, not again. It was just over a year ago that MSL and I had taken another end-of-summer vacation with MSL’s sister. Sister had lived in Florida all those years, and fought a battle of her own with breast cancer. Other life circumstances moved Sister back home to Iowa. She was smart and fun in the year that she was here and I got to know my new sister in a new way - it was a joy to have her close. But today, just a year later, she’s gone. Her cancer came back, too.
Oh Christ, not again - I don’t know if that’s a prayer or an appeal or just a curse. Oh Christ, not again is my first reaction and, at the moment, my only reaction. Losing Sister a few months ago was agonizing, and to think that Friend and her family have to go through this struggle all over again is crushing in its unfairness. Cancer is more survivable than ever before and optimism is something to hold onto until the very end, but the fight is pure hell and I don’t wish it on anyone. Those of us who would gladly bear some of the patient’s pain are powerless to do so.
Ultimately, I guess, there’s nothing to do but be grateful for health while we have it. A banana doesn’t take much time to go from green to black, but those few short days when it is yellow are magical and beautiful and they are the days we have to enjoy it to the fullest. Life is too short and too precious and too ephemeral and too fragile to not love every single minute for the miracle that it is, and I’m never going to buy a green banana again.