Series on Suffering #9 – Darkness and Light and Waiting

Series on Suffering #9: Darkness and Light and Waiting by Robynn

I’ve been wanting to include a piece on waiting in this series on suffering. Waiting is so much of what is agonizing about suffering. Waiting for phone calls, waiting for appointments, waiting for test results, waiting to hear from a wayward son, waiting to talk to the supervisor, waiting for child support, waiting for an interview. Waiting.

We’re not very good at it either. It’s hard to endure, to be patient, to hold it together. We want things quickly, we want instant results, we want to rush through to the end. But that’s not how it seems to work ever.

As I was mulling these things over, I received a letter as part of growing group of concerned friends, from my friend Barry who’s wife has been battling cancer. It perfectly captures the issue of waiting. With Barry’s permission I give you this letter in it’s entirety.


Hi Friends,

In photography, we need enough light to record a photograph. Most of us have taken pictures that didn’t have enough light. (And sometimes what is enough light for one part of a photograph is insufficient for another part of a photograph.)

But with even a tiny bit of light, if we wait the right amount of time, it is enough to make a good photograph; even in the middle of a dark night, if we take the time.

These two photographs, taken a few days ago in Carol’s hospital room within the same minute, illustrate the point. The “dark” one was exposed for 1/120th of a second. The “bright” one below was exposed for 1/15th of a second. As you can see, there is three times as much light when we wait eight times longer.

In haiku form, it might go like this:
  if we wait for it,
a little light is enough.
see. it’s worth the wait.

Honestly, this is not an attempt to be profound, it’s a slow desire to understand and make meaning out of suffering (ours or others’) and a deeply broken world where cancer cells (or Ebola cells, or misdirected extremists, or extreme climate patterns, or greedy / selfish / ignorant / desperate / hurting people) show up uninvited with their/our baggage. This is an attempt to translate into a few English words (and a couple images) the very strange warping of time in these 24 months that have passed by with this disease knocking on our door and coming inside, bringing its darkness, but not having the last word.

In our experience, fighting cancer is largely a matter of waiting, not doing. Waiting for appointments, waiting for scans, waiting for chemo to slowly drip through the IV, waiting for the chemo to work, waiting for the chemo to wear off, waiting for the latest lab results, waiting for the latest diagnosis, waiting for information, waiting for sleep to come, waiting for strength to return, waiting for good news, waiting for bad news.

But strangely, the longer we wait, the more opportunity there is for a greater amount of light to illuminate and resolve some kind of reasonable “pictures” of it all; to learn and gain some valuable things we might not otherwise have learned; to share, give, receive, depend, and discover some things we might not otherwise have encountered. Gaining a little more light, even in suffering, seems more valuable than getting somewhere faster.

Waiting is often unpleasant. Sometimes it’s downright fearful or painful. But it seems if we open ourselves to The Wait rather than fighting it, if we stop trying to “manage” time in these kinds of journeys, there is something to be received and even gained, apart from our very reasonable hopes for longevity and certain medical outcomes.

As I’ve just proven, this is very hard to explain. In the end, as with every human life, it comes down to a few faith choices each of us makes repeatedly along the path; and our posture, and our receptivity to some things that are just around the corner of our understanding.

On a much more tangible note, we are slowly learning more about this (flexible, and flexing) CNS chemo regimen, which will last around 10 weeks. It will likely involve 5 biweekly in-patient stays of around 4 days with high-dose methotrexate and other drugs; alternating with around 5 biweekly out-patient chemo infusions like Carol had today, which take around 4-5 hours; and some other chemo drugs with various cycles and timing. This is what we’ll be doing through the end of the year, and working / living / listening / waiting in the in-between hours, waiting for just enough light we need for today. Thank God for light. What a great idea that was.

Carol has a picc line (rather than multiple weekly pokes into her veins, or a surgical “port” which she had 2 years ago but was removed) which requires daily maintenance. Please pray for this to remain safe from infection.

Our hope and prayer is that this chemo regimen will eliminate the cancer activity in Carol’s brain and the rest of her body; and that the remission will either last a long time or give space for other treatment options which are not yet visible to us. We wait.

Thank you for waiting with us.

Barry and Carol

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