Ashes to Ashes

Today, Ash Wednesday, millions of the faithful will hear this reminder: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” For me, the timing is appropriate.

Friday is my last chemo treatment. I am now forever part of a sisterhood that I had no desire to join. Among the social side effects of cancer (which is its own topic for another time) is the need for people to determine how I “got” cancer. Family history? Diet? Environment? The answer is simple.

We are mortal. Illness happens. Death happens. We are fragile. We are dust.

In about 10 days my season of living life in 3-week cycles will be over. I will go back to posting about bullfrogs in my bathroom and mudslides on my commute. But the specter of cancer is here to stay. This is why I reject the term “survivor.” (My cancer, my rules. I don’t reject anyone else’s use.) I survived chemo, but we’ll not know if I survived cancer until my last breath is drawn and unto dust I return.

When one lives in a 3-week cycle, the awareness of one’s own mortal fragility is immediate. Enjoy living now because in 5 days you are going to have hell and horror visited upon you. There is little room for jealousy, arrogance, pride, and all of the other distractions that dilute one’s quality of life. There is only gratitude and grace. There is also an awareness of the mortal fragility of those around us. This awareness helps us, quoting a fellow cancer patient, “to judge them a little less harshly, to take them for granted a little less, to forgive them a little more readily, to love them a little more gently.” ashwednesday

We all know that which does not kill us makes us stronger. I pray that God will take a break from making me stronger but if he doesn’t, Ash Wednesday reminds me that “Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.” (Henri Frederic Amiel)

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