Say yes to the journey

“I wish it need not have happened in my time.” 

~Frodo to Gandalf

“So do I…and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time given us.”

~Gandalf’s response

Living with a chronic illness leaves one with the dilemma of what to do with the pain.  This pain is not only physical as part of the manifestation of the disease, but it also invades our lives in the form of lost hopes and dreams.  So many who suffer with chronic illness have had to change the paths they were on in order to accommodate needs associated with the illness.  Some have found themselves housebound.  Others fight with the loss of a once vibrant social life as plans need to be continually cancelled until invitations are few and far between.  Still others have had to walk away from careers in order to meet the medical demands associated with a long term, chronic illness.  Lives are radically changed and no one is ever ready for the emotional impact.

This is where I feel a kinship with Frodo.  He was living a quiet life tucked neatly away in the green pastures of the Shire. He had inherited his Uncle Bilbo’s fortune and had a life of simple luxury ahead of him.  Sure, he felt a bit restless from time to time, but he was quite content with his life’s path.  Little did he realize that stored away in a safe space was an evil beyond his comprehension; an evil that threatened to be his undoing whether he wanted it or not. Ultimately, his destiny would be to bear the burden of ultimate evil and see personally to its destruction.  Life no longer looked safe and comfortable, and he would find himself lead down paths he would have never voluntarily chosen in different circumstances.

I was ready to finally chart my own course, spread my individual wings, and fly.  That was until cancer became my all-consuming reality leaving me crying out with Frodo, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”

This is where I was several years ago.  I was working on my Bachelor’s degree with an eye toward graduate school.  I had plans of a career after my twenty years as a homeschool mom.  The future held infinite possibilities and I was ready to finally chart my own course, spread my individual wings, and fly.  That was until cancer became my all-consuming reality, leaving me crying out with Frodo, “I wish it need not have happened in my time” (Tolkien 50).

This lament left me to ponder Gandalf’s wise response to Frodo’s cry.  He knew that Frodo had not chosen to bear this burden.  He knew that this was not the life Frodo had chosen to live and it broke his heart to deliver such dire news, yet his answer encompasses the lament but also points toward hope:

“…and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time given us” (Tolkien 50).

All we have to do is decide what to do with the time given us…what wise advice yet so hard to think of when our once happy lives now consists of pain, continual testing, being confined to the house for days on end, and the stress that comes with the unknown that accompanies a chronic health condition.  How on earth can one even begin to think about the future when the present is so full of unknowns? Yet Gandalf is right, we can voluntarily choose to bear the burden that has been unexpectedly thrown in life’s path and decide to make the best of a difficult situation.  Each one of us has the power to choose to start each new day with thanksgiving or continually lament our tragic condition, how we live from this point forward truly is in our hands.

After the laparotomy, the doctor was incredibly optimistic about my prognosis, that was until he left the room to recheck the latest CT scan.  When he came back he announced that he had located tumors in the right lung that would require an additional surgery and that my progression free survival may be less than he had originally anticipated; a prognosis that would depend on whether or not he could locate any new metastasis. Having just be through a radical surgery, the thought of possibly having to repeat the process was overwhelming.

Again, I cannot help but think of Frodo, sitting so small and insignificant, in Elrond’s council.

I also cannot begin to describe the emotional roller coaster; at one moment the doctor was confident he had been able to remove all visible tumors and now there are more in the lung…it was such a feeling of utter defeat and made the possibility of being declared as having no evidence of disease only a dream.

Again, I cannot help but think of Frodo, sitting so small and insignificant, in Elrond’s council.  All about him those so much bigger and stronger than he are arguing the fate of the entire world.  Discussions of enemies, traitors, and the dangers of such a quest to destroy the ring.  Others rose up and demanded that evil could be used for good and that it was through the will of the strong that such a weapon could be wielded for benefit of men. Despite all of the arguments and the overwhelming presence of the strongest of the strong, Frodo, in his small voice, calls out:

“I will take the ring…though I do not know the way” (Tolkien 264).

Small and insignificant.  Easily overlooked by those stronger than him, yet he is the only one with the strength of character to accomplish such an impossible task.  However, it is Elrond’s response that contains the most comfort:

“…I think this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way no one will…But it is a heavy burden.  So heavy that none could lay on another.  I do not lay it on you.  But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right…” (Tolkien 264).

It is a heavy burden, being chronically ill.  It is not a burden that I would wish to lay on the shoulders of another.  Some days the path looks incredibly bleak.  Some days it is almost impossible to see the sun shining though the clouds.  Yet this is a task that has been set upon my shoulders.  I have been chosen to bear a burden that not everyone can carry and God feels that I have the strength of character to do so, only if I choose voluntarily to carry the task through to completion.  Like Frodo, I can see this through because I have chosen to have a positive attitude and enough faith in my own strength of character that I am going to win this battle against cancer.   I will see this journey through to its glorious completion.

Now is not the time to mourn our losses but to rejoice in the strength we have to fight our daily battles.  This is not the end but the beginning of something wonderful.

I have the strength to climb the rocks of Mt. Doom and cast my burden into the fires to be destroyed.  I will not give in to despair and I will voluntarily choose to rejoice instead of lament.

For all of those with a chronic illness, an incredible opportunity has been laid at our feet. We have the choice on how we proceed from here.  How we choose to live out our days in front of our friends and family leaves us the potential to be someone’s inspiration.  Our good fight can be the source of strength that some one else needs to take up their own cross and walk the path that has been laid out for them.  Now is not the time to mourn our losses but to rejoice in the strength we have to fight our daily battles.  This is not the end, but the beginning of something wonderful that will bring us on a journey we never thought we possessed the strength to carry out.  By saying yes we will learn more about ourselves than we ever thought possible.

Works Cited

Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Fellowship of the Ring. Being the first part of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Houghton:Boston. 1994. Print.

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