Two or three weeks ago, I called my mom. Maile, the kids, the bus, and I were somewhere in Florida. Maybe Jacksonville. I can’t remember exactly. Within a few seconds of my mom answering, I knew something was wrong.
“Shawn, I have some not-so-good news,” she said in a quavery voice reserved for funerals and personal catastrophes.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Someone very close to us has cancer.
It’s rather shocking, actually, to discover something like this. It felt like discovering there was a traitor in our midst. I found myself wondering which nearly invisible cells in my own body were planning a revolt.Which tree was going to fall on our bus. I started seeing death behind every oncoming car, or hiding in every shadow.
* * * * *
Yesterday I found out that some very close friends of ours are miscarrying their baby. I don’t know the details. But the sadness is recognizable. Reminded me of standing next to Maile at a routine doctor’s visit when she was pregnant with our third child. The doctor looked up with pursed lips and confused eyebrows.
“I’m really sorry to tell you this,” she said. “But something isn’t right.” A few weeks later, Maile miscarried. Friends hugged us. We walked around our house quiet and empty.
* * * * *
There is something devastating about hope unattained. The unexpected diagnosis. The bright candle that turns into a smoldering wick. The “something isn’t right” speech. Sometimes, just sometimes, it makes me wonder if hope is worth it. Makes me want to live a life where I always expect the worst, keep my hand closed, my eyes on the ground in front of me. Too much looking out at horizons exposes one to the possibility of disappointment.
There’s a world we’ve never seen
There’s still hope between the dreams
The weight of it all could blow away
With a breeze
But if your waiting on the wind
Don’t forget to breathe
Because as the darkness gets deeper
We’re sinkin’ as we reach for love
– Jack Johnson, “All at Once”
* * * * *
Tuesday evening I went outside to help Maile’s brother till his garden. He and I took turns pushing the rototiller around, pushing all the old dead grass and hay under the rich brown soil. Then I raked out the dead stuff to the edges and piled it all into the wheelbarrow. The soil went from looking barren and rather unwilling to expectant. Open.
It takes a lot of turning over to reach that point. A lot of pounding and tearing and grinding of the soil. The rototiller grasped at the ground like giant claws. Our shovels bit into the edge of the garden.
As I worked the soil and the sun dropped behind those Tennessee hills, I thought of my friend with cancer. My friends losing their baby. They are being tilled. They are being ground.
But I know them, and I know their hearts.
And while it will not diminish the pain they feel now, I marvel at what rich soil they will become.
* * * * *
Have you ever been tilled? How did it change you?
If you know of whom I speak, please respect their privacy and refrain from mentioning their identities in the comments section.