“Nothing ever happens the way we plan it, neither the monuments we build to our arrogance or the careful building of a single life; great civilisations are swept away in the flick of a mare’s tail and a life disappears in the blinking of a cat’s eye.”
I thought I might like to read a light-hearted novel by a familiar author after not reading anything recreationally for ages. Turns out that the book was neither light-hearted, nor a work of fiction. I always steer far from shows, movies, books or any “entertainment” that involve medical dramas. Life produces enough all on its own. So I wouldn’t have bought this years ago at the second-hand book sale if the blurb was any less vague. As it is, serendipitously, I discovered this delightful book on suffering and dying tucked away in my backpack. Originally intended as light reading for the ride.
“I stood outside in the courtyard; above me the midnight stars shone – not many – Rozelle is too close to the city lights for the stars to burn through. There were only a few, a few mangey stars in a dark heaven in which I was certain no God lived whom I knew or cared about.” – Bryce Courtney
In fact for me, the sky was pitch black, as was everything else through those windows. Yet no matter how hard I searched for stars, I could only count one, or at most two in that vast expanse. I don’t hold the same certainty as the author in his claims about God, but I can feel the sense of forsakenness, the anger. Stage two in the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief? Wow we’re moving fast… and I can feel my sarcasm growing.
Annoyed and a bit amused
I feel angry towards everyone else too from the smug self-assured doctors and nervous medical students on their rounds, to visitors who say eating this and avoiding that prevents cancer (as if it matters now), to friends who want to give their hypothesis about what happened (especially in suggesting a link to sin), to stories of miraculous recoveries in patients who willed it or prayed enough (what about commonplace people who don’t recover?), to crazy relatives who want us to move intercontinentally for care and specifically want to address me because YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER as a medical professional. I know everyone cares and worries. I’ve read about bystanders having these sorts of responses and a friend whose younger brother died unexpectedly some years ago warned me that people like to say things to make themselves feel better. But I find it hard to believe, and mildly amusing even, that it happens in real life. What you’re essentially telling us (or yourself?) is that with just the right combination of physical and spiritual prevention, just the right frame of mind, just the right doctors and treatment, we can avert illness and death altogether. Hope is good but I have an aversion to pleasant untruths.
If you had been here
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died… Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” – John 11:21, 32
I know, intellectually at least, there is more to the story of Lazarus. That Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. That Martha has faith. That Jesus weeps. That Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life” and confirms this with raising Lazarus from the dead. But all I can hear is the reproach in each sister’s voice.