“I’ve got cancer. They pulled ten pounds of it out of my leg. I could live, I could die, I could lose a leg. Those are about the options.”
There’s no telling what love can do to us. Or for us.
That’s one of its allures: its unpredictability even in the face of certainties. The uncertainty lies in that one can never be sure what one will say -- or do -- when one acts from love; the certainty is that what one says and does, is a product of that love, however surprising it may be.
Case in point.
This bombshell dropped out of nowhere from my best friend, whom I love very, very dearly. It appeared to be an entirely innocent looking e-mail until I opened it, and then it exploded with its devastation.
I was no stranger to this malady.
It claimed my mother, whom I loved immeasurably, and my world changed forever.
It then claimed my father, whom I relied upon for stability more than I ever dreamed, and my life felt abandoned eternally.
It then ravaged my wife, who survives to this day, and my definitions of “living” and “loving” changed irrevocably.
All through these events, my best friend, though separated by distance, was an invaluable rock for me to lean upon. So it was to my ultimate shame that upon receiving the news of his plight, I was paralyzed. I couldn’t answer. I had no answer. I had nothing to offer.
Then came the second message, and then a third. Each confirming a reality I was desperately trying to deny. To my wife’s eternal credit, she returned each message with a response. For the first one, affirming that survival happens, and she is proof of that, so take hope; for the second one, offering some information that the doctors never tell you, but that is essential to know; and for the third message, that the tunnel is very long, very dark, but rest assured we are traveling it with him.
And still no answer from me, his best friend.
He had stood by me through three of these similar crises and all I had to offer in his hour of need was silence? It was Shame that finally prompted me to send a message, but it was Love that wrote the words.
“I have no words of comfort that I can offer you during this time, only this:
This is your fight, you’re in the ring this time, you’re getting punched and battered and beaten and bruised by an opponent bent upon devouring you utterly. There may be friends and family close by that are in your corner, to give you a breather when they can, to pour some water over your head or to wipe up your wounds in between rounds to keep you going. I’m not there.
“There may be others who are ringside, cheering you on, shouting for you with voices you can hear. I’m not there, either. There may be others who are removed some distance apart watching, as it were, on some macabre broadcast, and giving you support as best they can from their far away vantage. Certainly, I am not there, either.
“No, Tom, you won’t find me in any of these places, but instead I am there in the ring with you, swinging blindly, madly, insanely, without reason, without purpose. It’s your fight, not mine, but I cannot contain myself to merely sit and watch. I am compelled to yell and spit and scratch and scrap and scream -- for if even for a single moment your fiendish opponent should turn in my direction and take his malevolent eyes off from you, then perhaps there is some sense to it. But it is not the making of sense that is the purpose.
“It is all I can do to helplessly try and take your place in this tragedy, which is what my heart screams to do with an irresistible voice I do not try to ignore. If the world were mine to command, Tom, our places would be switched in a heartbeat, make no mistaking that. But even supplication to the One In Charge alone is still too passive for what love demands in action.
“I’m in the ring with you, Tom. For the duration. For whatever that’s worth.”
It was gratifying to hear back from him that this was exactly what he needed to hear.
Love could stand for nothing less.
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