So Stephanie and I were having drinks a few weeks ago with Tina, my friend who had just had her last round of chemotherapy for breast cancer. We were celebrating with her and many of her co-workers and friends, and by the time my wife and I walked home, we had been well into our pours.
But something that Tina said to me stayed in my gut like the chicken wings and fries I foolishly devoured eighteen minutes before I passed out that evening. She said, "I'm so, so mad at God right now. So angry. So angry." When I asked her why, her answer surprised me. Her displeasure with the Big Guy didn't have so much to do with her as it did with her friend Jodi's battle with cancer... a battle that she, barring a miracle, will lose physically.
When I watched a video on Jodi recently, I was completely awestruck by the woman I saw. She is one of the most courageous people I've ever come across. While fighting her own war, she cheers up other cancer patients in the chemotherapy ward at a local hospital. It's simply remarkable. Now I understood why Tina was ticked.
So being moved by Jodi's story, I shared it on my Facebook page. A few minutes after that, this popped up from my friend, Lucinda: "I no longer believe in God. And in turn, am no longer angry with "him". Life is all about chance. I found that realization extremely freeing for me. I lost my mother to cancer and have found peace knowing that it had nothing to do with anything but pure chance. (I don't miss her any less.)"
For the record, Lucinda is a very spiritual person. It's the whole Bible thing that's been given the kibosh.
It was not the first time I had heard about something like this. A friend of a friend lost their child to a drowning accident. The dad of the little boy has basically, according to him, become an atheist. But when you peel back his layers, you realize that it's not that he doesn't believe in God.
He hates God.
I have always said that you do what you have to do to survive cancer. If you have to eat only bananas because they're the only thing on earth that tastes the same going south...or north...on the esophageal highway, then you eat only bananas. If you feel better at night and crappy in the day, then by all means embrace your inner Eddie Cullen. And if being mad at God, or despising God, or even giving up your belief is something you feel you need to do just to survive... then do it.
However, in my own life, I have an alternate view. This is not a view I use to try to impart on others who don't share my feelings. I simply believe that the most informed decisions I can make for myself require me to look at all aspects, and then pick what feels right in my heart and my mind. I trust myself, because I have no agenda with myself. So with that in mind, here's my take:
I can't say that I've never been mad at God. I can't say that I've never asked the question, "Why?" However, I can say that I've never been mad at God for cancer, and that includes my own battle as well as the battles of those close to me.
When I found out I had cancer, it was a bit of a relief. At least I knew what my opponent was, and how I could fight back. When the words "You have cancer" make the less than grand entrance in the show that is your life, you never know if you're going to live or die. And at first, I wasn't thinking about life or death. I just wanted the chance to punch it in the 'nads.
And the reason is simple: I was mad at the cancer, itself. This thing was a living, breathing entity that had basically moved into my studio apartment one day, and started throwing my crap in the street every day since until it had the chance to boot me out for good. I've said before that cancer was my bully. Only this time, I was not going to take it lying down.
Being mad at the disease made all the sense in the world to me. Being mad at God... didn't. Because in my own mind, God does nothing on a whim. I don't think God wakes up on a daily basis and says, "Moses, could you bring me the list of people whose lives I'm going to ruin today? Oh, and a skinny soy latte. Thanks, chief."
I think God uses everyone and everything with a plan, and not a single damn one of us understands the vast majority of it. Yet it's in those moments of utter clarity when life truly reveals itself. These are the moments when you not only see a plan unfolding, but the plan envelopes you in a way that you understand before it even happens. They are more then light bulb moments: they're lightning bolt moments... those that send electric shocks throughout your body. We've all had them, and they're kinda unforgettable.
While many of us say we want to be happy, we have a quirky tendency as human beings to focus on the negatives in our lives. Some of us are subtle in our self-loathing: "Wow, I was just two points away from the A+. An A is still good, I guess."
Others of us are just miserable: "Can you believe the fricken government took a third of my lottery winnings?! Those bastards!!"
And it's amazingly easy to revel in the loss and devastation of any tragedy, especially those which are immensely personal to us...the loss of a child... or a parent... or a friend. It's easy to be mad at God. He's a great scapegoat that way, and He's also a finality. "God just didn't want him to live, or her to live. God is a real jerk, and He treats us like puppets, and if He's so great," (say it with me now), "why do bad things happen to good people?"
And there really is no answer that will make sense...unless you let it. It never comes easily, and there is always pain in the re-living. On the morning of our first fundraiser for The Half Fund, my uncle Declan died from bladder cancer. I was insanely close to my uncle. We used to work at the same office, and every day at 8:30 a.m., I would pass his office to say hello. And every day at 10:15am, I would finally make it to my own office.
I saw him two weeks before he died. I saw how ravaged his body was, how his mind was going, how he held on through unimaginable pain and suffering. I cursed the cancer with every fiber of my being, and I angrily yelled at God, "I hope you know what you're doing, because I don't have a single idea of why this has to happen."
It's another little ornery peccadillo that some of us will get the why, some of us will eventually get the why, and some of us won't get it at all, and it has nothing to do with intelligence. It has to do with meaning, and the openness of the heart for discovery, even through the pain...and sometimes, especially through the pain.
The wonderful part is that the meaning can be anything to anyone. Dec was a big believer in our mission to lift the veil on cancer, and for me, the meaning of his death on the day of our biggest event was that he was able to be there with me. This has positively nothing to do with the meaning for his sons, who are charged with discovering their own meaning. And that's okay. It doesn't have to be the same, and no heart-felt meaning is wrong.
I guess what I'm saying is that in the grand scheme of things, God knows that He's got several million beatings a day coming to Him from angry, hurt, and sometimes broken pieces of His creation. I think He welcomes them, and understands it when people hate Him, turn away from Him, and even renounce Him. It is up to us to feel what we feel, and no one should ever be judged for their own feelings.
But I do think He's always there with open arms if and when someone looks up and says, "Uh, God? Yeah, about that time I called you a hemorrhoid on the ass of life...can we kinda forget it ever happened?"
See Jodi's story here.
Discover more at www.thehalffund.org