The other day I posted some of Jared Noel’s reflections on the meaningless of suffering, and how the realisation of that helped him to face five years of a terminal illness. This snippet is the second part of that reflection, in which he goes on to talk about love and hope. Unless we go there, the thesis that suffering is meaningless is itself meaningless. It’s also hopeless. Here, Jared speaks of his ‘faith community’, which is Mosaic, the group behind Crave cafe in Morningside. Recently I got to participate in a Q&A with the group on this very topic, and my responses echoed Jared’s words in his book, Message To My Girl.
I have not come to this place of peace without a wrestle. At times, that wrestle has been painful. Confusing. Gut-wrenching, even. My heart was sold on the vision I had. So when I was first diagnosed, it felt like another step in the journey. It was a very big step, but a step nevertheless. But as time went on and my prognosis worsened, issues were raised that had less obvious answers. I had to really wrestle with these. It was difficult to reconcile the two things. My calling to go overseas and my terminal disease. They just did not fit. They are still unresolved. Right now, this close to death, I still have not resolved that discordance. Because it cannot be resolved. That would assign meaning where none can be assigned. I just have to sit with the tension of the meaninglessness of one reality destroying the other.
What I have been given in all of this, is hope. Over the course of the journey I have experienced the types of hope that anyone in my predicament has. The hope of treatment, the hope of a cure, the hope that I would be around to see my daughter, the hope that I would get to enjoy just one more day of work. But these smaller hopes were nested inside a much bigger hope—the hope that I would be of use to other people, that the broken story that I was telling them would somehow strike a chord and would make a difference, and that this difference might even have a rolling effect through the community, and the nation, and the world. This hope came to replace the more personal, selfish hope, to a large degree. I found value not in finding a cure and pursuing my own dreams, but in being rewarded with opportunities to change people’s lives, in spite of my vulnerability.
I still have those personal hopes. They are no longer about a cure, because I accept my death. No, my hope is now focussed more on the faith community that comes to gather around my bed, that community of friends that has travelled with me along the way. My hope is actually that I have sown a seed, and that they realise that their potential to make a difference in the world is only limited by their own understanding of the world. Things are not always going to happen in line with what they want or expect, but I hope that my story has shown them that even so, wonderful things can happen. There is always a bigger picture that we cannot see. The amazing thing is that even with our limited vision, we get to play such a big part in making it happen.
I hope too that they spend the rest of their lives seeking to build the community and helping people to understand faith in this light—that they have within their reach the opportunities that I had, regardless of circumstance. I hope they avoid getting caught up in mid-life crises and materialism. I believe that they will go and spend their lives making a real impact. And if not the impact that is measurable by typical means, certainly the sort of impact an antihero makes.
It is impossible to find meaning in the context of suffering without a community of people around you—friends, family, colleagues. People with whom you get to share experiences of love, of really reaching out beyond yourself and making a difference in their lives. And the same is true in reverse. It is impossible to keep the fires of love burning if you are not receiving it from others. To find hope in the midst of sickness and dying requires people who will journey with you. These people have journeyed with Hannah and me. They have walked so closely beside us that they have known when things are going bad, and when things are going well. The value of their presence has been impossible to measure. My journey has given them pause, to think and wrestle with what life is all about, what faith is in the context of suffering, and the central place of love in the search for hope. They have wrestled with these things as much as I have. And they have not done it from a distance. They have been right there by our sides.
There is a cost to human suffering. In my case, that cost was measured in rounds of chemo, all eighty-nine of them. That cost is fairly brutal. But love is experienced when there are people close enough to you to see what eighty-nine rounds of chemo actually looks like. And that is where you find meaning. In the love that can generate hope no matter the circumstances, and no matter how close you are to your final, final moments.