The topic of todays sermon is “hope.”
The audience for said sermon is me.
You see I woke up this morning with good news. My white blood count had climbed from 0.1 to 0.3. This is the first concrete sign that my stem cell transplant is working. My sores should start to heal, my pains subside. Good news. My wife was ecstatic, my kids did a happy dance video. I, on other hand, got depressed.
You see my life for the past two years have been full of false starts and promising milestones. I am declared seizure free, and two weeks later I am in the hospital with dangerously low platelets. This, in turn, lead to a cancer diagnosis, so into chemotherapy I went -a chemo with a nearly 90% cure rate. As July rolled around we all celebrated the end of chemo, and a seemingly clean PET Scan. Three months later after another PET scan, another biopsy showing that the lymphoma had not gone.
And so I now sit here, in the bone marrow transplant wing of the hospital, at the end of 3 months of lethal chemotherapy and stem cell collection, after 16 days of the systematic destruction of my digestive system, and there is hope? How can I hope again? How can I convince myself one more time, that THIS time, THIS treatment, THIS procedure will be the one? When does optimism simply dissolve into deliberate ignorance?
Many have called me brave, or inspirational in my fight with cancer. There is nothing brave about battling cancer. The alternative to the battle takes the decision away. Chemo or death? Easy choice. Chance to live 5 to 40 more years…yes how brave of me to chose that.
Then I think about my new life, the one we celebrate the day the stem cell are injected into my chest, February 24th. What will this life be? Should I return to my former ways? Grants, speeches, projects, advisees? Should I recommit to changing the world? This work involves more than me. It involves commitments of others, others that I have, over the past two years, let down…a missed meeting, a failed project, dropping of commitments. Can I change the world and avoid that? Is it time to become the tenured full professor who teaches his class, writes his book, and disappears into the ivory tower?
Haven’t I earned that? Don’t I deserved to be selfish and live every day just for itself, with my only effort to change the world through my wife and kids? Isn’t that enough.
Then I think “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”
Who among us is promised a full day on this earth? Who among us is free from the threats of disease, or violence, or stress or poverty? How many people do I know that every day fight to pay the bills, who may go hungry? How many of the “lucky people” I walk by without cancer are fighting their own demons of drugs, or discrimination? Retreat to the Ivory Tower?!? Talk about a privilege problem. How many people would be happy with any job? How many people would long for a roof over their head? It must have been tough going through this medical procedure….with health care!
I had cancer and it might come back, and you may lose your job, and he may have a heart attack, and she may lose her child. We cannot live life cataloging potential disasters and saying “at least that didn’t happen to me” ignoring that it happened to others. That is not living, that is hiding, and the only greater sin is believing that you have no part to play in the alleviation of other people’s pain.
You see, that’s the thing about hope – it is not a guarantee or a promise. It is a prayer, and desire, and it lies at the core of making this world a better place. We fight inequity, poverty, corruption because we hope for a better day. We teach because we hope we can impart some idea that will blossom into a better world for all. We raise children in hopes of a better future. We marry because we hope we can live up to the promise of our spouses. We work either out of the hope that our efforts will improve the world, or at least the wages of our labor can provide a better world for us.
I have made a career of calling people to service. In the classroom, on the web, on stages around the world I have tried to equip an army of the hopeful to improve society. I never made a promise to that legion that our cause was guaranteed, or easy, or simple. But I did try and give hope. That hope continues with or without my cancer, or my very life. But while I have the ability to put towards to it, I will do so with hope.
Today my white blood count went from 0.1 to 0.3. The doctors and nurses are hopeful that my levels will continue to rise to the point I can go home next week. They can’t promise it, but they can hope for it. I hope they’re right, because I have a lot of work to do.