When George and I were in Marblehead, Massachusetts, getting a second opinion on my diagnosis, we walked along a beach strewn with black rocks that had washed in from the sea. There were so many of them they covered the beach. I bent over to pick one up and feel it in my hand. As I looked at it, I was surprised to find writing, the faint letters, hand written, of the word, "Shalom".
In that moment, I felt a deep intuition of being held in something bigger, of big Love ... of what I call God.
How amazing that on a beach strewn with rocks, I'd stoop to pick up this one. I turned it over and saw, in equally faintness, the star of David. I didn't know what it MEANT that I picked it up, only felt the wonder of it.
The Hebrew meaning of Shalom is Peace, but a deeper thing than what we think of as peace now. It's a peace that means Wholeness. I imagined someone, perhaps a preteen in a
class at synagogue, painting on this rock, and then throwing it into the ocean. How cool ... this connection of someone writing on a rock, sending it into the ocean, and it arriving on the shore, and the moment of my stooping, unknowing, to pick it up and read its message.
Since my diagnosis of cancer has begun to work its way in my life, I have set that rock aside, only looking at it occasionally, yet never getting rid of it. This diagnosis has unearthed every scared, neurotic, closed, confused, fearful impulse in me. It has propelled me into honesty that is scary, a looking at patterns that aren't working in my life, at brokenness in relationship, at the hard work of learning new ways, reconciling, heartbreaking learning of what is possible but not habitual.
I have wanted more than Shalom. I have wanted, and still want outcome. I want a rock that says I will live 30 more years. Shalom is a gift that can be given in the face of living and of dying. I want a rock that will give me a promise of many years so that I can then work my way to peace on my own terms, knowing I have lots of room and time.
Thursday I had my third chemotherapy treatment, or what someone suggested could be called, "Medicine that will make me well" treatment.
I went to the waiting room, headed to the back of the room where there were lots of open seats, and then paused, turned around, and felt a need to sit, instead, in the front row. I sat down next to a woman I thought was a stranger, then looked at her and we recognized one-another, each of us looking a bit different than ourselves. It took a minute for us to recognize and place one-another. We had been together on a task force on race. It had been a painful, unfinished experience for me. Our connection was important and will be important to my wholeness. She gave me her number and said, as she was leaving, "Lets not let a week go by...". It was the second time (of three times) that I met someone in the waiting room that I needed to connect with.
It reminded me of the time I was on a plane, heartbroken at the tragic and sudden loss of a close family member. I was going to do the memorial service. I felt sad and vulnerable and unprepared. A woman who was a Rabbi sat next to me. Her name was Rabbi Sheffa Gold ( I remember her name to this day ). She had just written a book on grief. How I needed that moment with her, as she told me about the Jewish tradition of sitting Shiva.
And I think of the day my father died. I arrived at the airport after driving through a Colorado blizzard, very late for my plane. I had to run to have a chance of reaching my plane on time. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the face of my spiritual director at the time, Rose Annette, Lydell. Her gray braided hair was unmistakable.
When I arrived at the gate, I sat next to a woman and wondered aloud, "Why would I have seen her if I couldn't stop and talk to her?" The woman answered, "maybe you just needed the comfort of seeing her, not any conversation you would have had with her. Maybe seeing her was enough."
I want promise of outcome.
I resist, want control.
Shalom is something beyond that, maybe not dependent on outcome.
I'm not there. I still want promises, certainty, outcome.
I like to grab at anything that feels safe.
Shalom suggests a safety on a different level.
As George and I talked this morning, he wondered with me, and said, "Life only fits in an open hand"
Something I am clumsily living into.
I'm grateful for the reminder of Shalom, which I imagine holds all of it, and all of us.