A week ago Monday, I was having difficulty focusing on my work. My dad was scheduled for brain surgery on Thursday, and I was staring into a great emotional and spiritual abyss.
I wanted to distract myself from this great sucking void. I was tempted to try to fill the void with all earthly things: food, tea, exercise, knitting, sexual fantasies, the Internet, even the work that I needed to do do meet my deadline. Each time I started to paper over the abyss, a little voice inside me said, "No, that won't work."
I tried to pray. I tried to sit in silence, but I was too restless to remain still. I couldn't call on God to fill that void. God would fill it, I was certain, but he'd do so in God's time, not in mine. I wanted relief, right then, salvation from the path of grief and pain laid out before my feet.
In the end, between bouts of work, I decided to face the abyss, to sit with it and accept its presence in my life. I did this reluctantly, bitterly, with only a few tiny scraps of faith to guide me. The impulses to distraction continued, but I managed to ignore them. The voice was guiding me down a grim path, and I had just enough faith to listen to it.
My faith did not grow that day. I had a Worship and Ministry meeting that evening, and I felt inadequate to the task. I shared my current spiritual poverty with my Friends, and they gave me the gift of sitting with me exactly where I was. During the Meeting, I felt buoyed by their faith and was able to apply myself to our work under the guidance of the Spirit.
My faith recovered somewhat after that, and I was able to do my work and support my mother during the surgery. When I saw my dad in the recovery room, he was confused and wondered what all the fuss was about. My uncle was talking about how well the surgery had gone, but I could tell my dad wasn't taking it in.
When my uncle left, I looked into my dad's eyes, so beautiful and untroubled, and let him say what was on his mind. He talked a little bit about what had been going on in the recovery room, and then looked at me beseechingly.
"Do you know what's going on here?" I asked him. He said that he didn't, and so I explained about the surgery and the tumor.
I felt blessed in that moment because I was able to be with him in the present. My practice of sitting with the void on Monday had given me what I needed to be able to be present with him while he faced the abyss. I didn't need to paper over his experience with too much talk or try to escape from it. I could just be with him and accept whatever he was experiencing.
The prognosis for glioblastoma multiforme is grim: a 50% 1-year survival rate and a 3% 5-year survival rate. My dad faces radiation and chemotherapy and the almost-certain loss of vision, memory, cognitive function, and his life.
My dad faces his future philosophically. He wants to spend time with family, with his children and grandchildren, and to enjoy the lucid time he has remaining to him.
I pray, with more faith than I had at first, for strength and guidance to support him and my mother through the hard times ahead. I think wryly that my Quaker faith will enable to me sit by the abyss with them and listen for the prompting to do what I can. And, when I can do nothing, I will have the faith to sit there anyway.