I believe in blessings, though you might at first wonder why. Like 1.3 million other people in the United States, I learned this year that I have cancer. Some blessing! At age 52, I am, of course, too young to have cancer and way too young to be forced to contemplate my own mortality.
Upon hearing that the biopsy was positive my initial reaction was predictable: “Why me? I don’t deserve this.” And I can probably lay out a fairly convincing case for why I – a hard-working, God-fearing, tax-paying, loving husband and father – indeed do not deserve this.
But, before I got too far down that line of thinking I read a newspaper and saw that another three soldiers had died that day in Iraq. They were just names in that place inside the first section of the newspaper where several times a week more names are printed. Names of soldiers invariably as young or younger than my son Brian, much less me. They didn’t deserve to die, nor did the 3000 and some who came before them. Nor did the tens of thousands of young soldiers who didn’t die, but whose lives will be forever altered by their wounds.
What of the many tens of thousands of Iraqis who have perished in the present war and those before under Sadam Huessain. What of the hundreds of thousands of people across Africa who have been victimized by corruption, war and genocide? What of the millions around the globe with HIV? I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Couldn’t they all convincingly say “Why me? I don’t deserve this.”
It takes the edge off your self-pity to realize that far greater and equally undeserved suffering exists everywhere. The self-pity becomes shameful once you turn around and look at the other side of the coin. 52 years ago I was born in the most free and prosperous country that ever existed. I was born into a loving family, middle-class by U.S. economic standards, but prosperous by any other. I grew up with the means to never be hungry; to pursue my dreams; to become educated, to have a rewarding career; to fall in love, marry, have children and then fall in love again with them.
I would like to say I deserved all that, but how could I? How could I when you can enumerate literally billions of people on this earth, younger and older than me, who haven’t had a fraction of what I have been given. On the day I was born, about 90,000 other people were born around the world. How many of them got the sweet deal I got? How many of them were as blessed as I was?
If my cancer diagnosis is a curse, how it pales in comparison to the blessing of those 52 years that came before it. I have never thought much about what a blessing is until now; but now I know exactly: a blessing is something wonderful you get even though you don’t deserve it. You know the source of your blessings if you believe in God. If you don’t then maybe you think of your blessings are just good luck. But either way they are a mystery.
I have been blessed for 52 years and being human, I’d like that to continue that run for a lot longer. While the cancer may be a threat to my life it doesn’t alter the blessings I have been given so far, and maybe it is even a blessing itself, having allowed me to stop and realize how grateful I am. I’ll fight the cancer and I hope to win. If I do, I won’t be foolish enough to believe it was because I deserved to. I believe it will be a blessing.
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