At the beginning of November, I went to Singapore to see my doctor. I usually see her once or twice a month, but this was to be a special visit because they were going to take a scan of my tumour and compare it with the one taken, when I was first diagnosed as having cancer. From this, they would be able to see whether the treatment was working and I am pleased to be able to tell you, that the treatment seems to be working for they discovered that the tumour has shrunk fairly considerably – from 8.1 cms to 6.6 cms.
When, on that day, I arrived at Singapore General Hospital, I was rather pre-occupied with what the results of the scan would be, but, in such a place, you cannot just be concerned with your own welfare, for all around you are people in a worse condition than you and with them are the many helping hands of friends and relatives, together with the Hospital Staff, whose support and care give a richness to their living. I noticed this particularly on the day before I saw my Doctor, when with many other patients I waited for my turn to be scanned. There was a friendliness among many of them, due probably from having met in that place before and they chatted together as they waited, but my attention was drawn to two quieter men, one in his 60s, I would think, and his companion, a younger man, probably ten or fifteen years younger than him. It was the older man, who was having the scan, but I noticed the concern with which the younger man sought to help his friend. After having completed the preliminaries, I was directed to a waiting area for the type of scan I was to receive and, shortly afterwards, these two men came and sat down near me. There were only the three of us there and I do now so wish I had spoken to them, but as so often, in such places, I didn’t. We sat there in silence until I was called in for my scan and then I went back to my hotel.
I saw them both the following day, as I waited a little nervously to see my Doctor, for unbeknownst to me these two men were in her office, being told, I presume, the results of the older man’s scan. The door opened and I saw them come out and watched them as they walked away – the younger man leading the way. The older man walked with his head slightly bent, but then I looked at the younger man and I have never before seen such a look of devastation as was on his face. He led the way out of the clinic like a man lost, almost as though seeking to run from what he had heard – and I was reminded of the words of the song: “How am I supposed to live without you?”
I was then called in to see the Doctor and she smiled and said, “Good news. The treatment seems to be working” and she asked how I was managing the side-effects of the chemotherapy. However, relieved as I was to hear the news, when I came out of her office and prepared to go for my chemotherapy session, the face of that younger man kept coming to mind and I realised that my possible return to good health could not be looked at in isolation from all else, for I am intimately linked to all others – and, in a special way, to those two men, a little of whose sorrow and pain I had been privileged to witness in the corridors of the Hospital.
Since that hospital visit, the thought of those two men has come back to me again and again, together with the feeling that the Lord was trying to show me something. I do not know what the doctor told them, but, from their demeanour, I feel she must have said that the older man only had a few months, or even only a few weeks left, and I started to wonder what those weeks or months would be like for them. I am sure they will be a time of tears and maybe some regrets about things left undone or unsaid, but, by God’s grace, it could also become something quite wonderful.
Some thirty years ago, I visited a man in New Orleans, who had been told that he only had a few weeks to live, but who refused to talk about it to his wife and family. Somehow, my visit helped break through that barrier and his wife told me, sometime later, that those last weeks of their marriage were the most beautiful of all. There was born, within their tears, a deepening of friendship, of care and concern, which we hope, one day, will be ours in the joys of heaven. The walls, with which we surround ourselves in life protect us from being hurt, also prevent us from caring and being cared for. When these walls begin to crumble through sickness or coming face to face with our own death, we are given a chance to see and reach out for that for which we were born – to allow people to love us, to dare to reach out to those in need – to risk being spurned in order to be held against someone’s heart – to die so that we might find what life is. I pray it may be so for those two men.
Two answers given in a Doctor’s office: one answer seems to speak of death, but, at a deeper level, a door to life is opened. In the time given them, no matter how short that may be, may they find that caring, that concern for the other, that will bring them into that deep friendship, which says that life is complete and the great treasure has been found.
The other answer given in the Doctor’s office seems to speak of life – or least the hope that it might be so – but does it? Through my silent meeting with those two men, God is showing me, I think, that even had the Doctor told that I had been cured, I would still not have received the gift of life, that would depend on what I did with the time given me. What such an answer would give, is not the gift of life, but the opportunity to truly live – to care, to be concerned and to reach out to others and so find something of that deep friendship that God calls us to – the promise of friendship he leads us to see in the people around us, and maybe especially as we sit in hospital waiting rooms.
My life is very much taken up with medical matters these days – no grass-cutting stories to tell – except to tell you that one of our seminarians has taken over the tending of the lawns at St Peter’s College, which are my pride and joy, and that he keeps them beautifully.
Two weeks in three I journey to Singapore either to see the doctor or to have chemo – or both. However, the Lord always seems to make sure I have companions. There is one lad from Kuching newly working in Singapore and I have met him for a meal once, even though sadly I have had to let him down twice because I have not felt too good, but I should be good this coming week and he has promised me a hamburger. Likewise, when I went on the day of the scan, I wished I had a companion to go with and as I got off the plane, a man introduced himself as from Kuching and told me he knew why I was in Singapore and pressed a gift on to me “so you have a good meal while here”.
I usually go to Bali for Christmas, but this year I shall stay in Kuching and so shall miss seeing my community there this year. However, a friend of mine from there has asked if he can spend Christmas here with me, which is very nice of him, for it will be nice to have company, but I do not think I will be fit enough for Christmas visiting here in Kuching.