The woods. This is the metaphor that regularly comes to mind when thinking of the past four years. It was in March of 2011 that I was undergoing tests to determine the source of amyloids in my prostate. It was a mystery that became clearer in April and was ultimately confirmed in May of that year when the doctors told me that I am living with myeloma and amyloidosis. It was as if I headed off on a short hike, to determine the health of my prostate, only to find that I would never return to the life I once knew. That hike has turned into a long journey - even an adventure - in unknown, uncharted territory. Some parts of the journey have been frightening and others challenging. Yet, there have been moments in the woods when I have seen beautiful sights and experienced wonders that could never be known anywhere else. It is something like finally cresting a mountain ridge after a strenuous climb and glimpsing a stunning horizon out ahead. In the woods you learn about survival, about what matters, about yourself, but mostly you learn about the grace of living each day.
There are companions on the journey, especially others living with the same diseases. The companions also include family and friends, colleagues and parishioners. I am not quite sure how to name the gift of their accompaniment. Each of us in the woods is on a solo journey. We travel alone. We face our mortality alone. Yet, we are not alone. We are held by a communion of saints who bear us up when we fall and encourage us when we stumble. There is a synagogue on Long Island that has included my name in its prayers every week for four years. There is a Roman Catholic professor in Chicago who, along with his wife, remembers me in prayer daily. There are old friends that, like a holy search party, keep in close contact. There are so many others like them, near and far, known and unknown to me, from Israel to New York to Hazleton. I do not know what to make of the mystery of prayer, but I do know that when you are deep in the woods the knowledge that others are holding you before God is a powerful tonic for the heart and soul.
Here, in the woods, I am grateful.