It may not be possible to imagine the power of a simple act of kindness to completely change the colour of your day. It may not be possible until you have lived, ‘up, close and personal’ with a life threatening illness. Just as one learns to live in the moment, one day at a time, breathing in scents, tasting flavours, tuned in to every God given pleasure so you are empowered by every word aptly spoken or a kind deed done. In the last 15 months I have been the recipient of such words and kindnesses time and again. These kindnesses, after making me feel humbled, apologetic and embarrassed shift me to humility, thankfulness and the awareness that I cannot be brave alone.
Sickness can be isolating. People wish it were over, that you could just get on with it and stop crying out for help. You understand that you are slowing things down for them. You remember the pace at which you used to live, so busy racing to the next thing that you barely have time to stop to say ‘how are you?’ You don’t really want to know the answer. They are sick, uncomfortable, needy, no fun. It’s hard to stand by someone who has been sick for so long you hardly remember what it was like when they were well.
As time goes on you realise more and more how much you value those simple acts of kindness and marvel at the people who still walk close by your side. Like a girlfriend who drops by with dinner and a colleague who spends her time preparing extra resources so that it’s easier for you to teach. I am living at the mercy of friends who do all that they can to lighten my load and I am constantly amazed by their acts of kindness.
I am moved to tears by the kind deeds of strangers as well. Those people who just used to be people you passed or who cut your hair, or who made you coffee as you rushed to work. Somehow they aren’t just acquaintances now, they are friends who travel with you on the journey to the greatest miracle you could ever ask for, in my case it’s the healing of my daughter and it seems that everyone I meet wants to cushion the carriage so I can handle the bumps of the road. It’s the girls at the gym who offer Emma a year’s worth of free work outs, it’s the champagne that they chill for me when I arrive at the hair salon, it’s the piping hot coffee with my name and a heart drawn on the paper cup and the question as it’s handed over that asks ‘How is Sam today?’ “It’s the guys at the pharmacy that sit down to talk though the line is long with customers needing advice.
Everywhere we go God has surrounded us with strangers who have become our friends.
I popped into The Bunker for coffee today because that’s what we do when we go to St Vincent’s. It’s our treat and even if we’ve had a coffee already at Mona Vale we get one at ‘Bunker’s as well. Bunker’s has become a kind of a haven over the last 8 months since we first arrived for ‘conditioning therapy’ to prepare Sam for the bone marrow transplant. I hated that week of therapy more than almost any week in my whole, entire life. ‘Conditioning Therapy’ sounds like you are going to a Day Spa, a pamper zone, that something lovely is going to happen. The truth is that they make you lie in a perspex, coffin shaped box, pack you down with rice, then leaving you alone in the room they use a linear accelerator to direct radiation to every cancer cell in your body thus preparing you to take on your donor’s immune system after the stem cell transplant.
It was quite by accident that we found The Bunker on Liverpool Street. Sam and I had taken a walk after her admission to check out the lie of the land. Darlinghurst was to be our home for the next month of treatment and we wanted to familiarize ourselves with the area in case she should be well enough to be granted gate leave in the near future. We discovered a corner junk store, a great burger joint, a couple of lovely boutiques, a French restaurant and best of all we found The Bunker that serves Campos coffee and the type of homemade comfort food that I grew up on.
“Hey, Clare,” Scott said this morning as I walked in to order our flat whites. “How’s Sam doing?’ “Okay, “ I said, “it’s complicated, surgery for in grown toenails this week but she’ll be okay, one day at a time.”
As we chatted I thought about the way, this little hole in the wall café has become a haven on our journey. It is where I sat when Sam had TBI, where I went on September 11, when they told me she might die, it is where I went to clear my head when my mum arrived for her shift of caring and where we continue to go every time we have hospital appointment stills. Wikipedia says, “A military bunker is a hardened shelter, often buried partly or fully underground, and designed to protect the inhabitants from falling bombs or other attacks.
I have sought out havens from the intensity of the bombs that land in the form of the doctor’s words, the blood test results and the evidence of infection. There have been days were I sought the solitude of the juniper tree, much like Elijah and I have wished that the Lord might take my life. Instead of death He has fed me with cake baked on coals, He has watered me and given me rest.
Even Elijah needed a cave to hide in when he was intimidated after the battle, imagining he was the only one left. But the truth is you are not the only one. Everyone is going through something. Someone needs your story. Don’t stay in the cave too long. Get up when you’ve wallowed a little; get out of the sad, dark place. Be satiated by coffee, chocolate and God’s word. It will be enough to sustain you. The cave is not where you belong though it feels safe to stay there a while.
1 Kings 19: 9 “There he came to a cave and lodged in it and the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?’
God knew from the outset that some days you would want to retreat, die under a tree, hide in a cave, host a pity party, plead your case. For the drama you love He sent the wind, earthquake, the fire, but He was in none of these things. They just reflected you and your concept of world changing. When He had your attention you made it all about you. You were the only one; you were the one hardly done by.
“And I, I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away.” (! Kings 19:10)
He loved you anyway. He heard you cry. He scooped you up on His lap and he squeezed you and lovingly taunted you until he heard your laughter, until he made you see that it isn’t about you at all. He showed you how much He needed you, how you were part of the plan but not the whole plan. He caused you to come to the entrance of the cave and he asked you again “What are you doing here?”
At that point you surrendered your ambition and decided to return, to gather a team, to find a soul mate who also knew how to plough a field. He taught you to hold life loosely in the palm of your hands, making no demands on others but confident in your faith in Him.
Making your way out of the proverbial bunker he told you about a new army the type Cleveland Amory described when he said “What this world needs is a new kind of army – the army of the kind.”
What does the army of the kind look like to you? What type of community could we build? What’s your story and how could God use it?
Can I suggest a great cave to ponder these questions at The Bunker, Liverpool St, Darlinghurst, enjoy the menu of sourdough toast and jam, toad in the hole, runny eggs with soldiers and a host of other things.
Say hello to Scott and Ian. Tell them Clare and Sam sent you.