it is (still) WELL
As you know, I've been vulnerable about how hard the past few days have been -- meeting my new oncologist, rehashing my cancer history, reliving lots of difficult memories, and navigating a dysfunctional, seemingly impossible medical system. And in the midst of this, I'm getting ready to launch my book -- which is called WELL.
How can a tired, weepy, cancer-fighting girl have any credibility to offer a book called WELL to the world? I've wondered more than once this week.
What can I say about wellness in the midst of my own, still-in-process journey toward becoming healed and whole and well?
How can I say that it is WELL, even as our world is in the midst of such turmoil and pain?
I live with housemates in downtown San Francisco. I have a glass door in my bedroom that opens to a small wooden landing that faces west, toward the Pacific Ocean, which is a few miles away.
This morning I woke up as the sun was beginning to rise. The sky was lit up with brilliant pastel shades of pink and purple and blue. The air was crisp and cool, and the birds were chirping in the lemon tree just outside my door.
I wrapped myself in a blanket and held a cup of coffee as I watched the sun come up. It reminded me of my last morning in Togo, when I sat in the sand on the brink of the Atlantic Ocean, watching the sun rise in Africa for the last time before taking the 17-hour flight back to the U.S.
Later that morning, I went to the airport to begin the long journey home. During a layover in Brussels, the weight of the Togo experience hit me with full force, and the tears I'd spent three months not crying suddenly released in relentless rivulets down my face.
I was still crying when I boarded my next flight. A little while after takeoff, I fell asleep, and when I woke up, we were flying over the Atlantic Ocean. As I watched the waves far, far below, I thought of one of my favorite hymns, It Is Well With My Soul.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,
It is Well, It is Well with my soul.
The man who penned those words was Horatio Spafford, an American attorney who was married with five children. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire burned up Stafford's considerable real estate holdings and in that same year, his four-year-old son died of scarlet fever. Two years later, Spafford and his wife decided that their family should take a vacation - a chance to get away, to heal, to reconnect as a family.
His wife and four daughters booked passage on a transatlantic ship, the Ville du Havre, and Horatio was to meet them in Europe a short time later.
On November 2, 1873, the Ville du Havre was struck by another vessel, and 266 people lost their lives -- including Stafford's four daughters, who were ages 11, 9, 5 and 2. Only his wife survived. When she reached Europe, she sent her husband a two-word telegram: Saved Alone.
Stafford got on a ship to meet his wife. He asked the captain to wake him when they were crossing the place where his daughters had died.
As he stood there on the deck, watching the waves that had claimed his little girls' lives, this grief-struck father began to pen the words that became a well-known hymn.
One of my favorite stanzas contains the words,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
The chorus says,
It is well
With my soul
It is well, It is well with my soul
I imagine Stafford standing on the deck, scribbling these words on a handheld notebook as his tears blurred the waves and smeared the ink.
And that's when I knew what the title of my Togo book was going to be.
Sitting there in an economy seat on an transatlantic flight, my thin frame wrapped in a coarse blanket, tear stains on my pale face, heartbroken at the suffering and death I'd seen and -- all too many times -- had been helpless to prevent.
In the midst of the grief I felt, in the midst of the pain I carried, in the midst of the uncertainty I faced about what to do with this experience, I could watch the turbulent waves and insist, as Spaffod did, that it was WELL with my soul.
In spite of everything I'd experienced, I could say with Julian of Norwich, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all matter of thing shall be well."
This week, as I've weathered a few difficult days, I've seen it not as the absence of wellness, but as a new opportunity to clarify what I believe, and why.
As I watched the sun rise this morning, I chose to believe again that it is WELL with my soul.
Being well is not the same thing as being healthy. You can be disease-free and still not be well in your soul. Or, your body can be fighting a disease and yet your soul can still be whole and healed and WELL.
And so can our world.
In the midst of all the conflict and injustice and uncertainty and pain, in the midst of a world that is not whole as it should or could be, I believe that when people of love choose to insist in spite of the turbulent waves, that we will not stop trying, we will not stop believing, we will not stop doing the small acts of kindness we can to bring healing to our broken world one word, one act, one touch at a time, we can have hope.
Whether we're experiencing personal pain or the collective pain of our brothers and sisters around the world today, we can lift our eyes, we can hold up our chins, we can insist with each sunrise that it is WELL...
... even though our tears blur the waves and smear the ink.
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