Reflections by Jerry Webber

Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Traveling Companions and Strangers

Shortly after I was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2004, I received a note from friend who referred to the cancer as "a traveling companion I had not chosen."

Those words had a lot of resonance for me. I have sensed myself to be an explorer, which means that the notion of travel or journey is important. Some of my exploration has taken place in physical realms, in exploring geographical places and learning to open myself in wonder to the created world.

And some of my exploration involves scouting the interior realms of soul and spirit. To be sure it is a different kind of journey, but it is travel, nonetheless.

So when Janet wrote about cancer as a "traveling companion" I knew what she meant. I certainly had not chosen this particular companion. My companions on the journey to that point had been mostly the agreeable persons and experiences that had aided me in getting to where I wanted to go. To travel with a companion not of my choosing meant that I might be taken somewhere I hadn't planned to go, or at least somewhere I had not planned to go quite yet.

I thought of Janet's words today as I sat outside and read John O'Donohue's book of blessings, To Bless the Space between Us . . . a 75 degree day with little wind and little humidity . . . a good book . . . lots of sunshine.

I read O'Donohue's blessing for "the arrival of an illness." O'Donohue had an innate sense of the holiness of things. He was steeped in a rich Celtic spiritual tradition that experienced God everywhere and in all things. His blessing is over two pages long. This one stanza stood out to me:

Now this dark companion has come between you.
Distances have opened in your eyes.
You feel that against your will
A stranger has married your heart.

Is that what this is like? That against my will a stranger has married my heart?

Married to a stranger? A couple of days ago a friend sat in my office to talk about where I was in the treatment regimen, to see how I was coping with the last few months, and to see what inner resources I had for what is still to come. When I said something about the difficulty of finding a rhythm for my life right now, he looked at me very seriously and said, "You know, your life will never be the same again." So my heart, against my will, has married a stranger and I cannot un-marry this stranger.

The blessing stirred again the words I heard six years ago . . . "traveling companion you have not chosen" . . . "against your will a stranger has married your heart." I know these words are important for me, but I haven't searched out their depths yet. I sense that I'm invited to listen to them with my heart over the next several days.

For tonight, I'm wondering how to live faithfully in this marriage.

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