January 27, 2022 was a momentous day! My blood draw earlier that month had revealed the news that the chemo might no longer be working to combat my multiple myeloma. If the numbers continued to get worse my oncologist had said he might have to stop the chemo. As we sat in the crowded examining room, my son and I took deep breaths as the doctor began his report. The “numbers” on my latest blood draw were better, enough of a change that I could continue with chemo – at least for another month – because it seems to be working.
About a week earlier there had been other good news. Taking me off an oral medication that is part of my chemo “cocktail” seemed to have cured the constant dizziness and shaky limbs that had nearly incapacitated me for weeks. I could even read again (two 500-page books that week!) And now I can walk short distances without my walker and stand without fear of falling backwards. I’m even beginning to get my appetite back, although very little tastes good at this point.
One thing has not changed. Several weeks ago, after my last fall, I agreed to have a local agency provide an assistant for three days a week from 9-11 a.m. The idea was to help me get started with my day (without falling) and provide companionship and cleaning and shopping assistance. Now this service has been reduced to only two days a week and that will end at the end of February. If my health stays the same, I am sure I won’t need help after that.
However, one issue has still been bothering me. Here I am sitting in a recliner much of the day and not contributing a thing to the world – after a lifetime of active service. I know that the fear of being sidelined bothers many of my friends who are my age. We talk about it often: how are we supposed to handle this guilt?
One of the services the agency provides is “companionship.” One of my helpers loves to chat, so we spend a lot of time being companions. On her first day, she learned that my late husband was Black and asked to see some pictures. Most of our pictures were informal shots from the first five years of our life together, so I gave her a handful of those. After she looked at them, she said, “You know I am 28 and whenever I think of racism, I think of the Civil War. Did you two experience racism?”
Did we!!! I spent the next hour dredging up the stories I thought she could relate to and she sat, big-eyed, and listening avidly. When I finally stopped, she said, “You know I was never taught about racism and prejudice. Thank you for sharing your life!”
While she was dusting the next time she came, she said, “I talked to my parents about your experiences with Fred. They lived for a long time in Oak Park, Illinois, so I asked them if they ever heard stories like yours.” Of course, they had. They started sharing them with her and her 17-year-old-brother. “Why didn’t you tell us any of this before? We didn’t know,” they each said.
The next time she came, she said, “Since we talked, I’ve thought a lot about you and Fred. I am now noticing a lot people of other races in our town and bi-racial couples as well, and I wonder how their lives are going. I hope I can somehow learn a lot more about them.
The third time she came, she immediately settled comfortably in the big blue recliner. No need to vacuum until she had gotten something off her chest. “I’ve been thinking about how to teach my daughter about racism” she confessed. (She is about 24 weeks pregnant and very excited to meet her baby.) She had obviously been mulling this over about this quite a bit, because she quickly rattled off the things she would tell her child not to do or not to say or not to think.
I finally said, “Maybe don’t bring up things not to do. Instead model for her and help her understand what you would like her to do: treat everyone the same; welcome people who seem different into her life and get to know them; share her experiences with anyone who wants to get to know her.”
“Oh, that’s a great idea,” she said. “That’s how I will raise her!”
I probably will never see this young woman again; she was working the third day of the week – the shift I canceled. But I am so grateful to her for showing me that I still have something to give, something to share, something to offer even if I can’t teach a class or volunteer to tutor, or work in a food bank. My friends and I have a lifetime of experiences, both good and bad, and we can trust that God will bring opportunities to share what we have learned about living in God’s world and with God’s children.