The other day a friend asked I could go with her for her chemotherapy treatment. I had no idea what a lesson it would be for me in how to bear the Cross. She is in her late seventies, distinguished and “full of wisdom” as the Scriptures say, full of that astonishing capacity to quietly accept deep suffering which I often find in my older friends.
When I arrived to her house, she was weak and short of breath so we didn’t say much on the ride over to the clinic. The nurse who welcomed us was kind and patient, explaining every step of the procedure and bringing warm blankets for my friend. At first, I didn’t know if she wanted me to chat with her or not, and she seemed so tired, that finally I realized she just wanted to rest as much as possible. There wasn’t much I could do to make her comfortable, nor much she asked for—it was simply a matter of me being attentive to her and waiting. She didn’t turn on the TV, so I read a book for a little while, then began to pray my Rosary. After a while, I could see she wasn’t able to rest because her legs were bothering her, so I offered to read to her to “distract” her, but she said, “No thanks, even though my legs are bothering me, I’m trying to pray. . .”
So we waited and we prayed and there fell between us a silence that was . . . true somehow. A silence deep enough to hold her long struggle with cancer (this is her second bout with it); deep enough to let her rest from the well-intentioned friends whose chatter had exhausted her; deep enough for me to see her faith “strong and sure as a Lebanon cedar” which is carrying her through this valley of the shadow of death. A silence long enough for me to remember that my words are so often unnecessary, here at the foot of the Cross. Long enough for me to be aware that what she needed from me was for me to carry her in prayer, to offer quietly and discretely my attentiveness.That what she absolutely didn’t need was my fussing over her and chatter to distract her.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” is what she’s teaching me simply through her presence. I entrust her to your prayers.