What Backdrop?

March 29, 2011


Yesterday was one month to the day since I had my surgery. It was a full day at the seminary. I had a committee meeting at 9:00 A.M. followed by a consultation with a faculty member. We had a longer than usual lunch with Cheryl’s nephew, Josh, and his wife, Bethany. They had been with us for the weekend. Josh preached on Sunday evening. After lunch I had an advising session with a student. That was followed by another committee meeting, followed by another consultation with a faculty member, followed by a SKYPE session with my online class, followed by a church staff meeting at our house.

When I got home I made a sandwich out of Sunday leftovers and gulped it down as the staff was arriving. As we were getting started with the staff meeting I began to feel ill. My evening meds/supplements were not sitting well with my sandwich. While each member of the staff shared about current events in their ministries I became increasingly aware of all that was going on at our church. As we looked at the calendar I realized I missed my allergy shots this month. My brain began to bounce around all of the things I am behind in at church, at the seminary, in my volunteer work, and around the house. A mild panic set in as I realized my extended cancer vacation was over.

After the staff meeting I retreated to the basement and attempted to unwind by continuing a project to gather and organize my digital photos. I have thousands taken over the last decade and hundreds more scanned into files on various old computer hard disks, CD’s and DVD’s. It is a project I started during my forced vacation. My unwinding became knots in my back as the various CD’s didn’t want to transfer their precious cargo into my new external hard drive.

Sometime before midnight it hit me; my life is just as complicated post cancer as it was pre-cancer. One of my resolutions in the early days of my diagnosis was that I was going to simplify my life; I was going to withdraw from commitments that didn’t clearly fit into the heart of God’s call on my life. I was going to be focused. Being focused seems easy when you think you might only have 24 to 48 months to live. But as the month progressed, my prognosis keep getting better and better. My easy out vanished. My irrefutable excuse for resigning from previous commitments dissipated into the atmosphere of probable good health. And I felt good; I was going to live!

Yesterday, the hope of long life took an inevitable turn. I am going to live and now I have to play catch-up. I am so behind in every area of my life. I haven’t even healed completely and I am playing catch-up.

When I went to bed after mid-night, I further reflected on my current state. My new backdrop for living is a blank curtain. No one has drawn beautiful scenery for me act out my life against. I am on stage, performing the same old lines from the drama of my life and the backdrop has gone blank. That old backdrop had all my cues neatly scribbled in; it was my cheat-sheet on how to respond in the various roles I played. Cancer has not given me a new backdrop painted with brilliant scenes of a more focused life. I am not starring in a new play; I am going to have to be the prop manager and artist who re-sets the scenes of my life. I have to design and paint the backdrop against which I live.

I am thankful the old backdrop is gone, although it remains a shadow on the new. It too dull and routine and contained too many scenes of disappointment. I had become a faithful, generative, survivor. (Thank you, Professor Eric Erickson.) My character was somewhat stale in its own drama. There was little imagination or creativity left. The critics might rightly have renamed me Mr. Do-the-Right-Thing While-You-Wait-On-Retirement.

And so here I am. Nothing has changed in my life; everything has changed in my life. Cancer has not thrust me into a new Off-Broadway hit. It has not afforded me the opportunity to start over. I am living in the same drama with the same cast of loved-ones, friends, and arch villains (wouldn’t you like to know who they are?). My challenge is what it always has been, or should have been, paint the backdrop against which I want to live my life, one scene at a time. The difference may be as simple as not taking life for granted, be an actor who writes his own script rather than merely reading the one handed to him.

If all this sounds mellow-dramatic, I admit it is. The change that is taking place within me will probably go unnoticed by all but my closest friends. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll surprise you.

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