One day I was at Stanford hooked up to the chemo dispenser and across the room from me was a good-looking young man who was attached to a machine that looked similar to mine with his beautiful young wife at his side. As the hours passed the guy kept fainting as he was being treated. Four or five times his wife called for the nurses, who rushed to prop him back up and revive him.
The poor guy was having a particularly tough time of it, so I started praying for him from my torture seat across the room. “Come-on, God, he’s too young for this. If you’ve got a break to give, give it to him!” I figured everyone in the room had one kind of cancer or another, but to my mind, this guy just shouldn’t have had to be there. When she came over to check on me I asked the nurse if he was going to be all right. “Oh, he’s not here for treatment,” she whispered, “but to donate stem cells for others getting transplants!”
I was relieved to know that he wasn’t sick after all and my compassion morphed to admiration. When they finally got up to leave I motioned for him to come over to me and I thanked him for being willing to go through such an ordeal for the sake of others. He told me that if he could save someone’s life at such minimal inconvenience to himself, he was glad to do it. He was willing to suffer a little so that other people – total strangers – wouldn’t have to suffer a lot. I was impressed and a little depressed about how he’d ruined a perfectly good pity party that I was working on that day.
On another day I sat in the radiation room hallway waiting my turn to get some X-rays. Sitting next to me was a pre-teenage Hispanic boy and his mother. He had one of his arms in a cast, so I asked him if it hurt much. He didn’t answer. Thinking maybe he didn’t speak English, I asked him again in my limited Spanish. His mother said, “He broke his arm in a skateboard accident. He’s deaf and mute, and speaks only in sign language.” Following the immediate rush of embarrassment, I felt empathetic tears well up from somewhere deep as I imagined how this boy must’ve felt whose voice was in his hands. It’s a common occurrence for boys his age to fall off their bikes or out of trees and break their arms, right? No big a deal. Yeah, but most of them are still able to speak while they’re waiting for their limbs to heal! My own afflictions suddenly seemed a little lighter and my heart a lot heavier.
I know I’m not the hub around which the universe revolves and I’ve made some progress putting Jesus there. Now I’m struggling to keep him there.