I walked back up to the kiosk of my little Starbucks today, after working awhile in the back office of the store. He was sitting there in the corner, by the little decorative fireplace, drinking his savored cup of drip. I only see him when I work Sundays, which isn't very often anymore. The first time I met him, and every time after, his smile is always the same. Warm, unforced, deep, peaceful, and tired. I know hardly anything about this man, except he is a nice looking man, thirty or forty something. He drives down here from Canada every weekend for chemo treatments. His lovely dark skin is tinted with dark blue and green, covering much of his face. He always comes alone and orders a tall brewed coffee.
I stopped by his chair and said hello. At first, it's hard not to stare at his face as I'm fixing my gaze on his eyes, simply because my eyes are distracted by the superficial. My mind reels with questions. What's his story? But of course, I dare not ask. Instead I ask gently, "You've been making this trip for quite awhile, haven't you?" My way of asking, how long have you been on this journey, living with an illness?
"I have," he answered softly. "For many years. And I'll be doing it for the rest of my life."
I stood there practically stammering in surprise. "Your whole life?" I'm incredulous. I had no idea there could be a cancer that exacts such payment for the remainder of life, with no hope of remission. I didn't know what to say. I felt I was teetering on the precipice of an incredible story of sorrow and daily courage. How does this man do it?
I have trouble living in the fullness of each day, straining my eyes to see through the cracks of sorrow to the beauty of life and God, and all this without the added sorrow of a terminal illness. Permanent treatment. No weekends off from hours spent hooked up to IVs filled with poison, skin bearing the marks. No medical hopes of ever getting better. I chat a little more, smile and say goodbye, and bow my head as I walk away, gently chastened. This man appears to possess an ability to embrace life in its broken messiness that I in my own sorrows have only gasped to find. My soul gasps for air. Joy is what it seeks, but anymore, that feels so elusive and slippery.
I skipped church today because I was too tired to go straight from work, after having gotten up a little after three this morning. Instead, I grab a book that was laying on the couch and head out the door to a coffee shop, knowing my chances of staying awake are better there. I've been wanting to read this book since I heard about it several months ago at my writer's group. One thousand gifts is what it's called. Based on where the author was coming from and her raw authentic style of communicating, I felt a kindred spirit in her. I'm not very far into the book, but already, my attention is seized.
She's talking about the Greek word, eucharisteo, to give thanks. The root of that word is charis, which we know more commonly as "grace." But the Greek derivative of charis is chara - "joy."
In one of her first chapters, the author wonders: "Was this the clue to the quest of all most important? Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo - the table of thanksgiving... Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks?... The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now."
As long as we're alive, it is possible to be thankful for something. And as long as I can be thankful for something, I can experience joy. It seems to me I've known this in my head for a long, long time, and still, it escapes me in the day to day of living. I have tried to write about beautiful rubbish - of seeing the redemptive beauty of God's story in the rubbish of my life and the world around me - but in actuality, my eyes have been more blinded by the messiness than captured by the beauty.
It is time, again, to learn to see.
I think it begins with thankfulness, and maybe, this is all I need to know.