I will never forget the struggle of my sister, who fought against cancer with a nobility and grace that was inspiring and humbling, both at the same time.
She had been diagnosed years ago, was on the brink of death, but fought it then. After she passed the crisis stage, and was gaining her strength, I asked her if she ever thought she was going to die. All of the doctors, after all, had thought she would …but she looked at me, straight in the eyes, and said, “no, never.”
She went years in remission before the dreaded disease returned two Thanksgivings ago. She was not happy it had returned, but she was ready for the battle, and battle she did. Several times doctors thought she had played her last card, but she rallied each time. It was as though she was saying that she might be going …but she would go on her terms, not on the terms of the doctors.
She died last year, but I cannot say she lost the battle. She fought and won, I believe, because she stopped fighting when she was ready.
Elbert Hubbard wrote that “there is no failure except in no longer trying; there is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose.” My sister was not a failure because she never stopped trying, she never felt defeated from within, and she had an inherent purpose to live for a long time. Her focus and willingness to struggle gave her not only more days but quality days. She refused to give in. It wasn’t denial; it was determination and faith and hope that kept her going. She knew very well how sick she was, and yet, she “looked to the hills from whence came her help” (Psalm 121) and held on with the expectation that she would be able to hold on.
She was willing to struggle.
Sometimes, when it comes to race in our country, I wonder why it is we are not willing to struggle and to come face to face with our very personal disease. I have read much of the vitriol that has been spewed since President Obama won last week’s presidential election, and have been saddened. It is all so clearly race-based, but nobody will say it. Nobody wants to admit and face and deal with our issue. As opposed to my sister, who, invaded by a deadly disease, engaged in the struggle to fight it, America runs from the disease called racism and denies it exists. And so we are being consumed, even today in the 21st century, by this ever-present reality. It is like an autoimmune disease of our society, affecting our central nervous system and thereby affecting the very things we need for a full and vital life.
Why in the world do we run from it? Well, a big reason is because we, America, are not a community. We call ourselves the “united” states but we are not. We are far from it. Post-election, several states are circulating petitions to secede from the United States. There is no community. We are a conglomerate of different races and ethnicities, but we are far from having the commitment necessary to be a community. We do not respect the differences of each other; in fact, we live in ignorance about who each other is, and so, far from commitment and community, we live in ignorance and therefore, in fear of each other. M. Scott Peck, author of several books including The Road Less Traveled and The Different Drum, says that commitment is the willing to co-exist, and says it’s crucial in order for there to be true community.
We don’t have that in our country, and so, in this 21st century, racism is as ugly and as potent as it has ever been. People are referring to President Obama as the “n” word; they are calling him “monkey” and worse, and they feel all right doing it. Racism has never lost its place as an accepted way of thinking in America and since we are so unwilling to struggle, it seems highly unlikely that it will ever go completely away.
In any struggle, we have to see ourselves as we are, not as we would like to believe we are. Real struggle begins then, because with the admission that we have some faults and some issues, we have to do some real work. We don’t want to do that …and so bad, toxic emotions and feelings fester within us as individuals and within this nation as an entity.
The gift and power of struggle is that if we are courageous enough to engage in it, we come out stronger. We are no longer afraid of what used to frighten us. We are able to stand in the face of adversity because in the process of struggle, we learn our own strength. America likes to talk about being strong, but she is not. She is a nation divided, and therefore, is weakened more than we would like to believe.
We don’t want to struggle because we don’t want to hurt, but hurt is a part of the process of life, says Joan Chittister in her book, Scarred by Struggle; Transformed by Hope. It is in having the courage to struggle that we learn to feed on hope, and in that feeding, we become stronger.
I wish America would be willing to struggle. I wish she would stop being afraid and stop living in denial. It is so past time for us to be talking about the virulence and presence of racism here. To struggle with it genuinely would be painful, yet after the pain, there would be a new America. We would be able to move on to other things, which we must needs do, but we limit ourselves just because we do not want to struggle. We do not want to change. And because we do not want to struggle and change, we won’t, not anytime soon.
A candid observation …