Mrs. ‘Puter’s father has malignant squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx. We call Mrs. ‘Puter’s dad Poppy, his chosen grandparental moniker. We have not yet named his cancer. Depending on which medical expert is consulted, Poppy’s cancer is either Stage III or Stage IV. Statistically, Poppy’s five year rate of survival can be estimated at somewhere between thirty and sixty percent.*
|As Job discovered to his chagrin, sometimes
suffering is visited upon the good man, for
no apparent reason. It is in these moments
that we learn about ourselves, and more
importantly about God.
Poppy starts treatment today at the Wilmot Cancer Center, an affiliate of the University of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital. He will undergo both chemotherapy and radiation** simultaneously in an effort to burn out and poison away the offending cells. Unfortunately, as many of you surely know through unwanted experience, burning cells with radiation and poisoning the cells with, well, poison, also tend to burn and to poison other parts of the person as well.
Poppy has already gone through the indignity of having a catheter inserted, as well as a feeding tube. Eventually the radiation will burn his throat so badly he will not be able to swallow, if he even feels like eating at all after the chemotherapy’s side effects kick in. Hence, the feeding tube. We anticipate that over the seven week course of treatment, Poppy will become weaker and sicker as the medicine hopefully destroys his cancer while leaving Poppy weakened but alive.
As one might imagine, being confronted with the mortality of a loved one focuses one’s attention. ‘Puter is no exception.
During quiet times, particularly during his hour long morning walks in the autumnal Upstate darkness, ‘Puter’s been struck by God’s close relationship with suffering. Particularly, ‘Puter’s been struck by God’s comforting ever-presence in our lives, even amidst suffering and possible death.
God is always with us, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. And unlike our spouses from whom we depart at death, we are never separated from God, who has conquered all things, including death.
‘Puter is a practicing Roman Catholic, having returned to more or less faithful observance after a Jesuit education induced hiatus of about ten years. While religious, ‘Puter is not one to share publicly his private spiritual and prayer life. However, after thinking and praying about it over the weekend, ‘Puter will share with you some of his inner dialog with and about God, as ‘Puter believes sharing his struggle may be helpful to others facing similar circumstances.
‘Puter, like all rational humans when confronted with death and dying, is left searching for answers. ‘Puter’s biggest struggle, like that of countless others throughout the ages, is how to reconcile suffering and dying with his belief in an all-good and all-loving God. Surely, even assuming arguendodeath to be necessary, a truly good God would not permit his creations to suffer unnecessarily.
Arguably Christendom’s greatest theologian of all time, St. Thomas Aquinas, spent much of a lifetime contemplating the inherent contradictions between the existence of suffering and the existence of God. Aquinas’ work is truly inspired, but yet, from a purely human perspective, insufficient. We still can’t reconcile God and suffering.
‘Puter could spend days writing on Thomistic theology, along with the works of St. Augustine and St. Anselm, but naked logic always falls short when contemplating mortality, doesn’t it? ‘Puter could also refer his more religious readers to the Book of Job, the Crucifixion of the Lord, the martyrdom of the Apostles and the example of Father Maximilian Kolbe, to name but a few. But again, any examples, rationales or proofs ‘Puter could provide you (or himself) fall short when contemplating the contradictory coexistence of God and suffering.
‘Puter’s struggled with the seeming irreconcilability of a loving God permitting His cherished creations to suffer and die his entire adult life.*** Poppy’s cancer simply redirected ‘Puter’s attention to this eternal conundrum once again.
Sometime, gradually, over the course of the past month or so, ‘Puter has come to what, for him, is a resting place in his struggle. ‘Puter has realized that try as he might, he will never understand the vast mystery that is God, and the illogic of His ways. That is not to say ‘Puter has abandoned logic in favor of an unthinking, unquestioning faith. Quite the contrary.
After weeks of prayerful thought, ‘Puter realized that amidst the Poppy’s suffering and his family’s suffering, God is there. ‘Puter does not understand why, or how, but God is present more plainly among the suffering than during good times.
‘Puter knows God is present during this time of suffering because God has unmistakably made his presence known to ‘Puter. God has revealed himself to ‘Puter not in shouts and large gestures, but in whispers and not-quite-there glimpses. God is there, if we choose to seel Him.
‘Puter experienced God’s comforting and reassuring presence over the past weeks without even realizing it, except in hindsight. God is so interwoven into His creation that ‘Puter had stopped looking for him, taking His works for granted. But Poppy’s cancer jarred ‘Puter out of his torpor, causing him to see reality through new eyes.
‘Puter’s family has united behind Poppy as he struggles mentally, spiritually and physically with his cancer. We have become kinder to one another, more tolerant (in a good way) of each other’s flaws and generally more cohesive. We have given freely of our time and talent and money to support Poppy. ‘Puter has made certain Poppy’s legal documents are in order (will, health care proxy, medical directives, DNRs, etc.). ‘Puter’s brother in law took time to make certain Poppy’s finances and insurance policies are in good shape. ‘Puter’s sister in law who is a physician assistant has guided Poppy through his interaction with the medical Rube Goldberg machinery. Mrs. ‘Puter has calmly and gently counseled her father and mother as they have prepared for the coming struggle. God is present in the strengthening of ‘Puter’s family.
‘Puter and Mrs. ‘Puter went to dinner and a show with close friends this past weekend. At the local high end steak house, ‘Puter and guests enjoyed a wonderful meal, momentarily moving beyond our immediate troubles. Halfway through dinner, the maître d’ seated an older couple immediately behind ‘Puter. When the couple ordered, ‘Puter heard the gentleman’s strangled voice. ‘Puter realized the gentleman had a laryngectomy, the same treatment Poppy will undergo if radiation and chemotherapy is unsuccessful. God is present in the stranger’s guise, showing ‘Puter that hope for Poppy is not in vain.
After dinner, ‘Puter and friends went to the theater. Mrs. ‘Puter insists that ‘Puter receive at least some culture and learning in his life, so we are season subscribers to GeVa Theatre Center, Rochester’s local professional theater house. The currently running play, for which ‘Puter bought tickets well before Poppy’s diagnosis, is Freud’s Last Session. It is a running dialog between C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud, set on the day Britain entered World War II. Lewis and Freud debate the existence of God, made all the more timely by Freud’s end stage oral cancer that is slowly eating his face from the inside out. Sound familiar? Who else but God could have placed ‘Puter in that audience last Friday evening?
And then there are the friends and acquaintances who, despite the years apart and distance, show up at just the right time. ‘Puter returned home from Wal-Mart yesterday, and a car trailed him into his driveway. It was one of Mrs. ‘Puter’s best friend’s husbands, and in his hands he carried two delicious pies purchased from one of Rochester’s premier bakeries. ‘Puter’s friend brought him food out of the goodness of his heart, without being asked. What ‘Puter’s friend could not have possibly known is that Clan ‘Puter was having dinner together last evening, as a sendoff for Poppy as he enters treatment. Poppy’s wife was to make dessert. Not only did this generous gift lift Poppy’s wife’s burden to make dessert, but Poppy’s wife confided in ‘Puter that she was on her way out the door when ‘Puter called to tell her not to make dessert. Poppy’s wife was on her way to the very same bakery to purchase pies for last night’s dessert. Surely, God is present in the kindness of others.
You are entitled to find ‘Puter a gullible theist, a man who looks for the divine in all things when a simple explanation will do. That’s your right.
But ‘Puter prefers to think of it this way. ‘Puter knows God when he sees Him.
It is in the dark times, the times when we are at our lowest, when God most fully reveals Himself to us. It is through our suffering that we become more aware of, and accepting of His presence in our lives. Suffering is a vehicle God uses to make Himself manifest to us, to grant us yet another undeserved chance to choose Him and the eternal life he freely offers us.
‘Puter is a simple man, and he has made a simple choice. ‘Puter chooses to see God’s beauty in Poppy’s current suffering and that of his family, rather than succumbing to doubt and despair. ‘Puter chooses to see God’s omnipresent mercy and comfort as Poppy fights his cancer, rather than cruelty and injustice. In short, ‘Puter chooses to trust in God, despite the absence of logic or reason.
‘Puter chooses faith over reason, and God above all.
And with that, ‘Puter will now return to his regularly scheduled programming.
*Based on the wide range and vast uncertainty of the surveys ‘Puter can access, he’s given to believe Democratic pollsters are responsible for the unreliability.
**Mrs. ‘Puter’s mother now informs us that the center’s radiation machine has malfunctioned, meaning no radiation for Poppy today. Malfunctioning radiation machines don’t really give ‘Puter the warm fuzzies. It’s not as if uncontrolled irradiation of humans is dangerous or anything. ‘Puter’s going to check for a kill switch should he ever need radiation. And not the sort of kill switch the other Gormogons would certainly install on ‘Puter’s medical equipment.
***Some, probably correctly, find it odd that ‘Puter would still mull and pray over this irreconcilable state of affairs year after year. Those people are not Jesuit trained, with degrees in philosophy and law.
Always right, unless he isn’t, the infallible Ghettoputer F. X. Gormogons claims to be an in-law of the Volgi, although no one really believes this.
’Puter carefully follows economic and financial trends, legal affairs, and serves as the Gormogons’ financial and legal advisor. He successfully defended us against a lawsuit from a liquor distributor worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid deliveries of bootleg shandies.
The Geep has an IQ so high it is untestable and attempts to measure it have resulted in dangerously unstable results as well as injuries to researchers. Coincidentally, he publishes intelligence tests as a side gig.
His sarcasm is so highly developed it borders on the psychic, and he is often able to insult a person even before meeting them. ’Puter enjoys hunting small game with 000 slugs and punt guns, correcting homilies in real time at Mass, and undermining unions. ’Puter likes to wear a hockey mask and carry an axe into public campgrounds, where he bursts into people’s tents and screams. As you might expect, he has been shot several times but remains completely undeterred.
He assures us that his obsessive fawning over news stories involving women teachers sleeping with young students is not Freudian in any way, although he admits something similar once happened to him. Uniquely, ’Puter is unable to speak, read, or write Russian, but he is able to sing it fluently.
Geep joined the order in the mid-1980s. He arrived at the Castle door with dozens of steamer trunks and an inarticulate hissing creature of astonishingly low intelligence he calls “Sleestak.” Ghettoputer appears to make his wishes known to Sleestak, although no one is sure whether this is the result of complex sign language, expert body posture reading, or simply beating Sleestak with a rubber mallet.
‘Puter suggests the Czar suck it.