Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cancer-Based Love

I am usually a pretty friendly person. I make an effort to be nice to everyone and I am mostly successful. I try to love and not judge, but sometimes, as much as I hate to admit it, there are people who just grate on my nerves.

Not long ago I met a man who, to be quite honest, drove me a little insane. I noticed him on the first day of one of my courses at school. He was an older gentleman, and by older I mean older for college. He was probably around fifty and he liked to talk, a lot. Whenever the teacher explained anything, he always had a comment to make or a story to tell that somehow, in his brain at least, related to what we were studying. Every day we heard story after story about his life, and don't get me wrong, they weren't bad stories I just didn't want to hear about them during class time. This gentleman was not in the least bit unintelligent, however, I began to feel agitated every time he opened his mouth because I knew something longwinded would come out. Even when his comments were helpful to my understanding of the subject matter, my annoyance far out-shadowed my thankfulness.

One day, I noticed my class seemed strangely quiet. I scanned the room and unsurprisingly the gentleman wasn't there. I felt a little thrill. For once, I wouldn't have to listen to those stories! The next day, the gentleman didn't return. Nor did he come on the following day or for the rest of the week. I began to feel hopeful that maybe he had dropped the class. The class discussions had changed quite a bit and I can't say I minded that he was no longer there to dominate them.

This Monday, my teacher announced to the whole class that the gentleman had officially dropped the course. I wasn't sad. I wasn't disappointed. I had secretly been hoping for this. But then, my teacher told us why.

The gentleman had cancer and would be needing treatment and operations right away.

And suddenly, I couldn't breathe. I felt like an entire elephant family had just planted itself on my chest. My whole body ached and I thought my heart might explode out of my ribcage and spray on every person in the room.

I had always considered myself a nice person. I had always thought that I tried to love everyone.

But I hadn't succeeded this time. I hadn't loved this fellow at all. Even when he was kind to me and had helpful advice, I couldn't get past my own judgement to listen to it. I had rejoiced in knowing I wouldn't have to deal with him in class anymore.

This gentleman has cancer. This gentleman that I didn't love has cancer and I was happy to have him gone. Can I still call myself a nice person?

No. I can't really say that about myself anymore. Or, more accurately, I can't call myself perfect. I can only call myself human and infinitely flawed.

The problem is that I could only see as far as my limited perception. I could only see my annoyance. I could only understand my frustration.

"If I had only known, I would have responded differently. If I had only known, I wouldn't have felt so annoyed, I would have just loved."

Those were my thoughts after initially hearing the news. Yet, I can see now how infinitely flawed those thoughts are too.

If you only love someone when you find out they are suffering, it's a weak love, a guilty love, a conditional love. That's not the kind of love God asks for and it's not the kind of love I am okay with giving anymore. God asks us to love our neighbor as ourself. He doesn't say love your neighbor if you find out your neighbor has cancer. He doesn't even ask us to love our neighbor because the neighbor might have cancer. God says to love your neighbor. That's it. No questions asked. No conditions. Just love him.

The most beautiful and terrible thing about being human is that you can't ever really know what's going on inside of someone else. You can't ever fully understand the journey that other people have traveled on to get to where they are. You can only see them as they are. And if you judge everyone by your first impression, never truly understanding the intricacy of the joy and pain that knits all of humanity together, you miss out on one of the most spectacular commandments: unconditional love.

I can't go back and change my actions or my attitude toward this gentleman. I can only pray for his life and continue on with my own having learned something of infinite value.

I know now that I can't go on loving in conditions. I can't go on judging first and loving later. I have to love first, and love unconditionally because if I do that, the judgements I would have made in my lack of love, will no longer exist.

If there's anything I want to teach the world from my unfortunate mistake this time, it's just to love your neighbor, always. And I don't mean love your neighbor because you never know if he might have cancer, I mean to love your neighbor unconditionally. Because, in the end your love for your neighbor shouldn't depend on if he has cancer or not.

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