The freedom to reflect is a silver lining of cancer

Former longtime Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church senior pastor and Advocate columnist Blair Monie recently was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, caught in the early stages. He is journaling about his experience and agreed to let us share this recent entry with Advocate readers.

A diagnosis of cancer has a way of changing not only schedules but also priorities. It’s amazing how things that a few days before seemed immutable can be swept off the calendar in a single moment. To-do lists shrink, commitments disappear and suddenly you find yourself with long stretches of time.

Don’t misunderstand. This is not at all a bad thing. Many of us, including me, have not had “long stretches of time” since we were kids. As an only child growing up in small-town America in the 1950s, there were whole summers made of the stuff. I think of Fred Buechner’s description of “running forever through the firefly dusk of summer.” Lately I’ve been remembering those endless summer days more vividly.

I’ve been spending decent chunks of my time reading. Some words from “A Man Called Ove,” by Fredrik Backman, caught my attention:

“… all people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if.’ ”

This is not to say that I think I’m running out of time, as if my diagnosis has put me on a short leash, and I have to frenetically work through my bucket list. Quite the opposite, in fact. Instead, I have been given the gift of time — those “long stretches of time” that offer more leisure, more in-depth conversation, more time to think, to consider, to reflect. George Bernard Shaw once said that most of us only think — really think — once or twice a year. “I’ve made an international reputation,” he adds, “by only thinking once or twice a week.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise in these early stages of my journey with cancer is that I’m experiencing an unexpected level of happiness — even joy. This is not to dismiss the concern of those close to me, those who love me; that’s the downside, which is real.

But maybe what I’m feeling is the opportunity to revisit that “firefly dusk of summer,” to live fully in the present moment, and to live unhurried.

The Rev. Blair Monie also previously mentored new seminary graduates in the Lilly Pastoral Residency program in Preston Hollow.

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