Monday coming, I undergo heart surgery.
I have known since 2004 that I have heart disease. Physically and figuratively. So, for the past 12 years I have wrestled with three realities:
1. The Cause of my heart disease
2. The Cure for my heart disease and
3. My own mortality
My physical heart has been impacted by plaque buildup that has put me at risk of a life altering episode, namely, death. You can be sure that hardly a day goes by that I don’t have some reflection on the possibility. Oh, I’m not afraid. Just more keenly aware than most.
The most difficult part has been accepting that much of the cause of my heart disease is inherited, and though I carry a strong sense of familial pride, this knowledge offers little resolution in my quest to understand, ‘where this disease really came from’ and how in the world did I end up with it.
The cure for my heart disease has equally been a roller coaster of emotions, as I have opened my mind up to a myriad of solutions, ranging from spiritual affirmations and prayers, medicinal regimens to vegan lifestyles. I’ve chosen a blend of all three for my own solace.
I have finally come to terms with my choice to undergo the surgery, which promises to improve the length and quality of my life. The Surgery has grown most attractive as it will allow me to achieve this by creating another pathway for blood to flow freely into my heart and take much needed oxygen-rich blood to the other vital parts of my body. It’s nothing short of miraculous.
The cure for my figurative heart is not as readily accessible. I have known, from as young as a toddler, that life is ripe with possibilities; good, bad and ugly. The most valuable lesson I learned as a young boy is that I could make choices. Some choices brought joy and positive consequences. Some choices brought pain and negative consequences. The sum of those choices, added to my cultural and environmental inheritances, have complicated the pathway to wholeness for me throughout my lifetime. Pain and disillusionment have been constant companions on my life journey, but I’ve never let that stop me from moving forward and seeking to live a productive and uplifting life. And that has not always been easy or without consequence.
But it has come clear to me, most recently, as I discussed my imminent heart surgery with my youngest children.
As I was concerned for their emotional response to experiencing me in my post-surgical and weakened physical state, I took great care to speak to them plainly about my heart condition and my surgery. Unlike my surgeon, I used words I believed would speak to their hearts and I was sure to remain calm as I spoke; my hope being, they would take the courage to respond honestly and authentically. Even in my diseased condition, I wanted to teach them somethings about the mortality and value of life. As each of them spoke and asked questions, the tables quickly turned, and the one with the disease, me, received a revelation in healing.
My assumption, as conveyed by my wife, was that my daughters might be the most sensitive to the revelation. So, I was on guard for their tears, outburst or whatever bewildered response they might give. Guess what? They didn’t flinch. They were steady. They blessed me with their confidence and encouragement.
My 16-year-old son, however, was a different story. His response, shocked me at first, but as I allowed his reaction to sit in my heart, it made perfect sense.
You have to understand, my son has a very gregarious and playful personality. He likes attention to be on him. He is very confident and always the life of the party at family gatherings. Certain family members described it as uncanny, how much he is like me, when I was his age. Sometimes his outgoing personality is endearing and charming. Other times it is distracting and troubling. Of course, as a parent, I love his presence but I often am concerned with the side of him that allows him to make excuses and not be accountable for how he impacts others, in those moments when he is “on display”. And trust me, I’m not complaining. I can handle it.
But in that sensitive moment, he wrestled within himself, and the beauty was that he was courageous enough to admit it. As he remained silent for most of my description and medical report, he finally opened up, at the end, with a revealing inquiry.
“I don’t understand how you all can be so calm with something so serious”. He nailed it. We were acting calmly and this was serious.
It was a moment I’ve waited for as a dad. A teachable moment for my otherwise intelligent and impulsive son. Though my son has inherited a good dose of my handsome stature and humorous personality. He is still growing and learning and not yet, fully mature, and I know if I don’t redirect and challenge some of his impulsive ways, he may hurt himself, which he has done, or someone else, which he has also done.
We all grew up in that moment and healed a little bit, even before my surgery.
So, I have learned, that in order to live well and to be well, we need not sanitize pain, struggle and perplexity from our lives. We don’t even have to demand and wish, only, for things we can control. The residue of life is such that all of us will most likely experience unwanted and unwelcomed pain and suffering, and a myriad of other inexplicable challenges. Oftentimes, our primary cry is for relief and pain-free situations. But how would we grow and mature without the pressures, stresses and injustices that forces us to look at how we behave in crisis, as a measure of our own maturity. Conflict and crisis usher us to the doorway of healing and maturity more than we acknowledge, but, we must first look inside before we march outside.
For those who feel the sting of suffering and injustice, your hope to be vindicated by the persecutor’s reform, rehabilitation or repentance is idealistic but not realistic. Anger and vitriol are not the only emotions you can draw from to advance your cause. My mother would always say when we were children, “two wrongs, don’t make a right.” What we must know is that destructive and deadly protest will never advance the cause of justice. Only love and mercy can do that.
In the wake of the tragic killings of seemingly innocent individuals, while many understandably, cry for justice and retribution, I submit to you that even if that outcome is realized, we will never eradicate the pain of injustice until we individually and collectively heal from the disease that plaques us all. Sin.
The sooner we accept this truth, the sooner we can hope to resolve the many conflicts that pit black against white and police against citizens.
It really is, just, a matter of the heart.