No Man’s Land
We’re stuck in the hinterland,
The twilight zone between light and dark,
Neither fully here nor there,
Walking on eggshells, broken glass,
Toward the wire, the finish line.
And no way back or out,
With every night upon a bed of nails,
The threat ahead each day, the promise glimpsed,
The undiscovered country out of sight.
The sun still shines here, birds sing, life goes on,
But always there’s a shadow in my mind
And sometimes, just like Frodo on Mount Doom,
I can see nothing but ‘the wheel of fire’
Alone in my own dark night of the soul.
So, carefully this road is walked,
On tiptoe, creeping, seeking for the way…
The grace so quickly lost, the pain floods in.
Sometimes there is a laugh, a hug,
But often cold rejection and retreat
And I cannot break through.
Where is the wisdom as a servant here?
Should I rip off the covering, revealing all,
The nakedness of agony, our broken hearts?
Or just pretend, ignore and carry on?
I carry on, I do my best… and it is not enough.
No way to speed this up
Nor can we sacrifice one second,
But for love’s sake keep walking, seeking peace,
And trusting we’ll be carried to the bitter end.
This poem was posted on the Stories from the Street website on 7th March 2010. It was part of my heart-cry in the early months of this year as we rode an incredible emotional roller-coaster. We were right in the middle of Sam’s 7 week course of radiotherapy, with trips to the hospital 4-5 times a week in the bitter cold compounding the exhaustion of the newly-shouldered burden of his diagnosis.
We were all in shock, trying to cope, trying to get to grips with what had happened to us. Martin went into medical mode (until Sam told him in no uncertain terms he needed a father, not another doctor!). Becca and I became bossy and busy: I got the known universe on board and praying via email and facebook, while she filled his bedroom with balloons and tried to get a rota of friends to visit him. Sam, an extreme introvert all his life, of course retreated to his room and his computer. He began frantically researching alternative treatments, determined to find a way out. Always restricted in his eating habits, he now went vegan… but then lost his taste and wouldn’t eat anything, so my supreme efforts in the kitchen were wasted.
There was great anxiety and soul-searching – especially for Sam, wondering what had caused this death sentence to fall on him. We were battered on all sides… and yet also amazingly supported by so much love and prayer, held in by the love of God and faithful friends. We were carried on a wave of deep intercession and at the same time I was in the grip of an extraordinary and intense creative flow that both helped me express and make sense of my journey and enabled others to share it. In all of the pain we found the help of the Lord and His way through… What an amazing time.
The months after that were harder in some ways as the after-effects of radiotherapy knocked Sam back for some time and the overwhelming exhaustion hit, causing depression to surface in me. We had to realise afresh that this is not going to go away – our lives have utterly changed and we’re in it for the long haul. It is completely draining – we stagger from holiday to holiday, never knowing if we will have to cancel the yearned for short breaks, but gaining strength from the blessing they are. Between regular emotional visits, Becca lives away from home and, as any normal 26 year old should, tries to maintain her own life without getting ill through anxiety about her little brother, guilt for not being here with us and the isolation that can engender. Martin’s capacity has been drastically reduced, work is more of a burden than a joy and sometimes looking after cancer patients is just too near the bone – yet he is graced with a love and understanding through our own experience that makes him the perfect doctor for someone with a terminal disease. Now I have recovered my energy I am finding an outlet through writing and sharing our journey of faith: it is the comfort we have received that we can give away…
So almost exactly 8 months on, I can look back on this poem as part of a record, a chart of our progress, to see how far we have come. Yes, we are still in No Man’s Land – but a lot has changed for good. There is hardly anything in the way of “cold rejection and retreat” in Sam’s attitude to us now… I did not have to “rip off the covering” because grace has been found over the intervening months to express fears and pain to one another in an honest but sensitive way. Although we all have differing individual approaches to dealing with our stark reality, there is greater harmony, softness and understanding of each other’s needs these days as we try to care for each other and keep in step amidst the tensions. We are walking more closely, able to understand one another’s boundaries and sensitivities, giving comfort and space as needed. There has been so much healing in our family relationships, sometimes one or other of us has even expressed a wondering gratitude that this has happened to us… if you can believe that. We have talked a lot about death and mortality and the preciousness of life – no denial allowed in this family! – yet there is hope and grace and thankfulness too, despite the very real sadness.
We work at keeping fear and worry at bay and trusting God. Although we wear mourners weeds and uncertainty fills the air we breathe, at least we are holding hands as we take each step forward. The raw emotion is still there just under the surface, but it only breaks out from time to time and the “eggshells” and the “broken glass” beneath my feet are not so keenly felt: anger rises and bursts out when we fall off the knife-edge, but forgiveness follows quickly. The burden never lifts, but it can often be forgotten in the activities of life and all the fun I have planned in for myself as comfort and distraction alongside my caring role. The grace of Jesus and the Prosac dull the edge of pain, the flexible shape of my life and treasured friends help me through each day. We take it a bit at a time, looking no more than a month or two ahead, following our noses, Sam’s needs and the prompts of the Lord.
It is good to look back and see we have learned SO MUCH and experienced some element of glory in the midst of suffering. It is wonderful to know so many others are walking alongside us still, helping to hold up our arms. We are privileged to have a message of hope and comfort to share of the faithfulness of the Lord freely shown even to this family ‘stuck in the middle’, neither on one side nor the other but perhaps more truly on both sides… walking through No Man’s Land.
Tomorrow I am leading a seminar at the Pioneer VIA conference at Swanwick on ‘Keeping Faith in Difficult Times’, because these things are meant for sharing and it is without a doubt this family’s testimony that there is treasure in the darkness.
For love’s sake we keep walking, seeking peace,
And trusting we’ll be carried to the bitter end.