Or more pointedly, “Did I learn from this what I was supposed to?”
Now that I’m all put back together, that’s a question I’ve found myself asking a lot. With my last procedure in the rear-view, I suppose it’s natural to wax a bit philosophical. Life may still be a few months from normal — for example, I’m currently getting good mileage out of Addie’s baby wipes and Aquaphor — but the end is finally in sight.
While I’m not religious, I do count among my quasi-spiritual beliefs about life, the universe, and the like the notion that when big shit like this happens, someone is trying to get your attention. I’ve been guilty of trying at times to ascribe “everything happens for a reason”-type meaning to life’s more minor developments, but I don’t think it’s a stretch in this case to poke around a little for the lesson behind the cancer.
What’s got me concerned, though, is that I’m not convinced I’ve identified the material this test was intended to cover. Sure, I’ve come to better understand that gratitude is tricky, that you define your own luck, and that I need to be healthier, but have I really changed? Have I taken full advantage of this massive dose of perspective and used it to become a better husband, father, son, friend, colleague, and human? And if I didn’t, will the cancer come back?
In my most panicked state, I remind myself that nothing in this universe is quite so clearly as cause-and-effect-driven as our human brains want it to be. For example, plenty of amazing, inspiring people beat cancer, undergo remarkable personal transformations — becoming (take your pick) healthier, tougher, stronger, kinder, more confident, more balanced, etc. — and still battle recurrences. Conversely, plenty of other folks (though luckily I don’t know any personally) overcome some horrific adversity only to continue acting like the same jerks they were beforehand, apparently without consequence. If we know anything about the universe, it’s that it often makes no damn sense. Good people get punished too much; bad people, not enough.
What gives me hope is an inkling that maybe answering the question, “Did I learn what I was supposed to?” isn’t nearly as important as simply not losing sight of the question itself. It’s an examination without a rubric, an answer I might never get. Giving the question the time, reflection, and respect it deserves, though — that I can control.