I've been angry for almost a week now. In the traditional stages of grief, anger is the one I tend to hang out in. Which I realize isn't a great testament of my faith. But there it is. I can't usually place my finger on where my anger's directed. But I know this time. I know exactly. It all started with horrid news about this lady:
Beautiful, isn't she? Her name's Karleen. Her role in my life started way back in the seventies in The Year of the Move. My parents took two big-time California girls (who kept our vinyls on a constant loop with songs like 'California Dreamin', 'Wish they all could be Californian', and 'Surfer Girl') from the Awesome and Cool place known as Hacienda Heights, California; and transplanted them entirely against their will to the dinky little cold place known as Logan, Utah. No one ever wrote a song about Logan, Utah.
To make matter's worse, I was going into the ninth grade, which was high school in California, but only middle school in Logan. But that wasn't as bad as my big sister's situation. It was her senior year. It is hard to imagine a more cruel thing to do to a senior in high school.
Karleen lived just up the street from us in Logan. She was a year older than my sister, which I just learned, but makes it even more remarkable that she rescued Sis by bringing her into her circle of a friends--a circle that included my future husband, who also lived in the neighborhood. I'm quite certain Karleen was the one bright spot that made that year tolerable for my sister. Karleen had a glow that attracted people to her like bugs to a porch light. Everyone she came in contact with felt like a good friend. She even made me - a puny little middle schooler - feel loved and accepted.
Karleen went on to teach kindergarten. And from what I hear she was a natural. Made every one of her students feel like her favorite. She had a daughter too, who was the light of her life.
On Friday I got a call from my sister (who by-the-way promptly moved back to California after graduation and stayed. I, on the other hand, developed a fondness for that Logan place.) Carolyn gave me the bad news that Karleen had passed on. She knew little beyond that, a possibility of cancer. But we learned from the obituary that Karleen had started the school year, taken on a class of bright-eyed kindergarteners, so obviously she hadn't planned on leaving this world quite this soon.
My husband and I scrambled to make plans to get to Logan for the burial the next day. He happened to be fishing with his brother in Yellowstone, which is north of Logan, and I was home in Draper, south of the place, so I gathered up respectable funeral suits for the both of them and drove up to meet them.
At the cemetery, I asked a mutual acquaintance if she knew more about Karleen's story. She confirmed that it was breast cancer. She'd gone through treatment, and everything was fine. The woman placed her hand over her chest, near her shoulder. "And then she found another lump," she whispered. "It was mean and fast and aggressive."
At that moment, the funeral director stood and announced the dedication on the grave. Karleen's father--eyes red-rimmed, looking weak and beaten--stood to offer the prayer. Karleen's women - her mother, her daughter, and a sister - sat under a green canopy, clinging to one another for strength.
For just a split second my mind's eye saw my husband standing in that man's place. My beautiful women sitting under the canopy. And I gained a new appreciation for the term 'weak-kneed'. The prayer was beautiful. But I had a wedding to go to afterwards, and I hadn't thought to bring makeup, or even tissues, so it also became an internally-frantic attempt to keep my composure. Keep the tears from flooding my face. Keep those knees holding up my body.
That's when the anger started to build. A put-up-your-dukes kind. It hadn't diminished in the least when more news came that very same day. This time one of My Girls. I didn't give birth to her or raise her. One of my good friends gets to take full credit for that. But I was her church leader for nearly six years. From the time she was nine until two years ago, when she started high school. And in those years her bright smile managed to weave it's way around and through my heart. She's a senior now, same as my sister in her challenging year. That year of vulnerability and possibilities. She's beautiful, brilliant, and cheerful. Take everything you know about stuck-up, snotty, flighty teenagers and throw it out the window with this one. She's nothing like that. Everything a young person should be.
While on my way to that wedding, I learned through Facebook that Tiffany was in the hospital. Through a friend I learned they were thinking maybe leukemia. After a couple days of tense waiting, it turns out leukemia would have been good news. It is cancer. But they don't know the source. And since cancer's behave in unique ways depending on their source, they really have to know that in order to fight it properly.
So now we wait some more while they run test after test on her young body. A body that should be worried about math tests and boys and what to wear to school, not blood counts and pic lines.
And that's why I'm mad. I want to put my fists in the air and shout at that cancer: HOW DARE YOU!?! HOW DARE YOU THINK YOU CAN INVADE THE BODIES OF THESE BEAUTIFUL WOMAN?!? GET OUT RIGHT NOW AND LEAVE THEM ALONE!! LEAVE US ALL ALONE!!
Of course I'd just be circling around waving my fists at nothing. Tipping at windmills. Fortunately we have prayer, and a belief that there is a purpose in everything. That God is in control. And I do feel so blessed to have that faith. The prayers that have been offered up in my behalf have been unbelievably tangible. God's mindfulness of me is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Yet I still dream that some day cancer will listen to demands like that. That it will get out and stay out. That the angels in heaven will have to find new ways and reasons to minister to us.
In the meantime, please join me in praying for Karleen's family, and for my girl Tiffany.