Today I am fully vaccinated. It’s been two weeks since I got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The day after I got the vaccine was the day the New York Times headline read, “Johnson & Johnson Vaccinations Paused After Rare Clotting Cases Emerge.” People told me not to worry, “it happens to only one in a million people.”
That “one-in-a-million” argument isn’t what calmed me down. The “one-in-a-million” odds had already struck once in our household over the pandemic when my husband was diagnosed with a rare kind of cancer. A one-in-a-million kind of cancer. And to top it off, it was his second cancer diagnosis during the pandemic. He turned 51 years old this past August and has spent most of the pandemic either waiting for treatment, receiving treatment, or in recovery from treatment. A lot of the year he has been and continues to be in considerable pain and discomfort.
One-in-a-million happens. That doesn’t count any of us out.
And another thing about my pandemic year, my mom (83 years old) was also diagnosed with cancer. That continues to be an arduous and painful journey. And we found this out after she and my dad had just moved away from the town where they have lived for almost 60 years. That was the town I grew up in. And a big reason they had to move is that my mom is experiencing more and more signs of dementia.
So, during the pandemic I said goodbye to what had been “going home” for my entire life. I said goodbye to the way it felt to be there, the smells, the familiar streets, the way I knew my way around, the way people knew my family. And it is a slow goodbye to my mom—to the stories she could tell about me and my sisters when we were little, the meals she could prepare, the conversations she could have.
I don’t know what the odds are of having three cancer diagnoses in one year in one family where there is also dementia during a global pandemic. I would think it would probably be even more rare than one-in-a-million.
One-in-a-million can happen more than once. So don’t count yourself out. Growing up in a household where my parents lost their first child (my sister) to leukemia when she was 14 months old, I learned that there is no way to inoculate yourself against worst case scenarios.
A therapist several years ago told me that I “anticipate grief.” That sounds about right, doesn’t it? Because grief is always in our future, even if not in our present. Maybe it’s this capacity to anticipate grief that equipped me to deal with the deep sorrow this year has brought to my household, the congregation I serve, the country, and the world.
I haven’t spent any energy feeling singled out or like a victim of “bad luck.” On the contrary, the year feels like a deepening of a healing path I have been on since the day I was born. I believe it is a generational path of healing—an ancestral reality that tangles up my healing with the healing of the world and my sorrow with the world’s sorrow.
What calmed me down about the blood clot scare was the capacity to surrender to the unknown. There are plenty of reasons to believe bad things happen to people, including me, all the time. What calmed me down were not the long odds, but the hard truth. That’s something I made my peace with a long time ago.
Faith and feminism have everything to do with this capacity that I have to be present in deep sorrow and see the golden threads of healing in it all. Liberation from delusion and liberation from oppression go hand in hand. And grief and liberation are really about seeing things clearly and loving life fully. As my heart breaks, it also loves even more fiercely. Odds are loving fiercely will be good medicine for whatever the future holds.
Marcia Mount Shoop is an author, theologian, and minister. She is the Pastor/Head of Staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC. Her newest book, released from Cascade Books in October 2015, is A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches, co-authored with Mary McClintock Fulkerson. Marcia is also the author of Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ (WJKP, 2010) and Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports (Cascade, 2014). Find out more at www.marciamountshoop.com