My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thanking God One Year Later

One year and three days ago, on July 20, 2011, Dr. McGuire had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his leg.

Thanks be to God, today he is cancer-free.

This past Friday (July 20), which was exactly one year after his surgery, I realized at Mass that I was feeling the same blasted anguish that I felt last summer.  I knew intellectually, in my head, that he's okay, and I tried to talk myself out of it, to tell myself: "Hurt-ey, he's okay: he doesn't have cancer anymore"; but it didn't help much.  I was able to talk through some of my questions about suffering with Dr. McGuire himself this past Spring, which really helped; but I was so busy trying to keep my head above water last summer and then wrestling with the problem intellectually last Fall, that I didn't have time to sit down and think through things.  And I'm realizing that I need to process some stuff.  So now I'm writing, because this is how I think best.

Fifteen months ago, when Dr. McGuire was diagnosed with cancer, I was shocked.  He seemed so young, so healthy (I was more astounded when I found out he wasn't even 30 years old).  There's a saying--one of those platitudes that I hate, but that are so true--that you never appreciate someone until they're gone.  Or--and thank God for this!--you never appreciate someone until you almost lose them.  (See my blog post last year for my thoughts last year.)

I've already blogged about my initial reaction of good old-fashioned optimistic denial combined with prayers; the daze that I couldn't shake during the week after Dr. McGuire told us he had cancer and that continued through the remaining weeks of the semester and into Finals week; the one or two History 102 classes that I sat in on, both because I regret not having him for 102, but also because I was scared; and the rummage sale on the first day of Finals; but I need to blog about what was going through the heart and mind of the Theological-Librarian.

The main thing on my mind last summer was the feeling that I could do nothing.  Thank God I had work in the library to keep me busy, but at times the job was very mindless: it's easy to do inventory without thinking about what you're doing, which gives over-active brains like mine the opportunity to get stuck in a rut and think about the same thing over and over and over again.  I wrestled all summer with the problem of suffering and the problem of what to do when I encounter it, every single time I ran into Dr. McGuire on campus or knelt down in the chapel to pray for him.  That prideful feeling of being unable to help weighed me down, which was not good.  It generally takes a lot to actually "depress" me; but last summer I was in a pretty low mood, despite a friend's advice to just pray for our beloved History Professor and then let it go and leave him in God's hands.

That was the first time in my life that someone close to me...someone I had seen on an almost-daily basis for three years...was facing a serious illness, was facing the "problem of suffering" not in an abstract way but head-on, in a very practical manner, in the nitty-gritty ugly business of cancer and chemotherapy and their side effects; and I didn't know what to do.  I'm a very practical, hands-on person; and despite being a Theology Major, there are times when I feel like I am doing nothing even if I am storming heaven for someone.

I could not shake the helpless feeling or the dull, empty ache.  Because I realized how much I love my Christendom Family; and it hurt to see someone that I loved suffering, and to not know what to do or how to help.  I checked the Facebook "Prayers for Dr. Brendan McGuire's Recovery" page religiously, and bugged another professor to keep me updated on how Dr. McGuire was doing; but that, and occasional emails to say "hi," was all I could do.

I guess the majority of last summer's anguish, which came back and whacked me over the head this past Friday, was concentrated between the end of the semester and his surgery on July 20.  I saw Dr. McGuire pretty regularly during that time because I was working in the library, and he was teaching in the summer program.  I would stop by his office and say "hi," tell him I was praying for him; there were a few times that saying the first thing that entered my scatterbrained head probably wasn't a good idea, but I was trying to help.

When I say he's been an inspiration to me, I think of one memorable day last summer when I overheard him talking to another professor.  He'd just gotten out of the hospital two days previously after a round of chemotherapy; he didn't need to be on campus teaching at the summer program, and yet he was; and the summer campers hadn't been as respectful as they should have been.  I was furious at the kids, and would have given them a piece of my mind if I had been able to; but I was also impressed.

Here was a young man (he was only 28)--an engaging and attention-riveting History Professor, a husband and father of three, a young man who had just gotten his PhD the previous February, a young man who was fighting for his life, facing radical surgery, and dealing with the hair loss, mouth sores, and dizziness that come with chemotherapy--and instead of staying at home resting and cuddling his newborn daughter, he followed his passion for teaching and came to campus to teach a bunch of rowdy high-school students who evidently didn't appreciate what he was doing for them, didn't appreciate what he was going through in his own life.

That was mind-boggling and inspirational because he wanted to keep teaching, he wanted to keep telling these kids not just about ancient Biblical History and the ancient Greeks and Romans, but about the One Who is the center of that history, Who split time in two when He came (Sheen, Life of Christ), Whose Birth fulfilled prophecies and changed history more than Alexander the Great or Caesar did.

Even now, a year later, I look at Dr. McGuire, still limping around campus; and I feel like a scumbag complaining about little aches and pains.  O yes, I'm lazy, and short legs + cold weather + interesting lungs always make the March for Life interesting; but I felt like a scumbag complaining about this past year's March for Life because I knew Dr. McGuire was walking at least part of the March, only one month after finishing chemotherapy, and with a very limited range of motion in his leg (I think at that point he couldn't bend his knee even 60 degrees).

I didn't see Dr. McGuire at all between early July and November 2011, when he visited campus.  During that time, I think some of the anguish was lessened just because I didn't see Dr. McGuire and thus did not have the constant reminder of his suffering in front of my eyes.  Then, once school started, I was busy taking classes and writing my Senior Thesis.

The day he visited campus (November 7) was the day I finished the rough draft of my Senior Thesis.  All that semester, I'd been wrestling intellectually with the problem of suffering in my Senior Thesis.  The broad, already-decided, not-an-option topic was some aspect of the now-Venerable Fulton Sheen's theology.  But I had to narrow that down somehow; and I ended up writing about Sheen's treatment of suffering because I had been wrestling with it since April.  So I guess I could say--although this sounds terrible--that Dr. McGuire's cancer was the inspiration for my Senior Thesis topic and is the reason my Senior Thesis exists.

Now, though, it's been seven months since Dr. McGuire finished chemotherapy; his hair's grown back; he taught an awesome semester of 102 and Crusades (I sat in on some of his 102 classes); and I'm grateful to God.  For the example and inspiration that Dr. McGuire's been; for the lessons he taught me, both by example and by word ( about the problem of suffering and the response to that problem; for the fact that, as of March 12, I have my learner's permit because Dr. McGuire was bound and determined to help me get my permit.

(Notice the excited/panicky look in my eyes.)

Dear Lord, thank You for every day You've granted to that wonderful man, thank You for sparing him for his family and for the Christendom College community.  Thank You for listening to our prayers when we told You (some of us a little too persistently) that we needed him, that we loved him, that we knew You still had work for him to do.

St. Brendan, pray for Dr. Brendan McGuire!  St. John, pray for him!  St. Augustine, pray for him!  St. Peregrine, pray for him!  St. Jude, pray for him!  St. Rita, pray for him! St. Luke, pray for him!  Sts. Cosmas and Damian, pray for him!  St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for him!

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