Thursday, August 25, 2005
From Gilligan to Grace?
I have been in a very pensive mood these days. My mind seems to wander from the mundane to the philosophical at whim, without connection or direction of thought. Only the bizarre miswired synapses of my mind can create such wandering thoughts that can travel from Gilligan to grace in one post. It's quite a leap at times to follow my train of trought, but at least the tickets are free. I can't seem to tell one story without telling three and this is proof. It all started when . . .

Recently I was in my office and I kept hearing this tapping sound that seemed somehow related to my phone. It would stop and start at metered intervals, tapping the same pattern repeatedly. Could it be a message? It wasn't loud, but I couldn't help but wonder if it was a Morse Code "S.O.S." being sent from someone trapped in the electrical room. Noting that the electrical room was clear, my mind was more at ease. After the sound stopped, I began to wonder if perhaps I read too much Nancy Drew or watched too much Gilligan's Island in my youth. It is scary how much I have been influenced by television. Morse Code? Who knows Morse Code these days unless you are on a submarine. . . . - - - . . . short-short-short-long-long-long-short-short-short . . . - - - . . . (I so could have helped the professor get them off the island)

Last Sunday I was in church with my family. There aren't words that can properly describe the way it feels to belt out a hymn some days. I often get lost in thought at church, but this day I remember noticing the absence of certain practices drilled into me in my youth by well-meaning and loving yet strict nuns. I know the Catholic Church has evolved over the years and practices have evolved too, but I always feel strange when I am the only one bowing my head when I say the name of Jesus (I even bowed my head when I typed it!). I was taught at the tender age of six that it was a show of respect to bow my head when I say the name of Jesus (again!). I remember all of us Catholic school kids in our neatly pressed uniforms lined up in church, beanie caps in place, performing the well-timed head nod in unison. Even though I don't notice other heads still nodding, it has become a natural reflex, like shielding your mouth when you sneeze or scratching when it itches. Does that make it less respectful? Many of my responses at church are reflexive; however, if I didn't believe it, I wouldn't say it or do it. It is not surprising the impact that my Catholic faith has had on my life.

Last evening as I drove home from work, I saw the fire trucks blaze past with sirens wailing. I quickly made the sign of the cross and began to say the same thing I have said every time upon seeing an emergency vehicle, "There but for the grace of God go I. Please protect them." Since I began working with firefighters and police officers fourteen years ago, this has taken on even more significance to me, but as the words began to go through my mind, I stopped. There but for the grace of God go I. What does that mean? It seemed very arrogant and self-righteous.

When I came home I did a little research. According to Robert Hendrickson in the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, "On seeing several criminals being led to the scaffold in the 16th century, English Protestant martyr John Bradford remarked, 'There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.' His words, without his name, are still very common ones today for expressing one's blessings compared to the fate of another. Bradford was later burned at the stake as a heretic." Gee, where was his grace that time?

Prior to cancer I never would have thought twice about this, but once again, it is no surprise the impact that having cancer has had on my life. Why is it that I have God's grace and the poor person on the other end of that emergency call does not? Is that what I am implying? I know the intention of my sixth grade teacher was to point out my blessings, but why is it that after all these years and the exponential number of emergency vehicles I've seen that I stop at this moment to question this practice and these words? How is it that words of gratitude have become words of arrogance in my mind? Perhaps when you have been the person that others say that about, it changes your perspective.

I know that cancer has changed my perspective on many aspects of life. I know that when I see a person nearing the end of a valiant battle with this evil and destructive force, it is not the grace of God that resides with me and not with them. One is not more precious than the other in the eyes of God. Grace cannot be a presence/absence commodity. Perhaps the change in me is that I don't need a reminder to remember my blessings each day. Perhaps simply saying, "Please protect them" is all I need pray.

It seems that so much of my feelings were suspended during treatment, followed by a rush of emotion after treatment. I think perhaps the inquisitive, pensive mood is me redefining my life and my beliefs and settling into my life as a person who has faced cancer. There is no denying that it has influenced me, but then so again, so has faith, and family, and friends, and God help me, even television.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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    "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12