I sat, scared and feigning calm, on the crinkly paper of an exam table in a surgeon’s office, my spouse in the chair beside me. I remember the waiting. It had been three weeks since the biopsy, with no word at all about what they found, and the minutes waiting for the surgeon to come in felt especially concentrated. We had been hearing the click of her high-heeled shoes, back and forth down the hall. They were going to click into our room, the surgeon a picture of competence and certitude, and we were going to hear that I had cancer.
I closed my eyes tightly and exhaled through pursed lips, deflating myself, as she kept talking. She had that answer, but she didn’t have all the answers. She cautioned us to go see one of the oncologists as soon as we could. Not to Google it until we talked to them. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was officially in need of some healing.
I was raised in a Quaker family. Quakers have a unique way of talking about praying for each other. We say, “I’ll hold you in the Light.” I have heard this countless times in my life. I have said it myself, many times. I try to imagine the subject of my prayer bathed in a divine illumination, like a cat in a holy sunbeam. But to what effect is all this effort? I have sometimes wondered. Sure, it’s nice to know that people are thinking of you. It wasn’t until I got sick that I started to understand being held in the Light. My family, my friends, my colleagues and board, my Quaker meeting community, the diaspora of University Friends Meeting where I grew up . . . the Light I felt when I needed it was so much more real than I had ever imagined it being when I was doing the praying.
I was extremely lucky to have a diagnosis that was treatable, but the cure was no picnic. In my treatment journey, I was in others’ hands. I had to trust the medicine. My job was to show up and be ministered to by doctors and nurses. I let myself be held in the Light. And I was healed.
It’s 17 months post diagnosis when I write this column, and I’m well, my disease in remission. My hair has grown back, and I have the strength to pick up my kids or lift the cast-iron pots off the stove without thinking twice. What’s more, I have an enhanced appreciation for the value and the mystic weight of our capacity to help each other heal—whether that manifests in the competent practice of traditional medicine, alternative modalities, prayer, practical support to the suffering and those who care for us, or simply holding each other in the Light. Our contributors in this issue (full disclosure: my mother is among them) generously share how healing practice integrates into their Quaker lives. I, for one, can now say that I read these pieces with an appreciation I might not have had two years ago. I am grateful for this learning, just as I am grateful for the gifts of loving Spirit and loving community. Thank you for reading.