Happy to have the exam and X-rays done, I was walking through the waiting room toward the exit when I spotted the lone man sitting there. He was reading a book. No, I did not know the guy. But he was reading a book! Yes, I am extra nosy when it comes to what someone is reading, stranger or not.
I was too far from him to see what the book title was when he glanced up and I greeted him, “Hi! Reading something good?” Of course I was smiling. Books have that effect on me.
I took a few steps closer to the man and recognized the leather cover long before I could read the gold lettering. The gentleman held his Bible up and shook it gently, keeping his finger in between the pages he had been studying. He also smiled, so either God, or His book, also had that effect on this stranger.
“Best book ever,” he said to me. He looked at me questioningly, and I agreed and said, “My favorite verse is Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ I don’t think I could have made it through the brain surgery I had in January without God’s help.”
The man stared at me for a moment quietly. His smile faded away and he looked sad, or worried; maybe it was both, but it was such a grave expression that I was alarmed. I had just finished thinking, “What’s wrong?!” when the man said, “My wife. She just went through the same thing.”
Now it was my turn to stare, at a loss for words. This was not my neurosurgeon’s waiting room; I’d just had a routine women’s health exam. I had thought that I was among a rarer group of people who had survived major brain surgery to remove a tumor.
Maybe we survivors were not so rare after all. I questioned the guy about his wife’s condition, and as we talked about her, his face suddenly brightened and his smile returned.
“She is going to be so happy when I tell her I met you! It’s going to give her hope and encourage her so much to know you’re doing well, so thank you! And God bless,” he said. As I left the waiting room, I thought of the unknown woman who was, like me, recovering from brain surgery, her book-reading husband, and the God who connected us all, albeit briefly.
That was the first time I felt a whisper of an answer to a question that I try not to ask God or anyone else: “Why?”
I don’t spend much time thinking about why I find myself facing – often with no warning, and sometimes alone – challenges that could drastically change or even take my life. I don’t ask why I’ve endured ordeals that threaten to break or haunt my heart and mind. But neither do I ask why I’ve experienced so much joy that I’ve laughed until I cried.
Is there an answer to why I had a brain tumor? Or why it grew, untamed for years, bruising my brain and throwing me off balance? Do I need an answer to why I wrestle with pain every day?
I think not. That’s life: It happens, good and bad. How I decide to respond and what I choose to learn from it is what’s important. We’ve heard it a million times, but it’s true: Life does go on. I can keep moving, and take the time to enjoy and appreciate nature, sunshine, libraries, music, coffee and other things I love. Or I can stop, stay in one place of misery, and complain about things that have caused me pain.
I’ve been surprised to discover that sometimes unexpected answers to “Why?” await me in some of the best moments of living. Those moments include reaching out to a book-loving stranger and learning that my experiences, both positive and painful, can open me up to both giving and receiving hope and encouragement when everyone involved needs it the most.
Dawn Kessinger lives in Lima.