You’re sitting in a hallway in a clinic or hospital, waiting your turn for chemotherapy. This is not a place you want to be; this is a place you never prepared yourself for. If you look at the other faces, you see the same pain, the same gauntness, the covered heads missing hair that stares back you when you have the courage to look in the mirror.
And here comes a woman, looking and feeling as bad as you do, and she tells you she is here for the same reason you are, to get those treatments that convince you that the treatment is as bad as the disease.
She gives you a red balloon. Or she hands one to your husband or wife. Or your three-year-old granddaughter. Or she offers a hug. And you realize she is just as physically weak as you are.
After weeks of enduring chemotherapy and its associated treatments that were debilitating on a good day and horrible on the bad days, Margaret Feinberg has reached the end of her rope. She had been fighting back with joy, but she found herself in a place where she had no more joy to give.
A Bible verse comes to mind. Acts 20:35. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Jesus said it, although, as Feinberg points out, none of the Gospel accounts record it. It is St. Paul speaking, and he said he is quoting Jesus.
It’s how Jesus lived his entire life.
And in the depth of pain and despair, Feinberg asks herself a question.
Am I supposed to give away joy, even when I have no joy to give?
As she writes in Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears, “Flat broke in mind, body, and spirit, generosity was not a spiritual discipline I wanted to practice.”
She wanted a passport out of pain, not a ticket to encouraging others.
But then she realizes that the statement contains no qualifiers or exemptions.
So she finally answers her question with red balloons.
I suspect that a healthy person handing our red balloons in a cancer treatment center might be mildly appreciated, or perhaps possibly resented. What does a healthy person really know about the pit of chemotherapy?
But Feinberg was one of them. She was going through it with them. She was feeling just as awful as they were. She identified with the pain. More to the point, she was living the pain.
That’s how lives can be changed.
When you people know you understand, they respond.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Fight Back with Joy. To see more posts on this chapter, “You’ve Got to Give This Away,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.