This is the Passover season, when the story of the exodus from Egypt is retold. The name “Egypt” in Hebrew is “Mitzrayim,” and it comes from the root word “tzar,” which means a narrow place. This story, recited at Seder tables around the world, is not told just as a recollection of a historical event, but also as a metaphor. Participants in this ceremony are asked to imagine that they, themselves, had escaped from Egypt. The idea being that sooner or later, we too will have to negotiate our way through some narrow spaces.
We each face our own tight spots— we may feel captured, even enslaved and hopeless, by our struggles. The Passover story is about making it through those tight places by surrounding ourselves with a community of support and staying connected to people who fill us with a sense of possibility and hope. Here is a modern Passover story:
Peter Jennings, chief ABC News anchorman for more than 20 years, just announced he has lung cancer. In an e-mail he wrote to ABC colleagues soon after he learned the diagnosis, he said, “I begin chemotherapy next week. I will continue to do the broadcast. There will be good days and bad, which means that some days I may be cranky, and some days really cranky!”
Peter Jennings inspires me. As medicine increasingly prolongs lives, and the workforce ages, people will continue to work with debilitating diseases. Pope John Paul II’s contributions were not diminished by his Parkinson’s disease. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, at 80, is being treated for thyroid cancer and has returned to the court. Arizona Senator John McCain has faced recurring bouts of melanoma. Tens of thousands of ordinary people face similar tight spots.
I read this story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, while sitting in an airport recently. Diagnosed with leukemia at age 16, Tamara Stevens is now 48 and is the longest-living survivor of one of the first bone marrow transplants. Today, she is nearly nine years into treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer. During the past nine years, she has had surgery, radiation, and continues to get an infusion every three weeks. She has also raised two children, completed nine marathons, designs jewelry, and works full-time as a project manager for Boeing. Tamara says the key to dealing with cancer is not stopping the things you love to do, especially work. She also advises to surround yourself with others who share a positive outlook, and let go of negative energy.
This is a Passover story . . . illness can enslave the body and spirit, and there will be good days and bad. But, if you face them in community, connected to something that reminds you of the dream, it will help get you through the narrow places to experience your own liberation.
All of these people are heroes in their life’s journey and prophets of hope for us all.