走下十字架

戰勝癌症的牧師現身說法,如何擺脫歷劫者的標籤
Debra Jarvis◎撰 from TEDMED

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photograph by the Voorhes

假使我們在公車上相遇,相談甚歡,但我很快就得下車,你只能講三件有關自己的事讓我了解你的為人和特質。我在想,這三件事當中,會不會有一件是關於某種創傷後的經驗?好比你是癌症倖存者、戰亂倖存者,或是受虐倖存者?

許多人都以所受過的創傷來界定自我,就我所見,這種歷劫歸來的身分影響最深遠的是癌症病友社羣。我在這個圈子裏待了很長一段時間,擔任安寧病房及一般醫院的牧師已將近三十年。二○○五年,我在一家癌症中心工作時,得知自己罹患乳癌,接受了化療和乳房切除術,並植入鹽水袋義乳。經歷這個過程,讓我對身為病人有了許多體認。

有一項教我吃驚的發現是,癌症經驗只有一小部分和醫療有關,其餘大部分都是攸關情感、信念,和喪失及尋獲自我認同,以及發覺擁有自己從不知道的力量和韌性。生病讓人明白人生最重要的東西根本不是實質的東西,而是人與人之間的情感;生病讓你懂得以歡笑面對不確定,發現逃避近乎一切事物的方法就是說「我得了癌症」。

我學到的另一件事是,即使有種種力量促使我,我也毋須把「癌症倖存者」當作身分認同。請不要誤會我的意思:及早篩檢、防癌宣導、癌症研究等努力,已使得癌症常態化。這是好事。現在我們可以光明正大地談論癌症,毋須再竊竊私語,並能互相扶持。但是有些人往往過了火。

我手術過後一週,有客人來家裏留宿。一天晚餐時,他說:「小黛,現在你才真正要體會什麼是重要的。真的,你的人生將會做出重大改變,現在你得開始想到自己的大限。沒錯,這場癌症正是你的警鐘。」

這些都是過來人的金玉良言,但要是有人告訴你應該怎麼感受,那根本就是鬼扯。我沒有親手把他掐死,唯一的原因是我的右手抬不起來。而且不光是他,簡直人人都在告訴我我的經歷該要有什麼樣的意義。「哦,這表示你得開始健走。」「噢,這代表你要來參加公益餐會。」「這意味着你要開始佩戴粉紅緞帶,穿粉紅T恤和戴粉紅頭帶、耳環、手環。」

到了這個時刻,我覺得癌症倖存者的身分已經接管了我的人生,因此我告訴自己:「掌控你的經歷,不要讓經歷掌控你。」我們知道面對創傷、失落,或者任何改變人生經驗的方法,就是找出其中的意義。但問題在於:沒有人能告訴我們它的意義是什麼,我們得自己決定箇中的意涵。意義可以平靜又私密。我們不需要創辦基金會、著書立說,或者拍攝紀錄片;反之,或許我們可以只對人生做出一個小小的決定,一個能夠帶來重大改變的小決定。

多年前我有一個病人,是個很棒的年輕人,我們都喜歡他。所以當我們發現他沒有朋友時十分震驚。他一人獨居,自個兒來做化療,再獨自走路回家。但他在化療注射室那層樓卻有許多朋友,病房裏隨時都有人逗留。在他最後一次化療那天,我們為他辦了一場慶祝會。我問他:「現在你打算做什麼?」他答:「交朋友。」

他說到做到,開始擔任義工,上教堂。到了耶誕節,他邀我和外子參加派對,派對中擠滿了他的朋友。他為他的經歷找到的意義,就是了解友誼之樂,而他也學會了交朋友。

有時候,致使我們接受倖存者身分的並非外在因素;有時候是我們自己喜歡這種身分的特權,但卻把自己困住了。身為牧師,我最喜歡在病人接受治療一年或數年後再見到他們,看到他們的改變、他們的經歷,會讓我獲得許多力量。所以,那天我遇到一名從前的病人時,心情很是激動。兩個已經成年的女兒陪她回來做治療一年後的追蹤檢查,而剛剛拿到的檢查結果是「無病徵」,令她們欣喜若狂。我們坐下來不到二分鐘,她就把從確診、手術到化療的過程又說了一遍給我聽,即使那段期間我每週都見到她,對這一切瞭若指掌。她用了諸如折磨、受苦、掙扎等詞彙,最後用這句話來結束她的遭遇:「我覺得自己被釘上了十字架。」

這時她的兩個女兒起身,說是要去買咖啡。我遞了一張面紙給她,抱抱她。接着出於對她的喜愛,我告訴她:「從你的十字架上下來吧。」她說:「什麼⁈」於是我又說了一遍。這位女士有一點做得很好,她能夠說出自己抱着倖存者身分不放的原因,是為了得到關注,大家會反過來照顧她。但現在這卻產生了反效果,讓人退避三舍——老是託辭買咖啡離開。

你可能會覺得我對她有點嚴厲,因此我要補充說出我的切身經驗之談。多年前我被解雇,離開喜愛的工作,之後我不斷向遇到的每一個人訴說我的無辜、遭受背叛和不公不義,直到眾人離我而去,就像那位女士的遭遇一樣。我明白我沒有處理自己的感受,反而是在餵養它們。但就像所有復活的故事一樣,我們知道你必須先置之死地才能後生。耶穌復活之前,在墳墓裏死了整整一天。至於我們,置身墳墓的意思,就是處理我們的傷口,讓自己痊癒。我們得放下過去的遭遇,才能道出更新、更真實的故事,來說明自己是誰。

如果我們活在沒有倖存者的世界裏,會怎麼樣?如果大家決定把創傷當成經驗,而非當作自己的身分呢?結果可能是不再被創傷羈絆,開始以未來定義自己。記住,我們全都在這輛公車上,而你要說什麼樣的故事呢?


Down Off The Cross

Let’s say I meet you on a bus. We really hit it off, but I’ve got to exit soon, so you’re going to tell me three things about yourself that help me understand who you are, that get at your essence. I’m wondering: Of those three things, is one of them surviving some kind of trauma, like being a cancer survivor, a war survivor, or an abuse survivor?

Many of us tend to identify ourselves by our wounds, and where I’ve seen this survivor identity have the most consequences is in the cancer community. I’ve been part of this community for a long time. I’ve been a hospice and hospital chaplain for nearly 30 years. In 2005, I was working at a cancer center when I learned I had breast cancer. I had chemo­therapy and a mastectomy, with a saline implant put in. Through the process, I learned a lot about being a patient.

One surprising thing I found was that only a small part of the cancer experience is about medicine. Most of it is about feelings, faith, losing and finding your identity, and discovering strength and flexibility you never even knew you had. It’s about realizing that the most important things in life are not things at all, but relationships. It’s about laughing in the face of uncertainty—and learning that the way to get out of almost anything is to say “I have cancer.”

The other thing I learned was that I didn’t have to take on “cancer survivor” as my identity, even though there were forces pushing me to do that. Please don’t misunderstand me. The push for early screening, cancer awareness, and cancer research has normalized cancer, and that is wonderful. We can talk about cancer without whispering, and we can support one another. But too often, it feels like some people go overboard.

A week after my surgery, we had a houseguest. At dinner one night, he says, “Deb, now you’re really going to learn what’s important. Yes, you are going to make some big changes in your life, and now you’re going to start thinking about your death. Yep, this cancer is your wake-up call.”

Those were golden words coming from someone speaking about his own experience, but when someone is telling you how you’ll feel, it’s instant baloney. The only reason I didn’t kill him with my bare hands was that I could not lift my right arm. And it wasn’t just him. It seemed like everyone was telling me what my experience was going to mean. “Oh, this means you’re going to be doing the walk.” “Oh, this means you’re coming to the luncheon.” “This means you’re going to be wearing the pink ribbon and the pink T-shirt and the headband and the earrings and the bracelet.”

At that point, I felt like being a cancer survivor was taking over my life. That’s when I told myself, “Claim your experience; don’t let it claim you.” We know that the way to cope with trauma, loss, or any other life-­changing experience is to find meaning. But here’s the thing: No one can tell us what that meaning is. We have to decide what it means. And that meaning can be quiet and private—we don’t need to start a foundation, write a book, or work on a documentary. Instead, perhaps we make one small decision about our lives that can bring about big change.

Many years ago, I had a patient who was a wonderful young man. He was beloved by us, so it came as a shock to realize he had no friends. He lived by himself, he’d come in for chemotherapy by himself, and he’d walk home alone. But he had tons of friends on the infusion floor, with people in his room all the time. At his last chemo treatment, we had a celebration for him, and I asked, “What are you going to do now?” He answered, “Make friends.”

And he did. He started volunteering and going to a church. At Christmas, he invited me and my husband to a party, and it was filled with his friends. He decided that the meaning of his experience was to know the joy of friendship, and he learned to make friends.

Sometimes it’s not outside factors that cause us to take on that survivor identity; sometimes we like the perks, but we get stuck. One of the things I love most about being a chaplain is seeing my patients a year or years after their treatment. It’s inspiring to find out how they’ve changed and what has happened to them. So I was thrilled one day to see a former patient who was there for her one-year ­follow‑up exam with her two adult daughters. They were ecstatic—she’d just gotten her test results and she was NED: No Evidence of Disease. We sat down, and within two minutes, she was retelling me the story of her diagnosis, surgery, and chemo, even though I’d seen her every week and knew it. She used words like suffering, agony, and struggle and ended her story with “I felt crucified.”

At that moment, her daughters stood up and left to get coffee. I handed the woman a tissue and gave her a hug. Then, because I cared for her, I told her, “Get down off your cross.” She said, “What?!” I repeated it. To this woman’s credit, she was able to talk about why she was clinging to her survivor identity. It got her attention, and people took care of her, for a change. Now it was having the opposite effect and pushing people away—they kept leaving to get coffee.

You may think I was a little harsh with her, so I’ll add that I was speaking out of my own experience. Years before, I was fired from a job I loved. Afterward, I wouldn’t stop talking to everyone I met about my innocence, the injustice, and the betrayal until, just like with this woman, people were walking away from me. I realized I wasn’t processing my feelings—I was feeding them. But with any resurrection story, we know that you must die before you can be reborn. Jesus was dead for a whole day in the tomb before he rose. For us, being in the tomb means doing our own work around our wounds and letting ourselves be healed. We have to let our old story go so that a newer, truer story can be told about who we are.

What if we lived in a world without survivors? What if people decided to claim their trauma as an experience instead of taking it on as an identity? It could mean the end of being trapped by our wounds and the start of defining ourselves by who we are becoming. Remember, we’re all on this bus together. What story are you going to tell?

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