Wednesday, December 08, 2010


I got an e-mail from a student the other day. This person was a pretty good student, had good engagement in the class, was doing pretty well.

She wanted to know what to do if she couldn't get back to take the final, because there was a family emergency.

I e-mailed her back and told her that based on my calculations, she could still pass without taking the final - or, the preferable choice would be for her to take an incomplete and then take the final when she came back after break. (She has a shot at an A, and I would hate for some emergency to do away with that).

She thanked me, and told me things had changed a little, and she probably would get back. And would it be okay if she had some questions for me later?

I assumed it meant questions about the final, I said "Sure!"

Well, she e-mailed me her questions.

They weren't about the final.

The emergency was, her brother was taken to the ER with some serious problems. They found a pretty advanced cancer. The small hospital he went to first essentially told him, "there's nothing we can do, he's just going to die." Their parents pushed harder and got him to a bigger hospital where they did some stuff to take care of the immediate problems, and then he got admitted to their cancer-treatment program.

She asked me some questions about the specific cancer he was diagnosed, and what the prognosis was if it had spread, and about the radiation they are going to try to treat it.

She finished up with, "I just wish I knew if my bubba was going to be all right..."

(For those of you who don't live in the South: "bubba" is a common nickname for a person's brother. Used as it's used here it implies great affection...which is why it broke my heart so much)

More than I have in a very long time, I wished I could honestly tell her, "Yes, it's going to be rough for a while, but ultimately he will get better." But I don't know that and it wouldn't be kind for me to tell her. I reminded her that I'm in no way a cancer expert (they know I don't know as much about medical issues, but I guess their assumption is that I know more than they do, and maybe I can help). I told her I was sorry and that I hoped things worked out, and told her if things changed (her brother is somewhat stabilized at this point, I guess) and she didn't think she could take the final, she just had to e-mail me and I could arrange an incomplete.

But wow. Like I said, I really wish I could look into the future, see her brother recovered, and e-mail back, "Yeah, he's gonna be all right."

I don't know her super-well, and she was never one of the students who wore a cross pendant or a t-shirt with Biblical references on it (many of our students do), so I didn't know how she'd react to me saying, "I'll pray for your brother." (But I am. Actually, there's a whole ethical question in here: should you pray for someone who doesn't know and might not welcome that you are? And what about someone who explicitly rejects faith? I admit I've done that - prayed for a few people who might not welcome it, but I never told them.)

But anyway. This is one of those reminders that everyone has stuff going on, everyone has challenges in this life. Although this student was in no way a problem person - in fact, she was, as I said, one of the more-engaged students in the class - still, everyone has troubles and it's good to remember to be kind in this life, and to remember to see people as PEOPLE and not as obstacles or problems.

And that's something I too often forget.

1 comment:

nightfly said...

I'd pray for them anyway. You never know if that's the next step in their conversation with God. And to me, "conversation" could include shrieking "I HATE YOU I NEVER ASKED TO BE BORN YOU RUIN EVERYTHING!!!!!" and slamming the door. Sometimes it's a big step forward to get that out of the way. You've already answered one of her prayers (whether she knew she made it or not) by listening.

Oh, and cancer can continue to FTFOAD.