I can only hope the person about whom I wrote this does not read it without my knowing ...
It’s a Chemistry lesson but my mind isn’t on the electronic configuration of Potassium, and I’m not focusing on the periodic table that a teacher has stuffed into my prone hands while I sat there, distracted. I’m hardly noticing the classroom or the stares of the boy sitting next to me, whose wondering why I’ve got my eyes shut and am muttering frantically. But I’m not crazy – I’m praying.
My friend’s mum is having an operation at this very moment, and I didn’t know what I could do to make him feel better except tell him I was praying. I’ve only met his mum once, when she gave me a lift home, but she seemed nice enough – and of course, the fact that she’s Jake’s mum makes me anxious for his sake, too.
Jake’s huge. He plays the tuba and listens to metal and he refuses to wear anything except black, but he’s actually one of the sweetest boys you’ll ever meet. His hugs are the sort that leave you feeling like you no longer have any ribs, and when you’re freezing cold, soaking wet and not looking forward to your first night in a Somerset tent, his supply of sherbet lemons are very welcome.
No one else calls him Jake, only me. Well, perhaps sometimes my parents but that’s only because they’ve never actually met him and they’re just picking it up from my speech. It seems natural enough. I’ve never met anybody called Jacob that didn’t want to be called Jake and although he’s the exception I find it easier. He says he likes it. It’s nice to have nicknames, he says, and if everybody calls him something different he never gets bored of his name.
Such a nice, Christian boy, that’s what my mother would say. It’s true that he’s a Christian, and it’s true that he’s nice, but there’s more to him than that, another side. It’s not for those reasons that we’re friends. I think we’re friends because although we’re complete opposites – I’m short, I have a preference for Clannad, play the piccolo, flute and violin and love walking around in bright orange – we understand each other, and we can sympathise. That’s just a theory though.
It’s because he’s so nice and Christian that I’m extra annoyed about his mum. Well, maybe ‘annoyed’ isn’t quite the right word: perhaps angry would do the trick. I’m angry. Why should she be suffering like this? Why would God let this happen? So I just have to pray: God, hold her in your hand, don’t let her be scared ... please, God, let this operation be a success. That’s all I can do. I don’t feel like it’s enough.
When the boy next to me asks me what I’m doing I reply irritably. “I’m praying, of course.” He looks hard at me for a second and then turns away, asking no more questions. Well, that’s one way to confuse people, I suppose.
When I get home I turn my phone back on and text Jake, asking for news. At first there’s nothing and I can only sit there, waiting. He tells me he will let me know as soon as they hear anything, and that it doesn’t look too bad. I wait a little longer.
Then, later in the evening, I receive the glorious message that I have been waiting for all day: My mum’s okay! I have to text him back immediately and tell him how glad I am, since I’ve never felt so relieved and happy in my life. I know, in part, what he’s going through, since my grandfather passed away from cancer in May of this year and I haven’t quite got over it yet.
For a week or so everything is fine and nobody’s worried. He doesn’t come to band this week but I understand, since he said he wanted to stay and be with his mum. Not something you’d expect to hear from someone with his appearance, but it’s what he said. So I don’t have a chance to talk to him, but it’s all right because I know everything’s going to be fine. I can feel it.
We have house group and I finally get a chance to speak to him. He’s going okay, his mum’s doing fine, but she’s got to go into the hospital tomorrow for a check up so that they can see if she’s all right. I tell him that I’ll pray and the rest of the group agrees. We’re a close-knit community, for all it’s the first meeting for some of us (myself included) and if somebody is in trouble then we’ll all be feeling their pain.
The next day Jake texts me. He says that it’s bad news. They didn’t manage to get rid of all of the cancer and she is going to have to have chemo, then another operation, and perhaps radio therapy too. He says that it is basically going to be six months of hell for him and for her, because no one knows what is going to happen until it does.
I’m angry. He doesn’t deserve this sort of thing – no one does. I’m yelling at God – “Why? Why him? Why, God, why?” But he’s not answering and I’m wondering if perhaps he’s just as angry. It’s like they always tell you ... you just have to trust that it’s going to be all right. But I can’t trust when my friend Jake is going through hell because I can feel him hurting, I honestly can.
For a while I just sit there and I decide to pray. I think to myself that I’ll do this calmly, I won’t yell and I won’t shout and I won’t get angry at God. It doesn’t work. I can’t help but say, “Your children, God, your own children ... and you’d condemn them to six months of hell? Why would you do that? They don’t deserve it.” I can’t help it. I’m mad at him. Is it his fault? It feels like it.
When I see Jake the next day, it’s my turn to give him a hug. That means he’s not allowed to lift me up and crush the life from my ribs because that’s only when he gives me a hug. Yeah, it’s complicated, but we’ve got a system worked out.
I’m not very good at hugging people that are a foot taller than me, but I’ll do my best. I reckon he needs it and though my arms aren’t quite long enough to go all the way around him I do my best to give him some comfort. I think it works because he smiles and thanks me. I tell him that it was nothing. He needs it.
We only see each other about twice a week after that. I’ve mentioned that he play the tuba and that I play the flute, piccolo and violin, and that’s how we know each other. Well, we knew each other from band for a year then went away to camp and discovered each other’s names – that was a first. But now we’re in not only the same band, but the same orchestra too. And then there’s house group, so all in all me and Jake have a pretty good friendship.
There’s nothing I can do to help with his mum except pray, and I honestly do try. I can’t always remember to, and sometimes I have to be reminded by my parents, but I do my best and that’s all I can offer.
I’m hoping that in a few months time I’ll get a text message telling me of her recovery, or saying that it was a miracle and they couldn’t work out how she’d been healed. I don’t know if that’s going to happen and I still spend a lot of time yelling, “Why, God, why?” To hear me, you’d think it was my own mother, but it’s not.
I wonder if Jake knows how I feel about it. He might not. He might think I’m just being sympathetic and nice to him, but the truth is that every time he’s worried it sends me back to when I was panicking about my granddad. I know, of course, that breast cancer has a higher survival rate – that doesn’t mean I’m not frightened, because there’s always those people that don’t make it.
If anyone ever reads this then of course they’ll tell him, and he’ll know. For now, however, I’ll just have to get by and hope that he doesn’t mind me telling his story. Our story. The life we live together, small part of existence though it is. And perhaps one day I will tell him, but not yet.
Six months of hell for one of God’s children. Doesn’t seem right, does it? Most things don’t, and you’re stuck there waiting for a little bit of justice, a little bit of the future. Well, I don’t know if we’ll ever get it, but I’m hoping that six months of hell ends with eternity of heaven.