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I made an important discovery some years ago (brace yourself – it’s a loo-loo!).  Ready?  Are you sure?!  Well, here it is: I am not the king of the universe! 

See?  I told you it was a stunner!  Well, perhaps it sounds as if I’m more the king of the obvious, and it may be all too pathetically clear to you (especially to my fellow chaplains), but periodically I need a reminder.

So what was it that prompted this realization of the blindingly obvious?  It began when my mother informed us that for the second time she’d been diagnosed with cancer, an entirely different type this time – esthesioneuroblastoma (just wanted to impress you with this word’s magnificent fearsomeness).  She was scheduled for surgery and it would be very risky.  The surgeon even said, “We may need to remove a jugular vein [Ed. note: there are four – another discovery] but if I have to remove two, I don’t know what I’ll do.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but hearing a surgeon say “I don’t know” is not so much a refreshing admittance of humility as a stomach-churning source of anxiety.

Into surgery she went at 0800hrs for what was supposed to be a 5-6 hour operation.  It took eight.  My dad, my sister and her husband, my parents’ pastor, and my wife and I sat, paced, fidgeted, drank several gallons of coffee, talked, prayed, drank more coffee, and paced some more.  I can’t speak for the others in that waiting room, but I felt helpless.  And as the hours stretched on, the feeling only grew.  And as the clock on the wall slid past the six hour mark, my father’s face grew pale and then resolute expecting the worst.

Finally, the surgeon emerged from the OR.  Before I even knew he’d entered the waiting area, my dad was at his side.  He’d moved faster than I do at Tim Horton’s when the cashier says, “Next!”  “Ah, Mr. Rittenhouse, are you on your own today?”  Then he noticed the rest of the anxious faces surrounding him.  He looked startled, as though we might mug him.  “Oh, I see you’re not.  Well, your wife’s fine.  She’s going to be fine.”

The tension that had built up minute by minute and hour by hour, that had piled up like the snow we used to get back home, suddenly evaporated.  Praise God! Echoed in my mind and whispered throughout the waiting area.

That’s when I realized it, that I’m not the king of the universe.  If I had been, my mom wouldn’t have gone through an eight-hour operation, we wouldn’t have had to endure silent torture, and I wouldn’t need to make 12 trips to the washroom due to Tim Horton’s overload.  

Dark and fearful events like that surgery, and my parents’ later decline in health and eventual deaths (although some years later) are reminders to me that I am not ‘all that.’  I am not enough.  I am not able to bear things like this alone.  “No one is an island entire unto themselves,” as the poet John Donne said.  I need others to help me bear the load.  And, if you’ll allow some religious notes, I need God.

We all need someone on whom we lean, who gives us strength, who will help us through the dark times: spouses, friends, faith communities.  Because we can’t bear it alone.  We shouldn’t try.  And we don’t have to.

But we do have to be honest with ourselves.  We have to make the leap into the blindingly obvious. 

So say it with me: “I hereby confess that I am not the king of the universe.”

That job is taken.

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