Seven years ago this week I was recovering from breast cancer surgery. I had just reluctantly told family members, friends, my colleagues and congregation about my diagnosis. I had not yet started radiation or the five years of treatment which would follow. Actually, I didn’t even know the treatment plan. I was freaked out, scared and in a learning curve about all things related to breast cancer.
I still remember an October Sunday seven years ago when Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys took the field wearing pink accessories and ribbons. It was the first time I’d been through the season of pink knowing what it felt like to have the disease. No doubt I was probably an emotional wreck but I remember watching through tears and feeling like Tony Romo and his teammates saw me and were with me in my pain and in my fight. It mattered.
I know there is controversy over the pink ribbons and not everyone feels the same as I do. I still take comfort in them every October.
I’m hooked on the online game Words With Friends. (Think Scrabble, but online with real people you know). This month, they added an in-game feature where you can change the color of your tiles. I switched to pink. A former co-worker still plays the game with me and messaged me asking, “Did you change your tile color for October?” I said, simply, “Yes.” One move later he changed his tiles to pink too and messaged “I’m with you, sis.” That mattered.
In reflecting on this past week in our nation I realized that all most of us want is to be seen, to be heard and to know someone is with us in our fight. Victims of sexual assault want to be heard and valued. The accused want to be heard. Senators want to be heard and so do their voters.
I am struck by how much we vilify the other side, whoever that is. I often wonder, when people are posting and saying awful things about the “other side”, do they realize they are talking about me? Do I realize the “other side” contains people who are family and friends to me, people I love? When we lump each other into to groups: Republican, Democrat, Male, Female, Christian, Muslim, Gay, Straight and especially when we categorize any of those groups as evil, we are really missing the biggest of points. It is humanity at our worst when we do that.
Pink ribbons symbolize to me that somebody sees me and is with me on an important part of my journey. #MeToo is another symbol for many hurting and traumatized men and women that somebody is with them.
On the day of my breast cancer surgery, I told my husband I didn’t want to see anyone and went to bed. A couple of hours later he showed up at the bedroom door and said, “Someone is here to see you.” I glared at him for breaking my rule. And then behind him, I saw our son, Reed, then a sophomore in college who had driven 3 1/2 hours home to just show up and say, “I’m with you.” That mattered. I could sob right now thinking of the message that sent to me.
People who are hurting need someone to say I’m with you. I hear you. I see you. And the truth is, we are all hurting. We all have painful chapters of our life stories. Democrats do. Republicans do. Survivors do. Judges do. I do. You do.
My prayer for myself this week is to see and hear better. I want God to help me not vilify anyone just because they belong to a group or classification of some sort. That is the easiest, laziest and pettiest thing to do and I’m guilty of it. I’m praying instead that I will see and stand with those who are fighting battles and show up for those who are hurting.
Believe me, it matters.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace, breast cancer survivor.