The Cancer Connection

I hate cancer. We all hate cancer! But sometimes it connects us to other people. Sometimes it might be the thing that allows us to minister to others in a way that we least expect.

It was a Tuesday night in the middle of Christmas vacation. I answered a call to pick up someone. When I answer a call I don’t know anything about the person, number of people, or even where they will be going. All I know is a first name. I arrived to pick up Nick. I’m able to call through a third party phone number so I called to let them know I had arrived. They weren’t there yet so I had to wait. Ugh. Waiting doesn’t make me any money. I’m just waiting.

Pretty soon a pick-up truck pulls into the driveway and out come four college aged kids. Oh great! I think to myself. They’ve already had too much to drink. I was early in the whole Uber driving experience and one of things I did not want was belligerent guys who have too much to drink, riding in my car. Apparently in the recesses of my mind, I have had bad experiences. To me, drunk guys do stupid things.

They get in the car and I tell them, “In the event of motion sickness, there is a zipper bag in the seat back in front of you. It includes paper towels, a moist towelette and a mint. Just in case.”  To my surprise I realize they don’t smell like a brewery. I don’t like my nice car to smell like a brewery either. Are you noticing that I had a bit of a negative attitude starting this ride? They laugh at me. One says, “My mom is a flight attendant! That was funny! But we aren’t drunk – yet.”

On the way they start asking me about driving for Uber, how long I’ve been doing it (my answer was two weeks), favorite passengers, etc. We talk about the colleges they attend, what they are studying, and how happy they are to be home for Christmas break.

I take them to a nearby bar at the Hilton. They gave me a nice tip. I decided I liked these boys. They were smart, funny, and genuine. And they weren’t drunk – yet.

I went to my normal Starbucks hangout while waiting for another “ping” on my app. It’s a quiet night. Not much happening, so I sit for about 30 minutes with nothing coming in. Then I’m pinged again and notice the name is the same and I’m picking them up at the same place I dropped them off.

They all pile in my car and say the place is dead. They need to go someplace happening! They ask me to take them to another bar in another town. We arrive and the bar is closed. It’s only open on weekends. I can sense their disappointment. I’m not really that intuitive, they said, “Aw man! Where are all the people?!” They asked if I would drive them to another location. When we got there I said I would drop them off and wait for one of them to come out and let me know if they were staying or going. It wasn’t happening either, so they piled back in the car. They decided to go back to one of their houses and just hang out together.

As we were heading back to their house one of them said, “Hey, do you want to get lit?”

I had no clue what that meant. I guess I’m a sheltered mom. I said, “I don’t know what that means.” They laughed. Then he said, “Do you want to get drunk with us?” Um…boys… I’m 50.

I said, “No, someone has to drive.” Then one of the kids said, “Would your husband be mad? Where is he anyway?” I told him that my husband was probably “getting lit” in heaven. I know it sounds bad to say it now, but at the time, it seemed like a good way to respond. I thought of “getting lit” as in heavenly glory lit, the kind that happens when you’re having a party in the presence of God, y’know?

The passengers grew silent. Then softly one of the boys said, “What did he die of?”

“Cancer. Mouth cancer.”

They asked questions. Honest. Genuine questions.

One of the boys said, “Jimmy’s dad has liver cancer.” Another boy said, “My dad has esophageal cancer.” I could hear his voice crack even in the back seat. He wanted to know how long Mike lived after his diagnosis. I answered his questions, but also wanted to give him hope. Obviously I didn’t know anything about his dad’s condition, but I wanted him to know that death wasn’t necessarily coming in the next two months. My heart ached for these boys. Then Nick said, “My mom has breast cancer.”

I felt a holy moment happen in my car. These boys were telling me the things that were really hurting them. Perhaps this was why they all wanted to “get lit.” Pain. It’s in many of us. After they got out of the car I prayed for each of them and for their parents. These boys had a profound impact on me. These random strangers riding in my backseat, bonded with me over cancer. We loved on each other in a way that only strangers can, with kind words, and a genuine concern for our fellow man (widowed woman/young adult boys)


How Random Strangers Are Changing My Life

It began with a man named “Frank.” I was sitting in Starbucks and needed to use the restroom. He was sitting across from me. I had noticed him before as he was a regular there and always dressed nicely. I notice things like that. I didn’t want to carry all my stuff to the bathroom so asked if he had recently brushed up on his wrestling skills just in case someone would try to abscond with my laptop while I was away. He promised to tackle anyone who might try a grab and run. When I returned we struck up a conversation. This was an unlikely pairing in my mind. I mean, my “friends” are all Christian, white, homeschool moms. Okay, maybe not ALL of them. But one of those three categories would be the bulk of my friends.

Growing up I was painfully shy, but found my voice in the written word. I later discovered popularity in social media. Oh how easy it is  to be pop-u-lar (How can you say that word without singing the song?) when you have 12 Thousand Twitter followers and 2500 Facebook “Friends.” The illusion of online friends became quite apparent in the months after Mike’s death. I was strongly supported by my online community. I was even financially supported by many. It was mostly my online connections that raised enough money for his burial, and later that kept my family from becoming homeless when I could no longer pay the rent. Yes, they were there for me! Except … when I wanted to go to a movie. Or go out for dinner. Or even just to go to a friend’s house to chat for awhile. I only had a couple of real life honest to goodness, belly to belly friends here.

About a year and a half after Mike died I felt like I was dying too. I would get out in the world, but I didn’t really talk to people much. It wasn’t until the embers were reignited that I realized how little fire I had in me. Oh sure, I could be alive, and fun, and dance, and all that stuff that made me think I was alive.

Then I met, the random stranger. He was nothing like anyone I had ever connected with in my life. In other words, he wasn’t in the three categories, white, Christian, homeschool mom. It’s funny how when you meet someone, they become familiar to you. For the next week or so, I seemed to see him every time I went to Starbucks. I felt a bit like he might think I was stalking him. But now that we “knew” each other, we saw each other. I felt like I had a new friend there.

One night my son was doing his yellow suit in town square thing, so I was hanging out for several hours. Frank and I sat and talked the entire time. I was fascinated by his stories of Egypt and his Muslim faith. I felt like my world expanded with just one random stranger. For one, I discovered that he had no interest in converting me, or killing me. That was a huge relief! That was what I thought every Muslim was out to do. I found myself wanting to learn Arabic and traveling the world.

Then one day I realized, there was a fire again. The fire started with one spark ignited by an unlikely random stranger, which has now turned into a quest to meet random strangers on a daily basis. I’ve begun posting on Facebook photos and stories of random strangers that I meet. One really cool thing about it is that I’m seeing people respond with their own random stranger encounters. You know, the world gets a whole lot smaller when you are willing to talk to random strangers. #randomstrangers