Rebecca Hamilton is a former pro-abortion activist and leader. As the Oklahoma Director of NARAL, she helped establish the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma, and she continued her activism after being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. After experiencing a profound conversion to Christ, voters returned her to office as a pro-life Democrat and she spent twelve years defending life and families in the Oklahoma Legislature. Rebecca left her political career in 2014, and along with the National Catholic Register, she writes at Patheos on her blog Public Catholic.
The House district that I represented for 18 years is more than a bit incomprehensible to outsiders. And by outsiders, I mean anyone and everyone who didn’t spawn in the pond that both I and the people I represented are from.
I remember trying to explain to another legislator why my constituents reacted to issues as they did. His constituents were constantly in a kerfuffle over whatever hot-button issue du jour was rocking the world at the time. My constituents were steady on about these things. They just trusted my judgment and let me have at it in those areas.
But there were things that they would not abide. Fortunately for me, my constituents and I were one in all this. We thought and, more importantly, felt, alike because we were woven of the same threads.
My colleague didn’t “get” this. It was opaque to him and I wasn’t sure how to explain it so that he could understand.
I thought about the forces that shaped behavior where I was from: the poverty, threat of violence, and powerful sense of community, the us-against-them attitude that kept us together and rolling. How could I explain this to my colleague for whom these things, this way of thinking and being, was alien? Finally, I hit on a metaphor.
When there’s a man in the front yard with a gun, it focuses your attention. I said.
I don’t know if I communicated adequately with my colleague, but for me it was the perfect and absolute explanation. Life has priorities and some of those priorities require all your attention. More than that, they shape your way of reacting to every other priority, and they re-order you personal hierarchy of needs, boiling away the fat and leaving you with the hard bone of whatever reality sustains you.
I am dealing with such a priority right now.
It’s a tiny thing, so tiny that describing it in people terms is a bit difficult. The best way might be to take you on a trip to the grocery store. We can stroll past the produce section. It’s not a grapefruit or a plum. It isn’t a grape or a lemon.
Let’s head on over to the spices and seasoning; step past the garlic cloves and stop, dead center and facing forward, in front of the pepper. Not that ground-up-to-dust pepper we use for seasoning while we cook. Let’s pick up one of those little grinder bottles with the round peppercorns in them; the kind the waiter uses to twist extra pepper on your salad at Italian restaurants.
Look at the peppercorns and pick out the most ordinary one you see. That is the size of the reality I am dealing with.
It may not look like much, but it is a man in the front yard, and he’s holding a gun.
An hour or so after the doctor called and told me I had cancer, I got another call from the medical center. My husband and I were eating dinner in a restaurant, and when I picked up the phone and saw the number, the thought flashed through my mind that maybe the doc was calling back to tell me he’d made a mistake and I did not have cancer after all. It was, of course, just a reminder call, confirming that I would indeed show up for my next appointment.
Not a big disappointment, that. I knew he hadn’t made a mistake. But the thought itself is a symptom of the stunned feeling that such words as cancer evoke when people first hear them.
It took days and days for God to really clock in on this deal. I can be a driving person, and my first reaction to any crisis of this type is to move. I freeze when I’m faced with physical violence. But emotional and psychological violence brings out the warrior in me.
The problem, and the thing that kept me locked in hyper can’t-hear-you-God mode those first days was that cancer is not just emotional and psychological violence. It is emotional/psychological violence and physical violence, both at once and together.
Short of putting a loaded .38 to your head and pulling the trigger, there’s not much worse physical violence than what doctors do to you in their eagerness to save you from cancer. The resulting emotional and physical destruction of that medical violence wreaks havoc that makes the cancer itself seem gentle. It is, after all a part of you. It’s just your own cells that were hurt, injured, and went crazy.
The alien thing is the medical treatment, not the cancer. The cancer, even if it kills you, is just a part of you that’s been hurt and damaged and is now running wild.
Death itself is not the scary part. Death is just something that happens. It’s a passage to eternal life, a hop, skip and a jump from life to life.
But lying down passively while people insert wires in your body and cut off chunks of you and then pour poisons as bad as anything banned by the Geneva Convention into you and aim beams of scalding, killing radiation at you is real violence, both to your body and your mind.
In this instance, the man in the yard doesn’t have a gun. He has a knife, and a radiation beam and a smoking beaker with a death’s head painted on the side of it, and he means to use them on you, inflicting every bit of physical suffering and personal humiliation that you can possibly endure as he does it.
No wonder I had that passing thought that maybe the man was calling me back to say he’d made a mistake, that he was laying down the gun. If I couldn’t wish for that, my capacity for wishing would be flat and gone.
It took several days for God to reach through this bell jar I’d placed over my emotions. In that time, I knew He was there, and I trusted Him. I never for one moment doubted His presence, His love, or that He was watching over me.
I thanked my guardian angels (I think I have two) for taking such good care of me all these years, offered everything up Our Lady to dispense for people in purgatory and the intentions of friends, and asked my angels to see me through this.
I told a friend of mine that I was going to spring a lot of people from purgatory with this cancer, a remark that caused no end of hilarity on her part. I began researching my kind of cancer and learning all I could. I looked for a counselor to talk to and a support group and bought post-surgical bras.
I knew God was there. But it took a few days for Him to clock in. When He did, it was as if He’d opened up the divine treasure chest and begun raining down graces on my head. I have never, not for one moment, felt like a victim in this. I have never doubted that I had control of what my doctors did or didn’t do to me.
That’s why I do the research. Because this is my body and my life and I am going to decide what treatments I take. I want to get the best medical advice and skill I can find, but I will decide and the decisions I make will be in accordance with my values.
The difference is that when God clocked in, the warrior went away and I suddenly felt the love. I don’t feel like a victim. Or a patient. Or a warrior. What I feel every day and every minute is that I am God’s beloved child. I am precious beyond precious and nothing that happens to my body can touch or damage that essential and eternal me that will live forever in His love.
I am a thought of love in the eternal mind of God and He holds me in His hands and I can never fall.
I decided to write this today because I know that you are praying for me and I want you to know that He is answering your prayers. I also want to ask you to continue praying. I am sustained by those prayers.
Christmas is more beautiful than it has ever been this year. My first grandchild will be here soon and I just know that she can barely wait to get her feet and tummy kissed by her Grandma. My sons are beautiful men.
I am still, in the midst of all this, caring for my 90-year-old-two-year-old with dementia. There are days when she is more than I can manage; times when I snap like a twig and yell “Go to your room!” because I can’t handle her following me around one. more. minute.
I thought about putting her in an any nursing home that would take her. I thought that I couldn’t handle her and cancer too. Then, I knew I wouldn’t do that. I will not sacrifice Mama’s life for mine. I just won’t. We’ll see this through, however it goes.
In all this, my strength, my friend, my lover and my love is my husband. I have no words for how steadfast and supportive he has been. He cried when I was diagnosed. Not me. Him. Then he told me he loved me.
In addition to everything else he does for me, he gives me something that only can come from him. Breast cancer is an attack on the femaleness of a woman. He makes me know that no matter what gets chopped off, irradiated or poisoned away, I am still all woman.
I am surrounded, immersed, in love. Your love, your prayers, are part of that.
This Christmas is going to be unusual at our house. I’m not up to doing a big dinner, so the kids are doing it. We’re not spending as much money on presents because cancer is expensive.
But God is so there. And we are together as a family in a deep and powerful way.
I think it may be one of the best Christmases we’ve ever had.
God laid down His crown and consented to be one of us, to live, suffer and die like us. But at the same time, He also met our joys in one another and in the good times. Thirty years after His birth in a stable, Jesus danced at the wedding of Cana.
Christmas is a feast—a joy of birth, rebirth, of family, home and love. This Christmas, I too am going to dance.