Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Meditations on Illness & Zach Sobiech

It’s hard to read about sad things. I’ve been sick for twelve years, and lately, life has ground to a halt as the illness hits a new all-time low. Yet while I lie here struggling so much with being too sick to even be on the computer or watch TV, spending weeks doing nothing else except lying quietly in bed listening to audiobooks in the dark or simply lying still without anything to distract me for hours, I think often of my friend’s daughter’s best friend, Zach Sobiech, who is dying of cancer with only a few months left to live (his amazing song Clouds has gone viral in recent months).

I’ve never met Zach personally, so maybe it’s not my place to talk about him, but I’ll say a little anyway. When I’m this sick, it’s all a little groggy and the days pass in a kind of fog, which feels like a blessing. Then I think, these months which I want to pass quickly so I can start feeling better again, Zach must want so badly to pass slowly.

Through this protracted downturn in my own illness, I’ve come back to God after half a decade away. It’s a fairly quiet affair, coming back to faith. I’m tender-stepped and unsure. I’m not sure if I can believe that there is purpose in this, in my being bedbound or Zach dying. I’m sure there will be lots of people trying to come up with suggestions of how there is God’s purpose in it all. I have no clue if there is purpose in suffering or if that it is simply the way life works—some prospering and others sick and dying, apparently with no direction or design. I get mad at least when people talk confidently about God’s purpose in situations of suffering not their own.

So being with God in these long months of enforced quietness and solitude is less about finding any purpose in it all, and more about feeling the blanket of peace that comes occasionally in spite of all the hurt and anger and pain. Over and over in the Bible, God promises that, “I am with you.” I also like that Jesus’ path on earth was one of great suffering. It makes him more relatable. It makes me think that even down here in the shadows and depths, there is hope. For me at least, being with God is that joy that comes sometimes in the silence. Seemingly out of nowhere, when by all accounts I should be miserable, comes peace and even more strange, a strong sense of thanksgiving. No clear voice or sense of divine interaction or direction, just peace and joy where, according to circumstances, there should be none.

In Buddhism, there is a practice where, instead of breathing in peace and breathing out all the negative feelings to cleanse yourself, you do the opposite. You breathe in all the pain and suffering, both your own and that of others, holding it in for a moment, and then breathing out peace and loving-kindness to all who are connected by suffering. Sometimes when you hold it all inside, it’s such an overwhelming flood of hurt you think you can’t bear it. But then breathing out grace and peace and loving-kindness to the afflicted, to others and myself, feels like it changes something. Even if it’s only me that’s transformed. It’s where compassion is born.

I think this is the same principle when praying for others. I don’t know if prayers for others do anything other than help us grow in compassion and connect to God. I don’t know if they change anything externally, or actually affect the person we are praying for. Still, I think of Zach and everyone who loves him and I pray for them. I pray they have long moments of peace amid everything else in the upcoming months, and afterwards.

I think of the angels supposedly in heaven who do nothing but pray and praise God all day long without ceasing. I think of the centuries of monks and nuns from many faiths spending their lives in silence and prayer, and then I think, maybe that is the purpose of my own sickness— so that I can live a life of prayer and meditation. I remember I used to think that sounded terribly BORING, but now it begins to make more sense to me. Because as much as I might get angry of other people trying to deduce God’s purpose in suffering, I guess deep inside, I still want there to be one.

Anyway, listen to this amazing song by Zach and my friend’s daughter, Sammy. Every time I watch it, compassion wells up and spills over into tears.

Sometimes the video doesn't show up, so here's the link directly to YouTube:
You can find more about Zach here:


  1. Hugs and love. Thanks for these brave and contemplative words.


  2. You have a clearer vision & have a far richer spirit than most of us. I wouldn't know anything about purpose either, but I see effectually that u possess a keener sense of self, truth, & peace than most of us would ever get to experience. You are a beautiful person Heather Anastasiu.


  3. Thank you so much for writing this blog entry I am a big fan of yours now because of this blog entry.

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