Last May I had major surgery to deal with several complex and ongoing medical issues. What surprised me about the year of diagnosis that led to the eventual loss of most of my reproductive organs was that my life was entirely in the hands of strangers. I was no longer in control. Surrender was necessary.
Well-meaning friends would sometimes say my pain from endometriosis and fibroids meant I had been carrying a heavy cross. But in the months that have passed since surgery, I’ve been set free from pain. The end date of my reproductive capacity and the self-surrender of enduring a complex medical diagnosis both marked the beginning of a very different kind of life. I took up the cross of surrender only to put down the cross of pain.
Nobody really takes up a cross voluntarily. Yes, some of the ones we carry are the result of choices, but those choices are influenced by conditions we’re born with; our fragile mental health, our troubled physical bodies. Our crosses can be punishment, but they can also be liberation. Lent, after all, always ends with Easter.
But none of us carry a cross alone. Simon the Cyrene was “compelled” by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross, but he, like Jesus, was an outsider. They shared the burden of difference. When I walked into the surgical arena I may have felt alone, but I was not: my surgeon, a tough-talking New York woman, held my hand while I went under. And I woke up, transformed.
How do we see past our crosses to our collective and individual liberation?
Kaya Oakes is the author of four books. She teaches nonfiction writing at UC Berkeley and her essays and journalism have appeared in America, Commonweal, Slate, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Sojourners, and many other places.