Personal Growth Through Tragedy

The Spiritual Booby Prize


by Jenny of Plucky Charmed


A few weeks ago my friend Marge threw all of her hair in the trash.

Marge has cancer. Or, more accurately, Marge has cancer again. She’s already offered up one breast and her career to the Voracious Beast but it wants more. This time, it’s after her liver.

Cancer has a formidable foe in Marge. She’s a fierce warrior. Plus, she’s pissed off. That’s got to be a lot for any disease.

At lunch last week, I asked her how she’s able to manage. She told me it’s because progress and success are measured differently in the “Cancer World.” She spoke about the Cancer World as if it was a kind of parallel universe to our own. Sort of like an old episode of Star Trek.

For example, among those in the Cancer World, Marge is “lucky” because her particular cancer released a special enzyme in her blood that qualifies her for a new, kick-butt chemotherapy drug. The one that wiped out her hair.

And there’s gratitude in the Cancer World. Here’s what it looks like:

On the day Marge woke up bald, her lover John tenderly shaved away the few remaining wisps from her scalp. “It was such a loving thing to do,” Marge reveals, her eyes shiny with tears of gratitude. When she acknowledged John for the strength it must have taken to shave her head, he replied simply, “It’s not doing what you want to do in life that really counts, Marge. It’s doing what you have to do.” We talked about the courage it takes for a strong woman to be vulnerable enough to receive this kind of love. Not to mention the strength it takes to go out in public decked out in a red-hot “notice-that-I-don’t-have-any-hair-under-here” turban!

Don’t tell Marge she’s inspiring, though. It annoys her. “I’m sick and tired of being the poster child for living successfully with cancer.”

Hearing those words took me back. Marge and I were friends eight years ago when my own daughter died. I told her that people used to say to me, “Oh, I admire your courage so much.” Or, worse, “You’ve grown so much from this experience.”

On one level, I could empathize with the difficulty of choosing the “right thing” to say to a grieving mother. But, on another level, I wanted to smack them. Hard.

I told Marge that this kind of growth feels like the Spiritual Booby Prize. To this day I’d gladly trade everything good that’s come from Grace’s death in return for my baby.

But life doesn’t make deals.

Personal growth through tragedy is like being the losing contestant on Monty Hall’s game show, “Let’s Make a Deal.” There you are, dressed like a radish, so you can catch Monty’s attention. Finally, you are awarded the opportunity for a prize, except in this version you don’t get to choose between Curtain Number One and Curtain Number Two. The “lovely Carol Merrill” chooses for you. And when she reveals what’s behind the Curtain of your experience, there stands your Spiritual Booby Prize. It’s Big. It’s Hairy. It’s Flea-ridden.

It’s a Yak!

Monty’s other contestant just won a red-hot Ferrari — and you? Well, you got the Yak.

That’s what the Spiritual Booby Prize feels like. Other people have their health, their babies, their breasts, and you get the yak. And then, in a total twist of irony, all of the healthy, well-endowed parents want to shake your hand!

God, we hooted! And, for that moment, laughter healed and we were whole. And then we saddled up our hairy old yaks (hers sporting a Ferrari-red turban) and went on with the day.

Editor’s Note: We’re coming up on the anniversary of Marge’s death from breast cancer.

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