About once a month, sometimes more often, a case comes in to the pediatrics ward that really knocks the wind out of me.
I mean, we're a leader in the field of pediatric oncology in Japan, so we get a lot of hard cases. When standard chemo and/or radiation therapies don't work.
I'm pretty used to hanging out with bald kids who get tired sometimes, who swell up like balloons and get cranky when they're taking steroids, who somehow manage to do their math problems anyway. And I'm used to parents who try hard to keep it together but are basically holding their breath for months on end while they live in the peds ward and go home to shower and cry and sleep.
I've said goodbye to more than a few of the kids now. With some, I've stood with their mothers and fathers watching their way too little caskets go into the oven.
I can never get completely out from under the "why" question. But a while back I decided--and at the time, it felt like I could go either way--that I really do believe God is love. And I can't begin to explain to myself much less anybody else why these beautiful kids get sick, but I know in my gut that it's not because God wants them to suffer.
So the "why" is always there, hovering, like a mourning veil over the sun. I think, of all the options out there, Christianity offers by far the least dissatisfying response to that question. But I also think it's not all that useful a question when you're trying to love people who are in the thick of it.
But from time to time, a case comes in that just seems too much. Sometimes the odds are just too stacked against the child. But the worst cases aren't cancer, they're when a child has been abused or neglected.
In such cases, the evil of the disease or injury itself pales in comparison to the suffering that the child has been through, and will go through. The body will heal--although sometimes the damage is permanent--but the heart may never heal. Where there should have been affection and innocence and wonder, there has been rage and violence and indifference. A home that should have been a safe haven from all the perils and uncertainties of the world, is instead the source of danger, and nothing at all is ever certain.
I am grieving and angry today. I'm glad I am not God, because I think I would create new hells just for the people who hurt their children.