People say a lot about Detroit. People say true things. People say untrue things. But people say (mostly negative) things about Detroit. I’ve heard many of them and maybe even said a few of them, but there is something about Detroit that not everyone knows.
Detroit is a place to heal.
It may find itself on the top of almost every “Most Dangerous City” list and have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, its school system may have no money and the auto industry attempting to pick itself up from bankruptcy. But Detroit is full of people who are full of hope.
In Detroit I’ve met amazing doctors. I’ve met amazing nurses and nurse practitioners.
I’ve sat next to cancer survivors in the waiting room at Karmanos cancer center.
And I fell in love with all of them.
I fell in love with them because they don’t whisper. People from Detroit don’t whisper about their sports teams. They don’t whisper about how their job is going.
And they don’t whisper about cancer.
This is so rare, and so incredibly refreshing, it’s hard to describe. Because when people are uncomfortable, when they don’t know what to say, or how to express their concern, or what questions they’re supposed to ask, they whisper.
They tilt their heads to the side and tell you really softly, I’m so sorry for you…
And there is no worse emotion than pity. Pity is useless. Pity, to me, feels a lot like saying “I’m so glad I’m not you.” Pity is a waste. It is not productive. Pity doesn’t lead you to get off your seat and try to make someone’s life better. Pity doesn’t stir your soul and inspire you to pray for your sick friend, or a famine on the other side of the globe. Pity sits comfortably in it’s comfortable life and says, “Geez that really sucks,” and then goes back to enjoying that life.
So when I sat down in the waiting room at Karmanos for the first time, and a stranger across from me said, “You look too young to be in here, what kinda cancer you got?”
I was shocked, but I think part of me was so relieved to be around strangers who didn’t feel like they needed to walk on eggshells around me. I explained my situation. Then she continued, unprompted, to say that she had lung cancer, and had been through chemo several times.
We finished talking and my Dad leaned over to me, smiled and said, “Well I guess this isn’t a shy crowd…” and I responded, “I guess not. I think this is the boat, and we’re all in it.”
That was the moment that every little part of me that was asking, “Why me?? Why do I have to deal with this??” dissolved. Because it’s not just me. Not even close.
Maybe I don’t deserve this, but neither did anyone in that waiting room. No one in that room deserved to deal with cancer or whatever rare disease had landed them in the cancer hospital in Detroit.
Because that’s the thing about disease. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re only 21 years old, just trying to figure life out. It doesn’t care if you’re 45, just lost your job, and have 4 kids to raise. It doesn’t care if you’re rich, poor, nice, mean, ugly, or beautiful. In the eyes of cancer and aplastic anemia, we are all the same. I am the 65-year-old woman next to me in the waiting room. I am the 40-year-old businessman sitting across from me. I am them and they are me.
I also fell in love with the camaraderie of being in a room full of people dealing with an awful, uncontrollable situation and still having reason to laugh. And still finding a reason to praise God.
I fell in love with the way it feels to hear someone who’s been through your fight 20 years ago and look you in the eye and say, “You’ll be alright.”
I fell in love with witnessing the kind of love and loyalty it takes to be the friend, family member, the neighbor, who’s sitting silently in support of their sick loved one.
What’s so great about Detroit is that it may be down on its luck, but it sure doesn’t feel sorry for itself. Because maybe they don’t have jobs, and maybe they have cancer, but no one walked into that hospital alone. A grandmother walked into the treatment center with her grandson helping her. Two sisters walk in together, sharing stories about their spouses, their childhood, and their children. Maybe they didn’t have everything, but they had each other.
My Dad likes to say that all the Allens were born with shovels. We were born with shovels so that when life gets hard we can dig in. And when life gets harder, you don’t give up. You just get a bigger shovel. Or you call your family and tell them to bring theirs.
In the face of something as scary as cancer and aplastic anemia can be, it’s easy to want to turn your back. It’s easy to want run from it and whisper quietly to your neighbors about what a shame it is. But it takes an incredible community to turn and face, and dig in. Detroit is packing some seriously big shovels with the challenges that they have faced and it has left a group of people that are not to be messed with.
I will forever be indebted to Detroit for showing a girl from Ypsi the meaning of community.
For showing me that it’s possible to face adversity with grace, laughter, and an unwavering faith in God.
And for lending me their shovel. ;)