Holy Week thoughts on Kara Tippetts.
Sometimes a wave of sadness seems to shudder through the world in an extra vicious sweep. One hundred and fifty people killed in a plane crash last Tuesday. Four hundred girls and women kidnapped in Nigeria. Two buildings in Manhattan crumbled after a gas explosion – 19 injured, two dead.
These are the headlines, with thousands of lives behind them forever changed. At times they pass through our screens like a distant scatterplot. At other moments they echo sorrows striking our own shores, our sensitivities inflamed by pain we know too well. A brother is struggling through a return of cancer. Parents next door are having to bury their 28-year-old son. Goodbyes come without warning, and hearts shatter.
Nothing about any of this is good. Nothing should be explained away. Burials, frayed endings and the whole range of losses do have their moment of triumph – sometimes lasting days, more often years.
In the last two weeks, I’ve encountered a woman whose response to suffering has stilled my own straining to over-interpret personal travails and organize the darkness of others. Her name is Kara Tippetts, and she died from a two-and-a-half year battle with cancer on Sunday, March 22.
I never met Kara in person, but her blog, Mundane Faithfulness, and her book, “The Hardest Peace,” came my way six days before the end, before the 38-year-old departed from her beloved husband and four kids. The blog details their family’s struggle with this most unfair diagnosis, the treatments, the reprieves, the support they received, the emotional rollercoaster.
“I feel like I’m a little girl at a party whose dad’s asking her to leave early, and I’m throwing a fit,” Kara is seen saying to the camera in a documentary being made about her. “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to go.”
It’s an unusual peephole into a most private journey, but somehow (and now I must write in the past tense), Kara avoided sounding like a victim or a martyr. In her realism about death there wasn’t a hint of masochism. She was instead honest about the stripping away of dreams and identity, witnessing to the power of a deeper hope in the purgatory before her last breath.
“I know I have cancer. I know I’m going to die of it. But I also know that I have today. And in this today, I get to live well.”
It’s hard not to feel a lump rise in your throat as you watch Kara’s daughter kiss her cheek in total tenderness, as you see chemotherapy take a woman from blond locks to shorn skull to bald, as you read Kara’s prayer for an unknown woman to marry her husband and mother their kids. There is a plot to follow – treatments, funny things her kids say, the actions of friends with whom the Tippetts lived this dying. But the action pales before the soul being winnowed. The joy amidst tears. A flagrance of love shared before mortal rupture. The freedom on Kara’s countenance as all masks are stripped away.
Anne Snyder is a member of the Humane Pursuits editorial board. She is currently living in Houston, Texas, where she is studying the assimilation patterns of the city’s growing immigrant population while also working for the Laity Lodge Leadership Initiative. She has started a biweekly column for the Orange County Register and freelances elsewhere. Before moving to Houston she worked in the Op-Ed department of The New York Times in Washington, DC, and before that at World Affairs Journal and the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Originally from Boston but given the cross-cultural bug from a childhood spent in Hong Kong and Australia, she holds a B.A. from Wheaton College (IL) and an M.A. from Georgetown University.