Mike Finley

A Theology of Brain Tumors

[No Title Available]
[No Title Available]

A Theology of Brain Tumors | Media List


This is a spiritual adventure story about the things I learned from a stroke and brain tumor. It is also viewable at http://mfinley.com/pdf/mending-tree.pdf
There comes a moment when every sick person realizes he is going to get better or he is not. Mine came at the Hubert H. Humphrey Charter Airport in Minneapolis at the end of summer, 1999.
My family went on what was billed and understood to be our final vacation as a family, to spend a week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, playing in the sand, and another week visiting our national amusement park, Washington, D.C.
It was our last vacation not because I am dying, but because we know we can't count on Daniele ever accompanying us anywhere again. She truly hates car trips, and she truly doesn't like being cooped up with the rest of us. But at age 14, she is still too young to leave behind.
So we all go, we all suffer -- from a devastating hurricane in North Carolina, and a devastating heat wave in D.C. -- and we all return. Touching down in Minnesota, we grab our bags and head out to the curb to hail a cab. The first cab in line, like most of the cabs at the airport these days, is commanded by a Somali immigrant.
Throughout the trip I have had no symptoms of my tumor -- no headaches, no dizziness, no amnesia. So now, as I help the cabbie load the trunk with our bags, I feel I am returning to a revived life, one in which I do my work and no one looks at me like I am about to croak. I am sick of being sick, and I wish I had never told a soul about it.
Suddenly, as I finish adjusting a suitcase in the trunk, and am raising my head to back away, the driver slams the trunk door as hard as he can. I am still in the trunk, or at least my head is, and the lid of the door, with its rubber padding slightly masking a forty pound sheet of steel, strikes me with the force of a sledgehammer.
This is the most exquisite pain I have felt since my stroke. The lid hits me about an inch above my tumor location, and I immediately spin around, and begin feeling my way in the brightness, reaching out for something to lean on. I am seeing everything -- stars, planets, firetrucks, the works.
A group of Somali cab drivers standing on the curb, one with a toothpick in his lips, look at me with confused smiles on their faces. They knew I am in pain, and they know their friend and competitor is in trouble, but they also know it is funny to see a sunburnt white man in an Outer Banks T-shirt staggering like a drunk in the noonday sun.
Before four seconds pass, I am surrounded by my family and the driver, who is beside himself with concern -- primarily for himself, is my guess.
I am not bleeding, but I can feel a burning hot lump growing right where my tumor is, like a volcano in a cornfield. They load me into the backseat of the cab, still moaning, and as we drive away the driver waves his hands to me in the rear view mirror, swearing he did not see me, and he could not in a thousand lifetimes be sorrier than he is right that second.
In my mind, I imagine my era of good feeling, my splendid remission, coming to a crashing end.
The trunk lid was a silver hammer, and when it hit my head it drove the golden spike of my tumor deep into the heart of my brain's language center. Like taking an axe to a TV screen, all one can expect now is sparks, a few stuttering sounds, a feeble effort to display an image, a dwindling star, then blackness. It is the end of me as I know me, and it is no act of martyrdom like the arrows puncturing St. Sebastian like a pincushion -- just a car trunk, a curb, and a handful of grinning Somalis.
Except I don't die. Instead, as I put the pain out of mind, I get more and more interested in the driver's apology, the driver's story. He was terrified of losing his permit, or his license, or his ability to earn a living and feed his children. At the very least, he knows he is looking at a reduced tip, and I can tell from the look on his face -- childlike yet alert with anxiety -- that this is his accident as much it is mine.
I tell him not to worry about it. I'm not going to complain or file a report. I know he didn't hit my head with the trunk lid on purpose. I ask him about his family, and he tells me about his wife Fatima and their two children. He has been in Minnesota for two and a half years, and he likes it very much, but yet it's so different from Africa.
His goal is to earn enough money driving to leave the high-rise he is living in and get a regular apartment, or maybe a townhouse like a friend he knows lives in. And his wife wants him to bring his in-laws over.
When we arrive at our home, the kids rush in to check out their phone messages and e-mails.
But I stay at the curb for a few moments, talking with Halil, and pay him for the ride, and gave him a ten dollar tip. He is so appreciative that he looks up at me in surprise, and then down again in supplication. Then, spontaneously, we hug, as men wishing one another peace and success in their lives and generations.


"I was touched by reading your journal -- -- poignant, thought-provoking and delightfully honest." -- Richard Seymour
"God, Mike ..." -- Sharon Osthaus