During this month of Thanksgiving, we are focusing in worship on going “Beyond a Simple Thank You”, using the image of a well-known Improvisational Theater exercise called “Yes, And…” in which a group of actors tells a story or creates a scene bit by bit, by listening to one another, receiving what is offered and moving the story forward. Each time someone adds to the action they begin with the phrase, “Yes, and…” as if to suggest I receive what you have given me and now I will add my wisdom, or inspiration or whimsy to the mix.
Playing “Yes, And…” is a good way to hone one’s improv skills. And it is a great way to open onesself up to the fullness of life Jesus promised us all. Because “Yes, And…” requires that we pay attention to what is going on around us, that we receive what is offered to us without judgment, and that we let go of our own agenda to see where God might be leading us in every moment.
I recently was privileged to witness a master of Yes, And.. living at work, up close and personal. A friend was diagnosed in June with cancer which had already progressed throughout his body. Even so, the doctors were confident that treatment could halt the progression of the disease and restore his health. So treatment commenced and seemed to go well.
Each time this friend came to OHSU for chemotherapy I found him in good spirits. Each time I visited him he talked about the goodness of life and the blessings of his time with family and friends, with work and play and community. I thought things were going very well for him. So it came as a surprise when about a week ago he was told that the cancer was back, that there is nothing more to be done for him medically, and that his focus now must be on quality rather than quantity of life left.
Tuesday night I learned that this friend would be in Salem, if I wanted to come visit before he went back home to Bend. So I drove down to the address on the invitation and discovered a crowd there, wishing him well and basically saying their goodbyes. And there was the friend – in the middle of the crowd – wearing a T-shirt with his own original wisdom printed across the top: I don’t cry because I am afraid; I cry because I am blessed.
Facing anyone’s definition of “bad news”, this man has somehow managed to move his own story forward. He has managed to receive this latest chapter in his life with a “Yes, And…” response which not only brings incredible strength and power to those he loves, but also allows for him to continue receiving and sharing life, for as long as he has life.
I have no doubt there are moments when he gives in to his own anger and grief, or when he is overwhelmed by the grief of those around him. But time and again, he somehow manages to remind us all of the beauty and the blessings of life, enough to move our stories forward along with his. For that I am in awe. And I am grateful to be a witness to this life which goes beyond a simple thank you.