My life is a miracle
To borrow from Nicholas of Cusa, the starting point for noticing miracles is the grace of wonder and being transformed from unlearned ignorance to learned ignorance and the illumined wonder of seeing ourselves and others as God sees us. If I have been graced by walking that path, it is through the grace of facing death and through the lived wisdom of brother and sister African American Catholics who know that “God finds a way where there is no way.”
Having just graduated from college, I felt immortal, full of energy, fully independent, and free to travel the globe. My sense of immortality was shattered, however, as I became aware that I was dying. I woke up one morning in a youth hostel in London and literally felt like my heart was bursting out of my chest. I wrote in my diary “My God I am dying and doing nothing about it.” I was unaware that my bone marrow was no longer functioning and that my body was running on less than a quarter of the normal level of blood products.
I was fortunate and privileged to be able to make it back to the United States where I eventually made it to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to undergo a bone marrow transplant for a rare form of leukemia (there were only twelve known cases in the whole world of that type of leukemia at that time). During a consultation between my nurses, doctors, and my family, the medical team explained that it was most likely that I would die. At best, the medical team explained, I might have a 30 percent chance of survival. Furthermore, as one nurse put it, “We kill you first and then bring you back to life.” I received third degree internal burns from seven straight days of chemo and radiation therapy designed to destroy my immune system so that my body would accept my sister’s bone marrow. I will not bore you with the gruesome details; suffice to say that the process did feel like I was being killed.
Through my one hundred days in an isolated “laminar air flow room” where it was less likely I would contact deadly sickness, I became aware of everyday miracles in the midst of vulnerability, fragility, and literally seeing other patients in the same unit wheeled out on their deathbeds. I would learn and felt that there were people all around the world who were praying for me. I believe that the courage that I drew upon internally was not primarily from me but more deeply from those who cared for me, those who were pouring love upon me, and those who were praying for me.
The miracle that I am alive thirty years later is a miracle of medicine, of technology, and more deeply of human relationships and God’s presence. Perhaps I am a kind of modern day Lazurus. The miracle and grace of my bone marrow transplant, I believe, planted seeds of life in ways I would never have imagined. The entire process prepared me to embrace the rest of my life with a sense of humility and wonder at the whole of God’s creation. It prepared me for the work of my vocation to address death-dealing racism in the United States. It prepared me to unlearn my own white privilege and racism that was so deeply woven into my youthful sense of immortality and sense that I could do whatever I wanted.
Through unlearning my own white ignorance and arrogance I was also opened to learning the wisdom of African Americans and African American Catholics in the midst of death-dealing racism in church and society. In the African American parishes where my wife Kara and I have experienced uncommon hospitality we have also found the miracle of loaves and fishes and feeding the multitudes through the mutual sharing and support that is an everyday practice in African American communities. The miracle of the loaves and fishes happens everyday “under the radar” of the media and even the Church. I continue to unlearn my own ignorance. And while I do not wish a potentially fatal illness upon anyone, I hope that we may all walk a way of learned ignorance that we may experience the miracles within us, between us, and throughout the whole of God’s overflowing creation.
Alex Mikulich, firstname.lastname@example.org