TO MARY VAN DEUSEN, who had written him of her diagnosis of cancer: On his empathy for her and even more for those in her situation who do not have faith; on the right to happiness; and on how fear of cancer may be worse than the reality of cancer.
9 October 1955
I have just got your letter of the 3rd. The news which it contained came like a thunderbolt—especially as the letter began (and it was rather wonderful that it did begin) on such a trivial subject as my book. And if that first sentence flattered my egoism, imagine how I was rebuked when I came to the next, and was suddenly brought up against the real great issues.
It is difficult to write because you must know by now what I do not yet know. I can’t tell whether I am writing to one who is giving thanks for an escape (oh how I hope you are in that position) or to one who is right up against the Cross. Thank heaven it is His Cross and not merely ours. I was most struck by your saying ‘It doesn’t seem too bad: for me, that is.’ So I am sure you are being supported. (What must such a situation be to those who are the majority, who have no faith, who have never thought of death, and to whom all affliction is a mere meaningless, monstrous interruption of a worldly happiness to which they feel they have a right?)
God bless and keep you: and your husband too. You will indeed, indeed, be in my prayers. I once had a bad scare about cancer myself, so that part I can, I think, imagine. But of course it is now, for you, either better or worse than a scare. If the reality is worse. At any rate it must be different. (The Litany [in the Book of Common Prayer] distinguishes ‘thine agony and blood sweat’ from ‘Thy cross and passion’, the fear from the reality). You know how I shall await your next letter.