I forgot about all the light. In March in Alaska, it comes barreling back. It feels like I'm riding a runaway horse. I told a friend today I feel slightly unhinged by it -- the light, combined with being home after a year. There are seeds to plant (I bought potting soil today). There's snow to shovel away from the front of the greenhouse door (my six-pack planters are stored in there). There's still light in the sky at 9:30 pm. I know because I just walked home from Asia and Michael's house across the road, and I didn't need a flashlight. And there's my book to write. And people to see, people I've missed. Phone messages unanswered. And errands, there's a life to start up, a car to dig out from the snow, there are details. Oh, yeah, taxes. The voice mail on the home phone doesn't work. There's Craig's office in town I need to get to. And a blood test. And cupboards I haven't emptied out onto the floor, stuff I haven't sorted. And there's my amped up heart, getting a thrill out of riding that runaway horse. Normal life.
I had to stop a runaway horse once, almost 20 years ago. Craig took me riding, saddled a blonde mare named Strawberry for me. On a remote dirt road he suggested we run the horses a little, and as soon as he took off, Strawberry remembered she was an Indian pony in her previous life, and something shifted in her body, I could feel it through my legs, the way she moved as though she'd broken a physical barrier, turned from flesh into water, come into her power. Her legs just went faster. A switch turned on in her brain and she remembered who she really was. I yanked on the reins and screamed "Woah," but, I didn't exist to her. She passed Craig on his horse. I screamed and screamed and finally she heard me from that distant prairie where she was running and she returned to Homer and slowed and Craig caught up and got her to stop.
What is normal life now? I told my friend Wilderness today that perhaps this isn't just a healing journey from cancer, this altered state I'm living in, perhaps it's THE journey for me now. Perhaps I can't go back to normal life, at least life the way I knew it. Maybe that's why trying to do it, to re-enter the old flow, elicits that runaway, crazy feeling. After a day of errands and checking things off my list I returned home to check in, via Skype, with Wilderness. She was my counselor on Cape Cod. She's the reason I'm writing this blog. She's the person who urged me to write my way through cancer treatment. And she suggested, when I said those things about this being my new journey, that I should take "perhaps" out of it. Then she asked me to say those sentences to her without "perhaps."
"There's no going back to the way things were before," she said.
When I did that, when I said "This wasn't just a journey I took to heal from cancer. This is it. This is the new path I'm on," I felt something surprising, something I didn't feel at all on that runaway horse. On that horse, 15 years ago, I felt blind panic, terror, desperation to get it to stop. When I said those words to Wilderness without "perhaps," I felt a great sense of excitement. The kind of excitement I feel when I'm going someplace new for the first time. I felt, I think, what Strawberry felt, until I reined her back in. She'd returned to her natural state of being. She'd gone home.
It's the same feeling I break through to sometimes when I'm on an airplane. I recognize, for just an instant, that fear's closest kin is excitement, anticipation. I've asked myself during those moments, "What if you've mistaken what you feel for fear? What if what you feel is really just excitement? What if you actually love flying?"
Almost a year ago (I was diagnosed on April 6), cancer derailed my life. I imagined my time on Cape Cod as a pilgrimage. That metaphor helped me make sense of the eight months of treatment, to view it from another lens. Homer, Alaska, was the destination, home. But I see, returning to Alaska, that I'm still on the road. It's why I have an odd sensation, of moving and holding still at once. What if I never make it back to the old life? What if this train doesn't stop at that station? What if the rest of my life is a pilgrimage? I vividly remember a scene in a movie I saw years ago. It's a simple image, a stone wall with words graffitied onto it: the circle is not round. That's what it feels like. The pilgrimage doesn't end. There's no return. My sister Mara suggested that I was tearing apart my house in order to find myself. The self I left behind. And I think she's right. But I realized, after a few days of frantic searching, she's not there, buried in some closet, hidden under a mound of give-away clothes.
What if she's no longer the terrified rider? What if she's the running horse?