The daily reflections of a 40-something Alaskan woman recovering from breast cancer treatment.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Picnic Under the Cherry Blossoms
Yesterday morning, winter again.The night before, three or four inches of fresh snow sleeved every branch, mounded up on the porch railings.I spotted a hare gnawing on the crab apple.White, just a few brown specks.It knows:four more inches of snow expected tonight.In the newly snow-swaled back garden and yard:no hoof or paw or foot print, nothing flocked the white field but clumps of fallen snow.I watched it happen:snow clods descended in the forest like dropped mitts, leaving pocks to mark their landing:here I am and here I went.No wind.The snow dropped out of the trees of its own accord.It was pretty up there, like bridal lace.But even snow has to let go.
And I’m letting go, making a shift.It’s no accident I’m updating the blog every other day now.Something inside me stirs, like thumbs of crocus in my rock garden, under all those layers of dead leaf-litter.Stirs and takes flight like that flock of Lapland longspurs, spring migrants, that my friend Lisa and I saw on our walk on the Homer Spit this morning.They foraged on the beach logs, black gravel and brown grass beside the mudflats, and scattered whenever we came up beside them.The wind reddened our faces.We wore winter coats and hats and scarves, but still something stirred, despite the cold, and despite my impending trip to Boston for a six-month follow-up mammogram, blood work, and visit with my oncologist and breast surgeon.Less than a week away.
I think it’s hope.You know, Emily Dickinson’s “thing with feathers.”And the thing with petals and buds.It’s scary, but at the same time, exhilarating, like it must have been for that moth from my last blog, who burst out of a bag to find itself in an utterly new landscape.It survived its dislocation from Hawaii, closed up in a plastic bag with a bunch of dried fruit, stuffed into a duffel, man-handled into the belly of a jet, unpacked.(By the way, that moth followed me all evening, that first night.It landed on my arm when I was reading in bed.Later, brushing my teeth, it landed on the mirror.Sleek, silvery-winged, lean).It’s scary to burst.A little sign on my wall says “The shell must break before the bird can fly.”
This afternoon, Craig and I walked over to the Bunnell Street Gallery to see the newest show, a paired exhibit of painter Lisa Shih and sculptor Cynthia Morelli called “Passages.”In her statement Shih wrote:“Thankfully, many of the detours turned out to be the real substance of my life.”Something like that view of the detour is perhaps one reason for the stirring, the hope inside me.I recently got to questioning the way the cancer experience was becoming the center of my life.Was I stuck?
Now I sense what at first seemed to be a detour is the road I’m on.And it’s not Cancerland, it’s not Cancer Road.Cancer was simply a crossroads.Did you ever take one of those detours that led you through so many side-streets and turns, you wondered if you’d ever make it back to where you were meant to go?And it turned you completely around?I remember finding my way out of such a labyrinth in Boston once, shunted off a main drag into a maze of one-way streets lined with trees and brownstones.Of course, the detour signs dumped me eventually back onto the thoroughfare, and that’s where the analogy falls apart.This detour in my life, that stirring inside tells me, is the real substance of my life. It’s not a static place, not a stopping point, but migration.At the end of her artist’s statement Shih wrote:“Yesterday into today, the cusp of tomorrow.”Like a bulb, like a flock stopping by Kachemak Bay on its way north, like coastal Alaska in between winter and spring, I’m on the cusp.The detour is the cusp.
Cythia Morelli’s clay sculptures were organic in form, color, and texture, like things unearthed, accented with dark rocks or beach grass.They reminded me of the strange rounded clay forms that emerge from the eroding bluffs west of Homer to spill onto the beach.Some resembled cast off shells of invertebrates, the tough kind that live on rocky shorelines: inside-out chitons or barnacles.On three pedestals, many dozen tiny hand-built clay vessels – egg-sized, like candle bowls that once were set to drift, empty now – were scattered like the memory of a flock of birds.This piece was titled “Crossing the River of Death – A Prayer for Japan.”There were little strips of paper beside it the vessels, and a pen, for viewers to write their prayers.Above it hung a ceramic “pocket,” the repository for those prayers.
As I wrote, I remembered the NPR radio piece I heard yesterday and how it had disturbed me.In Japanese parks, signs have been posted by the government, scolding those who’d picnic under the flowering cherry trees, as is customary at this time.“You should mourn the dead,” the signs admonished.But what could be more real and honoring than to picnic under those blossoms, petals falling on your shoulders, ants crawling on your bread, death in life and life in death intermingled, feasting at the same table.Ironically, cherry blossoms – extremely beautiful, quickly dying – symbolize transience, mono no aware, the Japanese concept of sensitivity to impermanence.Here are just a couple poems of Basho, reflecting that dual nature of the cherry blossom:
Gleam of blossoms in the treetops
On a moonlit night.
Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!
And yet another:
The leafless cherry,
Old as a toothless woman,
Blooms in flowers,
Mindful of its youth.
Maybe that stirring inside me is part of my own internal picnic under the flowering cherries, as I live in a state of blossoming hope and at the same time anxiety over my upcoming medical visits, my anticipation of the elevator ride to oncology floor.After I get off the elevator at the landing next to the “cancer shop,” I’ll turn right and walk down the sunlit corridor lined with large black-and-white photographs of people who’ve walked that same road before.In the photos, they are not cancer patients.They are not mourners.They are whole human beings, picnickers, as it were.They were photographed surrounded by family, often outdoors, or in their homes, in the midst of life.But in their eyes you see something like the reflection of the blossoming cherry trees.A knowing.A stirring.A hope.A fear.
Before entering the waiting room, I’ll stop as always to look inside a plexi-glass box on top of a pedestal in the corner near a window.Inside the box is a nest woven by birds from a woman’s hair.A hand-calligraphied note describes how it fell from her head in the shower, a couple weeks into chemo, how she wept.Her husband collected the hair from the shower drain, scattered it in the garden, and later they found the nest.And now it’s there for all of us, a weaving together of hope and loss, of life and death.That nest, and those faces in the photographs, the life in them, despite cancer, the stirring and worry and hope in their eyes, will give me the courage I need to push open that glass door, to take my place among those waiting with such hope and sadness and fear in their eyes.The fear is there because everyone in that room, above all, loves life, as broken as it is, so very much.