9:15 pm. Sound of a heavy swell shouldering in below the cliffs. A half moon perched on a cliff of black sky. The wind, at last, becalmed. Cool breeze off the old volcano after a hot, muggy day. I’m sitting at my desk in the dark thinking about the title of a novel my sister sent to me for Christmas. Everything Beautiful Came After. What a way to live life, as though it were true. After what? Anything you choose. Even cancer. In the book, an archeologist falls in love with a painter in Greece. She dies. He spends two years flying in jets all around the world. All his life he’s been carrying an old grief. Now he carries two losses, side-by-side. I keep asking myself, did everything beautiful come after his infant brother died? After he fell in love? After he lost his love? After grief eased? When is before? When is after?
Yesterday, January 1, Craig and I, and Craig’s grown-up daughters and our son-in-law had a family meeting. After living together in Hawaii for a few weeks, tensions had built up, miscommunications. I realized we aren’t in a parental role anymore. We are all adults, and we have to co-exist as adults, not as parents and “kids.” And Craig and I, middle-aged, have a lot to learn from the twenty-somethings, from their idealism, from their beliefs about honest communication and equality. I realized being middle-aged can be, maybe should be, like being a sophomore in college. We’re in the middle of our education. Not wise. Not elders. Not young. Not naïve. Having so much to learn from those older and younger than we are. The alternative is to harden, ossify. So I was held accountable by these people I helped to raise.
And I realized another thing, that just as it’s over, playing the parent card, it’s over playing the cancer card. I’m truly back in the land of the living now. Since I’ve been in Hawaii, I’ve felt fully healthy again, back in my body. I’ve spent days free of mortal fear of cancer recurrence. I can no longer claim fragility. I have no excuses for bad behavior. I haven’t re-entered and re-inhabited my old life; I’ve entered a new terrain. I’m still coming to know who I am in this new place: imperfect and flawed in new ways, ways I’m discovering day by day. In Mark Nepo’s daybook, I read an entry in which he described someone carrying two cans of paint up to the door of a house. Unwilling to put down the cans, he tried to jimmy the door open and ended up falling, spilling paint all over himself. There are many things I’ve had to put down to open the door, to enter this new life. Many illusions about myself. I've had to put down some relationships in my life. And self-deceptions I’ve carried around with me. Things look different now. Even in the mirror. My curly Betty Boop hair reminds me: things are different. Not easier. I'm more accountable to this life of mine.
Everything beautiful came after. I’d like that to be my faith. What would it be like to live my life that way? What will tomorrow be like if it's true. That everything beautiful comes after I lie down in my bed tonight, close my eyes, and fall asleep to the churn, in my ears, of swells below the cliffs, and the screech of a barn owl.