Leaves and rain falling, falling day after day in Homer this autumn. Just now another rain shower. Just now, clouds creeping in, erasing the mountains across the bay, just now, something big breathing on the glass that is our fragile world, and we’re right now breathing in this breath on glass, just now, no wind, only rain moving the leaves hanging limp and loose on the trees, the sky darkened, the umber and gold leaves sodden and glowing.
Just now, somewhere along the Al-Can Highway, my friends are driving south, on a journey, heading out of Alaska for the fall, heading south toward sun and another kind of autumn, driving down below the ridge of the jet stream that’s kept the storms coming over Homer, over Prince William Sound, kept the Pacific Northwest gorgeously warm and clear. Or maybe they’re just rising, that little family of three, heating tea on their propane stove in the mini-RV, sock footed on the cold floor. This morning, I read a letter from my friend describing their journey so far. She described her ambivalence at leaving the security of home, of routine, work she loves, a cozy house warmed by a woodstove. She described a nascent beginning of another kind of routine, writing as they drive bumping along, reading aloud. I miss her. I envy her. And her letter stirred in me this morning, nudged in me a question: what kind of journey are you on this fall? Staying here, staying still, and what if you think of it as a parallel journey, what letter would you write to her to describe today, yesterday? Where you’ve been, where you’re going. Not dramas in the town, but something inner. Something that happens only when you sit down to write, here at the kitchen table, the only sound in the empty house the clock ticking, rain on the deck. Writing is moving, leaving, journeying, traveling, searching.
Before I sat down to write, to pretend that I too had woken up on the road, to pretend I too was looking out my window at an unfamiliar, new landscape, I found this quote posted online by a friend. It’s attributed to someone named Billie Mobayed. “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.” Above the quote is a photograph of a cracked pottery vessel, the seam gold-filled, and yes, it’s beautiful. It even seems intentional. And how could I not think of my own body, my own spirit? And even this broken world?
I’ve been journeying these two years, certainly, even when I’ve not been writing in this blog. I’ve been healing, learning, struggling, repairing, asking for guidance, for help. This fall, I’m getting “Rolfed,” a ten-week deep realignment of the body, the skeleton, the muscles, and a whole body and spirit approach to healing. Healing into Life and Death is the title of a book on my shelf. That’s what it’s all about, and I’m reminded that there’s no end point, no graduation, just a road you're on that disappears over the horizon. I don’t want there to be an end to this journey. I don't want to reach the horizon. The first Rolfing session, Jody asked me to take off everything but my underwear and stand in front of a full-length mirror. It was impossible not to see how I’ve been carrying my story. It was impossible not to read the history of my shoulders, my chest, my neck, to see the cracked and broken places. Based on what she saw in the mirror, looking at my body, Jody then worked on my neck, my shoulders, my chest. When she placed her hands on the right side, on the scar, the tears and grief were immediate and immense, pouring up like water between my ribs. It’s like an underground spring. Even when I don’t lift the vegetation away to see the source of that achingly cold trickle, it’s there. And maybe it’s okay. How can I keep healing? It’s not about being stuck in breast cancer, though at times I feel stuck in fear of breast cancer, or in dismay at its annoying after-shocks. Before she started work on my body, Jody asked me to name three wishes, not necessarily reasonable ones. “Do they have to be possible outcomes?” I asked. She laughed. “These are wishes. If you could have anything …” “To be free of fear and anxiety and stress,” I said, immediately. “To be free of the fear of cancer returning.” When Jody worked on my frozen, scarred parts, oh it hurt. “Don’t hold your breath,” she said. “Breathe right into it.”
Impossible wish, to be free of fear. I will breathe through the fears triggered again and again; they keep coming, like these autumn rains, arising out of that cold spring, out of the cracks, still unfilled, maybe never filled entirely. Because there are, as Leonard Cohen wrote, cracks in everything. My first rolfing session was the day my beloved aunt Valija died of pancreatic cancer in Toronto. The aunt who coached me during my chemo days, taught me how to fry chicken livers. “Cross the threshold, Mom,” my cousin whispered into her ear as she took her last breaths.