Thursday, June 6, 2013

When What I Feared Most Came to Pass

What happens when the thing you feared the most comes to pass?  What happens when the words are spoken again, and they mean something about you?  Malignancy.  Tumor marker.  Cancer.  Pathology?  I have lived long enough now to know that what our minds invent out of the tendrils of our fears -- these mental inventions bear little resemblance to reality.  I imagined falling to my knees.  I imagined myself curled up in terror and defeat.  I imagined my heart galloping.  I imagined a sense, even, of failure.

What I feared the most these last three years has come to pass.  I have cancer.  The how and where and why and what kind is still a mystery.  First, it seemed that Craig and I had been ushered onto a tiny boat, maybe the size of a rice cake, and pushed off shore.  A current soon carried us far into the fog.  We clung to each other.  We stared for hours into the fog, not seeking anything, not trying to see.  We drifted.  Jags of crying came on like squalls, passed, leaving us empty, dripping.  When what I feared the most came to pass, I felt oddly calm.  Everything slowed down.

When what I feared the most came to pass, in the hospital last Friday, suddenly shuttled for a chest x-ray, then a CT scan, then a procedure to draw three liters of beer-colored fluid from my lung lining, my friend Jo held my hand, locked eyes with mine.  She watched what I could not watch.  I gave over my body to the caring hands of people who let me know it pained them to cause me pain.  I gave myself over.

When what I feared most came to pass, I walked into my love's arms.  We wept.  We looked around and into our lives.  I thought, I have been given a heaven on earth.  I have lived in paradise.  There is nothing I want, nothing I would change, nowhere I would go.  My bucket list is for more of what I have.  It runneth over.

When what I feared most came to pass, I knelt in the garden and planted French tarragon, a perennial.  I tended the flower beds.  They look better than they have in years.  I look at them and see the promise of creation, of beauty.   I went to the greenhouse.  I watered the tomatoes.  I stared endlessly at the spring green of the leaves.  I listened to birds.  I watched clouds passing.  I looked over at my love.  "This is it," I said.  "This is all we have, right now, right here."  I knew everything I'd read of Buddhism to be absolutely true.  There is no future.  There is only this salad he has made for me, and these legs which took me on a long bike ride today, and these lungs filling with breath.  This is all I have.  I will not waste it with worry over tomorrow or regret over the past.

When what I feared most came to pass, my sister-in-law knelt down in her shower and prayed for me.  My sister said "I am ready; come here."  Craig said, "You are the love of my life."  My friends said "Let's play Scrabble."  My doctor said "I love you."  Another friend came and looked deeply into my eyes, until I could peel the layers of protection away.  When what I feared most came to pass, my oncologist told me it was a time for courage and hope.  All of my blessings, they rained down upon me.  They are raining down upon me right now.   

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Creation Story

This is a hard post to write.

On Friday, I found myself in the hospital with a collapsed lung, a pleural effusion -- the lining around my lungs filled with a beer-colored fluid, which a surgeon drew out with a long needle, filling three liter-sized glass jugs.  So much fluid, my liver, heart, trachea, all were shifted out of place.  This morning, a sample of that fluid was on an airplane, heading for a pathology lab in Anchorage.

And I am here, my feet in sealskin slippers on the ground.  Today I am waiting, once again waiting.  Today I am both afraid and numb.  And open, also, strangely so.  How does one wait?  Out of reflex, one calls it "limbo," this waiting, this not-knowing.  Should I watch movies?  Should I clean the refrigerator?  Should I prepare for the workshop I'm teaching at a conference in a couple weeks, as if, as if?  Should I answer emails?  Should I make phone calls?  Should I think positively or prepare for the worst?

A friend from Cape Cod sent me a note a couple days ago, and I just reread it.  She told me that she was thinking of me as she pulled "pottery from our earth pit this morning and some of it broke as always."  I saw a photograph of this earth pit, of small vessels being raked out of the ashes.  She wrote:

ash and clay
wind and fire
heart and rattle
a dirt womb
a belly bowl
a place for prayers and dreams
a place for offerings

She said she "gave thanks for all that survives this kind of heat, this kind of living down deep in the heart of the matter."

She wrote:
i send an ocean wave
a meandering path
a poppy's bright orange face blessing
And I realized that there was another way to wait.  That the word "limbo" is a short-cut, a cliche.  That whatever comes next in this day, in this week, in this moment, in this life, requires an act of imagination, of re-imagination.  It requires more than medicine, distraction, analysis, pathology, diagnosis, procedure, to-do list, platitude.  When there is nothing I can do, nothing to speed along an answer.  When there is no one who can divine my future or fate.  Then an act of imagination is required.  To imagine what I have never imagined before.  To create what I have never created. 
I want to dig myself a dirt womb.  I want tunnel down to the place of prayers, dreams, and offerings.  I will rake something out of the ashes of whatever comes next.  I will rename whatever this experience is and will be.  Whatever this experience is and will be, whatever this place is where I am waiting, and where I will be no longer waiting, it will not be called "cancerland."  It will be newborn, never before imagined or realized, mine and mine alone.