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."
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.