if you move carefully
through the forest,
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere…”
– David Whyte from “Sometimes” in River Flow: New & Selected Poems
I am grateful and terrified to have reached that place in an experience where you start to forget, to view it from above, to give it another name. I am trying to hold the pieces that will let me, that don’t want to squirm away or drop through the space between my fingers. I think about fossils and drawers of museum specimens…only holding what someone else has found and called meaningful or momentous or worth saving. Yet so much more existed for a time that did not become that. It just went away…breaking up into the dirt and becoming one with the rest of us. And now I am that too…back with the rest, part of everything, not removed or called out.
I just met with a social worker I saw right before chemotherapy. I wanted her to know where I was now, to place me again on her map. I wanted her to understand that she was part of it all for me, that she helped me when I was in that separate place, when I didn’t know if I would ever rejoin.
She told me of a patient, younger than me, who died a year after his diagnosis yet remained grateful for the gift of the otherness he was experiencing, the breaking open, the glimpse of something else.
I carry him with me now…someone brave enough to hold that, even when he knew he was dying sooner than most of us expect to.
I left her office with the continuing paradox of what to hold and what to let go…
What is wondrous and useful enough to keep returning to?
And what is just as beautiful being reabsorbed, with everything that has gone before?
Two hours from now I will have my port removed; a pebble-sized device that gave easy entrance to my body and allowed in a year’s worth of medicine. It is the last thing; a small finial atop a tall, seemingly insurmountable year and three months of treatment.
I am hopeful for an uneventful day and am holding the image of a bird losing a feather. It served a purpose and helped me get where I am. The loss is insignificant and hardly felt. I’m here now and releasing what is no longer needed.
Now when I lay in bed, reading, my right hand rests on my chest. Where my breast used to be. It is an unconscious gesture. I just noticed it the other day. As if my body is comforting itself.
My right arm folds in.
Like a wing.
“The irony is that we share a great kinship in this struggle to be real, though we all think we’re alone in our struggles to be here.” – Mark Nepo from The Art of Being Sensitive
For several years I’ve noticed hawks at times of distress or worry. To me, the hawk is a comforting sentinel. To the hawk, I am just a speck in their broad landscape.
Today is my 40th birthday. This past week many people have asked me if turning 40 is hard or depressing. I know they ask because that is our narrative – 40 is the big one.
At first I nodded until I realized I was just following the same script. It felt good to be real and say:
“No, cancer was hard. I’m grateful for 40.”
“The way that birdsong at first light helps birds to locate themselves and each other – in essence remapping their place in the world each day – so do we locate ourselves daily by the voicing and interplay of standing by our core and by engaging in the art of facing things.” – Mark Nepo from Finding Inner Courage
Last night we lost our beloved kitty companion Necco. She was part of my life for almost 17 years.
Today marks one month since I lost my right breast. She was part of my life for almost 40 years.
I want them both back. It is a deep, aching, heart breaking want. I carry that want as I face today. Tomorrow. And the rest of my life.
I’m not finding comfort yet. Just breathing in the connection of love and loss and holding on…
To the touch of Necco’s nose to my hand.
To the call of two owls my mom and I heard last Sunday morning.
I am here.
So am I.
“Listen, whatever it is you try to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you like the dreams of your body…” – Mary Oliver from Humpbacks in American Primitive
The myth of transformation is that it is sudden, clean and wondrous; requiring magic, but little to no effort. Duckling to swan, frog to prince, beast to beauty.
I’m grateful for nature to show me true.
Like the awkward, messy, drawn out emergence from chrysalis to butterfly, my body is coming out of chemo. Itchy skin. Uneven hair growth. A search for muscle beneath fat and definition under puffiness.
I am not emerging as the same.
I guess that is the point.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” -Pema Chodron, from When Things Fall Apart
This week brought anxiety and elevated alertness. A series of events and circumstances (going back to the house for the first time since starting chemo, Spouse traveling for the first time since I started chemo, an important work meeting) shook me out of the peaceful space I had created for myself. Losing that space brought on more fear. What if I couldn’t return?
Bald eagle chicks gain about six ounces of weight every day. They rely solely on their parents for food while in the nest. Fish is their primary food source. In my mythology, the adult eagle spots the fish, swoops in, and grabs it out of the water. First try. In reality, the adult eagle may return to the water six to eight times before catching a fish.
As I reflect on my week, I think of those tenacious eagles. I witnessed my empty house and will continue to grieve, even as I gratefully embrace the new apartment. My meeting was a success. I just finished my fourth chemo treatment in the delightful company of my mom. Spouse comes home tomorrow.
I am alone now, but okay. I can see myself returning.