Saturday, May 10, 2008


I’ve been thinking about elements: earth, air, fire, and water. And where I am, in the midst of them.

It started last Tuesday, with a friend’s sermon in class. She preached on the Pentecost; of being in the upper room, watching as the Spirit sets fire to your being. We’ve been working on metaphors; her strongest was the fallow field. There are times when you’re not directly engaged, but waiting; watching for God’s involvement in your life. Waiting, for that tongue of flame to find your head.

She’s right, absolutely. And it’s true that I haven’t been getting much done, in the external world. I still have that paper and a half to write, for instance. But as she spoke, I was thinking, “I’m not fallow. I’m a field on fire.”

Most of last week, I was an anxious, sleep-deprived mess. I was so wound up, that I kept winding tighter. Like a crazed caduceus, the only way I went was around and around the post. The post was, and is, the horror and fear of what’s growing on my body.

I wrote because I needed to—and didn’t stop, until it felt like a job. I talked, because I needed to. I fell apart in chapel, letting my friends and advisor hold and comfort me, unable really to pray. I lay down, but couldn’t stay asleep.

I needed to be, in that burning space. Just to know it, maybe; to feel it, to be human within it. To remember. I know that when I’m consumed with anxiety, I’m more difficult to be around. But I needed to be as intense as I was. I couldn’t dial myself down.

Through it, I knew that I was burning—so that something could be planted within me.

I was chatting with a friend over e-mail this morning, about grace, love, fear, and choosing to be publicly vulnerable. There was a time, until recently, when I would not have shared this the way that I am. I would have shut down, in fear of looking weak and fearful. It’s only because I’ve been loved enough, that I can share these stories, and ask for prayer and love. He told me of the grace he sees in me opening up.

I know that God is in this, though I’m not always sure where. I certainly am not asking to suffer. But I want to become as human as I can. I want to learn what this can teach me, as long as I’m open to the experience. I want the empathy, that I would not have touched before. I want to be as real as I can be.

One thread that’s woven through this, is the knowledge that I got off damn easy, for a cancer scare. I don’t know that it’s not in my lymph system at all—but I know that my CT was clean. We caught it early. Interferon is not what’s commonly thought of as chemotherapy. Your body makes it, naturally; it fights viruses, and cancer cells. I’ll feel like I have the flu from the devil himself, for at least a month and at most a year—but I’ll keep my hair. I won’t look sicker than anyone fighting a virus. I won’t wear the badge of the cancer patient. Looking at me, will not strike fear in others.

And as far as we know, I don’t have lymph involvement. Even if the PET shows some hot spots in my neck, the CT did not. My doctors will never use the word “cure” with me—but surgery can and will remove all clinical evidence of disease. I could be done with this, forever, at the end of this June, or next. It’s not presenting as a chronic, or particularly difficult, illness. It could come back—but with the interferon, there’s a 70% chance that it won’t. (I will, of course, be monitored for recurrence, for life or as long as I have health insurance. They never really let you let go.)

As soon as I got the diagnosis and posted it, both here and on the lists at school, I started hearing from survivors and those who love them. You’ve oozed out of the woodwork. You tell me how long you’ve been clean, and how joyfully you live. You pray for me; you love me. Knowing that which grounds me, you write of the “resurrection life.” I am humbled, and blessed.

That intensity; that jumpiness both focused and scattered, is the fire. When I got the diagnosis, I dropped into a deeper, more solid focus on life, blessing, physical and emotional survival. I’d lost touch with the gift of that, as I’d lost sleep.

I panicked. Nothing could calm me, until I asked for a prayer-bath, here. You flooded me. I went to sleep that night, bathed in a sense of calm that I hadn’t known since before the diagnosis—and may never have known truly, for itself.

Your prayers, and your hearts, gently carried me into flowing water. I was calm, and though I kept the 10 p.m.—3 a.m. sleep pattern, I woke up still assured of your love, and God’s. I had a sense of stillness within the fear, and I was able to be open to the next day as it came.

I dropped in on my advisor in the late afternoon, on my way out for a walk. I could tell I hadn’t surprised her; though I don’t have a rhythm of this, I’ve done it before. She was end-of-semester busy, but she paused in her work, and we chatted for about fifteen minutes. I told her I was still tired, but calm, and she thanked me again for the education. We talked about this whole process, and what it’s like to go through it both in my own body, and in community. She let me tell her what I’m thinking, feeling, learning. I told her about the burning field, and about knowing that something would be planted in me.

We hugged goodbye, and I went on to Black Oak Books. Another teacher had recommended a book for summer reading: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. (She knows how important the act of writing is to me, especially now.) I found it, used; and stopped at Elephant Pharmacy for some body-care stuff. (I didn’t get a yoga mat; I may go back for one.)

The whole time I was walking, I was thinking about fire and water. My energy had shifted so profoundly, just through prayer and love. I’ve been both in my body, afraid and trying to love it, and looking askance at it: “What on earth’s gotten into you?” (Literally.) Meanwhile, trying to love myself through this, and leaning on my friends a lot.

Seeing that deep shift, from a place of two perspectives, got me thinking about energy in general; and how I can use and change it. I have no idea how air might feel. I know I really need some earth-time. I have to get work done, and I want it done before surgery next Thursday. I can pack, with a sore ear, but I’d rather not have to write that way.

I’m imagining these frames of being, and wondering how I can move intentionally between them. It gives me a useful way to contextualize this experience—energy, emotions, body, focus.

Talking about myself like an academic subject feels very strange, but the framing works. If you’re thinking about astrology, I don’t know how it corresponds, and only sort of care. I had my chart done about ten years ago; I’m a mix of earth and fire, mostly. I know that earth energy is practical, grounding, and solid—and that’s where I need to try to place myself. Water is cool and calming; it’s prayer sliding over my skin. The image of the burning field, preparing for growth, is a blessing—but the fiery energy I feel right now is mostly destructive. Fire is the urgency that wakes me at night, and keeps me from rest. Some associate fire with anger, but right now anger in itself isn’t really in me—and I don’t want to conjure it up. I’m in a good, loving, trusting, open place with my body and my community—and I don’t need to look for complications.

Air, as I said, eludes me. But the inner pagan in me loves these ideas, and I’m going to play with and use them.

All of your insights are welcome.


Episcopollyanna said...

I am so sorry. I had no idea. I've been simmering in my own stew of self-pity and misery for several weeks now. Oh my gosh.

There's just so much to process and it takes a long time, believe me. The feeling that somehow our bodies have betrayed us just lingers. But it gets better, it really does.

You know, a week ago today I walked in the survivors lap of the Relay for Life and I was thinking about all of the people who've just been diagnosed, not knowing that you were one of them.

Just ... be gentle with yourself, I guess that's all I can say. Needless to say, *you are in prayers*!!!! xoxo

Paul said...

There was a time after the (still) love of my life and I split up when I went through a torrent of conflicting emotions The imagery of the four elements was part of what tumbled about in my head and heart. I pondered the icon "He fills all things with blessing," and I might have even dreamed of fire though that is hazy now. I was also anxious and averaging 4 hours sleep a night (not enough) - no amount of caffeine could keep me functioning and I was drowsy on I-580 far too many times for my sake and that of those around me. Tom Schultz was reassuring, as usual. And a poem emerged.

Not pushing similarity of experience here, only the discovery of grace.

Nice disquisition!

Kate said...

Along the lines of another small stone being set down in the rock garden, which you may elect to keep or pass on, Maggie's Ross, The Fountain and the Furnace and more importantly another more journal like work (I'll find the title, don't think it's The Fire of Your Life, but may be). Probably both out of print.

Kirstin said...

L, it's not your fault you didn't know. We all take time for our own lives, when we need to.

Thank you for your wisdom, and your prayers! I wish you didn't need to know this road either, but I'm glad you're a friend, and you do.

Paul, I love that icon--and the new vocabulary word. :-)

K, when my brain and soul get time. Not now. But thank you.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Kirstin, I love your writing here. Live it, sistah!

Wasn't there one person who said that she was not that sick while she was on interferon? That could be you, too!

Love and prayers and many days ahead full of blessings and grace.

Kirstin said...


One can hope!

Love and blessings, back at you.