Tuesday, July 08, 2008


… and yes, Margaret, the tree house is still there. :-)

I’ve been feeling so much better. This past weekend transformed me. A week off of treatment, gradually getting my body back, has been wonderful. Hanging out in the city, and at the Ranch, healed me spiritually. I have some things I’m still working on—but I’m back in touch with joy.

My blood test came back Sunday with my liver enzymes still elevated. In the long term, two weeks off of treatment is not good news. I want my body to tolerate this; I don't ever want to have to deal with cancer again. In the short term, I'm both sick enough and well enough to do what I want. I get a break, and a taste of summer.

I got to see a friend make her life vows as a Franciscan, at St. Aidan's last Thursday. It was her day—and the order’s—not mine. But I hadn’t been home in a month. It felt so good to see people. Friends of my friend are willing to help, out here, but I don’t have a community. (There’s no topography, either.) I got to be surrounded by so much love.

The service was beautiful. Sr. Lynne looked so happy. She was vowing poverty, chastity, and obedience forever—but there was absolutely no element of withdrawing from the world. It was the opposite. Living in monastic community is not my call—but I got it. She made this choice, precisely so she could serve. The more I think about it, the more I respect it, and her for following that path.

There was a potluck after. I was six days out from treatment, and I finally could eat a decent dinner. (I had no appetite, most of the week.) I didn’t eat a lot, but I almost finished the food on my plate. I had lots of good conversations, and I got lots of great hugs. I’ll have to be gone for the coming academic year, for field ed. I’ve only been a part of this parish for three years—but they have become my home. Reconnecting was healing for me—and really good for all of us.

I slept that night in Berkeley, at the home of classmates who had come to the liturgy. I hadn’t been expecting to see them. They had just come back from a month away, and still were fine with a last-second houseguest. Their bodies were still on Central time, and I wake with the light in the summer, so we all staggered awake around 7 and had breakfast together. We talked about their trip, my health, books we’re reading. Just a random seminarian conversation, with lots of laughing.

They also have the coolest shower head ever—it’s huge, round, and drops water straight down on you. It’s like washing in your own personal (warm) rainstorm.

They went to a parade in Alameda after breakfast on Friday (the 4th), and I drove up to the Ranch. Again, it was so good to be home. I hadn’t been there since before my diagnosis. I don’t remember when the last weekend I’d hosted was; I think in early April. The core staff all knew what was up with me. Family camp was finishing, and I had friends there from last year.

“How are you?”
“Um. Well. They found a melanoma on me in April. I’m both sick enough and well enough to be here.”

People met me on a real level. Sympathy, yes, but more. When they told me they’d pray for me, I knew that in that promise, they already were. They knew how life-shaking my news was—and they looked me in the eyes, present and strong.

Family Camp had a talent show, the night I got there. I was sitting on the balcony in the pavilion, listening to a friend (camp colleague from last year) sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is Over.” You can imagine what that song means to me, now. I caught a friend’s eye; I think he’d just come in from outside. He came over and hugged me, closely, for the rest of the song. We barely spoke; we didn’t need to. I was almost in tears. It was grace, more of the random love that kept being tossed to me over and over and over.

I’d gone up so I could work the big event on Saturday. After it was over, I felt like my body would never move again—but it was wonderful. I really didn’t do that much work, per se; I sold raffle tickets for maybe a total of an hour. But being up there, being awake, alive, and loving the Ranch as much as I do, counts for PR.

My bishop’s wife invited me to share their picnic blanket. I still don’t know how she knows me—she recognized me at CDSP graduation—but she has an amazing gift for people, and she’s interested in everything. She wanted to hear my story. She asked real questions. Both of them listened. We talked a little bit about Lambeth, too, and camp, and whatever. It wasn’t an official type of anything; I didn’t need to impress them (read, him). It was a social visit. How often do any of us get to do that?

The Swifts took two of us who were staying over, out to dinner. Have you ever heard of fries with truffle oil and pecorino? You can get ‘em in Healdsburg. We didn’t try those; I still want to. But the food we got was good, and I had my appetite back.

I drove back here Sunday, had lunch at home, and my friend went to the stabbery (Kaiser lab) with me. My results came back improved, but elevated; I get another week to do what I want. I’d offered Sean three days of work this week, if I could do it. I can, and I’m going up today so I can host all day tomorrow through Friday. I love Benedictine week. They’re peaceful, sweet people. Mealtimes are taken in prayerful, Quakerlike silence. My own spirituality is more Franciscan; I’m much more the activist. But I love them.

Pray for the monks at New Camaldoli in Big Sur. They were evacuated from their home, and sheltered by Franciscans. I won’t see them this week; they’re hanging out with their hosts.

I'm perversely hoping that my numbers stay wacky long enough for me to work BREAD camp, which starts in a week. They’ve improved enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to go back to the infusion center Monday, though. I still have a few symptoms, but nothing like they were.

I’m reconnecting with joy, and that's a good thing. I still have two weeks of infusions; I'll take half-doses when my numbers recede to normal. Then the self-injections, 3x/wk for a year. But right now, I'm feeling energetic and alive.

I realized in the car, driving to the city on Thursday, that I'm not afraid anymore. I was scared witless for three months. I think what did it was a conversation between A. and me. I think it was I who said something about dangerous things to die of. I don’t remember how she responded. I realized, they're only dangerous as long as we're alive.

We know where we’re ultimately going. Sickness can be painful and uncomfortable, sure. Injuries and accidents happen. I realize that I’m speaking from privilege: I have the most optimistic prognosis there is. But I know that nothing ever can threaten me again.

I don't recoil from my scar anymore. I touch it now as a sign of strength. I'm starting to reconnect with God again, too. I always knew God was in my community; I couldn't pray for myself. I still can't ask outright, "heal me," (though spiritually that's happening), but I can say, "thank you for life." I spent an hour at the peace pole on Friday, praying just that. And praying to re-learn how to pray, with all of me.

I'm still thinking about what Carol taught me. “God will either heal you, or change your heart so you don’t need it anymore.” I don’t have any idea what is or isn’t in my body. But I am not afraid. I’m getting myself back: different, but clearly me. I know things now, that I can’t articulate yet—but that I’d been needing to learn for a very long time.

I would love to know that I’m healthy forever. But none of us have that assurance. And I really don’t think I’d trade any of this.

Alleluia, the great storm is over.


Caminante said...

Right now I don't really have any words to respond to your eloquent posting so what I will say is that I shall carry what you said and you on my heart today.

abrazos (from Vermont where it feels more like Hong Kong or Panamá)

FranIAm said...

Caminante is right - there are no words, but there is much love and many prayers.

Jane R said...

Alleluia, Kirstin!

it's margaret said...


It is so good to read this post --you sound good.

A brief note to you --I graduated from healdsburg high school --lived out on Westside Rd not far from the Bishop's Ranch. Joel (my husband) was a Franciscan Friar (please say HI to the sisters when you see them next!) And, Joel, me and a man named Bill Pierce (now Fr. John--American Orthodox) built the tree house in 75-76.

I know the place where you have been intimately--and it is holy ground you walked on. When Joel came back from Jerusalem, he brought back about 20 pounds of rocks from the Holy Land! He scattered them at the Ranch --so one trip to the Ranch is like a trip to the Holy Land!!

Continue to take good care of yourself m'dear. And welcome back! (referring to you post --clearly you!)

Many blessings.

Kirstin said...

Thank you, all.

Margaret: Just, WOW. I'm grinning hugely right now. Thanks!

Paul said...

Kirstin, it is a joy to read this post. You remain in prayers whether I e-mail or not (and I know I have not of late).

Margaret, what coolness to learn all this from you. I too have been in that tree house, and in the early 80, when it and I were both younger. Thanks to y'all who built it. I love reading about the stones. A good pilgrimage place.

((((((( K )))))))

Kirstin said...

((((((( P )))))))

Lots of love.