Got my hand on the gospel plow,
Wouldn't take nothing for my journey now.
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on...
I’ve been thinking a lot about last April.
I just came back from a week at the Ranch. I told the story whenever it came up, which was often—talking with a Franciscan sister whom I’d never met, seeing a friend I hadn’t seen since before last spring, bumping into a new acquaintance who’d only seen me at school. “Yes, the Ranch is my other gig… the semester’s over, but I’m not, because interferon makes it really hard for me to focus, and I’m always exhausted. Oh, I had a stage II melanoma last spring.”
I’ve lived with this for eight months, almost. I’ve told it so often, that telling it is easy. I’d say, “I had cancer,” and watch their faces change. They’d be thinking, “oh my God, poor you.” I’d quickly respond, “As far as we can see, they got it,” just to make them feel better. I am not poor; I am grateful to be alive. I would not trade who I am now for who I was then, or who I would be if I’d never had to face this.
Was talking with one of the Franciscans; we’re going to be exploring spiritual direction together. She wanted my story. I told her, I remember being back up here last summer, while I was on a reprieve from treatment. I remember saying to someone, in July, “Haven’t I survived this yet?” And no, I really hadn’t. While you’re a survivor from the first second you’re diagnosed, and the transformation begins in that instant, living through treatment takes you places I don’t even know if I can articulate yet. (The frustrating thing is that it takes your faculties away while you’re in it, so it’s harder to think, process, and communicate.) I’m still only halfway through. My last injection will be six months and one week from last Friday.
I hate being achy and exhausted and behind in everything. It’s frustrating not to be able to do what I used to do, and what I want to do. But I’m also grateful for this time. I’m able to ask questions, and go places (in myself and around me) that I wouldn’t have known existed. My teachers and friends and community members give me the grace to do what I need to do.
One of the greatest gifts is the utter loss of fear. I remember that first week. While I’m aware of how afraid I was, and can still get into that feeling place, most of what I remember is love. I was scared to death—but I only panicked on the phone with the doctor. After that, I did what I had to do. And my community thoroughly embraced me.
There are still tasks I don’t want to do—but I truly fear almost nothing, now. And I’ve learned so much about the gift of presence. Before last April, I was fearful all the time of being judged, and of not being good enough. Now, the people whose judgements I feared are some of my strongest allies. I know that they’re there for me. I know that they want to support me, and that they love me. I trust them.
I also trust myself. I’ve become so much more open. I’ve been where I don’t want to go again—and I’ve seen, and touched, and held the things that grow there. I brought back some rocks with me, in my pocket. I can go anywhere, now.
Including back into that place, as alone as I ever am, or accompanying others.
I can imagine being afraid, if the cancer recurs. I’ll give myself compassion if I am. But the most it can do is kill me. Death is only scary, the first time you stare at it. We know who we are. We know where we’re going. My whole experience of God has opened up.
God is not a personified image in my head anymore, at all. I realized that, sometime yesterday. God is, simply, love, interwoven into every fiber of the universe’s being. In what appears as a sterile concrete jungle, flowers. In the last places you'd think to look, grace.
[Which makes "Father" even harder to say, and more ridiculous, when God is "Ground."]
I have the faith that only comes from experience. And I escaped with my life. How can I be, other than grateful? How can I be, other than radically trusting? I feel, in the cosmic sense, safe. Completely.
I spent yesterday mostly alone, in the Tenderloin. I was on a street retreat with the Faithful Fools, as a requirement for volunteering with them. It was the first time I’d ever hung out there in the daytime, other than Open Cathedral. I took pages of notes, and I’ll post them later. For now, I’ll just say that I went the whole day without talking about cancer, until one of the RC Franciscans and I rode home together on BART. I only thought about it once, when I realized that I can’t do the week-long Holy Week retreat, not because I’m afraid of sleeping outside (I won’t take a shelter bed from someone who needs it), but because I need access to refrigeration.
I just got to be me, all day. Not me-with-limitations that I had to explain. Not, “I know I look great; I feel like crap.” Not, “I can’t walk this fast.” Just, me.
I really liked it. I’m looking forward to cancer being a story I tell when I choose to, and use quietly when I choose to. Everyone around me knows I had it—either because they’re in community with me, or because they need to know what I can and can’t do. I’m looking forward to simply living in the world, as the person I will have become.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Got my hand on the gospel plow,