Yeah, I know; it’s December. But I’m not talking about shopping.
I’ve spent three nights, in the past week, sleeping over at my church. We’ve been hosting members of the Safe Ground community—homeless people in Sacramento who are trying both to not freeze this winter, and to overturn the city anti-camping ordinance. Today, I’m meeting with the man who is essentially the group’s chaplain, and a pastor from another church to ask him if that congregation would be willing to host as well. Speaking for myself, I’d do this every night—but it needs to be an ecumenical effort, and we all know that. I could testify all over town about how amazing (and organized!) Safe Ground is, how the neighbors didn’t squawk and the building’s just fine, and how our own community--overnight hosts, cooks, clergy and staff--was fed by hosting them.
I’m also working on getting a project up and running the first week of January. And I was gone for two weeks, critical in retrospect. I was babying a cold for one week, and then I went to the Ranch. I learned as soon as I came back—and slept that night in the Great Hall—that my heart’s work is here, and I can’t leave again for awhile. Not only do I feel guilty for missing too much, but I miss the things that I need to be part of.
I want to be reflective in this space, but right now I just can’t. I’m feeling my own responsibilities heavily, and what I’ve set for myself scares me (though I’m totally committed to doing it, and I know I’ll have help). I’m also agape at the kindom of God.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Yeah, I know; it’s December. But I’m not talking about shopping.
Friday, November 27, 2009
I’m just out of the shower, this day after Thanksgiving, excited to write for the first time in ages.
To begin with, I didn’t really get a Thanksgiving on the day itself. (I got one a week ago, at the cathedral, with the homeless people I’ve been getting to know.) Which is, and was, completely okay with me. I’m still living with A., in Stockton. This is her mom’s holiday, and her mom wants that time with her, to herself. I knew I’d be on my own either for doing something or going somewhere. I could have easily wrangled an invitation either to Sac or the Bay Area; I would have only needed to ask. (Friends in those places, don’t feel guilty.) I’ve been to lots of potlucks and orphan Thanksgivings, and they’re always fun. But I didn’t want to drive. And I did want a day and a night to myself. I will get all the festivity of Advent and Christmas. I lack for nothing.
I didn’t do a damn thing, other than bake the bread that we need anyway, and that I customarily keep us in. I stayed in my pajamas. I watched trash TV online. And I guess I must have incubated, because I woke today with my sleeves rolled up.
I haven’t posted anything at all on this blog since my birthday, and that one LOLcat hardly counted. I just haven’t been in this space. I haven’t known really what to write. I finished seminary, and I finished chemo. I have these huge, life-defining events behind me. I’m engaged in the life I have right now, and I love it and am challenged by it—but it doesn’t consume me in the same way. I’m not in the tsunami anymore. I’m not trying just to not drown.
I wrote about the “post-nuclear life” a year ago, or thereabouts; I know it was last fall. I was still in the oh-my-God-I-had-cancer space, sick from chemo with more time ahead than behind me. I was still caught by surprise; I’d been well and now I wasn’t. I knew (and know) that cancer could recur any time. I knew that I’d carry that reality with me. And I knew that my life would be different.
What I’m writing sounds like the economic fears I have now. “Can I get my head above water? What if I can’t?” But it really is different. I have support; I have housing and food and my basic bills taken care of. I’m physically miles and leagues and oceans better; I still get tired, and even still dizzy sometimes—but I have more energy and power than I’ve had for a year and a half. I’m getting myself back.
I feel now like, “Okay, the wave destroyed the island and everything I thought I knew. The riptide’s washed back out again. The ocean looks normal. But I know that I’m not.”
And I don’t know how to relate to this blog right now. This is holy ground. I can’t do memes, or anything else that’s totally inconsequential. That’s what Facebook is for. But I don’t want to give it up completely.
I woke this morning, needing to shore myself up. I need some sort of discipline, and I need writing to be part of it. I have a routine, for three days out of seven—but I’m ready for more. And I’m missing the spiritual practices that come with living in a seminary community.
Advent is the beginning of the new year. It’s time to start over, to focus, to re-commit. I’ve got good work, and the potential for funding it: I asked at the cathedral if I could start a soup kitchen. I got a resounding, “Go for it.” We’re next to River City Food Bank; there’s need in the neighborhood. And throughout my recuperation, I’ve discovered a knack for baking—and an appreciation for food, wholeness, community, and healing. There’s an obvious connection between the sacramental and the physical, and I can’t break and bless the bread yet. But I can do this. I’m not proposing that I myself cook for a hundred—but I know that I can feed people. And I can put together a team that’s willing to help.
I can give this the commitment I want to, if I can fund myself. I can’t simply volunteer full-time indefinitely. So I’m learning about fundraising, and researching grants.
All of that is good—though I definitely feel like I’m out on a limb, I have the cathedral staff’s support. People are really wanting to reach out to the homeless and the food-insecure. (Seriously, that’s a word now.) I walked in wanting to change the world, and they think well of me. They see a feisty survivor who knows what her work is. And I know that I can do this, if I stay with it.
It’s keeping the commitment, that’s my challenge. I’ve got the time. I need to build more structure into my schedule. I need routines, disciplines, specific accountability. I drive up there three times a week, now: once for church at the cathedral; once for a meeting of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee (Safe Ground leadership wing) in the morning and Trinity staff meeting in the afternoon, and once for a Safe Ground meeting and River City volunteer shift. I’m definitely active and engaged. But I have more of myself now, and I need to give more of it. I need to structure the time that I’m not on the road, or with people. When I’m by myself and I could either Facebook or find funding, I need to make the right choices. And I need to stay as connected as I can with God. I need to spend some focused time every day in prayer, and I’m not doing it.
Maybe I’ll start doing daily Morning Prayer in Advent, and keep it up through the church year. I like that idea more, the longer I think about it. And maybe Evening Prayer as well.
The point is just to start, and stay with the connection more than the specific practice. Once I get walking, I can’t help but go somewhere. If I start with ancient words, and end up making rosaries, God is praised.
I don’t know what that means for this blog. I know it would be useful in the public domain, if I tell the story about how some church people in Sacramento start feeding anyone who shows up. For myself, I miss the whole process of thinking things out as I’m writing. And I miss the connection with the part of myself that starves when I don’t do this. So, expect to see more of me.
Blessed be the One who creates, loves, sustains, and feeds us all.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I went to sleep with the news of Ted Kennedy's death. And I found out this morning that one of my high school classmates has died of melanoma.
Another classmate/friend mentioned his death on her Facebook page. I left a question mark; she messaged me about him.
Later she messaged me again, because she thought I’d want to know more. He died of metastasis into his brain.
This is one of my most paralyzing fears. I’m trembling as I write this. I don’t remember him, except for his name. I don’t know if our paths ever crossed when we were fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. I looked him up on Google, and discovered he was an artist. Here’s his homepage.
I remember his name, but nothing about him specifically. I couldn’t tell you what he looked like, what his interests were then. Nothing. And we would have been very different people, then and now.
Different, except for disease. Mine was caught before it could spread. I live with the fear of recurrence, at such a time when I don’t have health insurance. (I am still covered now. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to be.) But in the moment, I am healthy.
The artists I know are self-employed. They’re covered through state assistance, if they’re covered at all. I don’t know what his situation was.
People kept telling me I was young to get it. Pat was my age. He fought longer, and he died.
My doctor told me, melanoma breaks the rules. I had a growth for more than two years before it was diagnosed as cancerous. I had access to a dermatologist; I was worried about it, I went. I’d been playing with it in class, and having it bleed, for the previous year and a half. (I’d been told by a dermatology resident that it was some innocuous something, in January 2006. I was diagnosed with melanoma in April 2008.) And I still will never know how lucky I was to have listened to my own intuition, and to have this caught when we did. I don’t know what Pat’s first sign was, or how he dealt with it. I don’t know why he died, and I live. I certainly wasn’t vigilant, until I knew I had to be. And I had access to care all along.
It’s quite easy to have a skin lesion in a place you don’t see. How often do you look at your back? Would you even know what to look for? Mine was on the back of my ear. I couldn’t actually see it. If you don’t think you need a doctor, or you can’t afford it, you don’t go.
I was listening to an NPR interview with T.R. Reid this morning, from a few days ago. He said that we have parts of three major health care systems in the US already: the UK, Canadian, and Japanese. And he said that if you don’t have insurance, don’t qualify for assistance or can’t pay out of pocket, “you live in Malawi. You stay sick, or you die.”
This is the greatest fear I have. Not being sick, and not dying for its own sake. Knowing the care I could have had if I had access to it, and dying because I couldn’t get treatment, or I waited too long.
Pray for the soul of Patrick Federmeyer. And work for universal health care in this country.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I said I knew who it was. Obviously I didn’t. I couldn’t have. That was arrogance born of unknowing.
I only knew it was a sacred touch. I knew what I felt, when I saw it fly in front of me. I placed a context on it, which was not its own.
I know, as if I didn’t before, that there is power I don’t understand. I could have seen any animal, in the woods after sunset. I saw this one. While I was praying in a sacred place.
The owl will teach me how to see what it sees, and how to walk with this entire experience. But I don’t even know how to ask respectful questions.
I almost don’t want to talk about it now. But I need to be wise about this. I saw an owl in sacred time and space. I have been given something that I do not understand, and that I have no experience with. And the first thing is to confess that when I spoke so glibly, I had no idea what I was talking about. I do not know what I am doing.
The spirit world vibrates with life.
Posted by Kirstin at 8:49 PM
Monday, August 17, 2009
...however I can, well or not. I don’t know if I’m back from my blogging break. I may explain that later; don’t know that it matters. Come and listen.
I’m at the Bishop’s Ranch for a week. I hosted my own parish retreat, and I’m helping fill in for the reservations coordinator while she’s away. I got here last Wednesday, and I leave this Friday. I’ve been working, resting, spending time with friends. Healing parts of me that don’t get touched, anywhere else.
Tonight, I took a walk after dinner. I hadn’t moved my body all day, and was craving the exercise and the prayer-time. I threw my fleece on, because it’s already cool in the evenings. Packed water, camera, and flashlight in case I got back after dark. (There is ambient light, and my feet know the trails. There’s also poison oak.)
I set out toward the peace pole. If you don’t know the geography, it’s about a 20-25 minute walk for a healthy person. The last half or so is steep hill. At my sickest, I couldn’t walk it. It’s been a good distance as I’m recovering; strenuous but doable. I’ve always stopped when I’ve needed to. When I really can’t do it, I don’t push myself to get there.
I was walking along, thinking about cancer, treatment, healing. I got to the crossroads where you’d either go left to the treehouse or right to the peace pole. I paused... and I started singing the Troparion. And stomping to it. I did this, the entire hill climb.
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death
And on those in the tombs bestowing life,
I sometimes sang full-voice, and sometimes whispered. There were times I had to pause and stomp in place. I ran out of breath, and my muscles got tired. But I did it.
I climbed, and stomped, and sang, and thought, “No, I’m going to the Cristo instead.” It’s a new piece of art, behind and above the peace pole. A huge, welded crucifix. The artist was dying of ALS when he created it. It’s the last thing he built, before he died.
I got there, breathless, triumphant, prayerful. I knew that my body was praying. I didn't realize I was on a pilgrimage, until I stopped walking. My head refused (and still refuses) to understand any of this. But my body knows what it knows. I stopped singing, stood still. Touched the feet of this Christ. Looked up, into his face. The sun had just set, behind him.
I stayed there for a few minutes, just being. When I felt ready to leave, I faced the cross again and said thank you. To the resurrected Christ. To my body, for healing and for bringing me there. To my feet, for making contact with the earth—and to the earth, for supporting me and all life. To this sacred place, for existing.
I turned. And I found myself singing a new song, the lorica that my advisor taught us on our class retreat. That weekend in April coincided with the anniversary of my diagnosis. I’d been sick with respiratory gunk, had laryngitis, and couldn’t sing a note. But tonight, the melody that I’d never quite learned came easily to me. I sang, and I danced all by myself down the hill.
May the spirit of Christ be our guide through the day,
Our guard through the night,
Our companion on the way.
Christ be ever before us,
Christ be ever behind us,
Christ be ever around us.
Over and over. Like a mantra, and a circle dance alone. I knew I didn’t really get what I was doing. And I knew that I did.
I got to a place where I needed to pause, catch my breath and my balance. Hills of oak trees rose on either side of me. The creek bed was to my left; dry this time of year. Still, quiet, and vibrating with life.
A flutter caught my attention. I watched it fly in front of me, and settle briefly on a branch. Owl. It paused for a few seconds, and flew back the way it had come.
I know that I’ll never understand this, with my head. There are meanings that words do not touch. But I know who that owl was. And I know why it flew just there, just then.
I said thank you to the owl, and to God. And I walked the rest of the way home.
I am not the storyteller that sickness taught me to be. I don’t have the patience to make this my art, in the way that writing always has been. I traded the gnats in my brain for the skittery being of a water bug. Slowness and deep attention are skills I’ll need to re-learn. But I can, if I work at it. And I need to. I love baking bread—but I miss this, too much. Both the sharing of stories, and the open space required of me to hear them.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I just did it again. And for the first time in many months, the act became a prayer.
Not in words: in presence. Not “Yeah me!” or “Suck it, cancer!” Not even, “Almost there.”
Nothing I can translate. Just reverence, patience, breath.
Friday will be all celebration. I’ll wait for my best friend to get home. I’ll do the shot with her, at her dining room table. Bang! and out to dinner. That will be the time for shouting.
Right now, I just want to quietly hallow this time.
Monday, June 22, 2009
I just did my injection. Only two more.
I did the thing that has made me sick for a year. I long since stopped fearing it, or being creeped out by it—it’s become simply a chore. I don’t even dread the effects; I just know what they’ll be. I do this because I have to. Because my doctors told me to. Because, though it makes me sick, it may also be keeping me well.
I know I’ll feel like crap tomorrow. And injecting myself has become a habit. I can do it without thinking. It takes about two minutes, each time. Wipe the skin with alcohol, open the band-aid up, wipe the pen, twist the needle in, dial the dose. Pinch thigh with one hand. Inject with the other. Bandage. Drop the needle in the sharps box. Drink more water; take four ibuprofen. Go on with my evening.
Tonight is different. I’m so close to done. And I feel so powerful, right now.
Take that, cancer. I’m still here, and I know that I beat you.
You taught me how to fight you. You taught me how to look you in the eye. You taught me how to stand up and raise my head. You taught me how to love this life.
If you come back, I will fight you again. I know what that means, and I will do it if I have to.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I never actually intended to take a month off from blogging. It just happened. I’m forcing myself to go back to it, now. This really isn’t the environment for me to do that, as easily as school was. Something about the fog, and the light. Maybe I’ll get more used to it, as I settle in.
But I really miss storytelling. So I’m here.
I had a conversation with a friend about a month ago, the week after graduation. I wrote this in an e-mail to another friend, because I didn’t want to forget the allegory. I’ve been thinking about it off and on, since:
[My friend] also asked me, where God was in the cancer. The first thing I thought of: A fish doesn't know it's in water. It just swims. The water is God. I surprised myself, with a perfect NW native analogy.
There's a creek just west of my hometown. Salmon spawn there. Which means, they're also born there. When they hatch, they dig themselves out of the gravel and start floating downstream. They're just doing what baby fish do. They have no control over where the current takes them.
Creeks meet rivers. When the fish get big enough to be seen, hawks and eagles fly above them. They get scared; they hide. And they keep making their way.
They don't see their bodies changing. They don't see themselves growing. It just happens.
Rivers meet the ocean. The fish has to change its metabolism, to breathe in brackish water. Without realizing it, it does. It hangs out there until it's ready. Then it swims for open ocean. It has long since forgotten, the rocks and roots and branches that it used to have to swim around, or jump over. The water is God. There are no boundaries. And the fish is that free.
I told my friend this story—and I wasn’t reaching for anything. This is, what is. I'm in the estuary now; I'll be in the ocean when I stop the shots, and start feeling better. And I know I'm headed there.
I’ve been in the estuary since, part ready and part waiting for opportunity and time. I’m settling in Monterey, in my instructor’s dead mother’s house. It’s a strange place to be. I never met my “host,” as it were, but I’m surrounded by her stuff. This morning, I’ll be attending her church. Her daughter has always been an ally and friend. Last year would have been very much more difficult without her. And now she’s giving me this.
It’s good. But it takes some getting used to. I’m used to fishbowl community. I really don’t know people here, yet. Today will be my first Sunday at church; that should help. I’ve also had a week of half-day Spanish classes, and met a possible friend. But I go home every day from that with a headache, so I haven’t tried to connect outside of class. I’m also in the middle of years of dental-care catch-up. I’ll feel more solid after next week.
I will REALLY feel better after next week, because I only have one more week of shots! I’m going up to A.’s house next weekend, to celebrate. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, done. I’ll get my body, brain, and energy back.
Part of me wants to sit with that for awhile. I’ve been so attentive to the cancer journey, over the past fourteen months I’ve been on it. But right now doesn’t feel like the time. I’m more like, “Yeah, yeah, yes this can teach you—but go be healthy, already.” So we’ll see what I do with that.
One more blood draw—which I probably don’t even really need. But I haven’t skimped on any piece of this, and I’m not starting now. Cancer has taught me all I know about dedication. Consenting to make yourself sick—and actively doing it, for a year—is commitment. I suppose I could say that I know I can follow through on anything now, but I don’t really. That still has to be tested, and applied, and learned from, when I’m doing things in the post-cancer real world that I’d rather not have to go through. Looking for jobs, for instance.
I’m in a gift-time right now, sort of a limbo but not really. I’m not expected to be even capable of looking for work yet—and in truth I’m not. So I’m in Monterey, finishing chemo, taking six weeks of intensive Spanish... and I have all the time around that, to immerse myself as much as I choose in Latino ministry. Which I know nothing about—but a question about it, five weeks ago in class, is how I landed here. It’s a summer thing—but I don’t have an end date. Whenever we feel like I’ve been here enough, I suppose, and what this is leading to becomes clearer. Also, when my instructor knows what she wants to do with the house.
I went to a meeting yesterday for Latino clergy. The canon I’ve been e-mailing with invited me. The meeting turned out to be in Spanish. I can read some, and understand some spoken. I don’t have the vocabulary to speak it myself yet. And I got more words than concepts yesterday; I really couldn’t tell you what was talked about. But being there was a good experience. I didn’t feel shut out; I felt, “Oh. This is what it’s like.” People were kind to me. They just conducted the business of their group, in the language most comfortable for most of them.
The host conducts services in that town—I think even at that church. He also does urban ministry in San Jose. I pounced on him to tell me about that—and I’m going up to check it out as soon as I can, probably after next weekend. They do education (child and adult) and what sounds like a huge food program.
Yes, church in the fields interests me. That’s how I landed here, and that’s where the diocese is responding to me. But it’s more idea than reality right now; meanwhile, urban ministry apparently has my heart. It took that kind of reaction in me, to show me how much I miss it. You know when God says, “Here.” I’m an hour and a half away from San Jose, by driving—essentially, it’s halfway home. Three hours, by bus and Caltrain. I’m going to drive, clearly. But I miss public transit. I miss the stories.
I’m going to get involved with COPA (community organizing) trainings, too. I’ve landed in an odd place; it’s weird for me right now to be in a small town and feel so strongly called to the city, though it is beautiful here. But I’m clearly meeting the people whom I need to get to know. And all I really have to do is stay organized, myself.
The obvious reason that I’m feeling rootless: I’m new here. I’ve been through something that is so significant to me—and not only am I a week from not having to talk about that (because it affects my limitations), but my story-keepers are scattered: in San Francisco, around the Bay Area, and all over the country for the summer. I went through this, in a student community that I’m not going back to. My parish knows, and loves me—but I’m also not sure when I’m going back there. Or how. I also miss the Night Ministry community, and I’m just far enough away, to make visiting impractical.
Which means, I’m just far enough from home, to have to plant myself where I am. And I get to decide how. Who I am is who I say I am, here. I’m feeling rudderless—but I will have a community context, as soon as I create one. And as soon as I participate in the community that’s been given to me.
When I was well, I was so fearful of everything. Traumatized and broken. Aching for safety. Now, at face value I’m just like you: capable, competent, and whole. My story makes me different. And how I tell that—or not—is completely my choice.
How I use it, internally, is also my choice. And I’m a week from it being story, not active present.
I’m on the cusp of I know not what. In every possible dimension.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I’m actually, truly, honest-to-God graduating from seminary tomorrow. Holy cow. By the grace of God, the love of some incredible people, and my own steel will, I've done it.
It hasn’t sunk in yet. It mostly feels weird, to be done. After everything that’s happened in this time... I don’t have a reason to be here anymore. I’m just, like that, done. And ready (truly) for the world.
My field ed professor, with whom I’d also done a reading course, e-mailed me Tuesday night. I’d been trying both to be responsible about my work, and give her space: her mother had been ill, and died on Sunday. We all knew it was coming. My oral work could wait. (She said I'd done enough, and that we could have these conversations over the rest of our lives anyway.)
My teacher and I are also good friends. We’re both driven by ministry to the marginalized. We get what makes each other tick. For her own reasons, she understands the post-cancer, post-nuclear life. She has walked solidly with me.
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real (CA central coast) visited our last field ed class, last Wednesday. I asked her about what's going on outside church buildings in ECR. She talked about a “church in the fields” idea that she wants to get going in Salinas. It’s similar to what I’ve been involved with in the Tenderloin, but with the migrant workers. My follow-up question: “Do you take interns?” (Her answer: “Yes, but you’d be working for free.”)
My teacher picked up on that interest. She wrote to me, you seemed really excited about +Mary's idea. What would you say to staying at my mom's house in Monterey this summer, taking care of the cats, and taking Spanish classes?
Um. Dear God. Yes. I knew I’d say yes before I even thoroughly read it. I made myself wait until the next morning to answer.
She's going through hell right now—and she’s thinking about me.
I've had times when I worked for something—I really wanted to go back and do my field ed in NOLA this year, for instance—and couldn't make it happen (even with the bishop of Louisiana’s invitation, God bless him). I did nothing to deserve this, would never have thought to ask for it, and didn't see it coming. It makes sense for both of us, when I think of it—but I would not have thought of it. This is grace.
People have been throwing grace at me by the handfuls for a year, because I’ve needed it. This is not accommodation. This is gift.
Ironically, my parish in SF says, now that I've been where cancer took me, and came back resurrected, I'm emotionally ready to do discernment work with them. They want to work with me, after I get past the transitions of health, job, housing. I'll have my diocese’s three-year residency requirement in August. And I’ll be two hours south, all summer. This feels very much like an open door, and I don’t know what it means. I’m trusting the Spirit for whatever's next.
The practical part of me says, stay in contact with the community you already love and are rooted in, and that knows and loves you. Wisdom says, go with God.
I’m going to do both, until the way becomes clear enough to blind me.
Friday, May 15, 2009
I finally, officially finished the 2007-08 school year.
The last thing I had to do was watch my Magic Hands video, which I made last week, with my advisor/Magic Hands professor, her current TA, and the three friends I’d grouped up with to film ourselves. It was actually quite fun, and very helpful.
I said to her afterward, “Do you know where I was, a year ago right now?”
The wheels turned, and she got it.
“Yes. And I know where you’re going to be next Friday, too.”
I know why she’s proud of me. And I know why she’s happy for me, for graduating. We all know the road I’ve been on. I’m proud of myself, for the person I’ve become.
I had to thank her, for one more thing. When we talked at the class retreat, she told me about trying to communicate “the meaning of meaning” to her students. I don’t think I can articulate it any better than that. But she said to me, “If I could put you into words, I would.”
So I’ve put together a “Words on Meaning” piece for her. It’s everything I’ve written that relates to the cancer journey, over the past thirteen months. And in doing that, I’ve had to do a lot of re-reading.
What saved my neck, and saved my soul, was one choice: to stay open. When I was apparently well, I got into a really toxic habit. When I felt inadequate (almost constantly, in seminary), I got scared, and shut down. I wouldn’t talk about what was wrong, even when I knew that people could help me—and would want to, if I’d let them.
For two and a half years, she told me to tell her what was up. I wouldn’t. Then I got cancer, and I had to.
She never had to tell me again, after that. She made herself available. She kept her door open. I don’t know how many times I dropped by, in those four weeks last spring. Her response was always the same: How are you feeling? How are you doing? Where is God in this? What do you need from me, and from us? I knew she’d give me what she could, at any moment: a conversation (in the midst of end-of-semester busyness); a quick hug. She never had to tell me that; she just did it. I never had to tell her I knew; I just kept coming by. (I did mention it, at the retreat. She said to me, “I’m glad you knew.”)
She was always open, always loving, always safe. I understood, that she always would have been. As would everyone else I’d been hiding from. They still would have demanded progress out of me. But it would have come from a place of clear-sighted relationship.
I’m graduating in one week. I’m very, very ambivalent about it. On the one hand, I’ve been here long enough. I know that I’m ready to be done. For institutional reasons, I’m glad to be getting out when I am. And I know that I have learned from these people, and this experience, what they have to teach me.
I’m also scared, to be let loose in the big wide world, with the debt I’ll carry and the economic needs I’ll have. I’m going directly to my best friend’s house, to finish chemo, recover, and look for work and housing back in the Bay Area. She’s fabulous—and generous. I’ll be as physically and emotionally safe, as anyone facing these transitions can be. And I don’t really know who I am under that kind of stress, anymore. I’m hoping I can be as calm as I’ve been, and that I won’t let job-hunting throw me into a depression. But I truly don’t know how I’ll be affected. I don’t know if I’ll be fragile and volatile when I have the energy to be—or whether fourteen months of taking the next thing as it came, will have given me true strength.
My friend and I have come up with really reasonable, and doable, expectations for me this summer. While I’m still in treatment, brushing the cats and weeding the garden. Cooking dinner sometimes. Baking bread. As I’m physically able, I’ll look for real jobs. While I’m doing that, volunteer two or three days a week doing something I want to do. Go to the Ranch when I can.
It’s going to be a healing time, if I let it. I’m worried, not only about being in her space too long, but about the healthcare ticking time-bomb in my head. I’m covered through 8/31. Sometime in late July or early August, I’ll get a letter from Kaiser telling me how much COBRA will be. I don’t feel right, asking for as much help as I know I’m going to need.
I do know this: The choice that saved me when I got cancer, will keep me (and those around me) sane now. Stay open. Stay honest, stay forthcoming. Don’t default to defensiveness. Don’t jump immediately to guilt and shame. Say what I need, and what I can give. Listen when others state their own needs to me.
Know that I have learned to be whole. And like riding a bike, my body won’t forget.
If I can stay in the space that I instinctively knew would heal me last spring, I’ll be okay. Pray with me, that I remember what my body, community, and God have taught me. And that I remember to breathe.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Thursday, May 07, 2009
…and a conversation.
The book is Becoming Bread, by Gunilla Norris. It’s poetry. She inherited it from her grandmother, and gave it to me because of my sermon last week. The sermon came from a place of needing to honor my body, how it has carried me through this year of illness, what it continues to teach me, what it loves, and what it can do. I barely mentioned my own sickness; I taught people how to bake bread. The incarnationality of that—getting everyone into their bodies—touched a lot of people.
The conversation was about who we become, when we are no longer sick. It began with more of my own wondering, what is genuine, and who will I be? Her own medical journey was not cancer—not an illness, per se—but it was about fifteen years ago, was very uncomfortable for her, and took her body five years to work through. So she knows something about where I’ve been, and where I am. And she knows what her own body gave her, back.
She gave me this: “I don’t think you lose your gains. But you do lose your losses.”
Wise friends, I have.
Yesterday began and ended in closures. First, my field ed colleague group met for the last time. We’ve met weekly, all year. We are very close, and we’ve all come to rely on both the honesty and safety we give each other.
We took turns sharing gratitude for each of the others, and praying for us all. Much was reflected back to me, about truth-telling and courage. One looked across the table at me, was quiet for a minute, and said, “You are so incarnational.”
She followed that with a story about watching me preach, last week, and the way I taught people how to bake bread.
I’m only recently realizing, how much my body has taught me—and how much I’ve been able to learn. This is one more confirmation of what I can do now, that I had absolutely no reference for when I was well. I’ve never thought of myself as a teacher, ever. I’ve thought that I wasn’t called to it, couldn’t do it, had no idea of how to do it. She sat across the table from me, looked into my eyes, and told me that I can, and could, and did.
I wonder how I will remember? Not just about teaching, but being. I’ll start getting my health back at the end of June. I want to be the person that my illness has taught me to be. And when my limits fall away again, I don’t know what I’ll be aware of. Except for pure, boundless joy.
Last night, four of us got together and made our videos for what we call “Magic Hands.” (The proper name of the class is Liturgical Leadership. You learn how to preside at the Eucharist.) We’re going to watch them and have them critiqued, next week. Mine was a year late; I grouped up with this year’s class to finish it. I put together a healing Eucharist, because that’s what I really want to do on the street.
I don’t care how often you practice in your street clothes, using your bed for the altar. When you put that stole and chasuble on, you feel the weight of those vestments. Standing at the real altar, raising my hands for the first time, I wasn’t playing anymore. I was so tired I could barely see straight—and I also knew, I was grounded with my feet in the earth, and my energy was where I needed to be. I still had to look at my cheat sheet—but my body knew more than I thought it did. And things that I could never keep straight as a lay assistant—no matter how many times I’ve done it—finally made sense to me. I knew where I was, and what I needed next. It flowed.
I really, really want to do this for real. And I’m years from being allowed to.
Lizette will ask me what she asks everyone: “Did you pray?” The only answer I’ll have for her is, “Are you kidding? The weight of these clothes, and the gravity of these words, make you pray. I couldn’t possibly have done this with only a part of me.”
I did an anointing before the Eucharistic rite. My friend said afterward that she’d felt it, and needed it. And the one on the camera sort of stared at me for awhile, and said,
“Your illness has made you a healer.”
Thank you. That is what I want.
I had to be truly ill, to truly heal. And I had to heal, before I could heal others. I wonder what I will carry with me, into wellness?
I ask myself often, how much the groundedness that people see in me is genuine, and how much is simply being too tired to work up any anxiety. I think it’s both. And I won’t really know, until my body is well again.
But I’m thinking that I may be pleasantly surprised.
Monday, May 04, 2009
I was talking with my best friend, on the phone last night. She’s going to be supporting me this summer, until I get on my feet. I told her I’m worried about looking for jobs. I’m a great starter, but my follow-through needs work.
The following exchange ensued:
A: “When it has something to do with your calling, you follow through like a bulldog.”
Me: “So I’m not called to clean out your freezer, then?” (Which I did, two or three years ago—and have been promising to repeat, since.)
A: “Not unless there’s a homeless person sleeping in there.”
I cracked up, and felt a whole lot better.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
All Saints Chapel, CDSP
Bowl of bread dough
Copies of recipe
Instructions: Tear off some bread dough—let yourself be generous—pass the bowl to the next person. Play with it while we’re talking. Follow dough with box of baggies, for take-home.
If you’ve ever been hungry, you will understand.
If you’ve ever made dinner for the people you love,
you will understand.
If you’ve ever kneaded bread,
and baked it, and eaten it,
you will understand.
Our bodies know this stuff.
Our ancestors knew it.
We have always known how to feed each other.
I’m going to give you the recipe,
for what you’re holding in your hands.
Don’t worry about remembering;
there are copies in the back if you want one.
1 package active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups warm water (about 110 degrees).
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
5 to 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
You want it comfortable on the inside of your wrist;
not too tepid, not hot enough to burn you.
Yeast is alive.
You need to wake it up, not kill it.
Stir in the salt, sugar, oil, and two eggs.
Gradually add about 4 cups of the flour,
until your dough is stiff enough to work with.
Shake some flour onto the counter,
or a breadboard.
Turn the dough out onto it.
Flour your hands.
And then you start kneading.
I have no clear memory of learning this motion.
And it’s not like baking was an everyday thing, when I was little.
I remember doing it a few times, occasionally.
Knowing the kid I was, probably reluctantly.
But when I started baking on my own, years later,
my body remembered it.
Place the heels of your hands against the dough.
In the beginning, there is no resistance.
You’re working with a blob.
Push it away from you.
Give it a quarter turn,
in whatever direction comes naturally.
Fold it over your thumb.
Move your thumb out of the way.
Place your hands on the dough,
and push it away from you.
Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.
Add flour as you need to.
The dough will start to push back against you.
This is good.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat flour.
What you’re doing, is working little knots of protein into strands.
This is what gives the dough the elasticity it needs to rise,
and the texture when you bake it.
Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.
After awhile, the turning and folding becomes one motion.
You find your rhythm.
Even if it’s your first time,
you won’t have to be taught how to do this.
You already learned it, from your ancestors.
It’s already encoded in the way you move your muscles.
Your body knows.
Let your sense of touch, teach you.
Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.
Are your hands sticky?
There’s more flour in the back.
Feel free to get up and grab some.
Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”
Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.
“This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”
Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.
When your shoulders feel like they’ve had a good workout,
and the dough has taken in about all the flour that it will,
The recipe I gave you says, 5 to 20 minutes.
That’s how variable, and intuitive, this is.
The yeast and flour interact with the liquids,
and with your sense of what feels right.
You have to love it into being.
It doesn’t just emerge on its own.
Put the dough back in a bowl,
and leave it in a warm place.
Either in the oven, turned off, with a bowl of warm water,
on a heating pad,
in a sunny spot.
Do something else for an hour and a half.
Go write a paper. Take a walk.
The yeast will release carbon dioxide,
against the strands of gluten.
The dough will rise.
I always wonder,
if God had the same reaction that I do,
the first time God made life.
“Wow—would you look at that? It grew!”
It’s always a surprise,
and it means that everything is happening as it should be.
A side note:
I live in the dorm, on the third floor.
Our refrigerators are stuffed.
So when I prepared this dough,
I wrapped it in plastic
and left it on about six square inches of shelf.
I’d never left dough overnight before;
what did I know?
When I got up this morning,
it had burst the bonds of injustice,
and was spilling all over everything.
Now I understand why scripture writers,
and community organizers,
use the metaphor of leavening.
Yeast is alive.
This stuff doesn’t even need heat.
It will breathe, and the bread will grow.
It’s faster, if you do it like they tell you.
But it happens, nonetheless.
You let it rise, then you punch it down.
Feel it exhale, against your fist.
Work the extra air out.
Braid it, or shape it the way you want it.
And then—I love this—you let it rise again.
There is Easter, even here.
To finish off this loaf,
wash it with egg yolk,
and dust it with poppy seeds.
And then you bake it. 350 degrees.
A full-size loaf takes about half an hour in the oven.
A friend lent me a book,
two years ago,
shortly before she graduated and moved back to Portland.
I never gave it back to her.
I’ll be able to, now.
The book is Sleeping with Bread.
It looks like a children’s book,
and it’s about that comforting.
It’s about the Ignatian exercise called the examen.
The book is an expansion on settings
and forms and communities you could use this practice in.
At the heart of it, are two questions:
For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?
It’s about living into the awareness of gratitude.
About learning to be true to yourself.
About listening to the voice of God within you,
through the activities that give you life.
The title comes from a story
about children evacuated from the bombing raids during World War II.
The kids were living in refugee camps.
They’d lost everything:
homes, families, all of the anchors that make any of us feel safe.
They were scared.
They couldn’t sleep at night.
Someone got the idea,
of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime.
It actually helped them sleep.
They could remember,
“I had food today. I will have food tomorrow.”
Yeast. Sugar. Flour. Oil. Water.
Joy. Sadness. Fear. Love. Relief.
These are the ingredients that God bakes bread with.
If you’ve made it before, you might have realized,
that what you’re holding is challah.
Bread of festivity.
It’s at the center of the Jewish weekly ritual of Shabbat.
You begin with the ordinary: flour, yeast, eggs, water.
Lift them to the sacred:
love of community, love of family and friends, love of God.
I did this for a couple of reasons:
I don’t bake for sustenance.
I bake for fun.
I do it because it gets me into my body,
in a way that feels strong.
I’m not aware of fatigue, when I do this.
I’m feeling life interact beneath my hands.
And it’s the most ordinary craft in the world.
I also love the way this dough feels.
It’s smooth, and silky.
Almost like skin.
This is what I did over Spring Break,
when I was preparing to think about this sermon.
I baked it on a Friday,
in my best friend’s kitchen.
She is ancestrally Jewish,
and a practicing Christian.
We ate challah and goat cheese all weekend.
We made our own ritual.
We’re about to do something with the same deep roots
in community, food, and love.
The Eucharistic bread we use in chapel,
always comes from one of us.
We bake it, according to the sacristy’s recipe.
If it doesn’t get done, the sacristans panic—
they know, as only they can,
that the Body of Christ is everyone,
and we all have work to do.
Lizette’s not kidding when she tells you,
show up for your rota assignments.
It takes all of us, to make this happen.
We remember the ancient words of Jesus:
eat this bread, drink this cup.
Remember me, and I will be with you.
The bread is blessed, and broken, before us—
the way it has been offered for two thousand years.
It is given to us.
We hold out our hands, and we receive.
We eat this bread, which gives us life.
The body of Christ, broken for all of us.
The bread of resurrection.
There is enough for everyone.
Come and eat.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
A year, a day, and an hour or two ago, my dermatologist called me back and told me, “You have melanoma.”
I couldn’t post yesterday, because I was at my graduating class retreat, offline. And I’m really all worded out, about the work and the witnessing I've been doing for a year. This is what I have.
Caravaggio. Photo from here.
I am struck by the physical, touchable, bodily, reality of the Resurrection. In all the ways that can be expressed. I’ve had to learn what my body, my God, and my community have taught me. And I am still learning.
My advisor was one of two faculty co-leaders of our retreat, with our Dean of Students. I’d asked her for time to connect yesterday. I didn’t even really know what I needed—I just knew that I would want to check in. So during free time, we found a quiet table.
The irony of this, is that I have laryngitis and a cough. I can croak, weakly and painfully. Can’t sing a note; nothing comes out. This almost never happens to me. And she’d also been my group leader, during singing and storytelling that morning. (I’d asked us all to stand up and sing the Troparion, trampling death.) So she opened our talk with a gentle observation about how my body is processing the anniversary.
I answered, “One of the first things I remember you asking is, ‘What is God doing with you?’ I had no way of knowing. Now I know, that what could have killed me, healed me.”
Which is absolutely true. We talked about transformation, from fragility to fearlessness. Street ministry, and how to continue doing that. (She said something that I don't want to forget, when I talked about having trouble translating the street to the church: "Maybe the street is the church.") Things connected, directly and less so: choices, courage, creativity, being a good steward of what God has given me (i.e., maintaining healthcare). She said I'd done more in a year, than a lot of people do in much more time.
“I knew that if I was open to this, I could learn from it. And I stuck to that choice.”
She said something about the way I make meaning. And how she’s been trying to communicate something along those lines to her students. They’re struggling with it. She said,
“If I could put you into words, that’s what I would say to them.”
That is exactly how I feel, about the resurrection that I know, and trust, and touch. The only way I can get there is story. I don’t hang out in my head anymore; interferon and exhaustion make that difficult. I process everything through my body and my heart. I speak more honestly than I ever could when I was well. I’ve come to love this deeper language. And right now, physically and metaphorically, I am a storyteller with laryngitis.
It is I. Touch me, and see.
I have no way to tell you, but to show you. This is where I have been. I grab my wrist: this is resurrection. I know it, because my body and soul have taught me. I believe it, because I get it. As well as a body can, which itself has never died.
Today, as we were all getting ready to leave, she almost off-handedly gave me a rock. California jade, from near where the Russian River meets the ocean. It fits easily, between my fingers and thumb. A touchstone.
I love this body wisdom.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Pray for the woman to whom I asked this question. I can’t give her name. God will know.
She started to answer me, totally willingly until we ran out of time. We both want to talk more. When I understand her story, I will share what she permits me to.
People seem to react in fear to me, when I tell stories. Particularly when I connect my life, to the people I meet who are homeless. I’m trying to wrap my head around that, so I can learn to communicate the street to the church in a way that translates. Because the reaction I get from kind, compassionate, middle-class people is not helpful, and it makes me feel terribly alone.
I have the best, best friend there ever was. Her job is secure. These two facts remind me that I’m safe, when I think about life after graduation. She’ll help me bridge the transition, and I know I’ll be okay.
The truth: The only thing that keeps any of us safe, is love. Your fear does not help me. And it certainly does not help people who can’t advocate effectively for themselves. Go outside, and listen. Ask questions until you understand. Give volunteer hours: drive people to appointments, or soup kitchens. (The amount of walking that some of them do, in the course of a normal day, contributes to destroying their bodies.) Advocate for them, within what remains of the social-service system. Work to change social policy: these agencies need funding. We all need access to stable health care.
Pay your damn taxes. Complain, when they’re cut. Any of us could switch places. Yes, it’s scary. That’s why I need you to breathe through your fear. React, in love.
Teach me how to tell these stories, so that you can hear them.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Love all of God's creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it ceaselessly, more and more every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an abiding, universal love. --Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Open Cathedral, San Francisco
I speak to you as a child of God.
I speak to you as a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed last April with a stage II melanoma. That means that I had the scariest form of skin cancer you can have—but we caught it, before it invaded my body. It will be a year, next Saturday, since I got that phone call from my doctor. I had surgery, which may have cured me. Chemotherapy makes me exhausted, and sick, and gives me almost constant headaches. I’ll finish that on June 26.
I tell you this so that you will know, I have come close to death. I know a lot about fear. I know about pain. I know about sickness. And I have the best prognosis possible. I also have an amazingly supportive community. I know a lot about hope. I know a lot about love. I know what my body, and my God, have taught me about living a resurrected life.
Thomas didn’t have what I have. He didn’t have what we have. He didn’t have a community that comes together every week, that sings and prays and tells the stories, that eats the bread and drinks the cup, and that remembers and celebrates the risen Christ. He was huddled with his community of friends, in a locked room in a locked house, barricaded against danger from outside. The other disciples had seen Jesus. And they were still just as frightened as Thomas was. They were in that locked room, together. They didn’t know that the story ends in hope, in resurrection, in victory over fear and sin and death, for ever. They were living it, for the first time.
The last time Thomas saw Jesus, Thomas was rubbing the sleep from his own eyes as he watched Jesus being dragged away by Roman guards. Jesus was on his way to face trial for inciting a riot amongst the Jews, by turning over the tables in the temple. Thus, for committing crimes against the Roman state. This kind of journey never ended well. The penalty was a slow, brutal, bloody, painful death.
The disciples knew what crucifixion was. They didn’t have to see it, to know that Jesus was dead. They knew exactly what had happened to him.
He was dead. Dead people don’t come back. He was dead, and wrapped in sheets, and buried underneath the rock. They knew they'd never see him again.
So who was this, suddenly standing in their living room? The doors were locked. He did not have a key. He was not invited. He walked right through the wall.
What would you say, if someone that you know has died, appeared in front of you and said, “Hi! How ya doin’?”
You’d freak out. You’d be terrified. The world would not make sense anymore. This absolutely could not be happening. And yet, it was.
Thomas had said, “I will not know him, unless I see the marks of the nails in his wrists, and put my hand where the spear pierced his side. “
Jesus turned to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here.” Touch the scars that the nails left in my flesh. Feel my pulse, beating. Know that I died, and that I live again. Here I am, standing in front of you.
And that’s when Thomas recognized him. Not by the miracle of walking through the wall, and appearing out of nowhere in front of them. By the scars that suffering and pain and death left on his body. By the evidence, on his skin and between his bones, that Christ had indeed died, and that death could not hold him.
His wounds did not go away. Nothing was erased, covered over, or forgotten. The marks on his skin, told his story better than any special effects or white light or flashy music could have. We know who he is, because we can see where he has been.
Where do we recognize Jesus, today? Where do we see Jesus, on the streets of San Francisco? Look around you for a minute. Look into the faces of the people standing next to you. Each one of us has a story. Each one of us has struggled. Each of us has suffered. We have all been afraid. Some of us have lost jobs, or apartments, or health care. Some of us have lost friends, or family members, people we love very much. We have all lived through grief.
The risen Christ walked through the wall of that house in Jerusalem. He walks today, through the wall of our own fear. When we care for one another, Christ is with us. When we bear each other’s burdens, Christ is with us. When we support one another, to make choices that lead to sobriety and health, Christ is with us. When we offer shelter to a friend who needs it, Christ is with us. When we listen to each other, Christ is with us. When we feed one another, Christ is with us. At night when we are sleeping, Christ is with us. We are never, ever alone. Christ has been, where we are going. The body of Christ knows the worst that humanity can do. And we are loved, and loved, and loved some more.
Christ is with us in our terrible times. Christ is with us, in our triumphs. Christ is with us, in our love and in our joy and in our hope.
And we will all die. But death is not the end of the story. The story ends, in the presence of the risen Christ with each of us, and all of us. The story ends, in our own redemption from sin, and fear, and death. The story ends, in the absolute and unchanging, unbreakable, unconditional, eternal love of God.
We are about to tell the story again, of the last supper that Jesus ate with his disciples. We will remember the words of Jesus, “Eat this bread. Drink this cup. Remember me, and I will be with you.”
Come to the table, and eat. Christ is risen. Christ is here. Christ is with us, always. Christ touches each of our wounds. And Christ will raise us up.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
I'm just back from three days at the Ranch. They’d asked me if I could work this week, because they were hosting a women’s choir that sings for people as they’re dying. I’ve worked with this group twice before, and I know them. They’ve always seemed to like me. The last time I’d seen them, was spring break ‘08. Just before I was diagnosed. A year, a month, and a lifetime ago.
“How are you?”
“Oh. Wow. Well. I was diagnosed with cancer, and I’ll finish chemotherapy in two months.”
They got it. Every one of them. They understood transition. Sacred journey is where they live.
I went to a not-quite workshop, Thursday morning. I ended up being the only participant. The presenter was a uterine cancer survivor, and singer from Oakland. She’s on disability, and knows quite a bit about that system. Since it was just the two of us, we got to have a real conversation.
She asked me to tell her my story, and I did—all of it, the way I wanted to. We talked about valuing strength from our communities, and having had enough of sympathy. She taught me a song, and when I told her about my Easter, asked me to teach her the Troparion. (She's Jewish.) So I sang it for her:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down Death by death,
And on those in the tombs bestowing life,
We talked about trampling death. She got that—and stomped along with me.
I told her that I’m not afraid of sickness. Not afraid of dying. Not afraid of God. Not afraid of me. But I am afraid of going through it again, without healthcare.
She told me that she wanted to give me a gift. She took both my hands, looked me in the eyes, and told me that I would always have healthcare. I asked her how she knew. She said something to the effect that I was loved, and I would have what I needed.
I asked, “Can I ask you another question?”
“Yes, you may.”
“I meet people on the street whose access is much more tenuous than mine. God loves them as much as me.”
“Yes, of course.”
Here, I was going to ask the usual: Where is God for them? But I know that there is no answer that would ever satisfy me.
I stopped. Some wisdom from God knows where, made me change the question. I heard myself say, “What can I give them?”
She asked me, "What is the opposite of fear?"
"There you go. That is your gift to them. Take your faith, and your courage, and give them what you have. If you are confident that you will have what you need, you can give to them, from your strength."
That is grace.
I took a whole lot of slow walks, on the trails up there, and worked out my sermon for tomorrow. I’m preaching Thomas, on the street for the first time. I absolutely know that I can do it. And I only could, because of what I’ve been through. My body and my God have taught me what it means, to live a resurrected life.
Alleluia. Christ is Risen!
It’s not just a story, anymore.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
In the grave they laid him, love whom we had slain,
Thinking that he’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
Up he sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Up from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By your touch you call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God.
Oh. I knew my body would get it. I didn’t realize, how much.
And I knew I'd get to make the Great Noise. Death is vanquished, for ever. That gong did what it was made for, tonight.
I got to throw the lights, also. Nobody was there to pick up the cue.
I. After waiting in the dark. After coming close to death; after fear, and pain, and near the end of my long sickness. I got to announce the Resurrection.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,
And on those in the tombs bestowing life,
I know some things now, about waiting in the dark. I know about fear, uncertainty, and pain. I have tasted grief. I remember horror.
But I have never known despair. My misery has an end date, marked on my and some other people’s calendars. I will get my own health back. God only knows how long I will keep it—but that is true, for all of us. Every moment is sacred.
My body has taught me to believe in the Resurrection. I was diagnosed during Easter season last year, and I have clung to the hope of life and health. God is my grace and my strength. But I knew the Gospel story before I ever had to live it. And I knew the end, before I ever thought about the middle.
The eleven, the women, the crowds whom Jesus healed, and taught, and fed. They did not know. They watched their hope take his last gasping breath, on the wood. The women rose early on that third morning, to wash the body of the friend whom they loved. To give an outlet to their ache, their shock, their grief. To do the last thing they could, for him.
They did not know. How could they? Until that moment, death was death.
It will never be again. The hand of God reached inside the tomb. Jesus woke, so that we all might live.
But on that holy Saturday, there was grief without hope. Their world was shattered. Their love was dead, murdered by the occupying power. Their tears could have gotten them killed, also.
They did not know.
I don’t believe in hell. But I love the idea, of the harrowing of it. Jesus went to the place that only he could break into. Kicked down the door, and dragged the people chained inside, out into freedom, light, and love. Out of desolation, into the embrace of God.
I did the strangest thing I’ve ever done on Holy Saturday. This afternoon, I colored two dozen eggs for Open Cathedral tomorrow. We’re baptizing two kids, outside, in the Tenderloin. In front of fifty witnesses who may or may not have homes or jobs, but who find community in this weekly, rag-tag, Eucharistic feast.
It’ll be wonderful. The eggs are edible, festive, fun evangelism. We’ll give them to all who walk by. It’s going to be a street party.
2 p.m. tomorrow, McAllister and Leavenworth. Come rejoice with us!
Friday, April 10, 2009
I met a man in the street last week; a homeless veteran, HIV+ for 30 years. He was deciding whether to let the cancer he was just diagnosed with, take him.
He has healthcare benefits. Nothing else: the VA refuses to declare him disabled. That's why he sleeps outside.
I will always have housing, on a friend's floor if nothing else. If I let my healthcare lapse, I may not ever get it back. Cancer is a pre-existing condition, no matter that I beat it. Insurance companies can refuse me.
Cancer comes back. It may not, but it may. The questions are if, and when. I could be free and clear forever. I could have a recurrence in one year, or two, or fifteen. It could cost me nothing but money. It could kill me.
I told his story, and repeated mine, to a group of people I’m very close to. They couldn’t hear what the loss of access, and the threat of it, does to people’s souls. I named fear and anger; they ran away.
Could you not watch with me for one hour?
I look strong, and I am. I have had to be. This body carries everything that the last year has given me. I've gotten used to doing things, that I'd never thought I'd have to.
I know you can’t fix this—but please, please don’t leave me alone. I can’t leave him. I am not separate from him. You are not separate from me. I could be you. Before last April, I was you.
You walked with me through cancer; walk with me, into power. When I was well, and younger in so many ways, someone else’s anger would have scared the shit out of me. Now I get it: Don’t change the subject. Sit. Here.
Let this cup pass from me.
I am not willing to be a sacrifice. I am not, you. I am, yours—but let my suffering be redemptive. Let me learn to communicate from the street to the classroom, to the church. Let me tell this story, in a way that they can hear.
Flaming torches in the garden. Military doctors, insurance executives with swords raised. Shouts, rough hands grabbing.
They came for the man I met. I know they are coming for me. And if me, they can reach anyone.
Please, please understand me. Don’t turn away, back to your comfortable life. My hands are as dirty as yours. The worst thing we can do, is to wash them.
That hammer thuds through the ages. Crucifixion is not merely history. Are you on the timbers yourself? Are you forging the nails? Weeping with Mary? Or are you bearing witness: writing, educating, shouting? Are you working on just social policy, including healthcare access for all people?
Where? I need ideas. Sending a MoveOn petition is not enough.
The system is too big for any one of us to dismantle. But we’re the only ones who can.
My God, my God, for what have you called me?
I told his story again to a friend. She understood. She knew she couldn’t fix it; she sat with me, and felt what I was feeling. Her presence soothed my rage. She shared my grief, and gave me hope.
The women come, to wash the body. Where can it be found?
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I’m okay. I’m on spring break. Right now, I’m listening to Schoolhouse Rock on YouTube. I haven’t taken a shower yet, and I have some errands to run when I do. We need yogurt and cheese, and I need a sleeve for my new laptop.
Yes, I have a new computer to play with. Mine finally, permanently died. (There is no resurrection for the motherboard.) I got a new, lower-end HP, two days ago. Not super-snazzy, but it seems to be a workhorse. I like that about it. And I’m still learning my way around Vista.
Cherry-blossom rolls are the food of the gods. And I, again, am covered in cat fur.
I have some thoughts that sort of amble back to the Lenten theme, but am tapping this out as fast as I can right now. Will get to that, when I want to take the time.
I also have a pile of reading, that I need to get to sometime this week. Some for school (Dorothee Solle and field ed books) and some for me (hi, Jane). I also need to update my resume, for the first time in forever.
I found out on Sunday that I’m preaching on the street for the first time, the Sunday after Easter. Ten days later, I’m doing that for the last time, in the CDSP chapel.
I’m really excited about this—and I have no idea how I’ll do it. So if anybody has good tips for preaching outside, where manuscripts don’t work, and sirens go by, I’ll take them. :-)
Saturday, March 14, 2009
...and then I read Joan’s comment, and took a walk around the neighborhood. What I said was and is true—and I’d be lying, if I left it alone.
I don’t feel invincible. I do feel that after this, I may well be done with cancer—but I know I’m not a medical intuitive. All I’ve got to go on is how my body feels now, and the wish to stay well.
I know very clearly what the risks are, to my health and to my life. I will, when I can, choose healthcare. I don’t know that this option doesn’t carry it. (It’s not something I’m comfortable asking, on the first date. Which is really where I’m at with them anyway.) I do know that I would take it even if it doesn’t, because it’s the work I want, community I want, and would open doors later that I’m barely aware of now.
If carrying COBRA is an option, damn right I’ll do it. I’ll start exploring that on Monday. It means asking for help from willing friends; I don’t yet know how much.
I will not choose safety at the expense of real life. I can’t live in a hermit crab shell.
Where I’ve gotten in my relationship with cancer—go and live your life—is a gift. At the same time, if I were Canadian, as much of that worry as is cosmically possible would be lifted from me. I know this; I’m aware of the injustice that is our health care system. I’m angry about it, appalled by it, and motivated to change it.
The flip-side of taking such deep, soul-healing joy in embracing life, is a profound sadness when I think about losing it. And in the fact that I even have to ask these questions. But I do. The answers I’ve found, are liberating.
I’m beginning to explore, again, my whole relationship with fear. I may not write clearly about that, for awhile.
I don't want, in any way, to romanticize survivorship. What I've learned about myself is amazing, and may well have saved my life in non-physical ways. I love myself, this world, this life. Cancer still sucks. I don't want it again; you don't want it ever.
My head and heart are both talking to me. I'm listening, as well as I can, to both. I'm thinking and praying. I will be, for awhile.
There’s an opportunity that I have no idea whether I’ll get—but that I really, really want. It would mean a year on the opposite coast, doing work that is completely up my alley, in a living situation that feeds me. All I’ve done is write to inquire about it, and I haven’t heard back. I can’t even say that I’ve properly applied. But I know that if they gave it to me, I’d go. My heart wants this.
The catch: I don’t know what it means for my healthcare. And I know exactly what I’m risking, if I let my coverage lapse.
I had an appointment with my oncologist yesterday; the usual check-up, every two months. He knows I’m graduating (eek!), and asked about my future plans.
“Well. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
I told him. And I asked him, “How scared do you get for me, hearing that?”
He was completely clear with me about how serious my history is, how uninsurable I am on the private market, and how my greatest medical need is access to surveillance. He told me where I am statistically (40/60 in my favor, against recurrence), and reminded me that the cancer could come back within five years, or out of nowhere fifteen years from now, or never—but that if I need care, I've got to have it. We talked a little bit about county safety nets. He knows there's no actual prosperity in urban ministry.
I’m going to ask on Monday, how expensive COBRA is. I doubt I could pay for it—so staying in California, in the name of stability, does not make me safe.
There is no safety, after cancer. My skin grew something, out of its own tissues, that could have killed me. I feared an invasion inside my own body. The illusion of safety is gone. There is love, and faith, and hope, and truth, and community, and joy. More freedom than I could have imagined. Safety no longer exists—and I don’t know, whether I miss it. It’s hard for me even to remember that innocence.
It's not replaced by a sense of danger, but by knowing that I don't know. And by a deep, cellular hunger for what is real, and bright, and vibrant, and connected, and alive.
The first place I went, when I was diagnosed, was my best friend’s couch. She loves me more than I know. She kept her own fear from me, for weeks. And I knew even then, that she could not protect me. God cannot protect me. I cannot protect me.
Because cancer had not invaded me yet, my surgeon could protect me. But almost a year later, I’m still in treatment, because we can’t be absolutely sure.
I could be free and clear forever. I could have recurrences that mean periodic cutting things out of my skin, and going through the whole panic again about what is or might be in me. I could have a fatal recurrence, not discovered until I’m physically sick, sore, or confused. I will not forget, ever, my first oncologist’s words to me, explaining the order, and likelihood, of possible metastasis: “Lungs, liver, bones, brain.”
Margaret knows: “As a cancer survivor, sister death is always as close as my shadow.”
And I also know, and my doctor repeated, that we never know what's in front of us. I know that I could never listen well enough, or be faithful enough, or be good enough, to keep me safe from cancer. I can follow God and my heart perfectly, and still get sick. This is the world we live in. What I know, is that I am healthy right now.
There is more than freedom in that. There is joy, and light, and life.
He came back again to his bottom line:
"Make choices that protect yourself, when you can. And do what makes you happy in your life."
It's the best advice I ever could have gotten.
What sparked this conversation—the opportunity I would jump at—may or may not actually happen. But this is the way I make choices. The same argument led me to seminary (which ultimately, because health insurance came with it, could have saved my life). My head knows that caution is a losing battle, when my heart says, "Go." And I really wanted to see, what I'm risking when I trust it. And to know whether I would do it, when the cost is more than student debt.
The answer is yes.
I know that fear. I shuddered again, when he gave me the stats that I asked for. And I know, as well as I've ever known anything, that choosing from that toxic, paralyzed place leads to entombment while you are alive.
I understand now, what I only wished for when I was well. I love this life, enough to truly live it.
I had to go through cancer, to get that. And now, this life is mine.
I'll see the doctor again in late June, after I'm done with interferon.
Monday, March 09, 2009
…with so many threads, that they’re starting to tangle. I’ve done an amazing amount of work in the past week; some by choice, some asked of me. I haven’t really had time or energy to catch up. Today, I’m slightly tired but I’m not feeling horrible. I want just to sit with it; I need to write it out, so I’ll remember.
I had the long-awaited follow-up with my parish vocations committee, a week ago Sunday. I’d last met with all of them in December. It took three people, three months to coordinate our schedules; I was at the Ranch for half that time.
We’d been trying to schedule a meeting; in the end, we looked around and noticed that we were all there, and threw some chairs together in the church, after the service. The conversation was easy, and took about five minutes. They said pretty much what I wanted them to say: “Finish school, heal your body, get situated in the work world, and talk to us again in the fall.” Basically, get past these major transitions so we can think straight.
Part of me says, grrrr it takes so much time. Once we start, the first formal step takes about a year and a half. Then there are others. And there is no guarantee ever, that I will get to do what I believe now I want to do. Discernment means listening to God in your community.
But really I know they’re right, and they’re coming from obvious love. And I can see that they’re impressed with the human being I've become. They want to work with me when my life has calmed down, and I’m able to focus. They’re not concerned about my emotional readiness, anymore.
[In December, one told me, “When we met you, you seemed very fragile. I don’t see that in you now.” It may be the highest praise I’ve ever gotten. And what kept me from jumping up off the couch and kissing him, I don’t know.]
That was the central piece of my work, for so long. In the end, cancer worked it in me.
I’m frustrated with my body, but not with the people on this committee. But I also know that I wouldn’t be as healthy as I am, without what the last year has done. There is no way I could have broken through that fragility, if I had not had to.
Work and love and grace. Yet again, cancer cured me of an awful lot of crap.
I asked if there was anything I should particularly explore between now and then. They said just to focus on healing, and keep listening. All of us want me to be really solid, when I/we do this. So, it's frustratingly slow—but it's good.
I talked with one of my teachers last week, and I told her about the feedback I’d gotten. She looked at me like I had two heads.
“You mean, you had to almost die?”
Well, yeah, I guess so. But I didn’t think of it that way at the time. I learned to deal with what was in front of me. And if the word “cancer” itself doesn’t change you instantly, at your root, and forever, I don’t know what would.
It wasn’t the almost dying that changed me. I got myself checked out, finally, before the tumor had invaded my body. Whether I missed that by a whisker, or a year, I’ll never know. I got very sick from the IV interferon—but was monitored closely, and was in no mortal danger.
I was changed, in living with the fact that even though this cancer didn’t kill me, a recurrence could. On a cellular level, what I know I have, is now.
Even if I’m free and clear forever. If one year becomes two, (the magic) five, seven, ten, twenty. And I don’t want to forget that.
One of my teachers told me, sometime last spring, “All of us will die. What makes you different, is you have a name for what may kill you.” He was right. And I want to live a long, full life. But if I die tomorrow, I will know that I lived.
I walked this path the way I walked it. And I would not give any of it back. Cancer scared holy hell out of me—and then it liberated me. If I had to choose to either continue in my innocence, or be who I am now, I would choose to be the person I have become. Every time.
I met with someone on Friday; we’re exploring spiritual direction. I told her all the layers of transition that I’m in. And, how big the cancer piece is. What I know about the valley of the shadow, and about resurrection, my body and my God have taught me. Physically I’m tolerating my treatment—but I can still hear the temple veil, tearing. Almost a year later, my eyes are still blinking in the light.
I told her that one of my earliest responses to the diagnosis was, “Go where this takes you.” She asked where it had taken me. I could answer her in signposts: being told I’m not fragile anymore, and that sort of thing. But it’s really hard for me to get a grip on speaking about this. I know that I am stronger in my core. I’m much more capable, emotionally, than I ever was when I was well. But I am not sure I could tell you, how it feels from the inside.
I still have a dancing-around relationship with fear. I say that cancer killed my fear forever. I am not afraid of death. I don’t think I ever was afraid of God. But when I think about graduating in this economy, “anxious” isn’t a strong enough word. One of the things I’m wading around in, is allowing—not fearfulness, but awareness of fear and acceptance of it—back in. I’m not going to do anybody any good, if I’m chopping my humanity apart. I don’t have to obey it—but it isn’t healthy to deny its existence.
Anyway. That was a side-track, but a useful one. I’ll leave it as a bookmark, for myself.
I talked for awhile, and she asked me questions. She finally told me that she heard the theme of resurrection coming up over and over, in what I said. She asked me if I thought “resurrection hurt.” I don’t know, and I’m not sure I care. When I was getting all the medical news, I was going from data to data, doctor to doctor. Dealing with what was in front of me. “Okay. Tests are coming back clean. This is what the extent of surgery will be. Oh. This is an actuarial table; here is where he says I am. Deep breath. My liver went toxic for two weeks—but I did not end up in the crash room. Whuf. My numbers are stable. I can get through this.” I don’t remember pain, other than physical (from the surgery and side effects of interferon). I remember fear, hope, wonder, sadness, anxiety, joy, frustration—and the absolute certainty that I was walking a sacred path. That’s where I put my energy. I knew that I was very rarely alone.
And I remember when I stopped being afraid. When I knew that everything is, was, and always will be infused with grace. Whether I am cancer-free forever, or not.
So she asked if resurrection hurt. I don’t know. I’ve been causing myself aches and illness for many months. Pain is incidental; you learn to persist through it. However, what catches me is neighbor to that question: What on earth went through his mind, between waking up and getting up?
Because I think that’s exactly where I am. I’m walking out of the valley of the shadow; the sun is rising, but I am not yet bathed in light. I have three and a half more months of treatment, then I will be free, healthy, and well. The clock in the back of my head, ticking down five years, will fade.
I keep coming back to, “You survived cancer. Now, who are you going to be?” And I know that I can answer that, any way I want to.
One of the graces in this, is the time to ask these questions. And to sit with them. This singular blog post has been my central project for days. Not because I’m procrastinating other work—I’m not. Because it can be.
Another place where resurrection touches me, is Thomas. I don’t need to show someone else my wounds, and say, “Touch them.” No one’s asking me if I’m real. But I catch myself wrapping a hand around a wrist, touching my own bones. I need to remember, in my body. “I breathe. I walk. I have been where I have been—and I am alive.”
Solidity is coming up, in a number of places. Solidity of body: listening to the energy I have, and choosing where to send it; when to sleep, when to start a conversation, when to walk outside. Solidity of soul: simple groundedness, honest speech. There is also a social solidity, that I did not even know I was lacking. It comes down to, doing what I say I will—and not volunteering to do what I won’t.
I just came from a weekend with my best friend. We made brownies, and I took naps, and we talked a ton. This came up; I had no idea I was doing it. I think I ought to be able to get a grip on the habit, once I have the energy again to genuinely work on anything. It feels mostly cognitive. I’ve certainly been through harder changes.
Still, I didn’t know I’d been that consistently irresponsible. I never knew the effect it had on her. (It’s not just in this situation, either; I know that my follow-through has often sucked, at school and other places.) She waited, to tell me; I was going through so much emotional trauma and recovery, then I got cancer. I was busy. It wasn’t until she saw me being concerned about solidity, that she brought it up.
It seems like a very small, and doable, thing. A year ago, I would have fallen completely into despair. Now, I think I can fix this. And hearing about it, didn’t destroy me.
Solidity doesn’t mean, biting off more than you can chew and choking it down. It means, making reasonable commitments. And keeping them.
True resurrection is total: body, soul, mind, speech, will, intention. You wake up. You take a deep, long, healing breath. You unbind the cloths from around your body. You stretch your muscles, shake your bones. Scarred, but no longer bleeding, you walk into the light.
A friend from the Night Ministry took me to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. This was my fortune:
"Your choices in the moment will be good ones. Trust yourself."
Saturday, February 28, 2009
I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, Lenten practice-wise. I’m trying to figure out which of these really matter, and keep in touch with the point of doing them. I’m also trying to remember, to be kind to myself in the process.
Yesterday before chapel, I went to the admin building to pick up an Episcopal Relief and Development meditation booklet and “hope chest.” I didn’t grow up with mite boxes, so I’m having to figure out how to use it as I go. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
There I was, at the foot of the stairs in Shires, just about to go up to the Dean of Students’ office and get this stuff. I bumped into a friend, an administrator for the School for Deacons. I really like her, and she’s easy to connect with. We hadn’t caught up in awhile. I think my first thought was, “Yay! I get to talk with Rebecca.”
We hug hello, and we’re standing there, talking. She’s telling me about her computer system, and stuff that she’s struggling with. I’m there with her. And then—I’m not. I checked out, in the middle of this conversation, with someone I really like spending time with, who is frustrated (not at me) and who needs to be heard. I was emotionally present with my own stuff, more than I was with her.
I caught it, brought myself back. Thinking, “Oh. Mindfulness. This is what that’s for.”
And I know, that this exactly is what I’m working on. Being present, with my heart. Listening to the people whom I’m with. Being aware of where God is. Staying grounded. And doing what I need to do, when I need to do it.
Later, I put the ERD box together. I was thinking of Rebecca, and I put something inside. It felt right; keeping myself on track, being accountable. Not just sorrow (and I really wasn’t beating myself up with guilt), but genuine repentance. “I see this tendency; I know what to work on, and I am.”
I went to lunch, and on with my day. Everything was fine.
I was sitting with some friends, the admissions director, and a prospective student. (Margaret: it was Suzanne from Good Shepherd.) We're having a perfectly normal conversation, under the circumstances. A friend of one of these friends stops by. They hug, she sits down. And something about this person, makes me want to get to know her.
We get talking. She’s a dancer, and she’s recently had a hip replacement. We both spend more time at Kaiser than we’d like. I tell her, I’m a cancer survivor and I’m still in treatment. And we’re off, talking about the journeys that our bodies and our hearts have been on.
It’s a fascinating conversation; I’m there, and I want to be. We’re talking about what we’ve learned, what we’re working on, listening to ourselves, how to accept help, being safe. The fact that you never know what’s ahead of you.
We’re both tuned in, really enjoying it. And then I hear her say, “…and I’ll let you leave.” I realize how long we’ve been talking. And, how tired I am.
I’ve been needing to read for school. I’d been planning to, all day. And I was so exhausted after that, all I wanted was sleep. So I did a couple of on-campus errands, one that I was a week late on, and took a nap instead. I woke up, groggy, before dinner, and was pretty much toast until I went to bed.
I could say something clever here, about karma. But that was a gentle bite.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I came into seminary with, and how I’m leaving. I feel right now, like a jellyfish in a river full of salmon. I’m in the wrong body of water, to begin with—I should have taken this year off, but I had to stay for my health insurance. And, I’m watching my friends get job offers, while I myself get congratulated for looking alive.
I know, though, that I’ve been out of step here since my second year, when I went three-quarters time. And I knew that I would be, within my first semester—when I understood that I’d need an extra year to grow into what God was doing with me, and started thinking about internships. I really was always on the four-year plan. I just hadn’t known I’d be surviving cancer, for the last year of it.
I transferred dioceses when I came here, so I’ve always been behind in the process. And I put it on pause when I got diagnosed. I’m doing this at the pace I need to do it. I know that, and I’m okay with it. It’s just hard to watch my friends move faster.
The grace, though, in that early wisdom about needing more time: I found out, four weeks before my entering class graduated, that I’d need an extra year of health insurance. I have had the care I needed.
I came here in fall 2005, fresh from an abusive situation in my former parish. I don’t need to say what that was, or where. And I truly did come here because it was all that my heart wanted to do. I knew that transferring parishes, and going through the process in the usual way, was an option. And I knew that God was saying to me, “Go.”
But I came here with behavior patterns that you’d see in an abuse survivor. I was caught in a debilitating shame cycle, and I hid from people who could have (and would have willingly) helped me. I was afraid of people in power, and of their judgements about me. Even as I started healing from that, trusting myself more, and coming to trust the intentions of the people around me, I preferred to keep my shortcomings to myself. Wherein, I would beat myself up over them.
Then I was diagnosed with cancer. I called my best friend, crying on the phone. I called my priest. The next thing I did was e-mail my teachers. I had projects due Monday; this was Friday afternoon.
They’ve been in my back pocket ever since. I opened up, first because I had to and then because I wanted to. We all walked me through this. The cancer was on my skin; deeper things healed, beneath it.
And now, I’m closing some circles. I met with my advisor the other day. While she was looking for a document in my file, I saw my middler review. My eye rested on the word, “deadlines.”
I turned in a project a month ago, that was nine months late. I’m not going to be punished for it. (My teacher congratulated me for turning it in.) I still have a video to do, from last spring. It will be accepted. When I was well, I was in trouble all the time for late work. I frustrated the hell out of my teachers, because they knew what I was capable of. I honestly didn’t realize, what a big deal that was. My friends were as scattered, behind, and flaky as I. Those who weren’t, intimidated me.
Ever since last April, none of that has mattered. My teachers have been focused on helping me get through this, any way I can. The rules and the expectations are different. I’m living up to them as well as I can. And I want to, both for my own sense of self and because I know these people, as human beings. They’ve been to a dark place, with me.
I have a friend who almost hurts me to be around, because he reminds me so much of the way I was when I was well. He’s getting in trouble in the same areas I did, because he puts off his schoolwork in favor of all the things he loves and would rather do. He’s always running around with his head cut off, and always frustrated with himself. He knows he’s making bad choices, and he keeps making them.
I told him, “I know where you are. And what cured me of that, was cancer. I went where my body and soul took me. I don’t want you to have to go where I’ve been.” But I know, I’ve done that work for me. I can’t do it for him.
People don’t change because they want to. One of my teachers said, in a workshop recently, “No one changes for a hobby.” You do it because you have to. You go to the depths of your darkness, because you have no choice. You walk out, truly alive.
And I’m wondering now, am I really healed? I have faced the hardest thing that I've ever had to go through. I know now, what courage is. I do things all the time, that would have paralyzed me a year ago. I challenge myself just to see if I'm still scared of this or that. I know how to choose to be brave.
I know that I’m a visibly different person; my advisor told me that. I know, that I know what is really important. But can I hold myself to it? Can I consistently do it? Can I stay present, not only with my intention but in the following-through? Can I make commitments I can keep, and find joy in the work of keeping them? Can I get my work done, less because people I respect are counting on me, but because I respect myself, and I’m the kind of person who does it?
Can I be responsible to the changes I’ve been through, both while I’m still here and when I’m out in the world? I can’t imagine forgetting now, how precious life is. But will I remember, who I am and want to be?
I don’t know. But with everything in me, I want to.