Saturday, February 21, 2009

What is real, and what is not

I had a day full of conversations on Thursday, that I’m still thinking about.

I had back-to-back meetings with two faculty; my advisor, and my field ed professor, with whom I’m doing a reading course. I was a little bit nervous, for a number of reasons. But they were both good talks, honest and real, and life-giving.

My advisor opened her door and her heart to me (more than it had been already) when I got diagnosed with cancer, ten months ago. I lost track of the times I’d walk by her office; she’d ask how I was doing, and put her work aside for half an hour (or more) to listen to me. We hadn’t had much chance to talk in awhile. Academically I hadn’t really needed to, beyond “how are we going to get you graduated?” That’s where we started Thursday. We got to catch up, to meet each other again as human beings. I got to tell her how much I appreciate her—which isn’t something that’s heard enough, around here.

We hugged goodbye, and I went directly to my other teacher’s office. She’s also a friend. We did what we always do: range over any number of topics, and ultimately get done with whatever we needed. I’m reading Viktor Frankl; we talked about how the crucible of the camps made him as transcendent as he was, and what cancer did for/in/with me. I can’t remember what she asked me; my eyes got big when I heard myself answer, “You live in now.”

I knew enough, to put a mental post-it next to that.

I love these people. Deeply. And I know they love me. I know it, because they take the time to see me. That also comes from Frankl—you can’t see someone for who they are, unless you love them. It jumped out at me as I was reading, and I think it’s true.

That’s another gift cancer gave me. I say that “having cancer cured me of an awful lot of crap.” I used to be so freaking fearful, of everything. Insecure, full of self-doubt, never trusting the ground beneath me. Raw and fragile. Cancer exploded all of that. If it’s real, live in it. If it isn’t, let it go. And what became real, was love.

I saw that I loved my own life. I panicked at the thought of losing it; I was willing to fight for it. And by the grace of God, I knew that I could learn from this if I was open to the experience. (I remember when that realization happened—I was walking through Cal on the way to BART, one day that first week.)

And I could feel my community—in all of its forms—lifting me up. Survivors came out of the woodwork, to have random conversations with me in the CDSP parking lot. Friends offered me rides to Kaiser, baths when I couldn’t shower, ice cream (on a cold and windy April day), and time. I never had to hear medical news alone. My teachers sprung me from deadlines, with e-mails full of prayers. I heard from all kinds of people, that they loved me and were praying for me. Lizette kept her door open. Blog-friends surrounded me. My best friend made room for me all summer, so I’d have a safe place to be feverish and miserable in.

Somehow, by the grace of all that is holy, all of that soaked through. I shed the skin I didn’t need anymore, the insecurities I had already begun to learn were false. I learned how to trust myself, my God, the hearts of my friends. I knew I could choose to live through cancer, and treatment, well. It is still a conscious choice. There are days I do it right, and days I don’t. But I knew early on, how I do this is mine. Who I become, is mine. It has always been.

I had to fear something truly terrifying, to get the perspective I needed to lose the fake weaknesses, the wounds and the learned behaviors that weren’t helping me. And I had to walk through it, internally aware and surrounded by love.

This is my resurrection life.

You thought I was done with the conversations. Thursday night, after Eucharist and before dinner, a friend split a beer with me and we talked, standing against the wall, eating goldfish crackers. He’s freshly from Scotland; his wife is a year behind me here. And he told me about a time, several months over two years of his life, when he walked hither and yon around his home country. He set out in the mornings, knowing what town he might be headed toward, but open to what he might see. Just for the experience of doing it. He never knew where he might sleep, but he always found a place.

One morning at breakfast, a man greeted him, trying to strike up a conversation. He was too rushed to reply. He was focused on going; he took for granted that there’d be more people to talk with.

That was the only soul he saw, all day.

He learned about living in the now. And he knew, telling me this story, that my own road had taken me to the same mountain.

I forget it, all the time. When I’m achy and sore and don’t want to look people in the eye; when I spend too much time on Crackbook. You know the expression, “he didn’t give me the time of day.” Often, I don’t give the moment, who I am.

But there are times when I do. And I remember. This learning is in me. The wrestling is less intense, though I’m still in the mosh pit with God. I shifted, when I crossed the halfway point of my treatment. I can see the day, four months from now, when I will stop injecting myself with life-preserving poison. I look forward to letting cancer be a part of my past. I certainly know that I won’t think about it all the time, when I have my body, brain, and energy back.

But I think, and hope, and pray that I will keep what it taught me.


Lauralew said...

Wow. You've packed alot into this post. Thanks for sharing so all of us can learn through what you have experienced in your journey into the resurrection life.

it's margaret said...

You do. You will. You are radiant with this theophany.

Kirstin said...

Thank you, both, so much.