Monday, March 09, 2009

Weaving resurrection

…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."


FranIAm said...

Oh Kirstin... wow, just wow. This is an amazing post.

I love how you explore and can express all your feelings on so many topics with such eloquence and grace.

God bless you my sister.

PseudoPiskie said...

I hope you keep copies of all you are writing, Kirstin. You already have many chapters of an exceptionally thoughtful, well-written book which will inspire others who must go thru the darkness you have. You remain in my prayers as you've been for many months.

it's margaret said...

Like what Fran and 'Piskie said. Solid.... huh... ! I'll think on it.

blessings dear sister.

Caminante said...

Kirstin, I need to reread what you have written here several times because it is so real, so deep, so true... thank you for writing.

I apologise for not being a frequent poster -- this new cure keeps me so much more busy than where I was before -- but you are in my daily prayers and I always say your name aloud during the prayers of the people at the Eucharist.

¡Adelante en la lucha!

Sophia said...

I am in awe of what you and God have worked in and through this illness.

Many blessings.

Kirstin said...

Thank you all, so much.