Friday, May 15, 2009

On the anniversary of my cancer surgery…

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.


Caminante said...

Absolutely, will do and, yes, don't forget to breathe in, out, in, out with whatever calming mantra works for you... One of mine when anxious about other people who are sick is simply, 'Be well, stay well.'

Jane R said...

Amen. You know what you need to know.

Keep listening. All will be well in Godde.

Kirstin said...

Thank you both, so much.

Paul said...

I can certainly pray for that. You are remembered often.

And huge congratulations on making it through that last year. I am pleased and proud of you.