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've been thinking about the owl all day.

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.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I need to tell this story

...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,
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.