Friday, September 10, 2010

Dancing on edges

I spent all day yesterday having buddha-time with a friend who loves me totally and truly sees me. All I want to do is go to the ocean and walk with that conversation—and I plan to do that tomorrow. Last night, I was asked to write a spiritual autobiography that’s due before Sunday morning. And two days ago, I found out what Sunday will look like: go to church and be blessed again for my birthday/being alive, stay there for my first PCOM (Parish Commission on Ministry) meeting, and dash back home afterward for my PET scan. I’m going to start what I’ve been passionately aching to get moving on, what so many people see me called to—and go immediately to cancerland to see whether the lethal disease I have is progressing, slowing, or shrinking.

I know a lot about dancing on edges. It doesn’t scare me anymore. I’m honestly happy to be up here. The process and cancer are wedded together—twisted so tightly that for now, they can’t be separated—and I think that for me, this is how it needs to be.

[Note: I’m going to be really careful when I write about personal aspects of the process. It’s going to get very intimate, quickly, and it needs its own private space to grow in. Also, I’ve read lots of bloggers who went into too much detail over their frustrations with the process, and I felt squirmy for them. My PCOM knows I’m a cancer patient; their job is to help me articulate my call. I know they care about me. The first thing I’ll tell them is I have this diagnosis and I’m in this treatment for it, but I am not fragile. I appreciate gentleness where I find it—but don’t treat me like I’m broken.]

Before I write what PCOM wants to read, I need to articulate this post. It’s been brewing in me for days, and I haven’t had time. I’m waist-deep in an epiphany that I haven’t found the language for yet.

I will either come back from cancer, possibly sooner than I’m emotionally prepared for, or it will kill me. I have one foot in this world and one in the next. That’s become not only comfortable, no longer scary—but life-giving and right. It almost scares me that life could be normal again. How quickly could being out of immediate danger (having evidence that chemo is working) lull me into the same denial I was in a year ago? I don’t want to go back to sleep. I don’t want to forget that all I know I have is now. I love this life. I know I could lose it. I don’t want to forget how to appreciate everything.

The medical protocol is less than enjoyable (though I’m no longer traumatized by it), and I’m very clear that I want to live. I want to plant both feet solidly in this world—with the gifts I carry from the next one. There is power there; light, grace, freedom, trust, and love. It’s a different way of seeing, an assurance and a way of knowing that I don’t know how to translate. I need to live with it for awhile before I can.

I want to live into being who this has called me to be. I know that no one ever will have power over me again. Sure, in a temporal sense—but not really. I am held in the only real power there is. I don’t know how to show you that the same is true for yourself, and for every human being. I know it’s part of the call; why else would I be drawn to people who have nothing they can hold in their hands? They have tons to teach me. I want to live through this, but not ever past it. I don’t want to lose this openness, this intimacy with the One who loves us all. If I forget where I’ve been, I will.

I know in my cancer-ridden bones that I'm only safe when my only safe place is this edge that I'm dancing on. Medical science hasn’t caught up to melanoma in any solidly reliable way. I can't trust my body to survive cancer on its own. My friends love me, and their love and touch are holy food. But they can't save or protect me. There is nothing else to hold onto. When I could deny the physical danger I was in—when I was in treatment two years ago, but my doctors hoped and I believed the surgery had cured me—that need for physical safety kept me from truly getting the point. The only safe place is the love that holds us all.

At the same time that I fear slipping back into denial, I know that I needed the wading pool before I could learn to swim in the ocean. I needed to gradually get used to the idea that I could die—not forty years from now, but at any time. If I had presented as metastatic two and a half years ago, I don’t know what it would have done to my head. I had time to learn to live with uncertainty. The time bomb that basically is my chest appeared on my PET scan this past June, and shocked my doctors probably more than it shocked me.

Yesterday, I told my friend the story of the owl. She gave me something I’d never thought of: what if this was not about death, but formation? In other words, what if I get to live with the owl’s gifts? I don’t think I ever asked the owl how to die. I’m so alive now, and I’ve assumed that she’d show me when the time came. I was at the Ranch, hiking on holy ground. I felt the owl’s spirit in a way I could only express in ecstasy and breathless terror. A week or so later, a high school classmate died of melanoma. He had what I most fear, physically: a brain bleed. Seemed obvious to me. But what if the owl wasn’t there to give me any assurance about my own dying? What if she was there to show me how to dance on holy ground? Owl flies at night; owl sees when humans can’t. Owl guides through dark places. What if she was there to show me how to live?

I get to ask all kinds of new questions. I don’t have to wait for PET results to do it. I don’t have to ask my doctors for permission to live. No fear, only embracing.

God doesn’t give diseases. But I had time to go where I needed to. I had time to witness the healing of wounds that only God in this illness could have healed. I regret nothing. I am grateful to be on this earth, alive, and who I am. What is all this, but grace?


Alison said...

"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep."

#91, from Open Secret:Versions of Rumi, Moyne/Barks translation

When I read what you say here this sprang into my mind. We send you love. You appear to me as a lens through which the Love that you know is focused.

Kirstin said...

Wow, Alison. Thank you for the compliment--and I love Rumi.

Ann said...

Don't beat yourself up when you forget -- it is the way our minds work -- there is a great passage in Doestoevsky's "The Idiot" about this very thing.
The man is at the wall to be executed and finds every second of life so amazing and promises that if somehow he lives, he will never forget. He is telling the story to a companion after he is released. The companion asks him -- so is that how it is now for you? and the man says - no, I forget.

Rejoice or grieve or whatever you feel in each day on the planet in the meantime.

Me - I am remembering the birthday sushi roll!

Caminante said...

"I’m waist-deep in an epiphany that I haven’t found the language for yet."

Kirstin, this sentence leaps out at me as something to cherish, and something to ponder. Wow.

Indeed, there is so much in this posting to chew on. Thank you, thank you.

So much of the holy refuses to be put into words. I guess that is why there are tears (at least for me).

it's margaret said...

What if I get to live with the owl’s gifts?

Love you.