I want to write, before I lose my brain to chemo drugs for a week. (I'm in the hospital now. Treatment starts tomorrow morning at 6.) But I don’t know if I’m capable of making sense. I’m still processing all of this.
It hasn’t fully hit me yet, that the disease progression has been stopped. I’m on the right side of statistics. How the hell did that happen?
I know what it means, in practice: I have one more chemo cycle after this one, and I’ll be closely monitored after that. I’ll be transferred back to my oncologist at home for follow-up care. I could have months or years or decades with no further change. The tumors could shrink. Or they could start growing again at any time.
They are not growing right now. “Now” just got bigger than, “This exact present moment.” Now isn’t tinged in fear anymore. Now means, from this breath I’m inhaling, until I start throwing tumors again. Now could be a short or long time. Now could be until I die of something else. There is no way of predicting.
I have a feeling that I won't be done with cancer. And that's okay. It's been my teacher, and a good one. Maybe I just can't imagine this being permanently over.
I won’t have my life back. I wouldn’t want it. I don’t want to forget where I’ve been and what all of this has taught me. I’m grateful that I can touch two of these tumors. The reminders are there.
But I can live my life, again. I can give myself completely to the things that matter most to me. I don’t have to learn how to be fearless; I already know how to let love heal. I can let myself go into the wildness that graces the life I choose. I can be my strong, safe self. I'll live long enough to use the things these gifts have given me.
I felt threatened with no time. I had the time to go where I needed to go, and to learn what I needed to learn. Not just for my own emotional survival, but for the work in the world that I’m called to.
The tide went out a little, with the news I got this morning. The edge of the world got a little bit wider. But the ocean is never still, and I wouldn’t want it to be. The only true safety is the One who loves us all. That is enough, and more than enough. If you want to make a safe place, walk into the waves. Go into fearful places. Love the people who live there.
I’ve said over and over, God doesn’t give diseases. Biochemotherapy stopped the progression of this one. The idea that I’ve been somehow singled out gives me hives. But my path through this has been utterly bathed in grace. I can’t do the math. It doesn’t make sense to me. But it’s true. I needed to go as far as I went into terror, grief, and anxiety. And I had the experiences, fighting cancer twice, that made me go there. I learned how to transform and be transformed by love. I remember the scared, fragile, broken kid I was two and a half years ago, and my whole life before that. I know what my community and my God have healed in me. I know what resurrection means. And I will have the time, short or long, to live into it.
If you see a stranger on the road, and she offers you bread, it could be me.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I want to write, before I lose my brain to chemo drugs for a week. (I'm in the hospital now. Treatment starts tomorrow morning at 6.) But I don’t know if I’m capable of making sense. I’m still processing all of this.
For people not on my e-list.
I just got out of the doctor's office. He says I'm stable. As in, the tumors aren't growing. I'll have two more cycles (this week and October 13-20), and we'll watch me and see.
It could be months or years or decades. And I'm getting what I wanted, really: the reminders are there and I know I still have it, but I can live my life.
There's no word for what I'm feeling--ecstatic comes close--but they can do whatever they want to me now. It's not remission, but it will do.
My friend hugged me two weeks ago and said it wasn’t now. She was right.
Love to everyone.
Monday, September 20, 2010
A and I are flying back to Riverside tomorrow. I’ll get readmitted to the hospital on Wednesday. This will be my fourth chemo cycle, and in the past week or so, I’m finally at peace with it. I’m sleeping better, and I feel calmer in general. I know it won’t be as hard on me, physically or emotionally, as it has been in the past.
That peace may be because I realize I’m three months into this diagnosis and feel no worse, and am wondering hopefully if we’re wrestling me into remission. It may be because I’m over the trauma of the first cycle, and realize how much gentler the last one was, with someone who really knew how to support me (and perhaps a body that’s becoming accustomed to it). It may be because A is coming with me, and we know each other well.
More than the chemo, I am at peace with the illness itself. I think it can also be explained by these two stories. I thank God for all good gifts.
1. The rim of the ocean
Was it really just over a week ago? Every cell in my body ached for ocean time. I had just had a day-long, wise and loving conversation that I really wanted to walk with and think about. I would have my first PCOM meeting the next day. I needed sand, water, wind, and prayer.
That Saturday I went to Seacliff, in Capitola, home of the concrete boat. A and I had been there several times before. We were there in June, when I had just been fully diagnosed. It’s familiar, and not hard to get to. It’s only two hours from home.
I drove with my current musical crush—Laura Love turned up loud—and got there about an hour before high tide. I ate some gorgonzola pasta from Gayle’s, took off my sandals, unzipped the legs from my pants (yay for quick-drying fabric!) and started walking.
The water was a foot or two below dry sand, and the place where the slope flattens out. When I wanted my feet to get wet, they did. When I didn’t, I jumped out of the way. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was walking on the rim of the ocean. Dancing on edges, literally, even here.
I knew I was in no physical danger. I didn’t get wet above my knees, except when my shorts got splashed. If you’d only looked at my feet, I would have appeared to have been playing. But I got into the metaphor of it. I was walking, thinking about borderlands in general, and my work and my calling in particular. Fear/love; sickness/health; sheltered/homeless. How to articulate all of this, why these tidal zones are home. How I know that this is where my ministry is.
I got out of my head just long enough to realize something that left me wordless: My body was, in literal truth, dancing on edges. My thoughts only followed. This body that has been through so much pain and horror—that I have been cooperating with, in the name of health—still trusts the Spirit. Still can listen. Still knows how to quietly teach me. Still is absolutely, vitally connected.
I walked, in awe of that. Trying to find words. I could barely whisper, “Thank you.”
I got to the other end of the public beach, found the bathroom, and came out again. In those five minutes, the fog had blown in. I’d left my fleece in the car, and in my light layers, I was freezing. I didn’t want to be out there anymore.
I also had the rogue thought, that I didn’t want the tide to turn. I like being up here, balanced on precarious places. I’m getting good at it. I didn’t want to feel safe.
Catching the implication in that, there was no choice but to go back out. I walked back toward the car, my fleece, and the rest of my lunch. I glanced at my watch. Ten minutes, seven, five. I watched the water, wondering how I’d feel at the moment I knew the tide was turning.
I looked out at the lighthouse. I thought about danger, safety, and strength. And I kept walking. As long as I moved, I stayed warm enough. The water bathed my feet.
I realized something that only the ocean could have taught me. The moon pulls the tides, in and out, constantly. Water is always moving. Spirit is always moving. I’ve gotten comfortable walking with one foot in this world and one in the next. I’m becoming aware that I cherish the gifts that a potentially terminal illness is giving me. [A week later, I know that I am at peace with the illness itself.] Maybe I can help bring assurance of life to the dying. Maybe I can translate between them. I don’t know what it will mean yet, if I can stand with both feet firmly in this world, sharing the gifts from the next one. But I can walk in these borderlands, these tidal zones, all I want to. I can ask for welcome in homeless camps any time I like. Because I know that there is no true danger. Because this is where God has put me. Through gifts in the illness, by nature, or both, this is my home.
I walked back to the car, warmed up, ate the rest of my lunch, and went back out and played for an hour or two. I’d found what I was looking for. I was rejoicing.
2. Even this is gift
I spent several days last week on my geographic holy ground, the Bishop’s Ranch. I go there before every chemo cycle, to walk and write and be. I got to celebrate my birthday there. This happened the day before.
I ran into a friend at the Ranch, Wednesday morning. He’s a light for me, and a rare treat. I never know when I’m going to see him, and it isn’t more than once a year. He was in line for breakfast. I said to him, “The beast is back; pray for me.” And I told him that I really wanted to catch up with him.
He mingled with his own group, and then came and sat at the staff table with me. I told him all about my summer. The beach that weekend, the life-giving meaning in the owl (what if it’s not about death, but formation?), learning to dance on edges. How I had been so scared, and was now coming to peace. How I want to plant my feet in this world, with the gifts from the next one. How ridiculously alive I feel, and what I want to do with it.
He listened, completely with me. And he said, “I’m leading a retreat for Seniors of Grace (Cathedral). Now I know why we forgot the program this afternoon. Will you come and talk to them?”
I got shivers. And I said yes. He told me the outline of their retreat, and that I only needed to tell them what I had told him.
I went out hiking, and thought through it all again. I knew I didn’t need to be nervous. I had never done this publicly, but it totally felt right. I knew I could speak to them—but could I really take everything I’d been through, the spiritual wonderment and the physical and emotional crap that was the occasion for it, and use it all as gift? Could I minister to them, just by being me?
That’s what my friend had invited me to do. And that was amazing. That was gift to me.
We went over it again at lunch. The group’s focus was how they wanted to live, with finite time. Yes, I do think I know something about that. And I only need to tell my story. Okay. So I went back to my room, took fifteen minutes and a deep breath, and outlined things I wanted to remember to share.
I took my place in the circle in the Ranch House living room. He introduced me. I began by explaining my relationship to the Ranch (sort of adjunct staff), how I’d gotten to know my friend, and how we’d gotten talking that morning.
I said to them, “I’m a lot younger than everybody here. I’m turning 40 tomorrow. And, I’m fighting cancer for the second time.”
I told them stories: who I’d been before diagnosis, how it had changed me. Walking through the Cal campus, being told by a voice beyond my own that if I was open to this, I could learn from it. How my community responded in love to me, and how I learned to be open to that love. What it was like to make myself sick for a year. The experiences of this past summer.
He’d given me half an hour to speak. I didn’t think I’d ever fill it. But when I looked at my watch I had done so, perfectly. He directed them to go off on their own for half an hour to write, draw, be with themselves and the things I had just said. I thanked them for the gift they had given me. Some of them gave me hugs, just because they wanted to. Some stayed to talk. One asked me, “What do you think of the afterlife?”
I thought, “You’re asking me like I have any authority at all. Hmm. That’s a new experience. And I had no idea we were going there... but okay.” I told her, “I don’t think about it all that much. I know that God is love.”
Bumper sticker, yes, but true. And I’m not afraid of dying. I know that we will all be loved, then, like we are now—the difference may be that we’ll know it (if we didn’t). The experience of being asked that question will stay with me.
My friend and I went outside, and told more stories to each other about meeting Jesus in strange places (like the BART train). He went back in to lead the next phase of the retreat. I followed him to pick up my notebook and sandals. I went on with my day, being amazed at the gift I had been given.
I got to take everything I’d been through, and use it as gift to minister to others. I’m still almost speechless at the privilege. And I know it will happen more.
When I did my field ed at the Night Ministry, we had Eucharist outside in the Tenderloin on Sunday afternoons. (They still do; at McAllister and Leavenworth at 2, and in the Castro in front of the library at 5.) It was my first experience with street church. One day, I was around the perimeter of the circle gathered around the altar. I was trying to look welcoming: “Yes I know we’re having church in the middle of the street, but it really isn’t that weird.” A man came toward us. I’m guessing he was about 50, because he looked considerably older. He wore rumpled clothes, and dragged a suitcase. He wore a hospital bracelet, which for obvious reasons I zoomed in on.
He never spoke above a whisper. He seemed cautious and shy. I whispered to him what we were doing, and that he was welcome. Then—I don’t know how I missed what he was holding in his hand—he took a little green mesh basket of grapes, and offered it to me. Silently.
I took one. That was Eucharist.
I had completely forgotten that I told the group from Grace that story. I’m not even sure why I told them. The next morning, I went out for my usual after-breakfast hike. I stopped at the grape arbor for a snack (see where this is going?). I ran into my friend again, and I asked if he wanted some. I didn’t even think about it.
He took a grape. I went on my way.
He told me at lunch, he didn’t eat the grape right away. He looked at it, and thought about how I’d given it to him without thinking. In his own mind, he went to a place of spontaneity and radical openness. Hmm, his friend just gave him food. He told the group, when he got back together with them. (He’s the kind of person who’d be open to taking thoughtless encounters to spiritual conclusions. I’d have given him a tangerine, if I’d had one.)
The same person who asked me about the afterlife, remembered the story about the man with the basket of grapes. They used it, in their closing Eucharist. My friend ate the grape, for everyone.
When I think about it, I’m in awe again.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Again, this is for people who are not on my e-list. Love to all.
Today is my birthday, and it's been wonderful. Thank you to everyone who's celebrated with me via Facebook, phone, e-cards, and birthday cake. (Ranch staff, I love you.) I've had an incredible week, actually, and I'm feeling ridiculously alive. I'm also three months into a diagnosis that gives me six, and I feel no worse. My thinking is shifting from, "I could die," to, "I could live. So how do I want to?"
I don't know what the results of my PET scan are. I'm not waiting for that before I send this out, because that's not what it's about. I went looking in my blog from fall '08 to see if I'd told a particular story. I hadn't. (If you know it, I was looking for a reference to when the homeless man gave me communion.) But for those whom I've met more recently, my first round of cancer treatment involved self-injections of interferon three times a week, between July '08 and June '09. (These followed a month of IV infusions.) It made me achy and fatigued and cranky all the time. I found a mention of wanting to focus more energy on praying over the shots when I gave them to myself. It hit me like a kick in the chest--not in a violent way, but, "Ohhh.... I haven't been doing that."
I haven't been praying over these chemo rounds, because I've been too freaked out by them. It's terrifying to know you're going to lose all control of your body. (Throwing up is just a metaphor for everything else that happens.) I hate everything about this. But I'm over the trauma now. I know what's going to happen to me, and I know what isn't. I don't like it, but I know I can tolerate it.
I'm going back to Riverside next Tuesday, 9/21. I'll be admitted from the 22nd to 27th, and fly home on the 28th. Andee's coming with me. She is friend, housemate, and chief caregiver. She also hasn't witnessed this since the first, most hideous, cycle. I know it isn't going to be that traumatic anymore.
Pray for me, like you always do. But also pray with us, because now I can join you. Hold us both, my medical team, and this community that all of you are, in sacred time.
Monday, September 13, 2010
I’m posting this from church, where I’m sleeping in the alcove for the first time since the night in May that I found the tumor. Safe Ground is in the Great Hall and outside in the courtyard. The other host is outside with them; it's a calm, warm night.
It's like slipping your skin back on, and you're you and you're real and you're home and you love it.
We've hosted them twice a month all summer, and about twice in total I wasn't in Riverside or recovering. I'd stop by for an hour, and need to leave. I couldn't deal with other people's needs. I'd be annoyed at someone who came to me with their headache. Or want to engage, but I just couldn't get outside of myself and be present to that many people.
I came up here tonight because I thought I was ready. I was right. They're mine and I'm theirs and we've missed each other so much. It is so good to be home. I let people minister to me, and it felt right. And I told someone who needs to see a doctor badly (and knows it) that if she made an appointment and I could go with her, I would. She knows how to find me on Facebook. And it felt right to give her that, too.
I’m having breakfast tomorrow with two organizer friends, and then driving to the Ranch until probably Friday. I'll get to have my birthday up there. (A and I already celebrated it, and will some more when I get back.) I had my PET scan yesterday, and if the Sunday-Thursday turnaround time holds true, I'll find out the results that day too. I’m honestly not stressed about it, one way or the other.
That, too, is gift and grace.
Friday, September 10, 2010
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?
Monday, September 06, 2010
I had a really good cry this morning, that I’d been needing for awhile without realizing it. A friend had touched a nerve, and I was really hurt by something that I knew was unthinking and unintentional. A helped me talk through it, and other things came slithering out underneath. We talked about how stressed we both have been by all of this. She said she knew something was brewing, because I haven’t been as available to her. I hadn’t been aware. It was good for us both to get everything out. “This isn’t about you, but AAAARGH!” “I know! I hate that too.”
(The friend in question understood, when I told her exactly what had hurt me.)
Cancer is really fucking hard. It’s hard on the person who has it, obviously. It’s hard on the closest people to them. It stresses all their relationships.
I have a body that feels well about 60% of the time. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Right now, you’d never guess that anything was wrong. People know the word “cancer,” and they see me when I’m well enough to be seen. It comes out of everybody’s mouth: “You look wonderful!” I know, and right then I actually am. I’m thinner but not frighteningly skinny, and I still have my hair. I haven’t seen you in weeks, and I’m glowing. Love will do that.
The problem is I can’t ever plan for anything. I find out at the end of each chemotherapy session, what the dates of the next cycle will be. I asked for my birthday off, and got lectured about it—then they gave it to me anyway. So I have a longer break in September. I can find out when I’m down there that my own calculations will be wrong, because I need an extra PET scan. I bounced back more quickly this time, which is good, but it makes it harder in a sense as well. “I’ll be back... here. So can I do X four days later? Want to, want to, want to....” and I’ll wake up that morning knowing whether I can.
I thought I could find a rhythm within this, space to actually live my life. I haven’t. The things I was involved in before, that I really want to pick up again, I know I would be welcomed and embraced back into. But there’s no way to put dates on a calendar. I have an uncommonly long recovery time this cycle, and my body has apparently adjusted well. So by now I tire easily, but feel just fine. I go back in two weeks. The next cycle, I think I’ll have two weeks off. And I can’t tell you right now, exactly which weeks those will be. I can guess, but if I’m wrong I’ll have to change whatever plans I make. So I live my life in impulsive moments, not with any consistency. I’m coming up on four cycles. Most people have about six. The most they’ve ever done is ten.
That’s the easy part, though. I’ve been through cancer treatment before. I’ve gotten used to a body with capricious limitations. What’s hard is being so dependent on people. Cancer, ironically, put me through the fire that taught me not to be emotionally dependent and afraid. Now, though I feel well in the moment, I can’t do anything to economically support myself. (I’m going on disability in December, after the required six months have kicked in.) And I have an incredibly loving, present community that stretches far beyond my currently local life. But I have to trust that there will be people in my support system who not only love me enough to interrupt their own lives, but who are able to go south with me for a week, to be there for me emotionally while my body’s being put through the wringer, on two or three weeks’ notice. (I’m not allowed to go alone, even if I felt capable of it.) I don’t do the asking; A does, because I hate putting that kind of emotional urgency on my relationships. I get to a really toxic place of testing my friends’ love. I’ve never acted on it. I recognize it and shut it down. But I hate even having that occur to me.
A makes the trips with me, when she can. She’s coming next time. She uses her vacation time to go with me. She could negotiate for unpaid time—but not only would that stress her coworkers, but she wouldn’t be as able to support a friend who can’t support herself. It’s hard for both of us, when that comes up in conversation. I truly understand why she can’t go all the time. And she’d rather be with me, than send someone else. But this is the way it needs to be.
That all came out this morning. Something else has surfaced, as the day has gone on. I have a PET scan next Sunday afternoon. This will tell us whether my body is responding to chemotherapy. Has the tumor growth slowed, or stopped? Are there measurable changes?
I’ll have the irony of being blessed at church for my upcoming birthday (yes, this year I get blessed twice) on the same day I have a scan to see whether the current treatment helps the likelihood that I’ll live. I hold death in one hand and life in the other. I dance between them.
I’ve lived in this mystery since June. It doesn’t get easier. I want to live. I want the treatments to work. I want them to stop. I want to be in a trial at UCD or somewhere that my friends can actually visit me, can hold my hands and pray with me, love me and then go home. I want my life back. I can’t even imagine life after cancer.
I would rather hear my doctor in Riverside say, “It’s working,” than, “It isn’t.” But it gets so emotionally complicated. And I know that my will does not control my body’s response.
A friend wrote me a really wonderful e-mail while I was in the hospital last time. She wrote that she sees me resurrected, and she told me what that means. It was full of strong, powerful images. I got it and I loved it and I want that to be. I know it’s in the mix of her prayers for me—and I know she was responding to things she already sees. Inside myself, I see them too.
There are two ways to see myself: resurrected, and not here anymore. These are the only options. If I live, this is who I will be. This is how I’ve used this disease. This is the grace of God in the illness; this is who the fire has made me. This is the holy ground I stand on. (You stand here too; you just may not know it yet.) But can I live confidently in that strength? Will I trust my safety, even in the deepest unknowing?
If I am to plant my feet here, and to bring the exiles I love into the circle of the truest love there is, those answers are yes.
If the treatment works, it will most likely arrest the tumors where they are. I will always feel this pressure in my chest. I will touch the tumors on my rib and hip, feel them and wonder if they’re growing. Remission doesn’t come with a clock. It could be months, or decades. There’s no way of predicting. I could never have trouble again. I could reach to scratch an itch, feel a bump, and know.
How do you live with a time bomb in your body? That’s the wrong question. How could I ever truly live, if I were allowed to forget that I could die?
I know that the only true safety is when there’s nothing between me and the God who loves and liberates all of us. That is true exactly now. I say I’ll never know I’m clean again. That used to scare hell out of me. In the next breath I now say, thank God. I don’t want to go back to sleep.
I don’t want to die of this. I want to live well with it. The threat will fade, or it will kill me. It won’t go completely away. I won’t have the luxury of “after.”
Saturday, September 04, 2010
I was Googling on Wednesday for a tune that was stuck in my head, and in my wanderings I found a Dances of Universal Peace circle in Sacramento that met Friday night. I used to do them back in Olympia, before I moved south for seminary. They were an important expression when I was searching, knew I didn't want to deal with the church and the patriarchy, but needed to be connected with God. I was involved with an interfaith circle up there for eleven years. My minister was really into them. She’s become a dance leader since.
I thought, you know I miss these. The cancer-body-dance connection (duh) didn't even occur to me. And I walked into the Quaker meeting house on 57th and H last night to check them out. The first thing we did was something in Arabic that meant, "taking refuge in God." I got that. And I was twirling around with people I’d never met, doing movements that are not at all part of the tradition I’m primarily committed to—and body and spirit found each other again. They just clicked back together, like they didn’t know why they’d been apart. It felt like coming home to a house I used to live in, and finding my clothes still in the closet.
I'm just not going to do Tai Chi. I don't have the discipline to seek that out and learn it. But I can do this. It's mostly Sufi and totally hippie—and it works for me. It's redemptive for my body, that's been assaulted so much and is under siege right now, and that needs a space to pray in. Standing/sitting/kneeling just never will get me there.
I’m not athletic. At rare points in my life, I’ve focused somewhat on care of my body: swimming in college because using the rec center was free, yoga when too many of my friends sang its praises, riding my bike because I have one and oh look, it’s Lent and I need a practice. But honestly, I’ve largely neglected my body. There’s no malice in that; it’s just happened because my interests were elsewhere. And now my body is being invaded by cancer cells, and again by chemotherapy which I’m cooperating in. I could almost hear it say, “Thank you; you remembered me!”
They did a dance for Quan Yin, who is something like a Buddhist Mother Mary. We were supposed to hold prayer in our hearts for whomever needed compassion. I was exhausted, so I sat on the floor in the center of the circle, almost underneath the dancers’ feet. I felt everything, and I held people I love who are in hugely difficult and emotional transitions. It was right.
When the owl flew across my path a year ago, one of the things that scared me was that I knew nothing of the Red Road. But I knew where that owl came from, and on a level beneath words I understood it. Was I being called away from everything I was committed to? No, I wasn’t then and I’m not now. These are not distractions. The Great Being That Matters gets the point. If God speaks to me in an owl that gives me shivers, or in the confluence of chant and movement, there we are. Jesus is always Jesus. I cling to the Resurrection like I always have. This all flows from the same Love. Forgotten parts of me are remembered, and they pray too. There are many ways of weeping and rejoicing.