My days this summer have been filled with travel and outdoor adventure. Good books have been more tempting than computer keyboards — so forgive me for abandoning you all! I will write more as we start our 5-week journey in France this week. But here’s a quick photo update of my summer.
When a former student grabs my hands in the Bellevue College Writing Lab and begs me to come to church with her because she is CERTAIN that this will cure my cancer, I am touched. I hold her hands tightly, look into her face and thank her for her care and her concern – her distress, her need to help me, to do something, echos deeply in her eyes.
When people came to me in tears, anxious and upset about the news of my diagnosis, I felt honored, cared for. And I didn’t feel responsible for their feelings or burdened by them.
But this is now. Before my first cancer diagnosis, I was always quick to offer unsolicited advice, solve problems that were not mine to solve. I didn’t see myself and others as being on different journeys. I saw us all on the same path…with myself in a slightly better position on that path, so therefore something to offer everyone else. My insight. My path.
But it’s not my experience with cancer that helped me cure this. It was my journey exploring my own Whiteness. Learning about how my attitudes and behaviors linked back to my cultural privilege allowed me to learn to see people and be more present with myself. Learning that my place on the pathway has much more to do with the systems and networks that allow me to move to good places than any kind of personal achievement, insight or behaviorhelped me stop preaching and learn to listen. And now I am a better teacher.
When a peer parent gives me a book about her Christian God or another talks about her famous healer friend or a colleague tells me about mushrooms that can offer a miracle cure, I used to be annoyed. Maybe it’s because that concern and distress wasn’t so deeply apparent in their eyes. They looked confident and assured. Annoyingly knowing about something they know nothing about – MY journey.
So I’m still working on this privilege thing and my ease with self-centeredness.
It took me awhile to teach myself to think of all of the things people share as being artifacts of their own journey with mortality and loss. And that changed everything. The book of inspiring Psalms becomes documentation of a friend’s chosen path for her journey and learning. The healer is a door into a peer parent’s deepest struggles with life and meaning. The mushrooms, evidence of a colleague’s need to control her mortality through a food path to pure living.
Looking back on my blogs over the last year, I realized even the rants about pet peeves over irritating behavior are really deeply about me. These are things I do and have done. These are aspects of my culture and my identity that pop out at me now and irritate me. Things I need to work on.
I am the culturally Christian woman who feels chosen and somehow uniquely blessed. I am the evangelist who chose food as a means to cure my parents lifestyle addictions after their first heart attacks 25 years ago, to inspire my daughter with a sometimes unhealthy attention to food and exercise, and to control my own mortality.
I remember when my mother planted an herb garden for me in my backyard. She cleaned out a wooden planter, grey with weather and age, on the edge of my cracked and mossy patio. Her herbs grew big and bold, overwhelming the entire box of plants and melting into the “natural” landscape of our yard, overgrown bushes, big old trees and a patch of brown crewcut lawn that has been more weeds than grass for years. For over ten years now this little garden has supplied the fresh flavor I love so much in my meals and it seems to survive all abuse I can throw at it. I’ve always hated gardening. The yard was always too big, too out of control, too much work to even think about. I would never be able to make it the manicured, mindfully constructed, neighbor impressing yard I thought I needed. I love this overgrown herb garden in my messy yard. It was the first time that I realized that gardening is not about controlling life, but nurturing it.
I am seeing a therapeutic masseuse to help deal with a strangely swelling right buttocks. My masseuse and I share a lot in these sessions. There is something about laying naked with another person’s healing hands on you that creates an immediate intimacy, a comfort in vulnerability. For each thing I share, she shares back something equally vulnerable and personal. She creates a story of her own journey next to mine. It creates a space for two full people.
She is currently working with three stage IV cancer patients. She talked about how vibrant and special each of these patients is, how connected and caring, –and how unfair it seems.
Death isn’t unfair. And having cancer can be a great way to go, considering other options. Many of us get to experience health and some amazingly intimate, happy time with our loved ones.
As humans, our risk of mortality is 100%, she agreed. But with all of the work she has done with health, connecting the body, the mind, the heart – and growth. She felt it so unfair that people who had attained such an inspiring place of growth and connection would have to leave us when they still had so much more to share.
Individually, I don’t make a big difference in the world. I have my shining moments and some brilliance to aspects of my identity, but overall, I’m pretty averagely flawed at most of what I do. My only impact is in how I connect with others and how they go on and connect.
Maybe the purpose of all of that health, that internal growth and connective mind/body/soul work isn’t about controlling mortality. Maybe health about something else than avoiding death.
P.S. A mere hour after writing this post on an airplane headed for a long vacation in France I received news that my tumor markers have gone down yet again! Way to blow a moment. LOL.
Living with health AND your mortality pushed back a wee bit is pretty nice.
In addition to glamping on Orcas Island, rafting the Rogue River, eating and watching plays in Ashland, and cheering on the women’s team for the World Cup, the boys and I have spent five or six days playing at Beaver Lake and are off to Wild Waves today.
We’ve not done a tumor marker test, but I feel great. I did have to skip one week because of low white blood cell counts and there was that whole issue around breaking a tooth and needing to remove it. I’ll blog about that later. I’m getting a “big” chemo, a dose for three weeks, on Wednesday and then taking off to France for five weeks. I’ll look at tumor markers and such when I get back. For now, I’m focused on living these planned experiences.