4 years, 25 days ago

20150408_073319 (2)April 2, 2015

Surgery today. Awake early and off and on through the night. city noises. Ivan and his lover directly above us having boisterous sex on a squeaky bed, sometime around 4 AM. I think Ivan may weigh a lot. Or maybe his lover. Or both. They walked around.

The garbage trucks and alley noises were random and abrupt. I felt irritated but in a slow-motion, sad kind of way. Like I felt irritated at the rules about not eating and drinking before surgery. Mindless broad application of rules that violate the body’s needs but protect in certain cases for certain reasons. I react irrationally to these things and insist I will eat right up to the last minute, and drink, and use the less invasive enema options. My family rolls their eyes, argues, but they back off and let me meander in my eccentric expressions of rebellion and self-determination.

While John slept, after my foray into food, the first Hibicleanse shower, the first enema, and the last coffee, I laid as still as I could, listening to his various breathing patterns, wondering about the dreams and workings of his mind and body as he comes along on this journey.

I feel a longing to get up and write. This would wake John up. I tell myself the weight of my words or ideas do not stack up against my love for John or my wish for him to grab some kind of rest out of this hostile environment. I watch the light arrive through the cracks in the vertical blinds. I send a loud shout of welcome to the day. Then it occurs to me that I will be losing a part of myself this afternoon. I begin the work of saying good-bye to my uterus and the companion body parts that will soon be disconnected and pushed out of me.

I thank that collection of cells I’ve called “Uterus” all these years. It was the nest from which my daughters flew. It did glorious work. I assure it that it will be joining the larger collection of cells. I tell it that we are all star dust. We are all just momentary compilations of DNA and it is our destiny to rejoin the Creator. I ask it/them to greet my father, and tell him about the children and the grandchildren that have sprung from his seed and the uterus of my mother. I am sad. I tell them not to be afraid.

I talk to the cancer cells. I scold them, but only in an understanding way. They are errant. They need a fresh start. It doesn’t work to be selfish and take things that are not yours. It doesn’t work to replicate oneself over and over again. I speak with them about their fears of diversity. Their arrogance and false assumption of immortality. Their lack of awareness of the greater world and the intricacies of individuality. I listen to John’s breath change. His gentle snoring. The occasional twitch or jerk of his warm body.

He drifts awake, dazed. I leap up to pee, come back to grab my computer and tell him I need to write, not talk. Then I break the rules and read him a loving text from someone. He reads me one that came on his phone and I snap “no talking.” Clearly a double-standard. But I get some latitude today—I’m going in to have some parts of my body removed, and hear how much of it has been tainted by these wrong-headed cancer cells. How many have snuck out and begun to corrupt other parts of me?

Soon, my daughters will arrive and the clamor of family love will overtake my consciousness and I will begin the push-pull, the dance….I will find my way through how much of my own need versus how much of their needs should shape the day, the conversation, the future… The younger daughter is obliviously cheerful; the elder, able and willing to talk about mortality in the tiniest doses. I’m grateful, but I am weary of trying to sort all this out. Oddly, I’m still willing to try. I feel magnanimous. Larger than myself. This brush with reality has broken me open, some of my self-centered, self-defining aspects have at least temporarily disintegrated. Their fleeting integration has given way to a fluid definition. A more universal identity, shared by all the fragments that make up what we think of as the Universe.

I am afraid to stop writing. I’ve lifted my fingers a couple of times—gone back and edited some. I’ve crawled into the words—they are a soft, warm shelter from the harsh hours ahead. Except for the work I have yet to do, and the pain my demise will cause, I wish I were already dead. Dead is the easy part. Living in this unknowing place, aware of the time-limits, wondering when the buzzer will sound, the referee will blow the whistle, the lights will go out—this is hard. Wondering what matters. If I have months or years left, what will they be like? What should I do with them?

I continue to feel humiliated about having cancer. I guess I thought I was unreachable by cancer—I thought our heart problems would get me. I’ve probably held unconscious beliefs that people who get cancer deserve it. Now that’s ugly to admit, but I suspect it’s true. Like all the other awful “isms” we find in ourselves. Hard to admit. Even harder to eradicate.

The other two dominant struggles/reactions are

1) I haven’t lived a good enough life—I’ve squandered what I was given, I haven’t done enough, I was undisciplined and lazy… and

2) I need to protect my loved ones from the pain of my illness, suffering, and death.

Knowing that my pain exacerbates theirs is like being trapped in an impossible and evil echo-chamber. A sadistic twist thrown into the perfectness of love. I’ve known that the Creator lives in this same place. Pain echoes pain. We carry it. It bounces back and forth. It rips things open. It strips away the extraneous. Like many of God’s ways, it seems like a bad design flaw. If I were the Creator, I’m pretty sure I would do away with many of the “ways of nature” and we’d all live on the shores of Hawaii forever. Well, not really that last part, but geez. It seems like She/He could have thought up something less painful and daunting than mortality, starvation, trauma, cruelty, abuse, loneliness, pollution, cancer, car wrecks, and knapweed.

Okay, I’m lifting out now. I can see the flippant side of me returning. I can stop writing now. Thanks, words. Thanks, God. Thanks, loved ones. Thanks, email, cell phones, air planes, sons-in-laws, and other generally blessed parts of my transitory life…I’ll stop now. I’ll be okay.

 

Sad

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This morning, long before daylight, I woke to the sound of someone crying. It was God. She’d been crying quietly all night, but as the wee hours waned, her sobs grew louder. The darkness just before dawn is a tough time for a lot of us. Years ago, when I first heard God crying, I was shocked. If anyone should be able to cheer themselves up, wouldn’t it be God? Just go make another planet or something, I’d thought, wanting to get away from that oceanic, gripping sorrow.

But if you’ve ever loved anyone or anything at any time, you know that backing away from the sadness only twists and distorts—it doesn’t make it go away. So after I realized I wasn’t going to abandon God or hide from the grief, we made a little deal. God doesn’t back away when I’m sad, and I try my best to stay present when God’s heart is breaking. The roughest times are when she considers how much hatred is leveled in her name, how much suffering we inflict on each other, or how trashed this stunning little planet has become. These things catch up with her sometimes.

I often find comfort in the lap of God. It’s far more awkward when God tries to fit on mine, but that’s what needed to happen. My lap expanded to the size of a mountain range, my arms grew a million miles long, and I wrapped them around her, nice and snug. Then I swayed to the subterranean beat of the cosmos, murmuring the bits of hope I could muster, singing fragments of lullabies that came to mind.

“Sweet Lord,” I whispered. “You try so hard. You love so deeply. You’re a worthy, excellent God.”

Her head was tucked, body curled. Her vibrations were pulling me to pieces. She was in real pain.

“Gentle God,” I said. “Remember the good old days? When you were having so much fun, setting earth in motion, and sprinkling stars everywhere. Remember that? It must have been awesome.”

“Yes,” she said, her voice murky with grief. “So much I remember. So much I hoped.”

“And you can still hope, right? I mean, it isn’t over yet, is it?”

“I don’t know, my friend,” she said, with a deep, unsteady breath. “I honestly don’t know. You tell me.”

Dawn arrived. God wrapped herself in light, splashed her face in the falling snow, and thanked me as she became the song of the great horned owl, calling it a night. Heading for bed. This was good. We both desperately needed some rest. And then, it’s clear, I have work to do. We all have work to do.

God and I win Big…

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Or should I say biggly? No. Not biggly, right God? We should not sink to that level of mockery…

We shouldn’t even brag, but it is sort of Mitch’s fault (https://mitchteemley.com/2017/02/09/my-blogger-recognition-award/) because Mitch, someone I’ve never met except in the form of shared words, nominated me and God for a BLOGGER RECOGNITION AWARD. And unless he made this whole thing up (which Mitch is entirely capable of doing), I need to reciprocate. Of course, I would nominate Mitch, but he already got nominated, so I will play by the following rules:

Blogger Recognition Award Rules

  • Thank the blogger/s who nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  • Write a post about it the Blogger Recognition Award
  • Briefly tell how your blog started
  • Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers
  • Select 15 bloggers to give this award to

How I started

It seemed like the thing to do. I’ve been interacting with creation and the creator for a long, long time, and the urge to capture some of that in words and then find a way to share it overcame my natural reticence and skepticism.

Two Sagely Pieces of Advice

  1. Open up space in your soul whatever ways you can to grow and become a wiser, kinder human being. That might result in better writing, but if will for sure make the world a better place.
  2. Remind yourself how very, very short our lives are–and if you are inclined to write, get with it.

And now, my nominees and a confession. I’ve not been blogging long, so I only have a few followers and only follow a few blogs. I can’t nominate that many…

I get a kick out of Belfastfoodman because of the places his foodie posts take me in  my mind. He also appears to be able to step out of his usual mode and express real human concerns. https://belfastfoodman.com/2017/02/01/fair-weather-so-called-friends/

My buddy who bravely began blogging before I did has this blog:

https://yakkityyakblog.wordpress.com/    and it is a funny, insightful, carefully crafted piece of writing every time she posts.

Ok. That’s it, but I have a worried feeling that the links I’ve pasted in aren’t going to work. That’s how techie I am…and let me assure you, God is even worse.

Peace. And thanks again Mitch.

 

Groin

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It was early morning, at my daughter’s apartment in the city. I hadn’t slept well thanks to the noises from below. “God,” I said, yawning. “Could you heal this damn groin stretch?” I put my hand there in case God wasn’t sure what I meant. No answer. No relief. No surge of warmth. No nothing. I gave up after a few supplications and clumsily rolled to my feet.

My back hurts and my groin is probably throwing my whole spine into disarray. I have a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, and an attitude.

“God,” I said, as I sipped my coffee. But what’s there to say? I’d hardly had any rest, and there’s a chance God’s a bit tired of my whining.

The guy in the apartment below vomited through the wee hours, heaving and swearing, heaving and swearing. Even now, I can hear him moaning and complaining. It might be the flu, but I think more likely, he drank too much.

How’s that for compassion?

A whole family lives down there, below grade, incessantly shouting and screaming at each other. Their babies whimper up through the floor boards. Hours before the vomiting began, I heard the dad reading “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” to the toddler. It was a creepy, manic rendition, punctuated by what sounded like the dad destroying the place by leaping illustratively on the furniture. The child’s laughter was forced, tentative, unsure. Was Daddy funny? By God, he better be.

Where are the missionaries when you need them? Or the cops? Within three blocks, there are at least five churches. Some majestic, others store-front humble, some declaring the Holy Spirit lives within the walls. Indeed. And the sirens sound all night. It’s that part of town. But down below, people have reproduced in selfish misery, sanctioned by the same biological urges that lead me to lift things I shouldn’t anymore. It is the same force that allows a seed to sprout through a crack in the pavement.

I’m not going down there. I’m not saying anything. Except, well, yes, I’ll mention them to the Universe, but only in passing. My more fervent prayer is that I not be reincarnated as one of those children. I doubt any of us actually hopes for cosmic justice.

Amidst my shameful mutterings, God slips in and hands me a Charades card. I turn it over; all it says is “Grace.” Grace. Ah ha! A motion-detector goes off in the dark thrashings of my soul, and I see clearly–just like the song says. It is, in fact, grace that brought me safe thus far. Me and my groin, my longings, my failings, fears, diseases, aversions, and befuddlements. And it’s grace that will lead me home. Eventually. Home.

But God is laughing in the corner. This startles me. I turn so we’re face to face. “You’re already home, darling,” God says, slapping a fat thigh, winking. “You’re already home.”

“No,” I say gently back to God. “No, I’m not.”

Magpie at Dawn

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As I raised the north-facing shades this morning, God streaked through the dawn sky on the wings of a magpie. A straight, direct flight going I know not where. Her feathers glowed holy black in the tender light shimmering over the icy river, which was sliding along under the orange willows.

Even in this profound silence, you can hear God in the pulse of things. But you don’t have to. Nothing is required. Even gratitude is optional. Joy is optional–painfully optional.

On a different day, God explained this to me. I didn’t like it then, and I still don’t. God thrives on options and told me there’s an entire cheering section set aside in heaven for each time some fool among us makes a good choice.

“We are all bumbling idiots,” I explained to God. “Can’t you provide a stronger framework? A lot of us are stuck in blind alleys, making repeated bad choices.”

“Don’t I know it,” God said, wryly. “But I’ve got time on my hands, and if I do say so myself, I’m a pretty patient God, as gods go. Come to think of it, I’m the God with a capital G, the beginning and the end, the one and only. I can wait.”

“Oh, sure,” I argued. “You can wait. You’re God. But what about us?”

“Yeah,” God answered, slowly, with real compassion. “What about you?”

Fire

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Before the snow came, I burned rotten, misshapen wood. Dirty wood, not even worth cutting up for the woodstove. Wood filled with unremovable, wayward screws. Such fires are my last resort.

Enduring the scorn of my carpenters, I save every scrap of wood—wood that was once a seed that grew into a tree that was felled, milled, planed, dried, sawn, hammered, and then, in this case, tossed aside as remnant. I am a gatherer of remnants. I restore things. But there’s a limit, and sometimes, fire is the answer. It burned ferocious and unfettered.

Evening came, the fire died down. I went in to watch gratuitous violence on TV and eat fish wrapped in freezer-burned tortillas. Long after dark, I looked out the upstairs window. Of course, the flames were gone, but to my consternation, the embers were visible. The air was still, but I know well the nature of wind—it can blow up sudden and savage. Not long ago, our neighbor’s smoldering garbage nearly burned our house down. My fire wasn’t dead enough.

Boots, flashlight, rake, shovel, I trudged across the uneven ground to assess the cinders. Things were hotter than I’d thought they’d be. I found a long hose and hooked it up to the hydrant. Water hit and hissed. I put the hose down and stirred the steaming mound. Embers, given a last gasp of air, burst into flame. I let them burn themselves down, down, down, littering the night with airborne sparks. Hose at hand, I admired the blaze for a while. Then I broke the fire apart. Flame fell back to glowing embers. I raked a perfect circle of pulsating orange heat and stared into the hypnotic beauty.

The circle glowed vibrant and seductive. I imagined screams of agony, should I walk across these coals, or sink down through the intense heat to the inverse world below. The vision was potent enough that I turned the hose on full force. Fire, water, earth, and air. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It took a while, but finally, I could put my hands anywhere in the gray soup. It was over.

I walked slowly back to the house, a somber carbon-based lifeform, caught in the trappings of a long-dead Deity. I glanced up. Dark sky came to life. My eyes adjusted to billions of stars, mirroring my true, living image back to me. Minuscule. Vulnerable and magnificent. Stardust, spit, and ash. Ragged, weary, incomplete.

I knew I would be what was left after the fire. And I wasn’t afraid. I tucked myself into the womb of the ever-birthing, ever-blazing God.

Rhubarb

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I was in the garden on the third day, fighting weeds and despair. A couple sauntered up, arms around each other’s waists. They looked familiar, but I couldn’t place them until they let themselves in the gate and got within a few feet of where I was kneeling. I shaded my eyes and stood with some difficulty. My knees aren’t the best.

“God?” I said, astonished. “Yes,” they said, smiling. They were married, of course. Would God choose to live together without the benefits of matrimony? That’s a question for the theologians. These two were absolutely married, beyond any shadow of a doubt. Beyond marriage, beyond romance. They were joined, as one.

The woman said to me, “Don’t garden in your church clothes, silly.”

He nodded in agreement and pulled her close for a little kiss. “Isn’t she the best?” he said. Then he took a bright yellow bandana out of his pocket and blew his nose.  “I’ll leave you gals to visit.” He squeezed her shoulder, walked to a large stone, and sat with his back to the sun.

She stayed beside me, her shadow rippling over the deep green zucchini leaves. She fingered a strand of wooden beads around her neck. I had more questions than she had beads. They lined up in my head, but I didn’t speak them out loud.

Who are you? What do you want from me? Why am I here? Why do I even exist? When will I no longer exist? Isn’t it a waste of good consciousness, to just let it flicker and go out, like an unfed fire? Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? How would I know?

I could taste the remnants of coffee in the back of my throat, and knew myself to be alive. I smelled like the dirt under my fingernails. Thick clay soil, rich with worms. Clinging. Tight. In need of sand from the river, old stones ground down. In need of humus. Organic matter, ready to give itself to the cause of robust growth, to begin again.

She was watching, silent and calm, her face open, filled with approval. The late morning sun was hot. Dazzling. Dangerous. There I was, no hat. No sunglasses. Skin exposed. Soul exposed.

Suddenly, I remembered the wilting rhubarb I’d picked an hour ago, but hadn’t taken to the house. It wasn’t too late, but I had to excuse myself and dash away. The harvest was scant this year. I didn’t want my rhubarb to go to waste. I felt guilty. It would have been more polite to stay in the garden and visit—offer lemonade. I put the rhubarb in icy water and watched God stroll arm-in-arm upward into cloud and sky, a flimsy apparition of perfection. I wanted to drop everything and join them. But I stood firm, the rhubarb in my hands, tart and iridescent red.