“So, how are you, three years after your diagnosis?”
Well . . . I had this idea I’d be “fine” at some point. The trouble is, I don’t know what “fine” means. These days my body is a carefully monitored engine: the slight pain, the digestive upset, the excessive fatigue, noted with silent blank awareness. Not a story about it, but a noting. A tick on a mental chart. Not at all a constant worry, not that. Just an awareness.
I haven’t been able to get past the fatigue. Like an old cellphone, my body doesn’t hold its charge very long. By early afternoon, I’m wiped out. I take a nap, usually about 45 minutes. I sleep soundly, usually with Wally’s 15-pounds on my stomach. [Looks like this photo, only imagine my stomach]. I adjust him so that the weight is distributed, his large hairy legs draped over my sides. Sometimes when I get up, I’m sluggish the rest of the day. Some days I’m sluggish all day. Some days I’m pretty good all day! I ride my bike, I hike, I swim at the Y. “Look,” I say to myself. “You’re normal.”
The last few days have been great. I rode ten miles on my bike on Saturday! A few days earlier I was tired all day. By what standards? Before the cancer, was I the always energetic person I remember, or was that a fantasy of what I wanted to be? Didn’t I sometimes flop down and fall asleep in the afternoon? Could be.
I went through a time when I tried everything I could think of to increase my energy. I talked to my doctor, I talked to my alternative doctor. They suggested stuff. Nothing made any significant difference. So my cells and I have had a talk with each other and we agree we’re doing the best we can, but that we’re forever damaged. We cope.
“How has this experience changed you?” People sometimes ask this.
And pigs can fly.
Ted Kooser, who had a very serious throat cancer, predicted that after I came through treatment, I’d be more in love with my life than ever. I’ve thought about that. I don’t know. I’ve always—except for the times when I’ve been abjectly miserable, and maybe even then—been in love with my life. Is it more now?
Definitely, cancer made me aware of my mortality. A bonus—can I talk about a bonus here?—is that whenever it seems likely that death might be imminent, you get equally aware of your living. No, I don’t have that quite right. Aware of livingness. Of temporary, dynamic relational livingness. TDRL. I made that up. Whitman and I contain multitudes.
“I’m nobody, who are you?” says Emily Dickinson. Notice that she’s speaking to someone. She can’t even be Nobody except in relation to someone else. For me to be alive and to be me, there has to be you. Do you “really” know who I am? Do you imagine who I am? When I was sick, you held me up. You sent notes and packages to who you thought I was. And so that’s who I was, I guess!
Temporary. Dynamic. Relational.
Also, I have become intensely open and sensitive. Is this a result of being so sick, or simply the way age affects us, or what? Don’t know. I feel a great deal of other people’s pain. And mine. Don’t like that, but that’s the way it is. Strangely, it’s not impossible to handle, though. It’s the way things are, crazy with joy and pain.
There’s a lady bug crawling up the inside frame of my window. Winter’s coming. She/he is probably not long for this world. But she’s on the move. I’m glad she can crawl all the way to the top of the frame. An adventure. It is of no importance how long she lives. She is alive and crawling.
I also am less inclined to try to be what someone else wants me to be. Again, is this something I learned from illness or is it just age? Both, probably. I have fewer answers than I used to have. Okay, I have no answers. Why did I get cancer? My doctor says cells just sometimes mutate. A lot of help THAT is to understand cause and effect in the world.
Every day’s precious. I get irritated, harassed, sometimes angry, sometimes blissful, sometimes just warm and fuzzy. Doesn’t matter, it is just great to have this day. To get some writing done. Who cares if I write more? I don’t know, but I keep doing it.
The first Buddhist “Reminder” goes (in one translation): Contemplate the preciousness of being free and well favored. This is difficult to gain, easy to lose, now I must do something meaningful. I asked my meditation teacher, Sokuzan, how to understand “something meaningful.” He thought—I like this answer—“to see the Truth, to see Reality.”
Not to do Something-in-Particular. Who can decide what’s “meaningful”? Who knows whether the things we do are going to be helpful or hurtful? How do we even know what helpful and hurtful mean? We all have different ideas. But to see what’s Real. . . . . Then we can act properly, without delusion. Do what needs to be done.
Sky was beautifully pinkly hazy this morning. Trees are almost bare. We had our first real frost yesterday. It’s 10:00. I’ve already stretched, meditated, eaten, worked on this post, called my father to tell him, yes, I’m going to take him today to have that tooth extracted. It’s not hurting now, but it did last week, so we’re going. All perfectly living.