“Who can become lost in a narrative,

     if all he can think of is the end?” 

– Mark Doty, “Lament-Heaven”

And so, with cancer comes the question: What is the new narrative of my life?

And others:

How long do I have left?

What is my treatment plan?

Logistics: Do I continue to save? Plan a world trip? Get rid of my old stuff?

Planning, the economic and spiritual foundation of modern American self-efficacy, is the Harley-Cancer-Davidson motorcycle driver that breaks you off, sidecar sidekick, and leaves you in the little rig by the side of the road while he takes off down the two-lane highway of certainty. Putt putt, sputter. Stop.

And here you are, ditched and detached in the Death Valley of all deserts, left to contemplate your options. It’s quiet all right. And there’s no driver for miles. What to do, what to do?

I struggle with this. If we continue the metaphor, with Death Valley and the unmoored, detached passenger, bewildered and shocked at the side of the road, I’m still sitting. Two years later and I’m still sitting, still scratching my head, looking at the map and trying to figure out how to get back home. Do you know what I mean?

It’s kind of tragic. It’s also, at times, patently absurd. And funny. I mean: no hair! And what’s a lopsided gal to do when running? Plenty of room to contemplate.

arizona asphalt beautiful blue sky
Photo by Nextvoyage on Pexels.com

Many other survivors and friends have come past, offered advice, suggested lovely and some-odd things, and pointed out alternate routes. But I can’t go back. I can’t go back to the home of the Old Body, the Old Life. The new is here. And I’m still working out how to navigate life, work, the process of living with chronic disease. I want to rush it. I want to “make it work,” learn from it, deal, manage, fix – do all the productivity-oriented activities my previous and old life would have deemed necessary in order to overcome any personal obstacle. And in focusing on the corrections and fixes, I wonder if I’m losing some kind of view.

That is, just being, living, fully taking in the transition. The road. The sidecar mishap-tragedy that, like Emily Dickinson, tells it slant. Because even in this, there is a narrative. There is story, there is process, there is some nugget of love and living that wants to find a way.

Here now, it seems to tell me. Look at your body, the earth, even the rocks at the edges. Sit awhile longer and take it all in.

No more need to rush. For now, no need for fear.

 

Joy? With Cancer?

There’s a dairy company in the Bay Area called Berkeley Farms, and one of their milk carton slogans is, “Farms? In Berkeley?”

I will now co-opt it.  Joy? With Cancer?

The answer, sisters and brothers, is hell yeah. Because fuck cancer and its thievery. If you’re in treatment, there can come a level of exhaustion like low tide before a tsunami that is so deeply and utterly draining that you cannot see any shore. The dry and distant ocean floor, broken sea shells, rotting kelp, driftwood, spaced between long distances of drying sand–the metaphorical and barren landscape for even getting water becomes a distance so far and difficult that rest and floating in a haze of whowhatwhere is the only option. And that’s just the first few days.

But I digress.

We are talking about joy. I am talking about the resurgence of fresh water, when the tide returns, when some semblance of normalcy comes back to the body.

It is summer vacation, and I’m so grateful to have this time with my daughter. She’s entering high school next year, which means that the needs and tendings of little-kid childhood are receding. They will always be there, as they are all of us, but there is a shift. A shift outward, as in looking out to sea. In this spirit, the two of us went to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve yesterday. This is in Moss Beach, CA, south of San Francisco. The reserve is not well known, but it has some of the best tide pools I’ve ever seen. Such was yesterday that we saw harbor seals, anemones, European green crabs, and one native red rock crab that snatched another small hermit as it attempted to scuttle free.

The day was grey, overcast, perfect.

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The rocks were slippery but the pools beckoned.

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And afterwards, we took a hike along the bluff. Always I slip back into metaphor – I can’t help it. The small gaze, the larger. The bluff and the pool. But as we walked along the edge I couldn’t help feeling grateful for all of it – the water, the land, even the dark cloud cover that offered a kind of comfort against being too brightly lit. Who can take constant light, after all? The risk is of burning.

We continued, found some beautiful trees.

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And then took some time to sit under them.

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Joy, I think,  doesn’t have to be noisy.