What Life Brings

I had hoped to do a lot of writing on my second week in Mexico, but strangely my computer refused to turn on, even though it was fully charged. The humidity? The salt air? Divine intervention? Writing in my journal had to suffice ( by the way, I love that word and someday I’m going to write a whole blog on words I love). I diagnosed my computer as homesickness and miraculously, it seemed to be true. When I got home, it worked perfectly the next morning and henceforth.

But the other unexpected turn of events actually began when we were still in Mexico. My close friend of 35 years began to get stomach symptoms. We weren’t too worried; it was Mexico and probably there was some bacteria here that didn’t agree with her. A Mexico Bug was our diagnosis. Sadly my diagnosis this time was woefully wrong. When she went to the doctor the morning after we returned, she was sent to the ER, had a CT scan and called me that night. Metastatic ovarian cancer. Exploratory surgery scheduled three days later. Chemo started two days after that. All this was a 9 days ago now. I’ve spent most of that time with her either at the hospital or her home, taking steps one at a time on a path where you can’t see around the next corner. The rest of the time I’ve been texting, calling and emailing the web of friends who love her. That has been my writing practice this past week, but the content is much the same each time. The news. Acknowledging the shock. Encouraging them that it sounds bad but there’s a good prognosis–80% remission, even a 5% chance of cure. Not a death sentence anymore but a chronic illness that can be managed with quality of life.

When I was 9, I was told my two year old brother was going to die from a rare form of muscle cancer. My response then was to shout out, ‘NO!” and run away. When I was 19, the same news, only this time my 15 year old sister and bone cancer. I crumbled. The same news at 34 when my dad was was diagnosed with lung cancer. I froze and felt helpless. Another sister with breast cancer and brother with kidney cancer but less serious prognosis. So cancer and I are no strangers.

I’ve been watching myself this time; shock yes. Numb for a while. Very tired. But I’m not falling apart. I’m not running away. If anything, this past week has opened me up to such love and gratitude. These new eyes are not just for my friend, but it’s as if I have new eyes for everyone, as if I can see their beauty so clearly– or as Thomas Merton once put it, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

I can only attribute this change to the years of being with what life brings. And to some of the spiritual work I’ve engaged in with a whole heart. My current path is the Diamond Approach and a recent teaching by Rosanne Annoni on acceptance has seeped into my soul and given me some of this new vision. In it, she acknowledges that from the ordinary perspective, acceptance feels like the opposite of rejection. So if I’m going to accept my friend’s diagnosis, it must mean I can’t reject it and I have to bring it closer. I assume it’s something I need to do. Or acceptance means that passive acquiescence of “Oh well, that’s how things are; I just need to accept it.” Again, something I do. Yet true acceptance isn’t what I do. It’s an openness, a willingness to simply be with what is without judgment: “Can I gently, kindly be with the immediacy of my experience without saying “yes” or “no” to it?” We can’t make ourselves accept or decide to accept. “It’s a perspective of just being with what is unfolding.”

She also acknowledges that “What’s hard is how do I accept reality when reality sucks? This quality of acceptance is not a condoning, but a finding that inner sense of tranquility when we face a reality that is distortion of Being. We can respond, but not react.” All that is hard for the ordinary mind to get around. Yet somehow without me doing anything, I’ve absorbed a sense of it. Just being with this without reacting.

Reality of this cancer in my friend sucks. I’m just being with that. But it’s not all of Reality. I want to write more about this in my next post when I review a book that is a companion to the book I reviewed on The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This book is The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey which recounts what happened on the other end of Harold’s pilgrimage as she awaits his arrival in a hospice hospital, dying of cancer. Stay tuned. It’s also worth a read.

It’s good to get back to writing on my blog. And in these cold dry winter days in Alaska, I don’t have to worry that my computer will refuse to turn on due to humidity or the salt air!

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