I’m looking out the window at our apple tree all in bloom. Sitting under it and breathing deeply gives you a glimpse of heaven, just this one week or so a year, the air infused with it’s scent. It’s like hearing a baby laugh or kissing your love in front of the stove – all just feels possible.
I’d like to be on my way to watch my oldest’s soccer game, this early Saturday morning, because I love seeing my kids do what makes them feel alive. But I have two darlings still sleeping soundly, despite me opening their black out blinds, showering and putzing around with their door open. And it’s like someone said to me yesterday, I still can’t wake a sleeping baby. Amen forever friend.
So I thought I would write out some thoughts here instead, towards the end of May. Here where I most often sit down to write, I have just a few things that really inspire me hanging in my little office alcove. Two of them are meant to be stone drink coasters but they were hand painted on salt spring and I don’t believe in hiding art with a beverage. Instead I asked Aaron to figure out a way to hang them for me and, of course he did. One says ‘create’ and one says ‘still’. Visual reminders of two things I so often prioritize as last on the list. But not this year, this long, late winter and early spring has been a season of stillness for me. A season of sitting with myself and the one who made me.
Last I wrote here it was late March and I knew it would be a haul to get through the last of winter. I wasn’t wrong. April passed by in snow day after snow day. Towards the end of the month on the day I turned 38, I looked in the mirror after a yoga class. Wearing just my sports bra and yoga capris I didn’t recognize the person I saw looking back at me.
My face looked worn and a little lifeless. I have gotten my first grey hairs, given to me not by my children but instead by the stress of cancer. I have been through things this 37th year that have temporarily drained away my eyes ease and sparkle.
List that under things I have lost in my 37th year. One appendix, one ovary, one cancerous tumor. The daily sparkle in my eyes. Having enough energy to get through what used to be a normal day. Knowing who I am, believing I am guaranteed a normal life span. Believing I am guaranteed anything.
I could also see some of the things gained: nine abdominal scars, one tattoo, the gift of more time to live my life. Insight as to what is important to me. An absolute knowledge that God is with me and loves me. Gratitude for everything I have that I used to take for granted. It’s hard to catch me feeling jealous anymore, I’m too aware of my own life’s goodness. I see gifts everywhere and lament when I see opportunities to receive turned away or missed.
My husband and I joke about cancer being one of the mid-life crisises you don’t get to pick. Other people might be buying fancy cars, or changing jobs, or taking really cool trips, or doing something else to get some joy or try and figure out or live out who we really are because we are somewhere around forty and we have no more babies so, heck, why not? But us, we got cancer to bring about intense life reevaluation and even though I didn’t need chemo and am in a promising place health wise now, my very self has shifted in ways and in magnitude I didn’t expect.
The best I can explain what cancer did to me is this. It shattered my very self into a thousand pieces. All the things I have chosen to be, or had to be to survive, to thrive, or often just things I thought I had to do or be are lying there on the ground about my feet. I’m standing in the middle of a broken mirror, my reflection disjointed, fractured. I look at it with interest like I would a Picasso, not like something that belongs to me. I knew cancer would be hard, but this still wasn’t what I was expecting.
I’ve been going to a counselor because, well, because of what I said above. I wouldn’t wish cancer or any trauma on anyone, but I will just say this: counseling has been a gift I’ve probably needed since high school and cancer made me get it.
I’ve seen her for lots of things but one of the things I saw her for was mourning over the loss of myself. Over not knowing who I am. Over feeling like everything I ever cared about, I’m not sure if I do anymore. Over having no idea of who I will be when this all settles. Over feeling like a gross, messy, self-absorbed pile of goop.
My counselor rocks because she looked at me and said something to this extent: ‘Yes that is really hard, totally shitty, you should really mourn that because it’s sad and hard.’ But then she leaned closer and said ‘but also Leah you can be anything you want’ in a voice rich with excitement and possibility.
So here, at the end of May as I look out at new life blooming literally right in front of my eyes, I’m starting to see it differently. I look down at those shards, at those pieces and I’m curious and slightly hopeful. All of a sudden winter is over, spring is in full swing and I’m more worried about picking up too many or the wrong ones than I am about seeing them all lying there.