Creation of Chaos

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Out taking a walk I hear the dribble dribble of a basketball; it’s actually warm enough in January in Massachusetts to be out in the driveway shooting some hoops.  I see a kid, a teenager, in a white sweatshirt with the hood up, jeans and sneakers and it looks like he’s just entertaining himself on a Sunday afternoon the way my brother used to when he was that age.

All of a sudden tears unexpectedly well up in my eyes and I think about my nuclear family.  Sometimes it strikes me as absurd and strange that in our American culture many of us grow up so closely with our parents and siblings and then when we leave the house, everything becomes so different and we become so spread apart.  (Especially after people get married and have kids).  I think about the sound of the basketball on the pavement back on Moran Circle where we lived until I was 9 and my brother was 13; about how the backboard and hoop got stolen one night on our quiet little suburban street, and we couldn’t believe that our dog Benji didn’t even give us a little bark to let us know.  I think about the vacations that my parents took us on; eating pineapple in Hawaii and drinking tea in Moscow and having a picnic not far from Rainbow Bridge in Utah.  There was cross-country skiing in Concord, dinners with my Grandma at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, and watching the little planes take off and land in Marlboro while eating mint-chocolate chip ice cream. My Dad started me off early collecting things like bottle caps and pins that said “I love the piano” and my jean jacket just couldn’t hold them all.  My Mom and I would spend summers when I returned home from camp doing errands together (I loved it) and playing jacks on our cold tile floor. I remember my brother and I videotaped by my Dad as we told each other secrets and took long walks on the beach, lying on rocks like salamanders and soaking up that Cape Cod sun.  Us!

There are seven of us now, including spouses and kids, and we’re probably all together three times a year.  (Sometimes we get lucky and it’s four).  I know for a lot of families it’s way less, depending upon how far you live from everybody (and for some of you it’s way more).  But with geographical distance and jobs and health and kids, our time together is limited.  (And OK, maybe we get along better because we don’t see each other every weekend?  I can feel people nodding their heads.  You get it.  You would protect your family from a lion but you don’t necessarily want to do a Sunday brunch every weekend!).  And still, it just strikes me as funny, and a little bit sad, that I went from those family of four vacations to us being together only a few times a year.

As I continued to walk, I started to think about time, and relationships, and faith.  I have faith in my family, that they’ll never abandon me, that they’ll never stop loving me, that they’ll always tolerate my “mess.”  (And I’m not just talking about that nuclear family anymore; now my husband, sister-in-law and nephew are my family too.  And then I remember that things are supposed to change and shift and evolve and now, instead of just the four of us, we have SHL and my SIL and my nephew and how could we ever life without them now?  — We couldn’t!).

But lately, I’ve had faith in little more than that.  For only the second time since I was diagnosed, after coping with some side-effects that bring about more doctors appointments, change, and unknown, did I tell myself recently that I can understand how somebody with a chronic illness could, at some point, want to give up.

And as I walk I think about those who have worries, but who basically live a “normal life”, and I feel more separated from you than ever.  My insides ache not knowing or remembering what that feels like.  I feel as though I have a huge knot in my brain that is tied up in fear and everything else…well everything else just feels sort of foggy.  I long to unravel the ties that make up this fear, but every time I make a little progress gently undoing what has been done, another piece comes along and adds itself to the creation of chaos.

I’ve worked so hard over the last 3 + years on authenticity, managing my disease, trying to live life to the fullest, working hard on my perception of food and cancer and challenges and movement.  I’ve had days where I couldn’t get out of bed, and I’ve had days where I’ve knocked it out of the park at work and slept in SHL’s arms.  This is life, I understand, the motion of the waves, the wavering faith (if you’ve ever had anything bad happen to you), the broken heart that fills up with gold in those cracks where it has been broken, just as the Japanese believe that is the best way to mend a broken object. They believe that if something has suffered damage and has a history, it is more beautiful.

I long to remember the beauty in my own life; I know it is there. And I know that gold must course through those shards, so many of them living within me.  It is just so hard to see and feel the beauty right now, through the unknowns and the fear and the injustice of it all.

I think about how I had no say in this at all, and then I remember how much more I’ve learned to love life since all of this happened.  I like to think that I have no control, but my words carefully remind me that I’ve had many choices, that I have chosen to make my life better even while living with tumors.

I continue to go to my mat and sometimes that helps, imaging cords of love and compassion between myself and the world, between myself and the cancer.  I see a rose-gold energy that twinkles and encompasses my body and keeps me safe; and yet, outside of that meditation time, it does not keep me safe from everything.  What am I to believe?

Gabby Bernstein always says that the “Universe has your back,” and I used to believe it, until one bad thing after another happened.  If you believe in the law of attraction than my mindset needs to change shape because I don’t want to call negativity into my life either.  I want to face the suffering (as much as I really don’t), only in the hopes of being able to mend my own broken objects, my heart, my faith, my confidence.  Can you understand the dilemma just festering in my heart?

I understand that trying to face suffering while trying to let go seems impossible, but in the end again my words help me to understand that they actually fit together.  And so, I will find my way back, I will let the course take me where it needs to.  I will get through this because I have to, because my work and love is not yet done.

I can’t wait until I can tell you all that yes, the universe really does have my back.  And in the meantime, I need to have my own.

 

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Latitude from Gratitude

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Can we just talk about some latitude for gratitude, please?  Since being diagnosed with cancer the second time around, I have made gratitude a daily practice.  I have found that it lifts me up when I’m down, procures me to live life with more intention, heart, and adventurous spirit, and has saved me many times from throwing myself a big old pity party.

And yet, I realized the other day, it is not great to tick off a list of things that you’re grateful for when you’re not really connecting to those things.

Case in point:  I’m in the shower the other night and I’m washing the day off of me and thinking about my top 5 favorite things, because one of those is a nice long, warm shower, when I start to go through my list of things to be thankful for.  I do this almost every night and sometimes it brings me relief, sometimes joy, sometimes tears, and sometimes quite honestly it’s just a few seconds of thankfulness and then I’m putting my pj’s on and thinking about what the next episode of The Affair will bring. Hey, I’m human.

But this other night, while I ticked off the things that I was grateful for that day (the warm shower, having a job, SHL and my family, not having treatment on that day, my new cozy pajamas, that cup of hot chocolate that I indulged in, my plans to see friends in the coming weeks), I realized that I was actually feeling kind of numb.

It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for all of those crazy-good things, of course. But on that particular day I was actually just feeling like I needed to get through the day.  Now this isn’t my usual motto– “just get through the day;” I like to make sure that in fact that I am not just going through the motions, but on this evening I was just so.tired.  And a little bit crabby, too.  Work has been busy and my fatigue has gotten the best of me lately, with little energy to work out or do much around the house, napping every day for hours and feeling a little “out of sync” with the rest of the world.

And then I realized:  Gratitude as part of a daily practice is wonderful, but only if you can really connect to it.  If you can really feel the appreciation like a bubble in your heart ready to explode with that feeling you get when you realize that you have so much.  

I know I have so much.  But lately (the past few days), I’ve also been feeling the injustice around having cancer.  Around decisions being made for me, like not being able to have children or how often I need to go to the doctor (8 sets of scans in 12 months doesn’t give you much of a reprieve from worrying).

And nobody really knows what to say, because nobody knows what it’s like to walk in my shoes, just as I don’t know what it is like to walk in yours.  And this brings up the lonely part; the part where I know people try, and love me, and say comforting things, but in reality there are times when I just feel so damn alone.  Out of sync with others my age, thinking about my mortality and things that most of my friends aren’t thinking about.  Worrying about things that most people my age thank goodness don’t have to worry about.

And on these days, I don’t always want to turn to gratitude.  Sometimes I want to turn to chocolate, or sleep, or a funny movie.  Some days I want to hibernate.  Some days I want to yell.  Some days I want to cry so hard I fall to the floor.  Some days I actually like being at work so I can not think about cancer or the decisions already made for me or my next scans for at least a few minutes at a time.

I used to think that if I said something like what I just did, lighting would strike me. That g-d or the universe would punish me.  It was superstitious, it was harmful, and it was holding me back from allowing myself to really feel grief.  But now that I am trying to deal with suffering head-on, I realize that I need to allow myself those days where I don’t feel like I have to say, “Yeah, but it could be so much worse.”  We all know that it could, but there are times when it is also OK to say “this feels like despair.” Sometimes even though you know that things could be worse, it’s actually irrelevant, believe it or not.  Because to dismiss grief or anxiety or depression or suffering with “it could always be worse” is to dismiss authenticity, and in turn, to dismiss a person.  And I’ve learned, the very hard way, that often than not when you’re authentic with your feelings, they don’t get the best of you.

And so I what a yearn to say to the world is, please don’t dismiss me.  (I bet we’ve all felt this way at one time or another in our lives!). Please give me some latitude.  Please know that gratitude lives in my heart forever, but some days, my authentic self is one that hurts.

I’ve been working on trying to see things with more compassion– especially with those that annoy, frustrate, or hurt me.

Now I’d like to work on allowing myself that same compassion.

I know that we’re all our worst critics.  But I’m finally willing to give myself a little latitude.  Are you?  XO.

The View

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With the “New Year, New Me” memes all over social media, I think about the differences between setting intentions, and thinking that we need to change who we are.

My friend E sent me a great post from Wanderlust (www.wanderlust.com) with this message of her own:  “I like this post…! Is it an unusual message to like yourself as you are?  Every other message seems to imply that we need to change, to improve. What a refreshing perspective!”

YES!  I know!  I agree!  I hear you!  I wanted to reach through the computer and hug her (which I always do anyway, but it felt reliving to know that others feel the same way.  Sometimes, I just want to “be”).

Just as often as we hear about the many ways that we can work to change ourselves (be kinder, forgive, workout more, workout harder, eat less sugar, eat more veggies, and the list goes on and on…), these days if you’re on the spirituality path, you may also hear the words “self-acceptance” and “self-love.” Somewhere, deep in our hearts (and social media outlets), we hear that call.   I must admit that when I used to hear those words it was as good as somebody speaking a foreign language to me.  “I’ll never get there,” I used to think.

And I’m still not there.  But I’m closer, which seems ironic given that the older I get, the more I know that I’m set in my ways.  Loving myself seems like harder work than ever, and yet more important than ever.

Here is what I know, now:

I love intentions over resolutions, revelations over regret, and magic over mayhem.

The days when I set an intention in my heart, and keep it close, are usually the days when I am better able to spot miracles.  The days when I’m better able to manage any calamity, work or otherwise, that comes my way.  The days when I am more present. Present for the most part, but still me.  (Which FYI could mean “Freaking out Sam.”  I’m still human.  If I didn’t admit that I still freak out ALL OF THE TIME over LOTS OF DIFFERENT THINGS than eventually the jig would be up.  Somebody would find me out.  Or SHL would rat me out!).     Never!

But it is within this groove of self-love that I find intentions sprouting from my heart organically.  As I did some loving yoga stretches the other day, after three days in bed with a cold and feeling icky, I stopped mid-stretch and thought, “I love you, you.” WHAT?!  It kind of came out of nowhere and took me by surprise.  Throughout the last 3 years I’ve very much wanted to love every single inch of me, especially the part of my body where the tumors reside, but that seemed impossible.  How can you love your liver when you have liver melanoma?  But when you change the way you see things, the things that you see change.  I suddenly realized that my liver is, thank g-d, still functioning well.  I started to see that gratitude leads to insight which leads to confidence which leads to learning to love yourself for exactly who you are today.  And while this may sometimes feel like climbing a very steep, very scary mountain, the hard work has its benefits.

I guess my intention is to see the good.  The view from up here is beautiful.  And while I know it won’t be my view every day, today I cherish it and accept its beauty in the moment for what it is.

Life.

XOXO.

Sunrise