June 4th, 2015:
I'm sitting at the river on a driftwood throne. The minute I get still, stop trying and start opening, I begin to hear. The crash of rapids just upstream. The hollow knock of sapsuckers, the chatter of shorebirds, the splash of a kingfisher. The sigh of my breath and the groan of trees.
I'm tempted over and over to just get in the water. Lately every time I'm at the river I feel that same pull in my gut. Strip down. Get in. Get the eff in. And why not? It's cold? Propriety? Bah. I've been here over half and hour, at this spot that requires wading through six foot ferns, scrambling down narrow gullys and squeezing along the flood mangled banks. What if I just did it?
The thing is, I have lived so good, so nicely, so careful, so small. Too small. For over a year I've been peeling off the girl scout badges, hatching from that pretty little cocoon and I'm realizing now I've only just begun. I don't want to be a comfortable size, a comfortable volume for the unnamed shadow who might be offended. I'd rather tell stories about that one day I got naked and jumped in the glacial river because to not do so was bleeding my soul dry.
That well-meaning, task-master part of me that craves perfection in all things has not been making space for the rest of my parts. For the bumps and rough patches and blotchiness and the sheer truth that I can not do all the things, let alone, all the things well. For months the words have been welling in my throat, but when I sit to write, they freeze. In the shower I dictate eloquent swaths of prose, but when my fingers hover above the keyboard, only avoidance comes out. I've been trying to find something still hidden in the dark, but all I have to show are the scrapes on my shins.
The truth is this: There are cancerous spots in my bones. Again. Or more correctly, my "well managed cancer became not so well managed." I have spent so many hours in this life wondering what it was that I must be doing wrong, what I was or wasn't eating, meditating on, stressing over. Wondering if I had just worked a little harder, been a little more diligent, shown my body greater care, then perhaps these cells wouldn't be threatening my entire existence. I've ached over the fear that if I had just fought a little harder, done a little better, been enough, that none of this would have happened. It's a fight, don't get me wrong, but when it crops up for the third time the mindset of "if I had just..." leaves you blaming the victim. And I'm done with that falsehood.
And so I've been wrestling with a new option. What if this life and death struggle with cancer isn't just about life and death? What if it's not just this shitty thing that happened to me, right alongside all the other shitty things that I never asked for, never "deserved." I never once wanted to be "the girl with cancer" and I still don't, but what if this struggle is part of my soul's contract in this lifetime? What if, in the netherworlds of stardust, my soul agreed to experience deep wounding so I could learn compassion that ran even deeper? Perhaps it's like courage: if you are never afraid, then you never have a chance to be courageous.
If cancer is a war, then in my first battle I threw everything in my reach at it. I was battered and bloodied, and soaked through with fear. In the second battle I was surrounded, broken and beaten to the ground, and it was all I could do to reach out a hand, cry for salvation.
But this time. What if this time I walk straight out onto the field, well supported, well armed, eyes open, and march through those enemy lines until I reach the other side? What if I slay those cells in love? Love because I am learning to love this body, love because I do love this life, love because I am passionate about this earth not ready to be done living with her yet.
I close my eyes and imagine Durga, arms open wide, riding that magnificent tiger into battle. Her love for the world emanating white hot, feeding the strength in her arms as she slew the demon hoards, rocking back into the holiness of her righteous glowing heart. I will take that image and fold it into my ribs, my dear ribs with their "spots of concern." I will fill the bowl of my hips with self-compassion and self-forgiveness, my powerful hips that have survived and will survive again. I will radiate fierce love up and down my spine, until every vertebrae stacks and glitters and glows with the sheer power of that love.
And I will cut them down.