000_1755We live and we die, this is the truth that we can only face alone. No one can help us. So consider carefully, what prevents you from living the way you want to live your life? —Shams Tabrizi

Yesterday, I had a biopsy taken of a suspicious spot inside my cheek. I won’t have the results for a few days, and I wanted to be sure to write this before I did. I wanted to write while I am suspended between the knowing and the not-knowing. I wanted to send this voice out into the world—this voice of mine swirling in a mysterious void, this voice of mine twirling in the fog between mortality and possibility.

Let me set the scene: Carter and I are currently holed up in a hotel room for this week. Our lease was up, so we could not stay in our little blue rental house until construction work on our 1930s house is completed. Saturday, the moving guys, Anthony and Daniel, showed up and packed our belongings into two large moving pods. At the end of that day, we moved into the Marriott Residence Inn with Mazel Tov. Darter the cat is ensconced in Carter’s workshop, with lots of blankets, belongings, and her litter box.

Friends tell me to think of this as a vacation, but I have not been able to get into that vacation frame of mind. I have been, rather, in that limbo state of mind, suspended between homes, futures, plans, and…well…just everything.

And I was not expecting to find myself in this hotel. I had fully expected to be staying with a friend, but that fell through in an odd and miserably uncomfortable way that left me reeling, in a sudden death clench with my old friends Abandonment, Desertion, and Aloneness. I have this recurring daymare (like a nightmare, but you are awake and shivering) that calamity strikes and finds me utterly alone, helpless, and blubbering. So, of course, many times in my life, calamity has struck and found me alone, helpless, and blubbering. Fear something enough, and you can be assured it will find you—probably more than once.

I’ve been sitting with the discomfort that comes when you see yourself behaving badly, and living in an imaginary nightmare of your unconscious choosing. Truth is, of course, that I am not alone. I have my husband and friends. Yet, I feel myself completely alone in the ceaseless exhaustion of this move. I am, suddenly, no longer a capable 61-year-old. I am a terrified, trembling two-year-old, hoping Mommy will come a save me. But in the real world, Mommy is 90 years old and six hours away.

I have faced worse in my life than this move, worse in spades, and yet this move has felt like the hardest thing I have ever done. I was utterly spent before I packed my first box, and it went downhill from there. And worse, I was watching myself come undone and could do nothing to save myself from my own undoing. I kept asking myself, “Why are you suffering so badly in this?” And I had no answer. I could not reel my galloping emotions in and settle myself, no matter what I tried. Green Therapy has been hard to turn to, as the days have been wicked wet and very nasty. Even in rain gear, I could not find the solace of Nature. I could not find the solace of ANYTHING.

On Sunday night, Carter and I were talking about my terrible state of mind, and he said, “Susan. You are a strong women who can take on a great deal and cope with it. And when it all becomes too much, finally, you crumple. I’m worried about you. I wonder, how did you deal with cancer so long ago and not become totally undone?” I stifled the urge to say that moving is much harder than cancer, and I said, “I don’t know. I think I handled cancer as well as I did because I was younger and stronger in every way back then.”


And then I went to the dentist on Tuesday for a teeth cleaning and asked him to check out my lip, which had been ceaselessly chapping for two years. He had no interest in the lip, but asked if I’d noticed the red blotch on my cheek, near my wisdom teeth. Of course I had not. I stopped looking into my mouth for signs of trouble years ago. Why court disaster? Cancer was a long, long time ago.

I walked out of the office with an appointment to see an oral surgeon next Thursday. Sitting in the car, heading back to the hotel, I was plunged back into October of 1988, when I was diagnosed with metastatic head and neck cancer. And itt was like no time had elapsed. The feelings assaulted me, blanketed me, drowned me: It’s back. You may die this time.

Cancer—or the threat of it—does that to you, upside-downs your perspective on every little thing in an instant. Suddenly, you are looking out of an entirely different set of lenses. How you feel about everything: the day, the circumstance, food, the dog, your husband, your face, autumn, everything looks different.

And then, just as suddenly, everything shifted again. Incredibly, unbidden, a deep sense of peace came over me. Relaxation flooded into my muscles. Thoughts came:

In your life, daughter, right now, the only thing that could touch your misery and fear was this gift: the threat of death. Now, see how beautiful and precious the world is.

In your life, daughter, you have never wanted to lose the perspective that cancer gave to you, but you have lost much of it over the years. Here it is, this gift to you: See the world new again. See the exquisite beauty in each moment.

In your life, daughter, you called cancer your greatest gift. Here, it hovers above you again. Will it settle on your shoulders or not?

In your life, daughter, right now, count the blessings of the past 25 years of post-cancer survival. See the bounty of those years, and the gifts you have had the time to bring into the world.

Here I sit, in this sweet and quiet hotel room, Carter snoring next to me, and I am stunned. There is not a shred of anxiety in me about the move, about when the house will be complete, or about the biopsy results. Not right now. Not in this moment. I’ll bet those moments will come, but why court disaster?

Perhaps I’m a woman who does best when my survival is at stake. I don’t know. I know that I feel a kind of laser focus today, and that I awoke this morning without the biopsy on my mind. How can this be? How is it that, at the end of my rope, a boulder falls on my head and I feel as though I’ve found my footing again?

How crazy wonderful that the world is so utterly mysterious: The things that sink us, the things that buoy us, the things that save us. All, mysterious.

Yesterday, I made an appointment with a doctor who took a punch biopsy from my cheek. We’ll see. We’ll see!


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