I didn’t think I’d be writing another one of these so soon, but there’s so much to say. As you read this, I’m getting hooked up to an IV for my fifth chemo infusion. I’m tasting the sweet-metallic tang in my mouth as the nurse pushes the needle into my cyborg chest port and the medicine starts flowing.
I’m wrapping a soft blanket around my legs and my husband is probably fumbling with the wires of our earbuds as he cues up whatever movie he’s downloaded for this, our regular chemo date. Later, maybe he’ll run out for lunch. These days, I have a weird preference for convenience store tuna sandwiches – the kind I lived on in college. Then, I’d emerge from some marathon library study session and head to a kiosk in the courtyard filled with vending machines. I’d shove my quarters in, punch in the number and grab my hermetically sealed plastic triangle. Now, the sandwich is from the 7-11 down the road from the hospital, but it still comes in the sealed plastic triangle, and for unknown reasons (probably having to do with my nuked out tastebuds) I find great comfort in the squishy white bread and cat food-like texture of the tunafish. I don’t know what to tell you except that what soothes and nourishes us doesn’t always make sense.
I need comfort, badly. My body is fizzing with poison and the country is profoundly wounded and even terrible sandwiches cannot fix this. I’m lost and squinting for road markers that might somehow lead me back onto a familiar path.
The first – and I HATE this, because I’m deeply stubborn and I like being self-righteous – is compassion. I can tell by the instantaneous resentment I feel, that this is correct. I’m never finding my way back without compassion, even for my most infuriating social media acquaintances. Especially for them, whispers my super annoying Higher Self. Whatever.
But how do I get to compassion? It’s a wavering mirage on the horizon! As soon as I ask the question, the next uncomfortable answer appears: find common ground. There is no common ground, I want to tell my Higher Self. We could not be farther apart. There’s a fucking Grand Canyon of disagreement between us! Higher Self, who is kind of a bitch sometimes, just taps her foot, waiting. Okay, FINE. I guess we’re all human. Even if we disagree about what that means and how best to go about living it. More mental foot-tapping. BTW, if you’re going to get into an imaginary argument with a manifestation of your better self, maybe make sure she’s not wearing pointy shoes and sporting a know-it-all attitude. All right. We’re all scared. And angry. And we want the future to be better. That’s something, I guess.
Higher Self nods encouragingly and the next road sign lights up: service. Not, like, getting your tires checked kind of service but the sort of service that is rooted in the verb “serve.” What am I, an emotional waitress? I gotta SERVE? Higher Self grins. Oh. You mean serve each other. Like, fill each other’s spiritual coffee cups. I’m not ready to stop being hurt and mad, but I know, dammit, that serving feels good. It feels purposeful. And when I walk in purpose, it’s hard to stay stuck. I can donate my time and money in my community. I can write, I can speak, I can make. Whatever I have, I can reach into my grubby little heart and then send it out into the world with the best intention I can muster. Yeah, that would be a step. Also, Higher Self adds, don’t forget subversion. You know how you love that. There’s no reason you can’t serve while subverting the hell out of all that separates you from your fellow humans. Tear down walls, open doors, build bridges, smash misconceptions!” Now we’re talking! I’m so caught up in the idea of smashing and tearing that I haven’t even noticed that that means there will be big open spaces for me and my estranged brethren to peer at each other through and maybe wander over for a visit.
When you clear a space, you make room for hope. Radical hope, even. What would you like to see there? Higher Self asks, like she doesn’t already know the answer. On my lavishly decorated Pinterest wish board are concepts like acceptance, equality, understanding, opportunity. And of course, perfectly prepared salads in a jar for all.
The great Father Greg Boyle, who ministers to disenfranchised kids in the projects of East L.A. says the most important thing is not standing for others but standing with them. That’s it. You just hang. And then eventually, you start to see each other as people, and that makes it harder to feel far apart. How can you get lost when you’re together?
Higher Self looks like she wants to hand me a cookie, but I’d be tempted to throw it at her. So, that’s it. That’s my road map to freaking peace or whatever. Be present with people, even the ones who make me want to yank my own hair out, if I still had any hair. Stand with them. Listen. Try to figure out how we can reach each other through the holes in the wall and fill our coffee cups. See where that takes us.
I’m grumpy. I’m tired. There are needles in my body pumping nuclear waste through my veins to burn out the mutant cells that are attempting to colonize my body like an alien outpost (or, if you want to be boring, the meds are treating my cancer). And what I know is that this shit gets worse before it gets better. Maybe that’s true of all the rest of this crap. But I think we can be together by sharing our stories and listening. I hope you guys have more interesting ones than I do at the moment.
You know what else helps me? Swearing mightily, though I suggest you mostly do that with your most trusted tribe members or cats, because cats really don’t care. Also, feed yourself good foods, move around, drink lots of water, and keep returning to the familiar ground of your center.