Thursday, December 15, 2016

ADVENT GRIEF

Ever since I became a Christian, I have loved Advent. Picking out a tree is joyful and meaningful, reminding me of new life in the dark of the year. When I decorate the tree, I remember the star that blazed over Bethlehem.  I think of the shepherds shivering in their rough woolen cloaks as they guard their sheep by night. Then the angels come in a shatter of wings and light, and the shepherds are amazed, and afraid.  But--they somehow contain their fear and hike down to the stable where the luminous baby is lying in the manger.  So, too, the Three Kings or Magi, sway on their camels and turn their heads towards Bethlehem, arriving in time to offer costly gifts and worship. And isn't all worship costly in some form?

And the carols! After the tree is strung with lights, I bustle about, singing slightly off-key while I prepare candied walnuts to put into bags for my "kids." Soon the butter will soften, and I will make sugar cookies, using the ancient tin cutters passed down from my grandmother.

But still, still...despite all the real joy I find in Advent, making a wreath, attending Mass, and more...I have come to realize that this season is also a season of grief:

--grief for the babies who did not come or survive
--grief for our parents who have passed on, some too soon
--grief for youthful dreams of what we might have been
--grief for friendships lost and marriages dissolved
--grief for our grown children who are far away and may have lost their closeness
--grief for an aging body which used to be lithesome
--grief for the fantasy that we would live forever or at least one damn long time.

I think Advent is a time of great vulnerability. Is it the waiting for the Christ Child which brings this up or some other factors? I just know I am in touch with the raggedness of my heart this year and the holes in my soul.

Perhaps you attribute that plunging mood in the morning while you wait for coffee to the election of Trump and all the horrors it portends. I am guilty of this as well; this is real, but it is not all.

If we are going to "do" Advent in a way that heals us, we need to have rituals which acknowledge our losses at the same time we light the candles and hum carols.  As a Reiki master, I know of one such rite where people write down what they want to cast off and toss the slips of paper into the flames. We have a fire pit on the deck, and that will serve me well.

So, after I light the Advent wreath, possibly run into the bathroom to sob a bit and mourn my deceased
father, I will go outside, kindle a fire, and write down the griefs in my life. Then I will throw them into the flames and watch them turn to ash. Which is, in the end, exactly what will happen to them. And to us. The griefs will lose their hold; our body will change and be transformed; and we will pass into another life where there will be no tears, and no one shall hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, as God promised. And I am SO holding Him to that promise!


Saturday, November 26, 2016

GIVE ME BETTER SIDE-EFFECTS!

I've just started a new med for my shaky legs and neuropathy called "gabapentin." It is often used to treat seizures, bipolar illness, and neuropathy. What many don't know is that neuropathy isn't always about the nerves; it can indicate muscle weakness and fatigue, which is what I have in my legs as a lively after-effect of months of chemo. At least I am not howling at the moon, or have suddenly grown a thick moustache. For all these things, we give thanks.

But, here's what happens with side-effects: By the time you read the papers the pharmacy sends home, you feel as if you might as well give up and jump off the deck. Or take a healthy slug of Jack Daniels at 9 in the morning. I put the pharmacy papers aside and applied my reason, figuring out that they have to list ALL possible side-effects (including a sudden desire to have a pet pig or run for political office), and I might only get one or two.  Sadly, I didn't get the grand side-effects: I got flatulence and seriously boring dreams.

REALLY? Out of all of the possibilities I got those? Here is what I wish I had gotten:

--enough brain power to memorize Shakespearean sonnets and quote them at opportune times.

--the ability to say just the right thing when I have hurt someone's feelings, as in: "I am so sorry, I wasn't listening to you very well, was I. Let's try again."

--a skill in applying eye-liner so it doesn't glop up my eyelashes and smear under my eyes.

--some great erotic dreams that take place in a sparkling hotel room overlooking the Adriatic sea, instead of dreams about finding my shoes in the closet and shopping for underwear. (I am not kidding.)

--the spiritual resources to not worry and be anxious about our current president-elect and his band of merry, corrupt fellows.

--the ability to understand football and actually care about it, so I could join in my husband's jubilant shouts and happy mood when the Patriots win.

--the strength to power through my days as I used to without dropping like a used handkerchief unto the couch at 4:00, murmuring weakly, "Tea, please, then a large glass of wine."

--better thighs. Why don't they have that as a side-effect of these drugs? I would love this, especially if it meant no effort at all on my part.

--the grace to speak to people of other political opinions, without spitting or making caustic, semi-profane comments.

Ok, those are just a few of the benefits I wish for in taking gabapentin
instead of flatulence. My only consolation is that probably makes me somewhat like Falstaff, whom I adore. I will take comfort where it is offered, as always.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

THAT DRATTED THING WITH FEATHERS

I've been thinking a lot about hope today--what it is, what it means, if it is time-bound, and how it can shape our thoughts.

This started when I read a FB post from a friend, a wonderful writer and retreat leader. This election has affected her profoundly (as it has so many of us), bringing her down and raising the worst fears about our country lurching towards fascism. I share these fears. This election is a complete catastrophe, a world-sized truck accident, and I don't know how we are going to manage both our feelings about it and the consequences which shall ensue.

My friend's posted that she wished she could share the hope some of her friends had. I answered, "Maybe it's catching?" Then I added that I thought hope was significantly different from optimism. Someone--R. Rohr or C.S.Lewis--said it is not given to Christians to be optimistic. We simply cannot be sure that things will turn out the way we want. There are always those lions prowling about the Coliseum
, and things did not end well. But hope is different for me. Here's why:

--Yes, hope is that thing which perches in the tree and sings to depressed, amazing Emily Dickinson. But this is a small image, and it is a thin song.

--My brother, a practicing Buddhist, believes hope is an illusion, that it is time-based--sending us towards the future--when all we have is the Now. I get that and I respect it.  But...

--Why is the word "hope" mentioned so many times in the Bible? At least 129 times. (Thanks, Google.) St. Paul writes, "...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Romans 5: 3-5) These verses literally saved my life when I was in deep despair. I never rejoice over my sufferings, but I'm down with hope in our hearts. And it is not something I build through my own efforts; it is a gift from God.

--I believe hope is a form of trust, that it is a direction of the heart which connects us to God and to each other.  It doesn't say--"Everything will turn out right; God has a plan; and nothing happens by accident."  Those statements actually make me want to tear out my miniscule 1" of hair and run screaming down the driveway searching for Death Cap mushrooms.  Those are cruel, deceptive statements, as well as bad theology.

--Hope says: "My story is bigger than this story." (That's God speaking about the election; got it from Her mouth to my ear.)  We and our miseries, worries, fears, and despair, are held in the lavish, enormous love of God, which is far bigger than anything we could imagine. Evil does not have the last word. Ever. Giuliani, Bannon, Trump, Newt, and all the howling hyenas from "The Lion King" will not have the final word. They can and will make life ENORMOUSLY miserable for the most vulnerable of us.  I hate that. But they will not last forever; we will come back; we will revive what can be revived. We will bring water to the thirsty deserts and do whatever we can to contain and limit the damage of this vile presidency.

Of course we should organize, protest, march, fight back, and throw the suckers out as soon as we can. But in the meantime--remember the dratted thing with feathers; hope is alive in our hearts even when things look bleak and impossible.




Friday, November 11, 2016

WHAT'S NEXT?

Ok, The unimaginable has happened. Trump has won. The Donald and his thong-wearing, gun-toting wife and rather dim children who go big-game hunting will grace the hallowed halls where Jefferson once walked, Lincoln paced, FDR wheeled his chair, and President Obama, Michelle, and their two daughters cheered our hearts. Not to mention Hilary and Bill.

Ack, as my second-born would say. When I first heard the election news, I felt the depression wheel going into high gear. I could literally hear it humming within as despair, craziness, incomprehension, anger, and a host of other things I am not supposed to do as a Catholic whirred around the wheel. Ack.

Then, after an hour or so of over-eating, looking at every bit of news and Twitter feeds that I could find, I yanked one small prayer out of my churning insides. This is Annie Lamott's favorite prayer, one of two;  helphelphelphelp.  I can't get to the thankyouthankyou part yet.

Something settled inside, probably as a result of calling on the Holy Spirit who comes to visit when I am in unstable mode. It said, "Go forth and do something. Do not sit in despair. Be proactive, babe." It could have been "dame," as the Holy spirit seems to channel 1940s films in my mind.

I levered off the couch, exercised, showered, put on makeup, dressed, put in earrings, sprayed perfume, and sallied forth to our local market in town. I collected: tuna fish, peanut butter, jelly, pasta, tomato sauce, pineapple chunks, and a host of other goodies which filled two brown bags. Then I drove to the HBA to buy disposable diapers and wipies, for we know that when poor women try to get into the work force, they have to provide diapers for their little ones in Day Care. Off I went to the Survival Center, not exactly humming, but at least not swearing.

As I delivered the packages, I said to the man behind the desk, "I am returning good for evil." He laughed. "I have to pick up my game and do more, 'cause Donald ain't gonna do it!" A lady came around the corner and chimed in, "Yes, we've got to do more!" Pretty soon we were practically swaying and praying together as we formed a small group that refused to be downhearted. We were committed to reaching out to the poorest of us. This felt good.

Returning home, I needed to nap and pray. As I was lifting up the election results and whining, "WHY???", this insight came winging in: "My story is bigger than this story."  Ok, God. That sounds right to me. We are held in your universe, in your light and love. It's still up to us to make things right, but wrong-doing does not have the last word. Hope has the last word.

As Christians, we are pretty sure that optimism is not what is given to us. You have to hide your eyes if you want to hold onto optimism. But hope is different. Here's what St. Paul said, Romans 5:5:

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

We are not alone. We have community, faith, friends, church and political activism, and my favorite NY Times Opinion writer, Frank Bruni, who said: "The one thing we know about Trump is that he is inconsistent. He says one thing and does another."

He can promise a wall--unlikely and expensive. He may promise exiling all Muslims--unconstitutional, we still operate under the rule of law here. I'm not saying I'm not worried: I am, deeply, especially about climate change. I'm not saying everything will turn out all right. It may not. But I am saying that by being proactive, keeping faith, showing up, reading biblical prophets who shouted about justice (Isaiah, Micah, and Amos), and reaching out to the marginalized--we might, just might make it through the next four years with our reason intact. I will make no promises about the shape of our country in four years.




Thursday, November 3, 2016

MY SHADOW SELF

"Recovery" has such a lovely, somnolent sound, like a lazy kitten stretching out its paws to the sun. Something one can revel in, reach out one's hands to, and hold loosely, reverently.

"Survivorship" is another spectacular word, and on dark days I wrap it around my throat like a multi-colored scarf, hoping it will reassure me and take away some of the demons jumping in my head.

Here they are:  Last night at the glamorous hour of 3:00 a.m. the cancer panic wheel lurched into motion.  What if the ovarian cancer I had metastasized, hidden behind some organ?  I had months of chemo to deal with that possibility, but what if? And there's my good friend's daughter, whose breast cancer did metastasize to her brain, and now she has to have radiation! Maybe my cancer's hiding in my brain? Maybe I can find a drive-by CAT scan truck which will check out my cranium for not too much money?

I think of myself as basically optimistic, strong, and hopeful, a person of faith. While I didn't exactly sail through two surgeries and months of chemo, I survived pretty well and kept up a somewhat normal life. (That includes lots of cooking.) But sometimes I feel as if I had a dark shadow attached to the back of my body; I can't see it, though I whip my head around to catch a glimpse.  But it is there--the self with dark thoughts, no trust, poor faith, and weird predictions--you will die by 74.

Other times I think of my second self as a flayed skin--as if some part of me had been stripped away by cancer and now was attached, fluttering mutely on my back.  This has the capacity to bring me down, to eat too much, drink too much wine, buy too many items on Amazon, and search frantically through newspapers for good news about promising cancer cures. Found one today on the NY Times, about "checkpoint inhibitors," which rev up the body's T cells to fight cancer. Sounds promising, all except for the few people whose T cells attacked their heart....

In the 6th month out from the cessation of chemo, this is what's happening:  Having walked through my hospital stays and treatment without sobbing
under the covers and snorting unnamed substances, I now find myself on the other side of cancer. If such a thing exists. All of the courage and perseverance I mustered during treatment has a cost; I feel hollowed out, at least for today. I told a good friend, recovering from several courses of chemo, that, "We need a Viagra pill for courage, something to jack it up and make it stand tall."

That's where I am today, with a fistful of mixed metaphors:  Cancer Panic Wheel, Viagra for Courage, and Flayed Skin.  But when something as life-altering and scary as cancer happens, you need a lot of metaphors to build a container to hold it.  I am looking for one, and haven't found it yet. But I'm working on it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

FAST STEP, SLOW STEP

For many years I have exercised daily to DVDs by a woman called, Leslie Sansone, guru of the indoor aerobic walking movement. Sometimes her persistent cheerfulness, even when the world is going up in flames, is grating, enough so that Char once called Leslie, "Peppy-peppy! I think she's on drugs or something."

I think the exercise guru is just a naturally cheerful person, and I like keeping fit with her--especially after cancer. In the DVDs Leslie begins with a warm-up, segues into a faster pace, and then gets going with a spanking workout.  When she changes the pace of the exercise, she cues us in and tells us to adjust to the new speed of walking and moving. "Beat, beat, beat!" she shouts to the rhythm.

Here's the connection with my story: now that I am five months out from chemo, at times I catch myself thinking--"Why don't I have more energy? Why are my legs sometimes wobbly? And what about the damn dizziness, not to mention my chemo brain?" Like many of us, I want it to all be over. Totally over.

I miss that deep reservoir of energy I always had, that allowed me to power through my days in what was frankly a somewhat terrifying way. Clean closets? Done! Make boeuf bourguignon in the slow-cooker? Done! Call two friends in trouble and sympathize with them? Done! Dig in new Fall perennials? Done!

But now I choose activities way, way more carefully. If we are going out at night, I power down on what I accomplish during the day, even if I am looking longingly at the clutter on my desk. If I know I am going to church, I don't plan anything for the remaining hours of daylight, except a nap, a cup of tea, one phone call, and a trashy Steam Punk novel. If I have a writers' meeting, I am exceedingly careful about what I promise to do, as it took a full 3 days to recover from my last one. Sigh.

Some days it riles me that I can't do more, but what I am learning is how to make this into a spiritual practice of intention and mindfulness.  In the morning as I sip tea and nibble on an apple muffin, I just look at the birds outside on our deck. No reading, no iPhone allowed. If I am sitting on the couch with the comforting dog near my shoulder, I spend time just petting her and smoothing her coat before turning on a device. (I admit to several...) If I am reading a book on my tablet, I try hard--not always successfully--not to check: Twitter feed, Facebook, Email, Pinterest, or The Guardian. Stick to one thing is my new mantra.

This is one of the f...ing blessings of a serious illness: it makes you take a close look at your life, what works and what doesn't; at what nourishes and supports your growth, and what tears you down. (Trump!)  And for anyone who struggles with an invisible illness, check out this site: http://butyoudontlooksick.com.  Christine has suffered from lupus and other diseases all of her adult life, but her illnesses are often hidden, and she may look well.  Her metaphor of whether you have enough "spoons" in your drawer (energy and strength) to cope with: calling your mom, going to work, cleaning up the kitchen, taking a bike ride, going out to dinner with friends--whatever--will become part of the way you talk.  It is a brilliant shorthand for talking about where I am in my cancer recovery with friends and family. "Sorry, don't have enough spoons left to come over to supper." "Sorry, I'm out of spoons, heading for the couch!"  And today? I have about 3 spoons left, after making supper, writing my blog, exercising to my DVD, and going to PT. Just enough to sip wine, eat supper, and read a Steam Punk novel. That will have to be enough, and it will be enough.
(n.b.: I have Char to thank for putting me in touch with this site.)







Wednesday, September 7, 2016

BEGINNINGS/ENDINGS

I often wish life were clearer in its ability to come to a full stop or begin something new with clean parameters. As Anne Lamott often laments, "If I were in charge of the Western World I would..."  I would have  an ending that declared itself. Period. No dangling bits, no emotions that slop over, no untied ends. A neat package of life. Then, when something new comes into view, have it be definite and crisp as a white sail against the horizon.

But no. Just to remind ourselves of how sloppy God's world is, we get Fall.  In bits and pieces. August begins to feel "not-like-summer" but like "the-beginning-of-fall."  The leaves on the maple by our deck are turning red in places; Joe Pye Weed is almost over, leaning like drunken revelers; asters send out tentative purple flowers; the warblers migrate, and the hummingbirds are getting ready to leave. Or, as my significant other said this morning, "Hey, bud, where's your suitcase?"

School flyers have already infected and depressed the minds of countless children (not their parents) since the first week in August. Let the shopping commence!  Yellow school buses are parked on streets waiting, like some vast bugs ready to devour children.

I confess to a sense of melancholy. I remember my past and those of my "children" (now 25 and 29) as we got ready for school. Who loved to pick up the phone and order glorious clothes from Hannah Anderssen? Not me. Who liked to visit the Lanesboro Mall for guy clothes and perhaps an action toy to soften the blow of school beginning? All of us. I think we picked up a Barbie as well, hopefully the Barbie Veterinarian or Barbie Doctor with a miniscule stethoscope.

I remember Halloween trick-or-treating, getting the kids dressed in their costumes. One year Ben made a marvelous aluminum devil mask, painting it a vivid red. It scared even me. Once Char dressed as an action hero with sword and scabbard. Each fall I picked pumpkins from the garden, set them on the deck railing, and reveled in them until the first frost brought them slumping to the deck.

At 71, I do relish our empty nest and the ability to come and go as we please. But the ending of having "kids" living with us is a sweet/sad thing. I miss them. I miss the warblers. Soon I will mourn the departing hummingbirds until Rick says, "Get over it, honey,

they will come back."

I know Spring will arrive in a laggard sort of way, giving us one blindingly-sunny warm day only to be followed by a late snowstorm that crushes my daffodils.  I don't know how we bear it, really. Jonah in the whale had nothing on us.

But then--I remember that our God is one of beginnings and endings. The Bible is full of such stories. I began and so shall end, or as my dearest aunt once said, "Annie, music has to come to an end." But somewhere not too faraway, the music will start up again for another person, another flower, and another hummingbird.




Thursday, August 25, 2016

HOW THE DONALD IS MAKING ME A BETTER CHRISTIAN

I like making fun of Donald Trump as much as anyone. The hair--which a Simpson's clip had as a furry dog plopped on his head--; the fake tan (has to be spray on); the tiny hands which could, or could not, have lesser significance. And the rambling, incoherent rants with the repetition of ""Ok?" "Ok?" as he lambastes yet another fictional enemy. I've been known to poke fun at his supporters too, wondering how any sane person could support such a semi-crazed, loose fish. Dangerous fish, actually.

I re-posted on my FB page an image of the resin statue some West Coast dude did of Trump with a saggy ass, a minute pizzle, a hanging gut, and no stones. Then--it kind of came to me. Who am I to poke shaming fun at this man? What about my ass? What about my ridiculous statements?  I really hate feeling shame. It's so uncomfortable, the emotional equivalent of someone scraping their fingernails across a chalk board. Not that we have them anymore.

It took "The Guardian" to poke a hole in my liberal complacency. They called the statues "body-shaming" and "ageist." At first I had to rant about political correctness and the invigorating role of satire in the body politic. But I realized I don't want to stand in this bull-pen anymore flinging cow poop at the Donald.  After all, the man I claim to follow told me to "love your enemies" and not to assume that such a difficult, dangerous, and morally-compromised man is beyond the reach of God's mercy.

So, I guess this is it.  I have to look at The Donald with God's eyes--which is pretty hard in so many ways--and see someone who, for all of my dislike and anxiety, is still a human being. We are all "us," as uneasy
as that makes me with this particular man.

Obviously, I've got some work to do. Probably some praying. Maybe a little wine just to temper my inclination to judge.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

WHY CAN'T THINGS BE MORE COOL?

I realize that the world seems both dangerous and crazy right now, and that what is happening in our country
causes pain and soul-searching about how we can make things better. That's why I am writing this completely no-segue-here blog about why we need things to be cooler. Because--just for a minute or two--we need to give our wounded hearts a rest. So here are a couple of things that irritated me this morning as I began my 30-minute makeup marathon apres chemo:

--Why is it so damn boring flossing one's teeth? You'd think that an activity to improve our health (gum disease and cardiac issues) would be funner. Or more fun. Maybe I need to reward myself with a crispy creme at the end.

--Why aren't Band-aids easier to open? When you need one, you NEED one, and not some pathetic minuscule patch sealed in a paper holder which refuses to open. You end up ripping the thing to shreds while blood drips down your hand, looking as if "Saw" had been filmed in your bathroom with you in a starring role.

--Why are toes so damn weird? I used to have quite pretty ones in a narrow size. Now, due to several fractures, I have to tape them, wear larger size shoes, and also--did I forget to mention the least sexy thing about my feet now--orthotics. Sigh.

--Why must I wear a mouth retainer at night? This is a serious impediment to French kissing or any other kind of kissing for that matter. I know it prevents me grinding my teeth to dust, but couldn't there be a cooler way to do this? Like a paisley retainer with a flirty taste of champagne inside?

--Why can I remember what I paid for my first two-piece bathing suit--a green/white batik Rose Marie Reed one for $13.95--when I was thirteen, and I can't remember facts I studied about Caravaggio for a novel I was writing or the name of my insurance company?

--Why do I think returning to Muumuus would be a good fashion decision?  Pair them with flip-flops and you're set to go.  No more weird, constraining bras; no clutchy underwear; no fussy dressing in the a.m., just pop, and you're dressed. Slip, and you're shod. (And note--the Vermont Country Store had 42 different Muumuus at latest count, clearly still in demand.)

So, I ask you: besides working for social justice, racial harmony, and sanity in our electoral process, let's find some ways to make our lives more cool.  Or cooler. And funner.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

HOW I KICKED MY DAILY AMAZON.COM HABIT

Since my chemo is over and I am now in "recovery" as they so cheerfully call it, I thought that my addiction to Amazon.com would cease. No longer would I order special sweaters or blouses that gave easy access to my port for treatment. No more would large Visa bills come in which would send my husband's eyebrows into the stratosphere. I would be sane, mature, able to order a few Kindle books or a shirt without breaking the budget.

But no. Chemo stopped on May 10th, but my one-click orders have continued unabated: books, shirts, sandals, skin cream, espresso, and more. Recently in prayer I begged God or anyone else who might be listening to help me with this addiction. The reply I got was, "You don't have a reason to stop yet."

Did that make me search for a reason other than the shame I felt at spending so much? Nope. The buying continued, despite prayer and guilt.

Then I realized that before I could find a remedy I first had to understand the roots of my profligacy.  Here are a few thoughts which skittered through my chemo brain:

--I still feel needy, and the frequent delivery of packages helps.
--On some level I must be angry I got cancer, despite my healthy life-style and exercise. "Stuff" could soothe this anger.
--Pushed deep inside was my fear that I might not recover, that I was heading towards death:  Frequent packages of nifty things assured me I had a future and my life would continue.
--Cancer rips away your trust in the days to come and in your own body. You feel grief for the life you had and the person you once were. Grief is a powerful motivator for retail therapy.
--Until recently I had little energy and hardly drove myself into town. Thus I could not do ordinary errands or shopping.

Now I had a fistful of reasons which helped me understand my addiction. Then my husband did something brilliant: As we know, it is very hard to say to your wife who is having chemo, "Honey, the bills are a wee bit high.  Can you rein it in a little?"

He gave me the May/June Visa statement for my card (I know, I'm an old-fashioned dame, sue me) and suggested that I look over the charges to make sure all were authentic. I started to sweat as I went down the long list, imagining physical dollar bills flying out of our window in payment. It was beyond shame or guilt--it was a glimpse of reality, done in the kindest possible way.

I am still impulsive, a lover of "stuff," but now I am more careful--tracking this month's expenses within a limit my husband and I decided on. Huh. Maybe when I look at my Pinterest board for "Mature Beauty", featuring older women with stylish short silver hair, I could believe that the "mature" part actually applies to me. And maybe I can believe that I actually have a future, and don't have to compensate for that fear.



Friday, June 17, 2016

HAIR, HAIR, OH, BEAUTIFUL HAIR!

A few months back, I wrote a cranky blog (not posted) about our culture's obsession with hair and how it grated on me, being hairless. Also bald. Like an opossum without the tail. My crankiness extended to one of my favorite trash past-times, going on Pinterest after dinner. I admit to following Kate Middleton religiously, instead of, say, reading Karl Barth; there's something about her genuine happiness, stunning beauty, and stylish outfits that I found very cheering.

But alongside the cheery images were photos of women's hair--special oils to rub in to increase production; nifty little "do's" with complicated knots behind; and robust auburn ponytails cascading down someone's back. I found all of it rather depressing and had a tendency to take it personally.

However. Now that my chemo is finished (thank you, God), I have a small, subtle haze of hair growing on my head, rather like a new lawn just daring to show above the soil. I zip into our bathrooms at odd intervals so I can peer at myself in the mirror and make sure the fuzz hasn't disappeared when I wasn't looking. I have also taken to smoothing down the "hair" the way I stroke a cat or a short-haired dog with its summer cut.  Even my husband comes in for this as I ask him to pat my head. "Silky, definitely silky," he pronounced this morning. I like that. I aspire to silky.

I extend heart-felt sympathy to anyone going through chemo who has lost their hair; it looms large for women in particular. But it is so enlivening to be on the other side of treatment and to marvel at the rejuvenation at work on my head. I might have to sing a phrase from the "Hallelujah Chorus" to encourage those follicles, in case they are contemplating a summer's nap or taking up meditation instead of growing
.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

CANCER WEATHER

    As we face a prediction of severe thunderstorms, it just struck me how similar cancer is to bad weather. Think about it:
--both are unpredictable;
--damaging storms can whip through suddenly (read test results);
--you are not in control in either case;
--sometimes all you can do is hide;
--you will need a survival kit with food, water, blankets and a book to get through;
--it is good to have someone you love with you in the storm cellar;
--you might come out of this intact, or you may not; the future is unclear;
--a strong faith helps you survive.
    I read the weather news obsessively. My fav dude is Dave Hayes the Weather Nut, who forecasts our Mass. Weather in fine detail. He includes warnings about when to leave for Logan airport on a stormy winter day ("Dave, when should I leave?"), and advice on whether a cook-out with relatives or a wedding might have to move inside.
    Like those who read the weather forecasts, when I go for a medical procedure I always leave with a fistful of instructions:  No heavy lifting for days (after port removed); no showers for 3 days; no swimming for 7; and when appropriate, take nausea pills before it gets bad. Now I am a good patient in that I follow instructions faithfully whether in health or bad weather.
    I also pray that storms will go out to sea; that the roiling nausea shall not overcome me; that the rain will let up so farmers can plant; and that the port will stop hurting before my oxycodone runs out.
    Does God listen? I believe he does, just not always in the way we wish. I often thought that I might need to learn something crucial through my ordeal. Perhaps a session in the tornado (medical) cellar will remind me of patience or the need to depend on something greater than myself. An unpleasant hospital procedure can remind me of the deep goodness and compassion to be found in health-care workers. A session in the operating theater introduces me to Rachel, a nurse who talks me through the whole procedure, chatting with me about food, cooking, music, films, cancer, and kids. I suspect angels often wear puffy blue hats and talk about Beyonce to distract their patients.
   So, I am down with the comparison between unpredictable weather and cancer. At the end, we come out of it with some of our rough edges sanded down, our patience increased, and--as Paul famously wrote in his Letter to the Romans:
    "...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and cha

racter, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."  (Romans 5: 3-5, NIV)

Monday, May 16, 2016

NOW WHAT?

When you finish chemo, it's kind of like coming out of a tornado cellar beneath your house, looking around, and wondering what's still standing. The house to your left is completely leveled, but the one to your right is, despite all logic, still standing. Trees are down. Lines spark across the street. A dog wanders sadly into a house, nosing the debris.  Somewhere a child cries. Desolate does not describe it.

I expected to feel some elation--and I did; some lifting of mood--and I did. I was grateful to be done with toxic chemicals. I suspected there would be ups and downs--and there are. There is no clean finish here, no decisive end to the battle where you lay down your arms and say, "It is finished, thank God."  Rather it's a dribble of depression; a frisson of gloom; and a cold draft of fear.

What if they didn't get it all? What if there's another tumor growing somewhere that they missed? Will I be able to have a "normal life-span," whatever that is?  Will I be able to pick up the life I had before cancer and somehow resume it? Will I even be the same person I was before?

I rather doubt it. I don't think you can go through the radical rearrangement of cancer without changing significantly.  We have been stripped down.  Our bodies have felt wretched for days, weeks, and months on end. Our hair is gone (everywhere!), our nails hurt when we type, our legs still wobble after the last infusion, and the gut--well, enough said about that. At least I am able to eat some of the fantastic Blue Apron meals (Christmas in a box!), which is a joy.

But that is the tough part--feeling joy. I don't quite trust life in the same way I did before, even though I knew there would be some depth charges waiting for me. My guard is up. My fists are curled in a defensive position. I know I need to let go and let suffering and the months of treatment have their way with me. I've got some serious work to do inside to process where I have been--where we have been as a family--and where I am now.

I saw a video clip on FB recently of a stunningly graceful ray swimming along through the ocean. It seemed so effortless, just waving its fins from time to time to keep gliding through the water. I yearned to be like that creature, completely at home in the water, able to move with the minimum of effort and at home in its surroundings.

I am not at home right now
and will have to figure out a way to become so once again. I know prayer, friends, family, and church will form a big part of this, as well as long walks, talking with my homies, and my dear husband. Probably petting the Jack Russell's fur will help too, but it ain't gonna be quick, and it ain't gonna be easy. The landscape still seems leveled, and I have to figure out how to deal with that.

Friday, April 29, 2016

WHAT GETS YOU THROUGH


I've been thinking a lot about what gets us through times of illness, loss, and personal crises. In reading this book aloud to my husband--Don't Panic: How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough, by Maureen Pratt--I am reminded of how we survived crises as a family and how those strategies can help me crawl through the remaining weeks of chemo. This is my open letter summarizing what I have learned, and I hope it can help anyone in crisis or starting chemo.

Rituals:

--We had a number of rituals when the kids were younger: take-out pizza on a quilt in front of the TV, watching movies. No problem if you dropped things or got grease on the quilt. The looser rules around eating and the pleasure of casual pizza took us through some difficult days.

-Another ritual we had was cosying up on the sofa with big bowls of ice cream to watch "The Simpsons."  Crazy laughter, Bart, and the sweet fat of desert helped us through one child's serious illness.  It's the little things that get you through.

What things which worked in the past can you apply to your life now; what can you let go of?

Small Tasks:

As my chemo got harder and my ability to bounce back (hell, I'd settle for crawl back) took longer, I worried about how little I was contributing to the household. I used to be the energizer bunny: meeting friends, shopping, gardening, attending church, writing, cooking, and more. No longer possible! I learned to set the timer for 5 or 10 min. and plan on doing only one task. I could perch on a stool and scrub out the sink, or peel carrots to steam for supper. I could begin a blog post while sitting down, not worrying about finishing. When you measure out your life in teaspoons, this is a source of confidence. Forget big accomplishments and who you used to be: set the bar way, way lower.

Can you allow yourself the mercy of doing and expecting less?

Instagram & Pinterest:

--I am not kidding: social media got me through hard days, even when in bed after surgery. I could scroll through my iPhone, answer emails, look at new photos, and keep up with friends on Facebook. This kept me connected to my world. And when I was able to creep around my kitchen and make rice pudding to die for, I could post it on Instagram and feel proud.

--On days when chemo addled my brain  (some research from the University of Rochester indicates that "chemo brain" may occur because the toxic chemicals may shut down production of new brain cells), I could curl up under a blanket and look at Pinterest. It kept hope for the future alive--someday I'll make that cilantro/lime chicken; someday I'll toss a scarf around my neck like Kate Middleton; someday I'll paint again. Sherry Terkel complains about social media not being "real contact," but when you have dropped out of your life and world, it damn all helps.

Can you let go of the opinions of others, even experts, to craft a reduced life which works and brings some joy?

My Family:

--People don't always know how much tiny interactions mean to us. When my second adult child texted me about trying to feed their cows apple slices by hand, I got a good laugh. At night, if nausea made it impossible to sleep, I knew I could text this dear person, for they would be awake at 2:00 a.m. A response in the dark night made me feel less alone.(I was not about to wake my husband!)

--When my son texted me pictures of their races (both he and his wife are ardent marathoners), their cute dog, and the latest delivery from Blue Apron, this took my mind off my troubles. They had lives, and one day soon I would too.

--My two brothers stayed connected with me in ways which warmed my heart and sustained my soul: they emailed, phoned, sent gifts, visited, and assured me of their support and love.

--I can't say enough about my dear husband of almost 49 years. When we drove down to the hospital for my infusions, he could always make me laugh. Or he'd slide the Mariah Carey CD in so we could sing, "Jesus! Jesus! Oohhh, What a Wonderful Child!" Don't be afraid to rest on the support of your close loved ones; they are a raft in hard times.

Can you ask family to contact you more, telling them how much it lifts your spirits?

God:

Those who know me know I pray a lot. Sometimes those prayers resemble Annie Lamott's, helphelphelp and thankyouthankyouthankyou.  I used a variety of prayer tools during surgery and chemo:

--The Rosary was really helpful when my brain was clouded by chemicals. The serene, known repetition of the Hail Mary's grounded and calmed me.

--Any daily scripture readings can be marvelous. I used "Give Us This Day," Daily Prayer for Catholics. When I couldn't get to church, I could follow the readings and feel I was still part of the liturgy and worship.

--SacredSpace.ie is an internet site run by the Irish Jesuits which offers readings, reflections, meditations, and commentary. Really useful.  If you don't have one already, developing a daily habit of reading Scripture and praying is a life raft.

Can you take the first step towards beginning a prayer life, even if you are not quite sure about God? Helphelphelp is a good place to start.

Nature:

Though all the nature you may see is a plant in the window or pictures of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden on your iPhone, go for it. Recent research in the NYTimes Well Blog shows that even looking at photos of greenery can boost your mood and connection. We were made, after all, to inhabit a garden.

--When I recently hit bottom, feeling that health was a never-to-be-attained state of being, I kept walking with a cane on our deck. Probably the chemo and some depression made me sense I was "seeing through a glass darkly," and no face-to-face either, sister. I peered through a dusty window at the world and felt--nothing. Then I looked at the stone wall below at a chipmunk frisking about, tail twitching. For a moment it looked up at me as if to say, "WTF? What is this huge thing?" Then it whisked between two stones, disappeared, and somehow the glass broke, the dusty panes crumbled, and I felt joy again. Praises be.  Never underestimate the power of something living to bring you back to life again.

Make time to be outdoors, even if that means sitting still on a chair and watching the leaves come out or the birds perch in the branches.

Friends:

Many friends from church and my Writers' Group were delicate and respectful about being in touch with me, usually by email. By keeping in touch, my writer friends gave me the sense I had not actually dropped through a stage trap door and disappeared. (You know who invented this nifty device? The Jesuits!)

--Phone calls were welcome but even now, anything longer than 10 minutes exhausts me. I don't have the spoons for more. If you don't know this apt metaphor for chronic illness, check out:  www.butyoudontlooksick.com. Try connecting to the community of "spoonies" who understand what you are going through and can offer helpful hints re. makeup, wigs, energy loss, and recovery.

Consider that having cancer is actually a form of disability, and you need to care for yourself as if you were disabled.

And Last But Not Least, Amazon.com:

I am lucky to be married to a still-working man with a decent salary, so I was able to order many chotchkies on my favorite site.

--This ranged from: eyebrow tint gel; good creams for chemo-stressed skin; v-necked shirts for chemo infusions; black church hats to make me feel dashing; fuzzy warm tights for hard days; and Kindle books of a gentle nature, like the "Miss Read" books.  Be protective of what you read and watch: I found any TV violence made me ill, and I stopped reading the NYTimes for awhile.

It took me time to learn that what I put into my mind affected how my body felt. Surround yourself with nourishing things for now.

You will have your own strategies for coping:
you have more inner resources than you know, and going through a crisis will strengthen you. It is not fun, but you will be changed forever. And, as a humorous minister friend of mine used to say, "Here comes another f...ing blessing!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

YOU KNOW YOU'VE GOT CANCER/CHEMO WHEN.....

I'm compiling a list. Lists are good when your mind is shredded, your body floppy, and you are looking for some order and control in your life--something in short supply when going through chemo. As my favorite Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, says, "Suffering is whenever you are not in control." Check!

So here's my list, a way of ascertaining that you are in the midst of this struggle, just in case you didn't know:

--Your favorite time of day is bedtime when you can take off your makeup and false eyebrows, pull off your wig, and get into pajamas. Ah....

--You have started to reread your Kindle books again even though you just reread them 3 weeks ago. For me that includes Elly Griffiths' "The Crossing Places" (English forensic detective) and Deborah Harkness's "Discovery of Witches."  I like the known right now; I don't want any surprises. My life already has too many of them.

--On the vanity in the bathroom you have side by side: nausea pills, stool softener, Imodium, and laxatives. Do NOT take them all at the same time!

--You discover that following Kate Middleton on Pinterest is utterly absorbing, and small exclamations of delight escape at each new fabulous outfit and trendy hat. I don't even like hats, but I am comforted by following a happy lady who seems to have it all together, and, at least for now, is unmarked by tragedy.

--You make a list of friends and family to call one day, but it only has two names on it because that is all you can decently manage without babbling and falling into a fugue state.

--You schedule visits with folks very carefully because two-three a week is about all you can do. Chemo/cancer is a vast energy drain which makes ordinary social occasions--like meeting a friend for a cappuchino--difficult.

--You catch a glimpse of your bald head in the mirror in the morning and start back. "Say it ain't so! Is that me?" You think you are getting used to it but---My husband assures me my head is "elegant" but all I can think of is my strange resemblance to an opossum.

--You pour a glass of lovely chilled Chardonnay (hopefully "Toasted Head") one night and realize after one sip that you'd really prefer water or Gatorade instead. Your taste buds have changed.

--You try and roll a joint (courtesy of legal MM) and realize your education is seriously deficient. The weed falls out, the paper unrolls, and I singe what's left of my eyebrows trying to keep the joint lit. Husband goes on YouTube for tips on how to roll joints, which they cunningly call, "Herbal Infusion." My kids think this is all simply hilarious.

--You think you are doing fine, keeping up your spirits and courage, and then one day find yourself with tears streaming down your face.  "I want my life back," you sob.

--These are just a few of the markers I've found in the last months. You, or someone you know and love, might have different markers. But what we share is this deep sense of vulnerability; a yearning for our lost life "before"; and a fierce hope that one day all will be well even though you know that your life has changed and you with it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

NEWS FLASH--CHEMO BRAIN AFFECTS SPOUSES!

I notice as I progress further in my chemo treatments (now starting the 4th cycle of 3-week infusions out of a total of 6) that my brain is shredding. Like the skin you peel off your body after sunbathing too enthusiastically. Or the dust cloud when you remove your socks, entirely composed of flaky skin.

I try to remember dates and can't. I attempt to reclaim the word for something simple like "Generator," which we will install later in the spring, and cannot find it no matter how long I poke around in my brain. I am reduced to talking like someone who is trying to master English--possibly from Serbo-Croatia--and not quite getting there. "You know, honey, that thing we turn on when the power goes out so we can flush...(brain rummage) toilets and turn on the...(brain rummage) lights?"

I have to tell you this is damn humiliating for an English major and a professional writer who has published 50 children's books in my long and satisfying career. To have words fly off into space like some red-face booby? Honestly God, couldn't you help me out here?

Perhaps I shall resort to what one of my kids did in High School to remember things--use my palm as a palm -pilot, writing notes in ink on the skin--shower, email, panninis, wash wig when?


So this is my confession of a corroded brain, but I am noticing lately that my fabulous husband is suffering from some of the same problems. He will start to walk briskly into the kitchen, pause, then mutter, "Why am I here?" I will call out, "Coffee?"  "Yeah, that." 

He recently was on the phone checking into dental coverage for one of our grown kids, and I know the insurance rep on the other end has just asked, "What is the birth date of your child?" Rick pulls the phone away from his ear and shouts to me, "What is the birth date, Annie?" Once off the phone he admits, "I knew it, I just couldn't access it." Sounds familiar.

This is happening a lot. It could be discouraging, but actually it is occasion for laughter. I think it's funny that my brain is more wobbly--like my legs and hands. 'Cause I know it won't last. Once we're out of the chemo thicket, my brain, energy, and steady hands will come back. And for my husband, the same will be true. As I tell him, "Lucky you are so damn brilliant because even if your brain is shredding, you still have more to work with than many."

This earns me a loving smile, which goes a long way towards helping the trembly brain.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

PICASSO'S MAKEUP SALON

I should be glad that I still have two eyes which basically work. Notice the word "basically," which means one of them isn't worth much. I am grateful I can see--mostly--and that my right eye is darn nifty. But the left one...

The reason for going into this (surely you are interested in my eyesight?) is to explain that applying makeup in the morning so I don't frighten the horses has become an ordeal. Picture this:

--First I smooth Dr. Hauschka Quince Day Cream over my face, the delicious smell lifting my spirits.  Then comes beige concealer beneath my eyes, along the brown spots on my cheeks, and over odd bits and pieces above my brows indicative of too much sunbathing in the Caribbean.

--I grip my lip-liner firmly, as my hands are trembly this morning, and I don't want to make mistakes.  Ooops!  Up to my nostrils I go, trying to define my lips. They were here a few seconds ago. Where in hell did they go? Maybe they are cavorting with my left eye in some boozy dive. Anyway--the lip-liner skids and misses, but because I can't see so well, it doesn't much matter. 

--Next comes the lipstick, applied carefully with a slight wobble within the wavering line. Not too bad. Now I look like everyone's grandma in church in the mid-fifties; all I need is one of those cool fold-out plastic hats to keep my hair from frizzing. Oh, wait, I forgot. I don't have hair. Perhaps my wig will frizz? More research is needed.

--Then comes the expensive eyebrow kit. I peer at the 3 plastic templates for my disappearing brows: one says, Fine (nope, too little); another Medium (looks good); and the third is full which looks like Einstein's facial hair. I seize the "Medium" template, plaster it carefully over my right brow, dip the brush in the brown powder, and stroke back and forth. When I remove the plastic, the right shape matches the exuberant and inaccurate lip-liner and zips way above the former natural line. I shrug my shoulders. We can't afford to be picky here. On to the left, which suffers the same disordered hand and comes out looking like Lucy Arnez's eyebrows

in the skit where she makes candy with Edith.

--Did I forget to mention eyeliner, either liquid or solid pencil? If my hand is too trembly I have to use the solid, as the liquid could go all to hell and back. Drawing lines on pulled-down eyelids doesn't seem to go well. Perhaps some of my kids' old crayons would work better?

--Panting slightly I smooth Benecos Organic "Honey" foundation (organic because we don't want to get cancer!) over my skin, paying special attention to the pouchy bits beneath my eyes. Perhaps I need some cucumbers there, or steak, which I could then eat raw to keep up my hematocrit levels for chemo.  I start to hum, thinking I am making good progress as I pat on the translucent bronzing tint from Dr. Hauschka, which makes me look as if I had just run gaily through a meadow under a bright sun.

--Last to come is the black mascara, filling out the sparse hairs, and time for the wig from Raquel Welch. Tug it over my ears, and I am ready!

Bright orange mouth a tad off center; eyebrows lavishly drawn and expressing either surprise or disgust; foundation and tint applied with no big lumps; and--ta-da!--I am a graduate of Picasso's Makeup Salon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

GOD AND CHEMO

As I dealt with yet another gut upset this morning, I thought about how out of control my body sometimes feels now I am going through chemo; how, when I go into the hospital, sit in the barcalounger, and wait for a friendly nurse to stab my port to start the infusion, I know I am not in control. This is sobering, humbling, often frustrating, and another one of those f...ing blessings where I learn a crucial life lesson. Damn it.

This is what's going through my mind now as I watch my hands tremble on the keyboard like some absinthe-addicted Parisian of the 19th-century.

Christ shows us how to keep walking when we are not in control, when life seems arrayed against us, when even our ability to walk across the room on wobbly legs seems uncertain.  I rather suspect that He looks at me askance, a slight smile on his face. "Yeah, Annie, I know how you love being in control! How proud you were of doing 10,500 steps on your Fitbit each day, exercising to the Peppy-Peppy DVD so your legs would be thin, and keeping your weight in check. I know all that."

Perhaps he shrugs as a way of saying, "It doesn't matter, honey, none of that matters in the end."

Then how do I figure Christ is with me in this debilitating chemo? I both look for Jesus in the process and invite Him in:  When I sit in the chair for the infusion, I make a small sign of the cross over my heart, putting Christ there. I wear my St. Peregrine medal (patron saint of those with cancer) and my St. Michael's medal, defender against all ills.  They help me to feel safe. I look over at my beloved husband of 49 years who always shows up to drive me to appointments, sit with me, ask questions, bring me tea, and comfort me if the day is bad. How is that not Christ showing up in the guise of my beloved?

If I don't understand what's happening to my body--as in the recent appearance of some festive and painful mouth sores which made it hard to both eat and talk (two of my favorite activities)--I ask Jesus, "What fresh new hell is this? How're we gonna deal with this?"  


Maybe the only answer to that lies in something I recently read about a man praying in front of one of Rouault's paintings of Christ on the cross. He asked why his mother had Alzheimer's, how such a good person could
suffer like this? In the silence the praying man sensed Christ saying to him within, "I understand. You are not alone."  Not, "I will fix this for you, but I will stand with you in this."

When my hair fell out--a startling process even if expected--I remembered that I had made a promise to God earlier, that to ease the sadness of losing my hair (naturally curly!) I would imagine myself gathering it all on a plate and offering it up to God; "Here, this belongs to you. You created it, and I am giving it back to you."

In the end, isn't that what this whole life journey is about? Not just surviving chemo but being alive until our end comes? Then I will say to God:

This body belongs to you. I never owned it, though I thought I did. Here it is back with all of its scars, mileage, sorrows, joys, and abundance. Thank you for the loan of it. Now it is yours.


Monday, February 29, 2016

WHAT NOT TO SAY TO A CANCER PATIENT--A MODEST PROPOSAL

If there is one thing the cancer patients I know have in common, it is their dread at being asked, "How are you feeling?"

Well, how the hell do you think I'm feeling. I've got cancer, baby!

You want to say that but instead, one is compelled to be polite, smile graciously, nod, and give a thumbs up, which is the cancer emoji for, Yeah, I'm surviving, but it is not the most honest thing one could say. That's the problem with emojis. They aren't subtle.

So when you meet up with a friend who is undergoing radiation, chemo, or has a cancer surgery scheduled soon, do NOT ask how they are feeling. Here's a modest proposal. Say instead:

Hey, I hear you are going through a hard time right now. I am so sorry. I'm thinking of you and keeping you close in my heart.

This reassures the unfortunate patient and does not require a response which is, in fact, difficult when taxol and carbo drain the vital bodily fluids from one's veins. Being social and polite become doubly difficult when undergoing chemo.

Another thing it would be good to avoid is the enthusiastic and well-meant response--after looking at my Raquel Welch wig and my face (which took me half-an-hour to put on, including drawing eyebrows on 'cause I ain't got hair there, and we won't mention the other areas which have become like a parking lot outside Walmarts), "You look wonderful, really."  Not sick at all, is the subtext. So what happens when I am halfway through the dreaded chemo and look like shit, will you say, "You look like sh...., I mean, a little tired, honey."

Here's another area to be sensitive to--touching and hugging. Our immune systems are the victims of a Putin dictatorship and are pretty much flattened.  We are trying valiantly not to get sick (I thought of wearing a full-body condom), because that will mean missing a weekly infusion, ad we so don't want to do that!  So please--don't touch my hands (even though I would you love to), don't hug me, and don't breathe on me. If you must touch me, put a gentle hand on my back and rub soothingly. "Thinking of you, honey," always goes down well.

Imagine that you are trying to hug a 75 year-old farm wife from Idaho who wears foundation garments, dress shields, and other unmentionables. I have a port, which is often sore, especially when touched or bumped; I wear a bra that would horrify a Victoria Secrets' customer; and it is best to just not come too close to the undergarment structure here.

Oh, before I forget, there is one other statement that makes me bat shit crazy:  When people say to me, "Stay strong!" Are you kidding?  What do you think I'm bloody well doing? I showed up. I have makeup on so I won't frighten the horses. I am not sobbing helplessly under the covers and snorting cocaine.  I AM strong and resilient, thank the Lord, but don't tell me to be strong, because that just reflects your own insecurities about my having cancer. And there will be days when I will so not be strong, and I want to be able to have those too.

So these are a few modest suggestions for showing that you get a little bit what life is like for me now and that you are respectful of my boundaries.

In a vaguely connected segue, let's remember that today's Gospel lesson is about Namman the Syrian being cured of leprosy by dunking 7 times into the Jordan, on the advice of Elisha or was it Elijah (one went up to heaven in a Back to the Future flaming chariot, and the other got fed stale bread by ravens, probably wishing he had some Purell). As so often happens when we encounter the Holy, Namaan is like, "Are you f...ing serious? I came all this way with my retinue of servants, tons of gold, etc., and you want me to bathe in a bloody green RIVER?"  But he does and is cured.

I would like to bathe in the Jordan and be miraculously healed, throwing away my damn wig, my roiling gut, my fatigue and trembling fingers, and the weekly infusions. I thought momentarily about buying lots of green Rit dye and pouring it into the neighboring Mill River to take a 7-times dunking, but something tells me that dye isn't what makes a river holy. (If you don't know this already, the Jordan is a sprightly, toxic green now.)

I also know that I am on the midst of a journey--the slow road to healing. Though Jesus reserves the right to step into my life (Oh, please!) and miraculously heal me, I know that isn't how things usually work.  How it works for me instead is lying in bed in the early morning dark and feeling His blessed presence like a warm shawl wrapped around me.  I know He is here with me, walking with me, reminding me that I am not alone. And if that isn't pretty damn close to a healing, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

TIME FOR AN UPGRADE ON THE OS, GOD!

Having just clicked on the OS upgrade for my iPhone 6 and my iPad, I am suddenly aware how necessary this improved software is if we are to continue with security features and swifter actions over the internet, as well as other bells and whistles.

So it struck me:  How come God doesn't give us an upgrade on our operating system? I seriously think we need one, and I am a bit annoyed with our creator for not for seeing this. Here are some modest suggestions for crucial areas which need tweaking:

1/ Get rid of the appendix.  Maybe in Neanderthal times it served a purpose, but now it just seems to be this wiggly, fleshy thing which gets infected when we are hiking in the Andes, or, in my case, produces a weird little tumor on the end, kind of like a pinky ring.

2/ Sinuses, really, God? What WERE you thinking of? Even doctors confess that these are a bad design--hard to drain, difficult to keep clean, and liable to build up toxic bacteria which cause headaches and infections that
make grown adults cry.

3/ Why give the elephants all those grand cancer-fighting genes, oh, Holy One? What, we weren't good enough for you? Why do pachyderms need them and not us? So please, when you are figuring out the new OS, transfer some of those great genes into our human bodies.  I sure could use some as well as many other people I know!

4/ Also, the joints. Seriously. Hips and knees?  I realize the life-span of humans used to be around 40 years, but now with modern medicine and better diets we are living far into our 70s. I am not suggesting Teflon or some odd metal, but perhaps super-dense hip and knee joints would do well.

These are just a few ideas, Lord, which would make human life on earth a bit easier and more festive. You notice I didn't say anything about replacing human violence and hatred with love and mercy. I think you are already working on that one.

Monday, February 15, 2016

BUN THEOLOGY

I did not invent this fabulous title--my husband did after seeing me reverentially carrying in the first baking of Hot Cross Buns from the local market.  I stepped carefully, knowing I was carrying something holy which I did not want to drop. Can I even express what those square treats with white icing in the shape of a cross on top mean to me?

Childhood--going to Reibach's Bakery with my mom and buying the Lenten buns. By then Mom was pretty far from traditional Christianity, more like a Unitarian in fact, but she had been brought up in the Protestant Church, and her grandfather--L.Clark Seelye--was a minister.  She would have attended services with her family. So, in some way, the food marked by Christ's cross must have meant something to her.

As I begged to eat one before we got home, Mom gave in and handed me a warm treat the like of which I shall probably never again experience this side of heaven. It was Eucharist for me, though I had no knowledge of this Sacrament then, no idea who Jesus was, though I must have asked some pesky questions because I knew the food had religious significance. In our family the only altars my family worshipped at were: nature, birds, Bach, and I.F. Stone's Weekly.

Once I had my own kids I bought the Lenten bread for them, but somehow they didn't appreciate it.  "Ack, I hate raisins!" Ben declared.  "What are those weird green and red bits, Mom?"  Char spat them out.  I adore candied citron as well as raisins, and if one of my kids had wanted to scrape the thick lashings of white frosting off with their milk teeth, I wouldn't have protested. It was all part of the Sacrament, after all.

So how do we get from festive eating to Jesus and the cross? We know that Jesus practiced "table fellowship," that one of his brilliant ideas was inviting broken and marginalized people to sit with him to eat and drink.  How else do we include people on the outside into the kingdom?  I think these buns are an open door to the kingdom, if we only recognized it.

I believe Jesus was also brilliant with symbols.  He knew that turning water into wine would go down very well indeed, and that it would remind all that God saves the best for last; that He is a god of abundance, not scarcity; and that miracles happened then and still do if we only can see them.

If I weren't so worried about ruining a perfectly sweet piece of paradise, I would consider sticking a Hot Cross Bun in my purse. So that when the days are dark and the nights too long; when my body is tired from chemo and I am not feeling particularly brave; I could reach in, lift out the bun, and take a deep bite of heaven.  It would reassure me that God is near--that He cares if I am hungry or afraid--and that He takes joy in my innocent pleasure at a t
reat that reminds me of His suffering at the same time that it reminds me of His joy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

WHY I AM NOT DOING LENT THIS YEAR

I've been having my own private Lent since the end of October when I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, through two back-to-back cancer surgeries and the ensuing recovery, then learning there was a third cancer--ovarian--which took me to the festive journey of 18 weeks of chemo.

This is not a complaint nor a litany of suffering. I KNOW other people have it far worse than I, and I know my prognosis is good while so many do not have that. I am deeply grateful for the skilled care I've received and look towards a hopeful conclusion
in June.

Nonetheless--cancer means you are stripped down. Utterly. You are brought right to the core of your being, your faith, your marriage, your family, your body, and whatever fantasies you had about health and a long life. It isn't necessarily a bad thing to do this; there is no question that suffering and giving up big sections of your life (and hair) leads to a softer heart, a quicker sympathy for others in difficulties, and a sense of overflowing gratitude just for being upright, dressed, fed, and living with someone you love beyond life itself.

So, I am not giving up anything for Lent this year. No fasting either. Gotta keep my weight up. But I am going to get my ashes with a friend soon, and that will remind me--not that I need reminding--that I am dust and ashes, and some time (praise God let it be later rather than sooner) I will join the earth and my God for the next stage of my life where I will be something other than dust.