Wednesday, March 09, 2005

My day jobs

When I'm not being a full-time mom or a part-time fetch-it girl for God, I write a freelance column for this paper. I was employed there for almost 12 years, and have been writing in that space on Sundays for about 11 years. Once upon a time, you could read my work online in a nice, non-fascist, what-a-good-sharer-you-are!, CHRISTIAN, way. Now you have to pay for it, like it was a handjob or extra sour cream at Taco Bell. So, from time to time, I'll post versions of my column on this page. Like now: ... Everyone understands a desert. It doesn’t matter your background, your religion, or whether you’ve ever even seen a desert. Perhaps instinctively, we understand a desert in the same way that we understand a dark woods or a looming mountain. These things are more than features on a map; they are part of our psychic geography. The mountain that must be scaled. The woods that hide unknown terrors. And the desert - the treacherous desert full of dry bones, cruel illusions, isolation and burning winds that sting your skin and roar in your ears so that you can hear nothing but the raspy voice of desperation in your own head. Just a guess. The Christian tradition tips its hat to the power of the desert in the observance of Lent - that season in which we recall Christ’s 40 days in the desert by giving up chocolate and beer. Except on St. Patrick’s Day, which always falls somewhere in Lent. But hey, 40 days is a long time, and since the church doesn’t count Sundays, Lent is really 46 days long. That’s a long time to go without chocolate and beer. In my adult life, the only time I really observed Lent was the year my son Xerxes gave up sodas, and I promised to join him in his little fast. I learned that he has a remarkable will, and that 46 days is too long to lie to your child about whether you’re sneaking sodas at work. As far as I was concerned, Lent and its resolutions were for my grandmother and other little old ladies who thought they would go to H-E-You-Know-Where if they ordered a Big Mac instead of the Filet o’ Fish on Fridays. (Or all season long for the old skoolers - where my Catholics at?) I’ve also never celebrated Mardi Gras. But it was late in the afternoon of Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday last year that I was sitting in a doctor’s office as he read the results of a CT scan that revealed a pelvic mass. After what felt like creeping years of visits to a variety of doctors, blood tests, scopes, biopsies, poking, prodding and generally redefining my notion of personal privacy, my diagnosis was still unclear. It could be something benign, they said. Or it could be ovarian cancer. Or it could be cancer that started somewhere else and had spread. It could be nothing. Or it could be everything. During those weeks of truly indescribable terror with nothing but the burning wind in my ears, my family and friends drew a tight circle around me. My husband and mother were an inexhaustible tag-team of support, ferrying me to appointments and procedures, cheering me on, making me laugh and, when the time came, sleeping in chairs in my hospital room. While I was laughing and being cheered, though, I was also getting friendly with my own mortality. We were calling each other by first names and boring each other with stories we had already told. Thirteen days before Easter, my surgery date finally arrived. It went well. My diagnosis was stage one ovarian cancer; not nothing, but not everything. I was lucky. I healed quickly, and was discharged from the hospital on Palm Sunday. On Maundy Thursday, at 5 a.m., my mother died unexpectedly of complications from cancer she never knew she had, and which had spread throughout her body. My husband was with her, and before she died we were all there, drawing a tight circle around her. By Easter, my house was full of mourners and casseroles brought by friends and church ladies from St. John’s Episcopal. I never asked “Why me?” Instead, I was chilled by knowing that it might as well be me. “Why not me?” This is not a question you can bring to your terrified family, so I brought it to my priest, the Rev. Teresa. She listened as I described my fears, my sadness, my humble gratitude for the people around me and my hopefulness that persisted beyond all reason. “These,” she said, “are desert experiences.” We understand the desert. It terrifies us, but we cross it. We spend 40 days leaning into the stinging wind, blinded and spitting sand. We fall, we give up, we are less brave than we had hoped we would be. We suffer, we cry, we practice dying. But we also laugh and go to movies and drink wine with friends. We help each other cross the shifting sand. And we look for hope that persists beyond all reason.

2 Comments:

Blogger PPB said...

Oh my goodness; what a story and what a beautiful, beautiful telling of it.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a throat cancer site. It pretty much covers throat cancer related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)

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10:22 PM  

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