On this day, the kind stuffed with chores and errands to cross off the endless list (and shout yay me! for remembering to return the Redbox movies before a small fortune was due), I was glad for the chance to slow it down, take a walk, write, eat, drink in the sun. My usual rhythms and routes of travel are well-worn and threadbare; lately, I have felt a deep urge to go off-road, leave behind the familiar, comfortable, if unremarkable banalities of standard-issue daily rhythms, head in a different direction, and seek the sublime in not knowing what comes next.
But there's stuff we just have to do, and after a morning visit to my awesome chiropractor/friend to keep my crooked neck from rusting and my hip from howling, I found myself in the endocrinologist's office for a biopsy on my thyroid, which had sprouted nodules--now overgrown--soon after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2008. There was something all too familiar about this road--the unhappy discovery during my annual exam, the failed, follow up ultrasound to try to "make it go away," the slightly bizarre needle biopsy--and as the procedure progressed, it was all I could do to not go there, to not jump ahead to the surgical biopsy, and those searing three small words, You have cancer.
This time, it must be different. I've done this before. Even the thyroid biopsy part. I'm fine.
The young doctor was on time, this time, and I was happy to bypass a long wait in the cigarette-smokey room that quickly filled with the unwell and took on a depressive, weighty energy that made me think the Dementors were close by. Once in the small pea-green room, I hopped onto the table, too short, as usual, for my long legs, and tried to get comfortable--no johnnie gown, even, just my boots up on the table under me, and the collar of my shirt wrapped in little towels to protect it from the ultrasound goop, the blood, the brush of the doctor's gloved hand. The doctor smiled a lot, called me "my friend" a few too many times, and reminded me of one of my older son's friends. Things started off with a literal bang, with the young doctor knocking the ultrasound monitor smack into the back of my head. Shit, really? I almost asked him, Have you done this before? But I figured he was just nervous, like me, and told him, instead, Hey, no worries. But soon after a pinchy dose of local anesthesia, I felt the unexpected sharp sting and deep ache two or three needles in, and found myself having to fight back tears. Really, Liz? Pathetic. This should be cake for you, sister. But for a half a minute or more I was unraveling, all the sting and ache of the past year surfacing, screaming, and it was all I could do to keep it down. I tried to concentrate on the lame-o tropical fish print tacked on the ceiling above me, got lost in how ridiculously askew it was, and then, in feeling as if I might slide off the table altogether, legs out from under me, drop into the sea. Drowning. A second dose of...what was it? Narcan? No, that couldn't have been it, that's the wonder drug that brings Heroin overdosers back to life. Whatever it was, it didn't help. I closed my eyes, just breathed. Four, five, six needles, and finally, up for air, my throat feeling strangely locked up, bruised, sore. You're good to go, my friend.
I suppose I could have surrendered to that sense of overwhelm and panic and sadness as I could have countless times over and over again, could have canceled my day and went home to do what? Wallow? Call my mother? Cry? What would the point be? I was fine. Stitched together right. Stuffing re-stuffed. Shiny and new. A work in progress, always. Instead, I gathered up the loose ends, tucking a few stray threads here and there, and set out to have my day. There was still time, after all, and I had things to do. Drink too much coffee, for one. Meet with my students. Clean the car out. Bank. Redbox.
Once home, the cat invited me to the deck for a late lunch, so I obliged, and was amazed, as I always am, at how good food can make me feel (or maybe it was the coffee, still). Whatever. Refueled, I put the sleds away, the shovels, cross-country skis, buckets of sand. Swept out the debris left by countless armloads of wood dumped on our deck just outside our wood box. Winter, be gone! Trash, recycling, compost: all emptied, sorted, turned, scrubbed cleaned. Crumbled a half eaten loaf of stale bread onto our decaying picnic table, while the cat rolled in the sun, belly up, and the birds found the bread. Such good distractions, and yet, there it was, still, the heavy thump in my chest, the sick, sticky, weight in my belly.
I needed to walk. Walk it all off--the jittery jumps from too much coffee so many hours ago, the cobwebs that had settled in my head, and especially, the sense of dread that had been welling up throughout the day. Pincers around my head. Heavy boots. And then, four miles later, gone.
Now, light fading again, night has settled in and the cold has returned to snap the spell cast by the day's warmth. And I am reminded of this poem, below, that I've been reworking since last year, and honestly, I can't tell if it's lousy or okay, but it's time to let it go. Keep it in for too long, and it'll rot inside and reek when it comes out, because it will come out, one way or the other. Nodules on your thyroids, perhaps, or tumors in your breasts. Quiet, until they scream. Life requires that we constantly let go to make room for something new, something brave. Especially now, during this season of extended, noxious decay of winter and the gradual return to life, we are reminded of how beautiful it can be, if we take the time to notice and invite the small, unheralded moments of our days to fill the space between shadows and light, and become our stories.
The light hits in a certain way, and everything stops.
We are filled with a hushed, simple joy, the best Life can offer, really. Those shadows run deep, and will wait for you. Tell your stories, and you tend to your shadows. Scar tissue. And the waiting? The uncertainty? Whatever the outcome might be, we climb those hills, head down, so we can greet the sun at the top, just the same. And sometimes it's not there for us, not then, not when we want it to be. But it's all we can do, however fleeting. Into the light, we stay as long as we can.