One of the lowest points I can remember from cancer treatment had nothing to do with me. I was only a witness.
8am in the cancer center found me waiting for appointment number six billion when I overheard the couple sitting behind me. I don’t know what they looked like. I don’t know how old they were. I don’t know if they were husband and wife, mother and son, brother and sister. I couldn’t turn around to look and I didn’t want to glance over my shoulder when I was called by the nurse. I didn’t want them to see my flowing tears.
She had one of those deep, painful, relentless coughs and she struggled and gasped for breath in between. But every few minutes she’d manage to spill out, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I just can’t do this anymore.”
And all he could answer every time was “I know. I know.”
My eyes sting as I write this now.
I think about them every day.
Depressing, right? Strangely enough, it’s not.
Living with this piece of dark as a fully welcomed guest in my heart is actually my anti-depressant. The most effective one I’ve found.
Daily acknowledgement of the fragility of this whole life-on-earth setup has opened the doors of joy for me. And once you’ve seen joy, happiness (while lovely and fun) becomes a cheap substitute.
Happiness is green lights on Metcalf, and Lamar’s donuts, and wiggly dog butts, and hilarious texts from faraway friends.
Joy is the underlying sense of astonishment that I get to be here for any of it.
Joy is an operating system that knows the overwhelming privilege of this current breath and reminds me I’m in no way entitled to the next.
Frequent exposure to the reality of our delicate and unguaranteed existence makes every little piece of it more incredible.
A few weeks ago, Smitty and I watched from our front yard as the space station made its way from the southwest sky, to directly overhead, and then disappeared behind the ginormous oak tree in the northeast corner of the yard. The experience made me curious about what viewing the earth from space does to a human. And I discovered (via the interwebs) “the overview effect” – essentially the idea that when you’re able to see our little blue marble dangling precariously in the massive black void, protected only by a paper thin layer of atmosphere (which keeps us safe from the perilous goings-on of space and has allowed for all life underneath it, for billions of years), a common response is, “what is this magic and how are we so capable of ignoring it?”
I imagine a similar sentiment in hospice nurses and palliative care doctors, as they constantly brush against the thin veil between this world and the other.
So rather than spend my days anxiously and frantically holding tight, wondering how much time I (and my loves) have here (and what exactly that time will look like) I instead wonder what we all did to get to be here, together in the middle of it, in the first place.
And I wonder how I could possibly deserve anything more than I’ve already had.
And rather than keeping constant vigilance in a futile attempt to avoid and ignore anything resembling uncertainty and sadness, I allow it and welcome it as the price of admission to true joy in this time and place. And without fully understanding, it’s the only way I know to redeem dark into light.