This I Believe –
In 1997 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, fortunately for me at an early enough stage that it was containable. I had a lumpectomy, followed by chemo and radiation. For reasons that are entirely mysterious I was surprisingly accepting of my diagnosis. I don’t mean I didn’t worry – Would the doctors get it all? Would chemo make me sick? Would I lose my hair? – but in general, I was quite fatalistic about my condition and not particularly anxious about my long term prognosis. Friends and family kept saying how “strong” I was/am, but it wasn’t really that (If I were actually in pain or had chronic discomfort I’m pretty sure I’d be very afraid and anxious) I think it’s more about my belief in the cycle of life.
For as long as I can remember, it has felt very clear to me that we’re each such a small part of the vastly larger whole. Because of that, I realized when I was sick, I have no expectation or desire to live forever – or even for a very long time – and it seems appropriate that, like everyone else, I should appreciate the life I’m living, but not hold on to it as if it were my right that it go on indefinitely. Humans have a natural life cycle, just like plants and animals. In my mind’s eye it has a shape – like a bell curve on a graph, only 3 dimensional.
We start small and are concentrated on developing our bodies and the skills necessary to be a part of the world around us. I watch my grandson, age 2, doing this now, with such full immersion and joy it makes my heart lift to witness it. In the center is the flowering, where we’re fully engaged with the world and making whatever mark we’re going to make. In my case I’ve raised my family, run a business and worked on several community boards – and felt sustained and happy in my choices. The last stage is more of a mystery to me – but I expect it to be more reflective, maybe slower , a more minor player on the grand scale, but perhaps very active in my personal world. Ideally I think each stage should be vital and exciting – certainly the first have been.
Now I’m 62. My cancer has moved into my bones and I’m given a prognosis of up to 20 years, if the medecines I’m taking work (which so far they seem to be doing) That’s plenty more time for me. But now I look at my life differently – I see that I’m in the last phase and it seems important to acknowledge this by adjusting my intentions or focus to incorporate this understanding. In line with thinking of the world as a continuum, I imagine I’m in the smller end of the bell curve. But I don’t mean to fold up and wait for the end. I hope I’ll make use of this time to consider what’s really important to me and make sure I do as much of it as I can. Try new art projects, plant more gardens, see my family, continue to travel, to work – but not as much as before, to volunteer. But in an age where the world seems to value the first two stages and to shy away from the last, I’m going to mostly try to put my faith in the natural order of things – and be more accepting of my wrinkles and memory loss – and try to move into this last phase without panic or sadness, but with grace and good humor – and genuine interest in appreciating the phase that I’m in.
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