Charting life's circuitous path

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Balled up words

Words are full – they’re full of meaning, connotation, history, nuance…

They’re also so big sometimes that they stick in the back of your throat and never come out.  We say “I’m so sorry” because we don’t have the words to truly voice the chaotic emotions in our heart.  The hurt, the sadness, the memories are all balling up and wedging themselves like a plug.  We whisper “take care” and what we mean is “stay with me, don’t leave, get better, be like before.”

Don’t die.

I’m grateful we live during a time where words like cancer can be spoken out loud.  I only wish that the emotions came with an easier vocabulary.  But words are only words – limited in definition and size.  Their inadequacies feel like our own as we try to emotionally deal with something we spend most of our lives ignoring –mortality.

This past week I found out that a dear friend has terminal cancer.  Given a prognosis of less than a year to live, I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t know what to feel.  I couldn’t imagine what she was going through.

I wanted to say everything and yet my mouth could only vocalize “oh, no”.  Words came up but I choked them down, afraid to say the wrong thing.  Afraid to hurt her more with my ignorance.  Naively, I thought I was more prepared for this kind of news since I have read a lot of books where characters are given a terminal verdict.  I found out this week just how unprepared I was and how little I knew.

One thing I definitely found out?  It’s far better to say something than nothing at all.

To try as hard as you can to vocalize even one part of what you’re feeling.  Will it be enough?  Maybe not. Will you think of things later that might have been better?  Probably. In fact, in my case, definitely. But opening myself up to that moment gave me the opportunity to bridge the silence and sadness.

In the end, the words are there. They just need the power, our strength, to be spoken.


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Screechy purple robots emit commands as
high pitched lasers blast against tired ears.
Contentment strings out into brilliant infinity.
Zap. Bang. Zap.
Ice skitters up to frozen fingertips.
Life’s steady flight falters and flaps vainly to take wing.
Death, a minute ago so far away,
Now abruptly elbowing inside a too full chest
like a rude passenger in a packed train.
One dirty foot inside, hands clutching at the shutting door.
Eyes turn, inferno, panic
Then all subsides.
The Darkness gently covered by warmth.
Thawing fingertips clutch
Soft breaths in and out
Eyes refocus on retreating robots.

I wrote this poem trying to convey the split second when my own mortality creeps up on me like a mosquito.  So close, ready to strike with reality and yet my body moves instantly to squish it before it can settle and cause an itch impossible to scratch.

Thich Nhat Hanh in his Your True Home states that
The future is being made out of the present, so the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.
If we sweep away our fears of what will come, then we can’t fully live in the present because we are still worrying about the future.  In order to face that future, to face death, we need to be completely immersed in the present moment.

They say that when we’re young we feel invincible – like nothing can hurt us.  I say we still feel that way even when we’re old. Because once we do fully comprehend, even if for that briefest of second or two, when our defenses are breached, it’s downright scary.  That blankness, that looming end to what is the now, brings on the threat of an engulfing wave.  What haven’t I done?  What will I miss? When will it happen?  Very few want to face it fully and so we continue to ignore it. It becomes almost taboo to speak of it.  But to acknowledge the end is to acknowledge life.  If we acknowledge life fully then we can learn to live fully.

I have no way of knowing when my life will end, but I do have some control over the now.  That night we were watching an old episode of Transformers from the 80s.  Cuddled on the couch, I suddenly froze.  Hubby didn’t notice because by the time a million thoughts ran screaming through my head, I had (for the first time) faced the true fear for what it was – my own inevitable death, my own beautiful life.  All the times before I would shut the thoughts out and ignore them. This time, I named them. I refocused and clutched tighter to his arm.  Here is now.  What I’m doing now is life.  I can’t and do not regret a single moment.  That’s my comfort.