Forty days of self-isolation due to COVID-19 and I am slowly coming to terms with this redefining of our freedom and I suspect, for many of my fellow Americans, it may turn out to be the one civics lesson that sticks with all of us, that is, once we emerge from hibernation.
For one cannot look away from the terrible pandemic images gracing our televisions, our phones and computer screens night after night, of brave souls putting their lives on the line in hospitals and towns in every corner of this country; bodies lined up in hallways, and empty offices and mass graves awaiting funerals that will be devoid of family and friends; and not feel some sort of gut wrenching horror as to how the hell we got to this place of thinking ourselves, this Great American Experiment, infallible?
For although there is much mystery about this virus, it has wasted no time exposing our naiveté. Our America the Beautiful. A place I love so very much and proudly fly the flag and pray for every day.
But a place, just the same, that has buried it’s collective head in the sand when it comes to fixing what is broken, focused more on Vegas odds and clever memes, than scientific data or just plain common sense, because, well, it’s not as fun to talk about at the dinner table.
1)A nation that assumed freedom was an absolute, defended by our guns, our constitution and our military might, and yet, has been humbly brought to its’ knees by a communicable disease; an invisible, equal opportunity offender, for which statistics are proving that privilege plays a role in whether you live or die.
2)A nation who’s financial markets have thrived on making collective love to power and money and courting the vulnerable into believing the have-nots can play the game equally; the claustrophobic stench of their deception now revealed by unemployment figures that rival the Great Depression.
3)A nation of talented minimum wage workers, tradespersons, and the non-college educated, who modern society has systematically demeaned and relegated to the dustbin of professional choices, and for whom there is now no argument as to the high value they contribute to our very survival.
4)A nation of family, friends and strangers where the word hate would roll freely from lips, as we laughingly chose to social distance because they looked, thought or behaved differently; oh how we long to hug them close, just once, just once more.
5)A nation of teachers, coaches and mentors who we consistently underpaid and undervalued and for whom we now join our children in praying for each night, as we come to recognize just how big a role they have played in raising our children.
6)A nation of wanna be food critics, where our food supply was never gourmet enough for our palates, and for which we now have a new found appreciation of the magic of a seed, the immigrant in the field, and what farm to table truly means.
7)A nation of leaders of all faiths that for the past thirty years, we’ve abandoned in droves, their buildings unappreciated shells, their sermons unappreciated truth, but for whom we now readily turn to for answers that make sense of all this madness.
8)A nation of caregivers of our elderly and infirm, whose names we barely took the time to learn before all of this, but who now act as our stand-ins with our loved ones, their careworn hands a lifeline of hope.
9)A nation who freely polluted the air, trampled the landscape and soiled the seas and now marvels with surprise at the blueness of the sky, the animals emerging from the shadows and the clarity of the oceans.
10)A nation of first responders: doctors, nurses, police and firefighters, whose oath to save lives was something we took for granted, but whose willingness to continue to fight for us,at great risk to their families, has us believing in the possibility that God really has returned to earth in human form.
Its’ humbling isn’t it? All the things we thought we knew about America, about each other. Thought important. Thought we valued. Thought we got right before this pandemic business.
It’s taken a viral pandemic to cause us to look in the mirror and understand that for all of its’ bravado, all of its’ bluster, all of its’ grandeur, America is first and foremost a nation of human beings, human beings that are not all equally blessed. Freedom is not available to all…not yet. And so sometimes, it requires others to give more. To expend more time and talent and energy to get the job done.
And I know that makes some people angry. Some protest because it’s too painful to think about things not going back to the way things were, to a time where we could all ignore what the virus has revealed to us. Some shout the end is near, doom and gloom around the corner. Some could care less about any of it. Give me my normal.
I’m not worried. Messiness has always been a part of the American way and it’s from this diversity of choices, and thinking, that some of our greatest moments as a nation emerge.
But no matter our fears, I encourage you not to focus on the anger and to not look away from what the mirror has revealed. For to look away and not truly see what this virus is teaching us, is a missed opportunity.
For the question being asked of us now is pretty simple:
When all this is over, will I be ready to listen, to change, to do what is needed for the benefit of all of America, this new freedom? Or am I going to go back to the same old, same old and only listen to what I want to hear, what is easiest to hear, and what suits my own selfish narrative?
Because while this virus has revealed an America that has some work to do, it has also revealed an America where there is much to be hopeful. An America where love and kindness, compassion and caring for each define the character of many of it’s citizens. Where leaders and mentors come from all walks of life and step up to help. Where the hero is not always the most obvious person in the room and where the importance of human contact is valued more than the size of our wallets or the size of our egos.
It’s exciting. It’s positive. It’s a new kind of freedom and it’s ours for the taking.
Last Monday began like any other day, except it wasn’t. I woke up achy, a feeling in my sinus and chest like no other. A slight cough. A slight temperature.
Warning bells went off in my head. “Oh, hell no! No…No…No…No…NO!” My mind began to shout, “Haven’t I been through enough? Isn’t breast cancer, infection after infection, surgery after surgery, for 3 plus years, enough?”
But the virus, this strange animal called Covid-19, had other ideas and decided to play games with me. For seven days I let it. I let it invade, I let it mess with my head, I let it run my life.
And then…I decided enough with the doom and gloom. It was time to be grateful.
Not grateful for the virus. Certainly not grateful for the strain it has put on my body and the stress it is causing my family, the pain it is currently causing the collective world. But grateful, that gratitude is not beholden to a virus, but instead a gift that I could give myself and to all who know me, while I battled this microscopic beast.
So here it is, from my heart to yours. Something to change perspective, to wipe the dirt from our weary souls. To remove the fear and doubt and make me believe. You believe.
Things I am grateful for this past week:
I am grateful for a house with creaky floors and the dryer that vibrates the ceiling.
I am grateful for two cats who, despite always finding a clean rug to hack up a hairball, quietly curl up next to me, their deep vibrato purr a balm to this endless restlessness.
I am grateful for a bedroom with a picture widow where, between naps, I can look upon the birds gathered at the fountain for a drink, fighting over the seeds that drip from the feeder onto the pink flowers entangled below it.
I am grateful for my older son who has taken to dressing up in silly costumes for his video conferences with his San Diego State work colleagues. “It’s alright. It’s alright. We may not be able to be together, but we will get through this together!”
I am grateful for teachers who have found new ways to stay connected with their students on line through reading stories, singing songs, and reminding them that each day is a beautiful gift.
I am grateful to the friend from church who messaged me she wanted to bake me something to cheer me up and made me laugh when she prefaced the message by saying, “I promise I’m really not that terrible a baker.”
I am grateful for my husband, a shy man, the love of my life, who quietly rises to the occasion each day to lead with a normalcy that wraps itself around me, “like the feeling of warm blanket on a cold and frosty morning.” Cue Doris Day and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk! Wink. Wink.
I am grateful for my mom and dad, who know I worry about them and text me often to let me know that the grocery store line was orderly, that they are managing o.k. and that they love me. I can feel their resilience propel me forward across the miles.
I am grateful for my Pastors, who long before this crises, trusted the people in their care to tend and nurture the mustard seeds, so that the church was and is so much more than the sum of it’s walls.
I am grateful for my daughter, whose artistry and vision somehow seem effortless in these troubled times and yet, this mother knows she is struggling to find a way to make sense of it all. I wish I had the answer.
I am grateful for my dear friend who opens her door every week so that the notes of her piano ring out through her complex to all who are lonely and frightened. “I see you. I care” her piano sings.
I am grateful for Clorox wipes, and lavender hand soap and the Bergamot lotion that soothes my chaffed hands and reminds me of Paris.
I am grateful for my brother and his wife and their dogs. Knowing Zeus and Athena are underfoot with their humans somehow brings me comfort.
I am grateful for my younger son, who accepted his sudden return to the nest from college much better than I would have, and figured out how to carve out a semi-normal existence while managing to keep both his school and engineering internship intact. I know he’s suffering privately and it’s hard.
I am grateful for my book club and bible study and my dear friends who have texted and Facebooked and called to check up on me. I love all of you.
I am grateful for my online garden community, once strangers, now friends, connected by the marvel of God’s amazing creation and a belief that we will need it more than ever once this storm passes.
I am grateful for my brother in law and sister in law, that their cruise ship was not one of disease, but one that was able to find a safe port and a plane to carry them home.
I am grateful for all of the medical professionals and first responders and military who answered the call to serve something greater than themselves. I owe you my life.
I am grateful for the bee that buzzes in my orange tree, reminding me that we do not always control our destiny, but we must work at it never the less.
I am grateful for my sponsor child Emmy, in Uganda, that he has a place to rest his head, a warm meal in his tummy, an education, and that he loves Jesus.
I am grateful for water that runs freely from my faucet, and toilet paper to wipe my bottom, and a toilet to flush it in.
I am grateful to the homeless, the impoverished, the less fortunate, who remind me of all that I have to give.
I am grateful to all the caregivers, their masked faces in this new world order embody a strength and sense of purpose that I must learn from and aspire.
I am grateful to the workers in the fields, the grocery and stockroom clerks, the truckers and warehouse helpers, the delivery drivers and all those who never asked to be first responders, but are responding to the call just the same.
I am grateful to the sound of the distant buzz of a lawn mower that reminds me of something normal. I need normal right now.
I am grateful I can still curl up on the couch and find Lucille Ball and Andy Griffith still the same after sixty odd years and remember what life used to be like before all of this.
I am grateful for my God. For in Him I find my rock. My compass, my acceptor of all of my imperfections. The one who time and again is willing to give me another chance to get it right. To appreciate what I have not tomorrow, but today.
Finally, I am grateful for the P that calls to me from the mountain top that positivity is always a choice and well worth the climb. I will keep trying.
So many I want to thank. So many who came before me I wish I could thank. I hope you know, I notice you in the shadows, all of you each and every week, and I am so grateful. Stepping out of your comfort zones, to comfort me and the countless others who need to know, in this time of trial, that the world had not gone mad, but is very much alive with the vibrancy of the human spirit. It isn’t by chance that the Easter story is before us.
We too will rise again.
Let gratitude lift you up and out of this dark place. Practice it. Practice it. Practice it.
Thanks for reading. I am getting better every day and looking forward to new beginnings with all of you.
I know it’s been a while
since I’ve posted anything. In case you
were wondering, I haven’t stopped writing, haven’t stopped pouring my soul out
on cyber paper. I’m a writer and that’s
what I do and I love it. But I took a break from the “public” blog
while I healed from my recent (and hopefully final) surgery because to be
honest, I didn’t know what to say to all of you. Why? Well, simply put, I was having a hard
time understanding myself, my new and cancer-free self! I needed to put the mental burn time in, a
concerted effort to introduce the old me to the new me and try and make some
sense of it all.
But it’s been really
hard. Harder than I thought it would be
and that’s been humbling.
I have a great husband, great
kids, great friends, great church, a truly great life, and yet the best way I
can describe my life right now is that it is not yet my own. It’s like it’s a bunch of pieces of jagged glass
that do not fit together, that seemingly have no other purpose other than to
tease me that my life has always been and will always be on the brink of fragility.
This post cancer life is so
new and different and, in a way, disconnected from a lot of what I once
was. It is by all accounts a rebirth.
Fall dawns in San Diego the
end of August and with it, a sort of changing of the guard. Don’t laugh, I know the calendar says Fall
isn’t until mid-September, and yes, it’s true our beaches in August are still
packed with plenty of sunburned tourists.
But it’s also true that by the end of August, although the days are
still warm, downright hot actually, the nights are rather crisp and cool,
dropping a good twenty degrees from the daily highs. This drop-in temperature somehow serves as a signal
to us California natives that it’s perfectly fine to start burning pumpkin
spice candles, adding a fleece throw to the back of the sofa and warming our
hands around a cup of homemade soup while watching the promos for Hallmark
Channels’ Christmas Countdown. It also
signals the beginning of apple picking season, a sort of frenzied time that despite
San Diego being a fresh fruit capital, we gather the troops and parade up the
mountain tops to pay exorbitant prices for the opportunity to pick our own apples.
It’s just the kind of kitschy
juxtaposition that makes San Diego a great place to live.
So, it was in the spirit of all things Fall, that my husband, eldest son and I, dressed in shorts and tank tops and oiled with sunscreen, crammed into my Volkswagen convertible and made the two hour trek up to the mountain town of Oak Glen on the 1st day of apple picking season.
It was also an activity I
felt would help me cope with the stress of awaiting the final surgery I was
having in September to remove my reconstructive implants. The implants I felt, although there was no medical
consensus, were at the root cause of the continued debilitating physical issues
I had been having over the past three years.
It was hot. Eighty five degrees to be exact and with the top down on our convertible, I could feel the sun baking my skin, burning it as we wound our way up the mountain side. I began to doubt myself. “What a stupid idea Anne.” “It’s freaking August, you should be at the beach.”
I remember silently praying
that the trip wouldn’t be a bust. But
God it was so hot.
We pulled up alongside the orchard
and the scenery was breathtaking. Trees
of all shapes and sizes and colors.
Scents of pumpkin and apple and something that we discovered was berry,
filled the air. There was the sound of a
folk band, voices in harmony blended seamlessly with the strum of guitar and bow
fiddle. The sun was still blazing, but
the sky was so blue and the surrounding mountains were still lush and green.
Is this what heaven is like?
The three of us, my husband,
my son and I, walked down a lane lined with blackberry bushes. Off to the left was a little stand and a friendly
man with a careworn face dressed in jeans, a flannel shirt, work boots and a
cowboy hat who greeted us.
“Hello folks, welcome,
This must be what heaven is
The man with the cowboy hat explained
to us the process of how to pick the apples, the trees available for picking
would have yellow ribbons on them and there were several varieties. The man handed us some bags to hold our
pickings. We would pay for what we
picked on the way out. There was a two-bag
minimum and the price was steep, but the happiness that filled me was knowing
With instructions and our
bags, the three of us walked down the trail and around some very cute out
buildings that had been carefully restored to look like a western town that had
seen better days. I felt an immediate
connection to it.
Life is like that, somedays shiny, other days broken, but always we push on.
Around the bend we entered
the orchard. It took a bit to find the
trees we could pick from and we decided to split up so that we could pick a
variety of apples.
One particular apple tree caught
my eye. This tree, one among the
hundreds on the mountain side, had been picked clean on the exterior, but the interior
branches were bulging with bright, red and green colored apples, and it
reminded me of a mother holding her young to her bosom.
I studied the tree. It seemed to be calling to me.
“Won’t you please come closer
and tell me your secrets. I promise I’ll
listen to what is on your heart and then, as my gift to you, I’ll give mine…the
fruit of my womb.”
I drew nearer, extended my arm as far as it would into the center of the tree and my hand enclosed around an apple and I gave it a tug. But it’s stem held on tight, as if it did not want to go with me. I tried again, tugging and pulling and as I was bracing my leg against the trunk of the tree for more leverage, I looked down and there underneath the canopy of that apple tree were literally hundreds of discarded apples in various stages of decay. Pitted apples. Pockmarked apples. Apples with brown holes. Worms? I picked several up and I didn’t find any worms. But the pile of discarded apples was unusual, huge in fact and so out of character for what lay underneath the other apple trees around it. Out of the blue a thought popped into my head:
“Is this apple tree holding
on to its’ final offering because it is afraid to shed its’ old self, to make
way for the new.”
What the??? Where did that thought come from? Somewhere
in the recesses of my mind I knew the answer to that question.
Because the tree was me.
The me that had shed so much of what was broken in me physically over the past three years was there on the ground in the form of all of those discarded apples. But the me that held onto the memory of all that I was pre-cancer, my life before all of the drama, was there in the form of that tree holding on for dear life, afraid to give up the last of all that it was…of all that I am.
41:10. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I
am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my
righteous right hand.”
All at once it seemed too
much to ponder, too painful, too sad, this me that I once was and this me that
I so desperately wanted to figure out, so I quickly joined my husband and son and
focused on filling our bags full of apples of every sort. We laughed and laughed and soon my momentary
sadness was forgotten. Bags full and
caught up in the joy of the experience, we decided to also pick some
More money of course, and it
was darn hot out and we were all sweating buckets, but something about the
whole experience was having a cathartic effect on not only me, but on my husband
and son, and in that unity my spirits soared.
It was as if God was saying to
me, “I’ve got you Anne, I won’t let you go.”
So, baskets in hand we went
off in search of blackberries. There was
one section of the orchard that had a kind of maze-like structure with groomed
blackberry bushes, but there was another section, a less structured section, with
tall, craggy bushes full of thorny bramble.
You can guess which ones
called to us.
Anyhow, without thinking, I
reached in to said bush and instantly my hand was full of juicy berries and equally
full of tiny, microscopic thorns. I
won’t lie to you, those tiny thorns hurt! But I couldn’t stop myself from
reaching in again.
Further and further and
further into the brambles my hand automatically went.
“Oh, I see you. I see you hiding your beautiful berries way
back there in the dark recesses of all that you are. Don’t worry, I know you are scared of me, but
you know what, I’m scared of you too!
So, let’s be scared together.”
My stinging hands, black from the berry juice filled basket after basket. Bags of apples lay at my feet. Enough for a pies and syrup and fruit pancakes and…I had to stop before the money ran out!
Conveniently across from the
blackberry bush there was a copse of trees, diverse in their variety, but
similar in their leaves, which were all in various stages of color
transition. Some were evergreen, some a
sort of mottled green-yellow, a reminder of the dry, desert climate that is
Southern California and some were the palate that I most associate with fall:
deep brown, burgundy, golden yellow and burnt orange. It was this latter colored tree that, while
casually picking the blackberry thorns out of my fingertips, that seemed to
speak to me.
The trunk of the tree was oddly
shaped. Instead of the typical circular
base that begins wide at the bottom and then gradually tapers skyward, this tree’s
base was extra wide, distorted in proportion, to the rest of the trunk. It was as if it had taken a long pause
before deciding that yes, it wanted to continue its’ journey skyward as a tree.
Moments of pause and
reflection are good in our life journey.
Sometimes they are planned, sometimes they aren’t, but pausing never the
less affords us the time and opportunity to access if we are headed in the
Cancer for me was like
that. An unplanned pause that pushed me
to reflect on all that was my life and what I wanted to carry with me forward
in the journey, post cancer. Now what exactly is that?
I noticed that the skin of
the tree trunk was punctuated (every so often) with circular, rough-edged
knots. A few of the knots were
superficial, their middles slightly grainy in texture, not much more than a fleshy
surface wound. Others of the knots, were
deep, dark and cavernous. Their center
void indeterminant to the naked eye, as if mirroring infinity.
As humans we share a common guarantee
that our lives will be filled with all sorts of knots, anxious moments, that
tear at our core, causing us to momentarily bury deep within ourselves to wait
out the storm.
But in the past few years
I’ve come to recognize that these sorts of troubles, while important and
valuable in my personal growth, are more or less equal to butterflies in the
tummy. That quick quiver, that reminds
me of just how fragile my life really is.
The greater task for me is to make peace with the larger knots. Those that seem ridged and permanently affixed to my story, no matter how hard I struggle to rid myself of them. Would they disappear if I just “let them fall away?”
I guess it is true that no
matter what our battles some memories and scars are fleeting, parked for a bit
waiting out the passage of time, while others remain, glaring, blatant and
perfectly comfortable altering our person, our existence.
My person. My existence.
So, as I continued to pick
out the last of the thorns, I wondered to myself:
What would happen if I just
let go of the worry and just let myself fall into my new life?
But I don’t like letting
go. I don’t like falling.
The sporadic clumps of gnarled
star-like bouquets affixed to the trees branches that stood before me in shades
of orange, gold and brown and burgundy were stunning in the bright August sky,
startling actually against the green of what is the norm for much of the California
landscape and they should have made me happy. But it was this difference, this odd
combination of brilliance in the face of death that gave me pause. Something that oddly felt like resentment
welled up inside me.
“There you are
Anne in all your Fall glory. Wow, you
look so great for all you’ve been through!” Should I look old and
haggard? Is that a choice I can honestly
make and still be accepted? Would I accept myself as less than what I think I
Beautiful! What tremendous energy you radiate Anne!” What if I told you
there are times that I feel void inside, would you run? What if I told you
there are days when I’m barely hanging on? What if I told you that I’m afraid?
“Anne, how have you survived cancer and all of the other health issues you have been through with such a positive attitude? Well, you know beautiful, I couldn’t do it. I don’t have the strength you have.” There are days, lots of days that I don’t have strength either, did you know that? Do you even want to know? More importantly, do I want to know?
“Anne dear, what
you have accomplished is nothing short of an inspiration.” I’m nothing
special. I’m not. I’m just as regular as
this old tree. And I didn’t do anything spectacular. I fought cancer, as do millions of other
people each and every day, by putting on my game face and working my ass off to
stay in the game. Simply put, if I had a
choice about my place in this world, and I was blessed to be given one, time
and time and time again, I wasn’t ready to give up my earthly role, whatever
the hell that is. It isn’t any more
complicated than that.
Or is it?
As I stood staring at that
gnarled, old, broken down tree, almost forty months of voices full of
compliments and encouragement and every heartfelt sentiment filled my
Sometimes I do not feel worthy of what should be a joyful noise as I get on with my life. Instead my head is filled with a cacophony of disconnected notes, rising up into the sky to reveal, leaves that, upon closer inspection, are black at the tips, reminding me of myself, my fragility, a falling star, my brilliance slowly being extinguished as it streaks across the nighttime sky. As I said, I am afraid.
Hands still blue, and free of
thorns, I felt tears well in my eyes as they travelled up to the crown of the
tree, I noticed that many of the upper branches were denuded of any leaves,
their fate sealed by the wind and their proximity to the heavens.
There they sit, under the
watchful eye of God and man, raw, naked, completely exposed. As do I.
As do we all.
I suddenly felt a kinship
with these stripped branches of this craggy, old tree. These branches, the once proud harbingers of
birds, and bugs and life. How strange it
must feel to hold such vast secrets within the warmth of limb and leaf only to
have them stolen by the breeze, and left a barren landscape, void of what was
once bright and beautiful and appreciated.
My once normal
life has been bowed under the weight of its’ burden. My limbs snapped under the pressure of
accepting something for which I had no root cause. Nothing I could say, “Well, that’s why I got
I’ve tried to
remain colorful and brilliant and to hang on to every thread of what was good
about my life prior to cancer, but the true story is that underneath my canopy,
where my once bright leaves stood shimmering in all of their glory, they are
now withered and crumbled, their dust scattered on the ground, just like those discarded
apples and I don’t know what it all means, this transition.
I feel like I am
someone I don’t know yet. And that’s
o.k. because God will continue to show me the way. I understand why it was important for me on
this extremely hot day to be standing here in the middle of an orchard with my
family, hands stinging from bramble, nature’s bounty at my feet, learning to
fall in love with me.
The new me.
So, I stand here,
a tree, naked of its’ leaves, branches askew, trunk soft and swollen under the
weight of its’ burden, wondering what to do next.
I know people will
continue to come up to me and tell me how great I look. What tremendous energy I radiate…
inspiration I am. I love them for
I’m still learning
what I feel about this me that is still revealing itself.
But I promise to
keep trying to figure it out.
It may take a
little longer. And that’s o.k. because I
am not alone in my journey.
With God’s help, I’m
slowly falling in love with me.
As always, thank you dear readers for liking and following my blog. Feel free to share with friends and family, those you feel could benefit.
worked so hard to build a beautiful life for my husband and kids, dedicating
myself to creating a home environment that is warm and inviting and welcoming
spent years crafting a career that I felt was worthy and purposeful, going
above and beyond in my education so that I modeled for my children the benefits
of a lifetime invested in continuous learning and self-improvement. For thirty years, I have been a dedicated
volunteer in my church and community, devoted to sharing Jesus message of
shalom and inclusion and helping all those in need. I have cultivated friendships I treasure and
enjoyed travel, dining and cultural and sporting experiences with my husband,
family and friends.
been a good life, a happy life, a positive life by all accounts that I’ve had a
large hand in creating.
But a small, barely detectible, cancer tumor in my right breast forced me to reckon with the fact that no matter how hard I try, I am never going to be 100 percent the architect of my own destiny.
Why? Because life, by its’ very nature is
spontaneous, and we humans spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out ways
to sabotage that spontaneity. Without
thinking, we all work tirelessly to reign spontaneity in, so that we can
control it, manipulate it for our own purposes, and get angry at it for
disrupting our plans. I am a master at
I love to fight with spontaneity.
dare you trample on my life’s blue print! It’s my life spontaneity, not yours!!!
my own defense, it is not that I am closed to spontaneity. Far from it. A lot of people tell me I adapt well to
changes and can catch a curve ball better than most. I like “different” and enjoy the mix of
planned and unplanned in my life so spontaneity isn’t such a foreign concept.
that being said, going off-script can still bring on a case of the tummy
butterflies. It sometimes seems
unnatural, against the grain of how I was conditioned by this world to view a well-planned,
guess it would be understandable if that logic was applicable only to something
as serious as cancer. But truth be told,
despite wanting to embrace the “idea” of spontaneity, I can only take impromptu
“go with the flow” for so long before I am rounding up the cattle and putting
them back in the pen. Spontaneity
scares the hell out of me because the world doesn’t like it. No
wandering little doggies running roughshod over our master plan.
wired by this world to take all of the loose ends of life and create some
semblance of order and balance I can comfortably live with. When the pendulum swings too far out of the
norm, I’m anxious. When the pendulum
stops swinging, I’m anxious. It’s hard
to find a happy medium in the spontaneity game when all we do is fight it.
not alone in this. Embracing spontaneity sounds great and all, but if social
media has anything to say about it, spontaneity is just a buzz word for flaky,
unmotivated, undisciplined chaos?
least that’s what we are force fed to believe. Oh, not necessarily by our parents or even by
anyone related to us, but everything from schools, to employers, to just about
every aspect of marketing in this world leads us to believe that success is
akin to having our lives planned out, every “I” dotted and “t” crossed, and
failure is akin to leaving life up to chance.
our lives so full of “must do’s” that there is no time for discovery,
possibilities, opportunities. We have
forgotten that while spontaneity can bring on such things as cancer, it can
also bring the cure, in the form of unexpected blessings, things we never
showed up spontaneously one February in my life and I discovered that my
constant mapping and remapping of my life plan was not a match for good ol’
spontaneous cancer. If I was going to
beat this disease, oh not physically beat it, the medical professionals were on
top of that, but emotionally beat it, I was going to have to rewire my mind to
think differently about what it means to be absorbed with controlling my life
path and leaving nothing to chance.
had to think of spontaneity in new and different ways. I had to stop fighting it and do two specific
Spontaneity doesn’t just happen without a lot of hard work
I was going through a boatload of pencil lead crafting my life plan, I never
once thought about how spontaneity would fit into my narrative. The blanks on my calendar made me nervous,
less self-important, less everything. So,
I filled them in. That is why
spontaneity requires a lot of hard work. Hard work because we are hard wired to over
plan, over schedule. Open spaces on a
calendar equals vulnerability. Vulnerability
equals the possibility of failure and well, as I said earlier, failure isn’t a popular
choice these days. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
reality is that spontaneity isn’t calendar driven. It doesn’t wait around for those days when we
have nothing to do. In fact, more often
than not, it shows up when we are at our busiest.
the funny thing about spontaneity is that when it doesn’t work out, somehow, someone
or something comes into our lives spontaneously to help us through it. You and
I both know it’s true. The internet
knows it’s true and it’s why we all scour and search for those feel good stories
everyday where we can click “like” because deep- down we really want to believe.
Maybe that’s a God thing, some sort of
divine intervention or better yet, maybe it doesn’t need a label. But I can tell you people keep coming into my
life spontaneously over and over again that make a difference and I’m betting
it’s happening to you too!
didn’t have to do anything to “get cancer.”
One day I didn’t have it and the next day I did. It was the reality of my world. A spontaneous blotch and initially I fought
fought it with everything I had emotionally.
I had unrealistic expectations about spontaneity being only good things,
and suddenly waking up one day with cancer fueled my anger and frustration and
disappointment in all things impromptu. For
those initial first months, it was like being on a never-ending emotional
treadmill and I was losing steam.
spontaneity took over my life. I closed
myself off from everyone. Went internal,
self- absorbed with my own importance and control. My behavior was stifling my ability to move
forward, to take new paths, and caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time
wallowing in my problems and in a lot of ways, gaslighting new
a bit, I grew sick of my own self-importance.
I became curious if the pendulum of my life only swung one way. Negative!
My calendar was full, but my life was
if, I opened myself up to being blessed spontaneously in a positive way? What if, I had no idea in what form or from
whom those blessings would come, but I would remain open to it?
was time to take the boxing gloves off and let spontaneity have its’ way with
start, I focused my energy and attention on people, places and things that
brought me joy. I made a conscious
effort to not make plans, but be open to plans, spontaneous plans. I had to push aside the fear that something
would go wrong. I had a lot of blanks on my calendar.
over-night, so many doors opened for me.
Invitations to do all sorts of
things just materialized. Impromptu fun
with friends, trying new restaurants with my hubby, opening the front door to a
neighbor with an extra loaf of the best fresh baked bread I’ve ever had.
I booked a vacation to Texas, a place my husband and I had never been, to attend
HGTV’s, Chip and Joanna Gaines, “Silobration” in Waco. It turned out to be one of the best unscripted
vacations my husband and I have ever had and was a beautiful reminder that one
of the things that drew us to each other back in college was our mutual love
for unplanned adventure. Without much
thought, I agreed to visit an Indian Mission in Oaks, Oklahoma with an acquaintance
from church and this morphed into a beautiful friendship between us that I will
always treasure and a new opportunity for me to make a difference in the lives
of children half way across the country.
and again, I challenged myself to see both sides of the spontaneity coin. Bad stuff was going to happen, but good stuff
was happening too…a whole lotta good stuff. I had to keep my heart open and stay out of
the boxing ring.
began to meet people, almost daily, in my cancer journey that inspired me. People who helped me see the best in me and
who seemed overjoyed that I was in their life.
I wrote a poem to my radiation team as a thank you for their kindness
and it now hangs on the wall of the radiation center. I opened up about my cancer with family,
friends, my church, not in a Debbie Downer kind of way, but in sharing all of
the positive, unplanned things that kept happening to me spontaneously despite my
It was as if spontaneity was a fuel that was propelling me forward. Past all of the angst of surgery after surgery. Past all of the negative side effects and uncomfortable days. Opportunity after opportunity to be blessed.
Sunday, Father’s Day, was my three- year anniversary of my bi-lateral mastectomy. It could have been a depressing day, a reminder of all I had spontaneously lost. Instead, I went out and played an impromptu game of frisbee golf with my family and damn, my muscles are sore as hell, but I didn’t suck at it. Not at all.
decided to permanently hang up my boxing gloves and make peace with
spontaneity. It is welcome in my life.
fight is over.
won. You can too!
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