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I can’t count the number of times in my life when I have wrapped my arms around a pillow, tightened the muscles in my stomach, buried my head in my neck, rationed my breath and breathed through clenched teeth. If your goal is to keep control of your emotions, if your goal is silence… This recipe works. I become so focused on controlling my physical body that it’s hard to think about the emotional consequence of my surroundings. Forgetting the pain is easier because all my energy is focused on breathing and maintaining absolutely rigid control of my body. Only when the footsteps retreated, or the shouting voices faded, did the stomach muscles relax and the death grip on the pillow loosen. Only when certain safety came into view again did I begin to draw in deeper breaths. The tears would come then, except they were tears of relief, mainly, of gratitude that the danger had passed. I still didn’t really have to think… I was too caught up in breathing normally and feeling my fingers uncurl. The pain stays at bay. Hug a pillow as tight as you can, suck in your stomach muscles and hold them there, ration breathing by exhaling as slowly and deliberately as possible… I’ve been doing this all day. I’ve blown up a balloon and locked myself inside. Nothing can get me here, nothing can touch me. Not fear. Not statistics. Not surgery. Not cancer. Nothing.

The problem with this is that, after several long hours of being hyper-vigilant, viciously blocking the first hint of a single tear.. I am exhausted. Bone-weary. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to buy a pillow because it means I’m scared. I don’t want to be “informed,” I don’t want to research, and I don’t really care how positive the statistics could be. I’d rather create a never never land of imagination and play with my children. I’d rather sing with them. I’d rather spend my time blissfully unaware of how mortal I am, of how quickly my worst fear of being gone and having them forget me could become a reality. I heard the doctors–I know surgery can “definitely eliminate” those terrifying nodules. I know God is with me, that He holds my hand, and has more power in His pinky finger than all the doctors on the planet put together. I also know that if I got through heart surgery okay, then I can get through this. I know I’m being a tad bit dramatic and over-reacting. But the only word I hear whispered over and over again is “cancer.” One of my distant cousins died from cancer. I mean, even if they eliminate it as they tell me they can, obviously my body is susceptible to it: how do they know it won’t reappear elsewhere?

I spent the day playing with my girls. We laughed, we swam. My youngest one has just started swimming unaided. I am so proud of her. My oldest one loved the magic set I got for them: she wanted to try them all out and amaze me again and again with her feats of illusion. It, as most are, was a good day. But after they went to sleep, I saw a mold of my hand holding my oldest’s when she was a baby and, just like that, I had to quickly clench my muscles and breathe shallow again. Exhaustion overwhelmed me. I laid down on the couch and stared at the bookshelves, full of books that usually comfort me. Instead, I did not want to move. You see, there really aren’t many things that make me come unglued. I don’t have many bad days. I don’t find much about which to complain because even the worst day is pretty good when measured against where I’ve come from. Tonight, though, I just wanted to give in to the tears, and the exhaustion making it hard to move. Optimism and smiles—too hard. Strength—a lie. I spent several long minutes indulging in refreshing and healing tears. Then, to stop it, I turned on Netflix and the first thing my eyes fell on was a six hour documentary of Auschwitz. My heart squeezed tight, then rolled over.

The stories of the Holocaust helped save my life as a child. As horrific as they were, the gave me hope, made me remember that no matter how awful I felt, no matter how terrible my circumstances… I was not in the Holocaust and, as such, I was lucky. I mean, really… Did you know that when they were experimenting with ways to kill people faster, they actually gathered up a group of completely innocent people and set off a bomb in their midst? Eyewitnesses have testified that “body parts went everywhere, even up high in the trees. If we could reach them, we did but, if they were too high, or stuck.. We left them.” How, in the name of all that’s holy, do you see something like that, how do you hear screams from the “showers” grow fainter and fainter, and ever laugh again? And–a better question: how do you ever trust again?

Sometimes, I imagine that this presence pulls me in close for a hug and doesn’t let go. Warmth and tenderness radiate through my walls, chipping away a little at a time at the control I’ve got such a grip on. I close my eyes and remind myself that my little girls know I love them and will not forget me. I think of Picasso Days, horseback riding and singing songs. I think of chatter chat and jumping into stuffed animal pits. Building cars out of boxes, picking strawberries, hosting neighborhood lemonade stands and puppet shows. I think of awesome sleepovers and chocolate facials; baby dolls and Squinkies. I think of how we conquer fears by riding the amusement rides we most dread, and how we stand in front a mirror every day and name something we love about ourselves. I think of our prayers and playing Twister; bug hunts, creek play and camp outs. Precious memories–gifts that are not just mine but my girls’ as well. I see our days as gifts to me, but they aren’t just my memories—the girls share them too. They won’t forget me.

Slow minute by slow minute, the panic recedes, the exhaustion relieved by the thought: “There’s chocolate in the house tonight,” the fear quietly slips away with the sight of little girls with special bunnies and teddy bears sleeping. A candle’s gentle flame reminds me that the Holocaust survivor married and laughed afterwards; Hitler’s regime of terror and fear did not win–kindness and compassion, grace and decency triumphed. I have moments when the isolation and fear choke me, when the fatigue and thoughts of poison in the body destroy my carefully prepared smile and easy answers. But, in order to receive the sweet promise of new beginnings, in order to find the rainbow, it has to pour down rain first. Rainbows are truly beautiful. Rainbows are fragile masterpieces. So… Let it rain. I will wait.

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