Seeing the Sunrise
I see a surgeon on Monday. That’s in 2 days. I noticed yesterday the swell in my chest, that bubble of fear that often gets stuck in my throat. I noticed it but I refused to give voice to it–instead, it made me play more. We had a lemonade stand, we bobbed for apples, we set up sheet tents and had obstacle courses running through the house. In order to drown fear’s thoughts, today, we left bright and early for the strawberry patch. We played among the rows of homegrown tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries, berries from which we’ll make sweet pies. After that, we came home just long enough to pack a picnic lunch, then we were off again, this time to the Y, where we swam for a few hours. Like me, my girls are both fishes. Alight is five, and swimming. Breathe is a natural swimmer. They love splashing through the water with their mermaid tails on. Keeping up with both of them, and ensuring their physical safety, alone, though, keeps me on my toes, and very busy. After that, we stopped by Dippin Dots–a treat since, for some baffling reason, we haven’t been there in ages. Finally, it was home, where we watched “Ghost Dad,” jumped on the trampoline, and enjoyed a spaghetti dinner. Teeth, stories, bed. In other words, I haven’t time to think.
Fear is an awesome motivator–at least for me. Until the sun goes down, and the girls finally start to settle in. Then it pops up its head, filling my body with panic. I have done my research on this surgeon. I know where he graduated from, and when. I know that, in addition to thyroid cancer, he also specializes in robotic surgery. He’s a member of a Presbyterian Church. He wants to do medical charity work in Mexico soon. He lives in Rutherford County. He sounds and looks like a super human being, and excellent doctor. I can’t find anything about him that makes me nervous to be under his care. But, can I share a secret with you? I don’t really want to meet him. Meeting him means surgery, and that makes me nervous, I don’t care how great a doctor he is. I mean, one of the risks of this surgery is bleeding. I’ve been bleeding constantly for a ridiculous amount of time. Doesn’t that mean my risk of complication is higher? On the other hand, the idea of a tumor or, for that matter, anything foreign, growing in my body is breath taking on the fearsome scale. I have two little girls. I’m not forty yet. I mean, really. It all just makes me a little short of breath, the fear. So I need something to cut it off. I need something positive to think about, something laced with comfort and inspiration. Kindness breeds kindness, right? If I focus on something good, I won’t leave any room for the fear. I once kept a gratitude journal, in which I required myself to write five good things down every day, regardless of how small they were. The only rule was that they had to be different things. “My family”, for instance, would only work once a week, unless I wrote something specific a member of my family did. I eventually fell out of keeping the journal because noticing the positives became progressively easier, until I realized I was looking for them in the midst of every day. Right now, though, I could use a few reminders.
Last night, ridiculously late, I watched “I Survived…” if you really want to see heroes, if you really want to get inspired, this is the show to watch. The survivors that tell their stories on this show have really been through it. Usually, they’ve lived a decently uneventful life until one tragic event or decision or person comes in and totally messes them up. But they all survive. 18 hours in the ocean with no life vest. Being raped at gunpoint in the backseat of your car while your one year old is forced to watch. Being stabbed by your idiot husband dozens of times. I mean, really, these stories have the same effect on me that the Holocaust did. First, they are me want to gather the survivor up in a hug that would speak volumes. It would say, “I know it’s –not– okay.” it would say, “The hurt is real, and you don’t have to pretend otherwise.” It would say, “I’m not going anywhere, cry it all out.” It would say, “You don’t have to be strong anymore.” And then the hug would convey messages I can’t explain in words, unspoken connections that form when you know the person you’re with has been deeply hurt too. It’s a message that says “You’re not alone” without ever saying a word. It’s warmth and strength and comfort that somehow gives a sense of purpose. Once, after speaking to a large group about my past, a woman younger than I came up to me. At the time, all she said was hi… But she hung around me, she watched me. Even when there was nothing to say, she stayed. I knew before I ever left the building that she and I shared more than a pretty smile. She and I had never met, but I knew intrinsically that her past mirrored pieces of mine. She was longing for a connection to someone who voiced her thoughts. She helped me as much as my speech hopefully helped her. And we only said a dozen words directly to each other.
People say, “I could never do it.” They think the fire would be too much. They think they’d break under the pressure. Sometimes, in the mornings, after a night of only three or four hours sleep, I think, “how can I get up?”. Sometimes it’s hard to smile. Sometimes, I look around and I go, “I can’t do this today.” But then I do. The woman who can’t yet voice her pain to others does too. The person facing cancer does. The person facing the death of a loved one does. People call me strong because I write about my life. But if I didn’t, if no one knew anything, if I wasn’t an open book–would I be strong then too? I’d be stronger, actually, because I wouldn’t have the support of strangers and family. Strength doesn’t come from others, it’s already within us. Strength isn’t about doing something heroic, it’s about doing the day to day, mundane things even though you don’t want to. It’s in getting up out of the bed, even though you don’t think you can. It’s in that moment when you close your eyes and take a giant breath in, then open them and confront the next minute. Strength is in keeping the doctor’s appointment, even though you’d rather reschedule it. Sometimes though it’s in listening to the stories of others that make your heart throb and your stomach churn that you realize: “I can do this.” Those survivors on that show lived. And they’ve had nightmares, days when memory seems closer than reality…. But they’ve also experienced that moment when they first smiled again. They’ve laughed, and caught themselves in the midst of it. And the amazing thing is: so have I. So have we all. I used to think I was selfish for talking about my pain, about my past, because I didn’t think it was “as bad as that.” I compared what I’d gone through to others, and mine always seemed like the better end. I mean, at least I wasn’t in a concentration camp. At least I wasn’t being beaten every day. At least my baby never saw it. At least, at least, at least… No matter how selfish it was, though, no matter how much better than all the horrible stories I heard and read… It traumatized me. It shattered my sense of trust. It deeply hindered my intimacy skills. And it hurt. What I’ve been guilty of forgetting so often is that, because it hurt me… It mattered. It was important. And I survived. If I survived what I didn’t think I could before, then I can do it again.
I can because I have my girls. I know I’m bragging and my poor Facebook friends are probably tired to death of my rumblings on our daily adventures. But, really. My girls have been tested, they’ve experienced a lot .. And are some of the most adoring and sweet girls I know. They love people… When we first moved here, they made cards for the neighbors and hand delivered them. When the neighbors looked at them like they were crazy, my girls smiled and said, “It’s free. It’s for you.” Doing this, they have made friends with a few of our neighbors. They try to give away their most valued possessions all the time to friends. Every time B meets a kid at a park or playground, she first asks them their name, then she asks them how old they are. Then she always says this: “Would you like to friends?” and smiles real big when they say yes. Alight cries every time I get hurt. If I stump my toe because, like an idiot, I’m barefoot, she cries and tells B to get me a band-aid. Every time they have to draw blood from me and she sees the bandage, she gets upset because I was poked. They delivered handmade cards and bubbles to sick children at the local hospital. Breathe regularly reads to Alight. From the inside out, they are beautiful sweethearts. And they depend on me. They rely on me. They believe in me. They trust me. And they count on me to be there. In my book, these two have shown true bravery this year, true strength and amazing character. They are my lovelights, my guides. They think I teach them but, really, they teach me. They remind me to laugh, they remind me to pay attention, to see the ladybug on the grass, to see wonder and beauty in things I would otherwise either miss altogether or take for granted. Without them, I don’t know what I would do right now. Every day, I have two extra special reasons to get up. To go see the surgeon. To play even though I don’t think I can. And their hugs are the sweetest, and most precious to me of all. To see past the awful phone call or the black and white results… All I have to do is look at these two gems.
Fear is based on uncertainty. I don’t know what the surgery will entail. I remember the heart surgery, being prepped moments before hand. I remember waking up while they were trying to insert the IV and crying. I remember coming to and feeling groggy. But I also remember the sensation of holding my girls afterward, and of realizing that I made it, that I was alive and was going to recover just fine. The fear was gone, replaced by a sense of purpose: get better. And I did. The fear is back. But it’s manageable. I’ve done this road before, I just need to take a deep breath and remind myself that I can do it again. I’ve always been afraid of dying while my girls were young. I think that’s what makes the fear do intense. I can’t imagine that—I can’t think about them wondering who I was, wondering if I loved them. That thought haunts me, pushes me to spend every waking moment working to make sure that, if that happened, they would have things by which to remember and know me. It’s morbid, yes I know, but it’s a deeply rooted fear that’s real and that matters. But I’m not going to die. The doctors tell me it’s ok, they simply remove it and it’s gone. It can be taken out. It won’t grow or spread. Surgery takes place in a hospital with skilled doctors and the presence of God. I’ve no need to panic or fear. It’s dark now… The sun has gone to visit the other side of the world, plunging my world into darkness. But it will come back up. It will shine, bringing warmth, optimism and light to overcome the fear. And, until then, I’ve got my girls, my faith and the past’s inspiration for comfort.