A deserted beach is a luxury at this time of year. If you wait long enough, around supper time, most folks head back to their camp or to the city. Only then can you find a quieter moment to breathe in the beauty of the beach. I had this opportunity yesterday. The photo captured a sort of haunting loneliness or emptiness for me. Something deep inside of me resonated with the feel of this scene.
Today is three months since surgery. Only now, after waiting long enough, can I hear the silence of my spirit and feel its grieving. I saw my family doctor today and reviewed my check list with her–what is healing well and what is not. At the end of it, we discussed whether I should or should not go back to work next week. She actually made the decision for me and recommended I take the time now to heal further both physically and emotionally. I started to cry in her office. I feel like I should be ready to go back and acknowledging that I am not is disappointing. I want to honour where I am at and am so grateful that on many levels I have healed remarkably well. I told her that I did not think anyone was judging me but me. I look well on the outside and so I am afraid that people will think I am taking advantage of the situation but I know that is not true. I am also wanting to push myself however I want to be able to come back to work this fall ready to work. I am struggling with my desire to be perfect.
I stopped in at Adoration tonight and laid down that perfection. I put my head on Jesus’ shoulder and rested there a bit. He put his arm around me and kissed the top of my head. I did not move; I just stayed in that gentle embrace. I feel empty, I thought, void of emotion. On a bit more exploration, I discovered that was not true. As with that beach, life was teeming if I looked close enough. I knew this morning I had awakened feeling incredibly grateful that it was Tuesday, I was alive, the medical team had brought me safe thus far, and a storm was erupting outside that sort of foreshadowed my emotional barometer.
I lay in bed, replaying what these seven months have meant for me. The whole experience still feels surreal. To go from feeling unusually tired to facing a surgery that I might not have made it out alive from is not a journey I would wish on anyone. This time last year I was trekking around Europe, listening to God and anxious to serve in whatever way I could. I had not predicted that I was the one that would need to be served. God sent this amazing global community to support me in ways I would never have imagined. I was gifted with a superb medical team–a family doctor who acted swiftly and compassionately, a determined interventionist who completed a challenging initial procedure, a talented, young surgeon who did what some might not think possible, bright residents who cheered me on, a nursing student who catered to my every need, a humming night nurse who brightened my experience, great health care aides who did the grunt work of caring for me, a gentle down-to-earth oncologist to transition me to life with and beyond cancer and a dietician who guided me to an even healthier lifestyle than I already had.
As the rain poured down outside, I gave thanks to all of those who had got me here to this three-month mark. I prayed for those who I have been praying for during my own illness who are also battling cancer. This list grows longer by the week. I thought of the obituary I had seen last night of a former parishioner who is only a few years older than me and wondered if she had had cancer. The storm outside was raging and I stretched out on my bed breathing in the refreshing cool air before I got up and closed the windows to prevent water damage. I had read recently that Manitoba would have an obscene number of people who would be diagnosed this year with cancer. I forget the exact number but I wished as I closed windows that I could close the door on that disease.
I returned to my bed for a bit more musing. I continued to think about my gratitude for the medical part of my experience. I returned to a scene from the beach just prior to walking down the secluded sandy shore. I had tossed my disposal water bottle into a recycling bin. I closed the lid and immediately knew something was wrong but my thought process was slow. I am holding the lid to my bottle but I should not be. What should I have in my hand? I could not think of it so I opened the bin and looked in. There was my cell phone with my driver’s license in its case. I sighed, tossed the cap into the bin and retrieved my phone and identification. This was a bit of a problem still, this foggy brain of mine. I was at least getting faster at recognizing that there was an issue at hand.
I finally got up off my bed and went about my day, aware of my gratefulness. After my doctor appointment, I stopped in at the office to drop off my new medical certificate stating a later return date. I happened to walk past the director’s office and had a brief chat with her and her assistant. She told me that she was pleased to hear that things had gone well. My inner voice piped up, wondering what that means to me. I am doing well but there is a but. I needed to explore that but a bit more.
Nearby the office is a new store that has opened for cancer patients. I walked into its purple loveliness and felt immediately like I was on the lonely empty beach, to no fault of the store owner. I could feel my reaction was mixed–the store is spacious and welcoming but the content on the shelves made me feel as if I could not breathe. The owner was with someone else and so I looked around the store, hoping to find what I was looking for and get out. No luck! She came over, after the other shopper had left, and greeted me. I explained what I was searching for. The hard part came when she wanted to show me the card line that the store had–a friend had sent me the same information and made a joke about it–a card that says I promise to never refer to your illness as a journey unless someone takes you on a cruise. I am not yet able to say out loud to strangers that I have had cancer. I started to say I had seen them because a friend….that was as far as I got when I began to cry in her store. I was mortified and felt like that stump in the beach photo with the storm clouds closing in. We got past it though and she was compassionate.
As I review my day in the Examen, I see the other encounters I had on this my three-month anniversary. My former family doctor and I bumped into each other at the reception area after my appointment. He expressed his dismay while telling me that he was rooting for me and that he was glad that I had pulled through. I dissolved into tears then, just as he told me how good I looked. After mass I spoke with another woman who has been diagnosed with cancer and shared some of my experiences with her. I was strong then. The reality is that this illness is more than just the physical disease. The emotional roller coaster is rough and not everyone gets to see that part of it. That is why the deserted beach spoke to me. Those storm clouds are not completely hiding the blue sky. I know it is there. There is beauty in the wildness of that photograph. I think again about my head on Jesus’ shoulder and return there now as we stand together and look out at what looks like a deserted and forsaken beach just before a storm hits. I know that I am not alone and as this day ends the gratitude that it began with returns.
Sometimes when we feel as if we are in desolation, we are actually in hard consolation. The experience is tough but Jesus is right there with us. Do you remember a time when this was true for you?
Emotions can tell us what is going on inside of us if we pay attention. What do you hear right now from within you that you need to attend to?
The shoreline is a place you were familiar with,
you and your fisher friends.
Join me here on the empty beach
and look forward with me.
Show me that I can withstand the storm that was
and the ones that are yet to come.
Jesus, you are with me,
wrapping your arm around me,
praying me through the empty feelings
back into a life of thanks.