Friday, March 28, 2014

On a Lighter Note...

Almost exactly six years ago, I traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with two wonderful women, Cooper and Emily, who founded a website for which I was working. One of the other editors for the site was at the meeting as well, and like me, she received a bag of gifts upon her arrival--a nice surprise. There were lots of cool things, but I remember two in particular.

One was a pair of silver ballet slippers, custom decorated with handwritten words about me, so that every time I looked down at my feet, I would be reminded that I was funny and creative and brilliant. Despite the fact that I have a hard time picking out shoes for myself, these shoes that were surreptitiously bought and created for me fit perfectly. I called them my princess shoes and wore them constantly until they started to show signs of wear. I now reserve them for state occasions, royal weddings, that sort of thing.

The second thing I remember was a book co-written by Emily and two friends of hers, called "Living with the End in Mind." Even though I realized that the book was a labor of love for Emily (one of her co-authors was a beloved friend who died of breast cancer), I have to admit it felt a little weird to receive it. I felt like Pollyanna, who was hoping to receive a doll for Christmas, only to get a pair of crutches instead. As Pollyanna did with her crutches, I tucked my book away in case it should be needed. Unlike Pollyanna, I was not as cheerful when I discovered it was.

However, it's a great book. At least I think so, because I can only bear to read it for about twelve seconds at a time. But every time I pick it up, I randomly flip it open to a page that is helpful right at that very minute. And now I wish I had read it earlier when it didn't seem so fraught. But no matter. It is a good book, it reminds me of the person who gave it to me, and it is giving me what I need as I need it.

In a somewhat bizarre twist, both I and the other friend who were given the book were diagnosed with cancer within a few years of receiving it. So I would like to propose that Emily's next book be titled, "How to Manage Your Lottery Winnings and Still Have Time for a Daily Massage." I promise, I'll be first in line at the book signing.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Universe Delivers

Sometimes the universe delivers exactly what you need to hear. Or, more likely, it was always there, but you managed to wiggle the knob on the old radio in your head just so the station comes in, maybe a little staticky, but well enough to hear.

Yesterday I heard two references to grief that were so spot on. The first, an author discussing her book and talking about "the cue-ball break of grief, where everyone goes into their own pocket," was so true, because grief, no matter if shared, is still so private and must be dealt with in one's own way. And this, from Anne Lamott: "The only cure for grief is grieving."

For reasons passing understanding, yesterday I realized that I have cancer, and that it might kill me. I know it might not, and that most of you would prefer that I hang on to that. But it might, it really might. There's a decent chance that this is not a drill, though it's too early to tell. And so what I am grieving right now is not my life or my general good health, both of which I still have, but the ability to take those things for granted.

Up until now, even after my doctor appointment a month ago, I have kept the cancer in a box. I have had lots of work to do, and other obligations, and I have just dealt with them and been grateful for them. But yesterday all hell broke loose.

I called the social worker at the Eye Center, who is a lovely woman and who did not try to jolly me out of the realization that I might die far earlier than I would prefer. On the other hand, I'm not ready to pick out my shroud yet, and she was a little too willing to browse the aisles at Shrouds R Us with me. So that conversation lasted a couple minutes longer than I needed.

My husband called me from work as he often does, to check in and to make sure I haven't gone too batty from sitting at a keyboard alone all day, like Jack Nicholson in the Shining. He heard something weird in my voice, darling fella that he is, and I told him that I was scared and that I need to be able to acknowledge that with him because he is my person. That I did not want to freak him out or make him think I was conceding defeat, but that I need to acknowledge reality and take care of some of what the funeral people call "pre-planning." I asked if he thought I should get a plot for just myself or if we should pick out a doublewide, generously allowing as how his next wife might not want him shacking up with me after death. He quietly said, "There's not going to be a next wife." (Total lie, BTW, he's such a catch the ladies will be lining up on the porch with casseroles before I'm cold. He's not going to have a chance against that, but that will be his problem.) "Doublewide it is," I said grimly.

I really do hope all this is irrelevant for decades, but I so appreciated his willingness to neither give up on my life nor ignore the prospect of my death. I hate it SO MUCH when people say to "stay strong," because what it means is, "I have no idea what to do with your weakness, so please hide it." He doesn't ask that of me, which is one reason he's such a catch. He lets me grieve, so I have the chance to be happy again, for as long as I have. And I hope it's a really long time.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mr. Kobayashi's Mailbox

So, the part that I left out of the last post is that I almost killed myself after the bad news from Tuesday's doctor appointment.

No, not on purpose. That is NOT how we roll.

How we do roll, however, is down the highway for an hour, with tears streaming down our face the whole time. After a night of fitful sleep, and half an antianxiety pill taken because we had to go to the doctor appointment alone.

Accordingly, I fell asleep at the wheel.

Not, mercifully, on the highway or a main road. Somewhat embarrassingly, I fell asleep at the wheel of my husband's brand new car around the corner from my house. Within easy walking distance.

I remember feeling like I might like to relax for a bit when I got home. I don't remember feeling especially sleepy. I very vividly remember jerking awake as my vehicle drifted to the right, and swerving rapidly to the left. Mercifully (again), I did not make contact with any cars, humans, strollers, or animals.

What I did make contact with, because I swerved a split-second too late, was Mr. Kobayashi's mailbox.

The mailbox, with mail still inside, landed squarely in the middle of Mr. Kobayashi's tidy lawn. I stopped my car, inspected it for damage (of which there was, thankfully, very little), and turned around, pulling into the driveway of the house with an intact mailbox post, but no mailbox. I had no idea whose house it was, but there was a truck in the driveway, so picked up the mailbox in my arms like it was a baby, and knocked.

It took him a while to get to the door, almost long enough for me to give up, except I didn't give up because I had an armload full of mailbox and no idea what to do with it. So I stood there until the door opened.

Which it eventually did, to reveal an older Japanese man who spoke English, but obviously not as a first language.

I do not know why Mr. Kobayashi came to this country, or when, or what he expected when he did. But I am certain it was not for an incoherent middle-aged woman to ring his doorbell, weeping hysterically, and bearing his deceased mailbox like a temple sacrifice.

At the moment in question, neither of us had an excellent command of the English language, so he kept asking if I was okay, and I kept saying yes (um, obvious lie, but the truth was too complicated). I kept apologizing and said I would get him a new mailbox. He said he would attach it to the post. He asked again if I was okay. I said yes again. We exchanged names and phone numbers like it was a normal traffic accident, with, you know, a normal driver.

The car, miraculously, had only a crack in the casing of the side mirror and some white paint on the door handle. I drove it home and called my husband to ask if, on the way home from work, he would mind picking up a standard white mailbox for me. And then, I explained why I needed it.

To the man's credit, he did not once ask about the condition of his vehicle. (Although, being a good engineer, he did want more specs on the mailbox.)

The next morning, I somewhat sheepishly carried the new mailbox over to Mr. Kobayashi's house. He opened the door a little quicker this time, obviously cheered by the fact that I no longer appeared to be a recently furloughed patient from the state hospital. He bowed repeatedly, smiling and saying, "I'm glad you're okay!" He accepted the new mailbox as if it were a surprise gift that turned out to be exactly what he had wanted all along. 

Now, this is the time of year when my people are thinking more than usual about forgiveness--asking for it and giving it. This story involves two men who had every right to be angry with me, because I broke their stuff, and could have broken it much worse. But neither one of them so much as betrayed a moment's irritation. Only concern for my well-being. I didn't even have to ask for forgiveness. It was just there.

And perhaps this is the best part of the story, aside from the fact that I didn't plow into a tree or another car: just when angry, grouchy, pinched-up little me could use an earthly model for how to forgive, I actually get two.