On being lucky

Posted on March 31, 2016

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lucky calendar

This month, I did what I do every March. I sit in a doctor’s office, waiting for a nurse to call me back to a room where, eventually, an oncologist will meet with me to discuss the results of my blood work. Sometimes there are other tests to talk about too; the more ambitious will require an MRI or mammogram.

I show up, I wait, I follow the nurse to the assigned room and sit where I’m supposed to. Sometimes I ask questions. Mostly I just enjoy the more fun conversations one gets to have with her doctor when no illness is present.

I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now. The actual appointment itself always feels routine and uneventful.But waiting in the doctor’s office-this, I think, is the real point of the whole visit.(And in case you didn’t know, cancer docs can keep you waiting for a very long time, even when you do everything they ask of you, like arriving 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment time with all of your paperwork complete.)

While waiting this time, I got to see the 20 year old me. The youngish, bald, skinny girl on the couch with bad acne from her chemo? I recognized the me in her. I remember looking just like that. I remember that feeling of the whole future, which everyone my age made seem like the start of their real lives,  looming huge and uncertain overhead.  That suffocating feeling that would close up my throat because I realized there was the possibility of not having a future at all.

I also got to see the me I could have been, had my treatment not gone well or had I relapsed. The woman in her early 30’s, who placed her oxygen tank down on her chair next to her like it was her albatross. Who sighed deeply each time she looked at her watch. She looked exhausted from the daily monotony of being constantly monitored and poisoned and stuck with needles.

I got to see the older me, too, if I go down this road again. The woman in her mid-60’s, with the permed white hair who has almost perfect posture and yet is so still. Whose bones look frail beneath her sweater, her expression stiff and resolute. When we have little else, we can still have our determination.

All of us here, in this same place, waiting. All of us lucky beyond words.

I think about the T-shirt I bought for my oldest son. He is having a St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun party at preschool and I thought the shamrock on it would make him look festive. I always forget to dress him up for the themed parties. There’s been many a “crazy sock” or “superhero” day where I’ve forgotten to get him in the relevant attire. But I remembered this one. The shirt is white, which is a mistake for a little boy, but it has a green shamrock on the front and in the middle of this shamrock it says, “So lucky.”

Then I think of the conversation I had recently with the mother of one of my son’s school friends. Her mom died unexpectedly over the weekend and I think about how she consoled herself by saying, “But at least it was quick. She didn’t see it coming but it was quick.”

Thankfully, because of cancer, that’s not the way my life will end-in a blinding flash with the sudden realization that everything really was temporary after all, that I really was a mortal being with a beginning and an ending. I’m grateful I’ve been lucky enough to be reminded that my existence is optional. I’m so lucky because I know the end, eventually, is coming.

I know it on more than an intellectual, conceptual level. Not YOLO or carpe diem. I know it in my bones.

I’ve stared at the void that will come when my own human existence ceases; I’ve felt the cold certainty of death on my neck. All of these women sitting in this doctor’s office with me, they’ve done it too.

And when you’ve been given this gift, you develop an entirely new template of being. What to others must seem like courage becomes, to you, a necessity of being true to yourself. What to others must seem like irreverence, to you, becomes a refusal to tolerant nonsense. What to others must seem like optimism, to you, becomes the gratitude that begins to, without any exertion on your part, weave its way into every molecule of your day.

So young girl on the couch, I’ve been you. And woman with the oxygen tank, I could easily have been you. And older woman with the white hair, I may be you some day. But all of us are connected by something much deeper here.

How I wish the rest of the world could be so lucky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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