Sunday, August 12, 2012
Life after Intimations of Mortality
Real life actually began for me around six weeks before that, when I got the postcard from the James asking me to come back in for magnified mammograms. I stood there at the antique oak table I had stripped and refinished when I was younger and always had energy to spare, looking at that handwritten message, and said, "Uh-oh."
And I was right; that was the beginning of bad news. Slowly over the next weeks of more films and then core biopsy, then meeting with the surgeon, I got it: I could die. I would die some day, and it could be just like this, from something invisible, a cancer that had not formed a lump, that my heredity did not predict, that was discovered only because someone sent me a reminder letter and I gritted my teeth and went in for my annual mammogram, six months late. A destroyer that was invading my body without my knowledge or consent. Since then, I've had two friends die of metastasized breast cancer.
You do not begin your real life until you know that the day is coming when you will die, and you don't know when, and you can't count on any future.
Is that all I have to say? Well, I count my meditation practice as beginning on that day, though I may have begun sitting with healing visualizations before the surgery; you pick a date. (When were you born, in fact? Think about it.) Until then, my life was a horrible f----- up mess in which I knocked around doing things, led by my head, my instructions, my conditioning. Then I began to study Buddhism with fierce devotion.
Now I lead with my heart. I'm still an awful mess with an unfair quotient of suffering, including anger at people who keep insisting that if I only think POSITIVELY and eat horrible food and exercise twice as much, not only can I live forever, but I'll feel constant radiant joy, and that means my suffering is all my fault. I hate those people, I mean, I'm angry at that lie, and all the others that take your life away, and focused anger at certain totally deluded well-meaning idiots is the form it takes. And sooner or later I'll get all of them defriended, or at least I'll figure out how to hide from them.
It is not always easy, being alive and in touch with your feelings. But sometimes it is.
Easy. And pleasant.
And often I'm grateful to be alive.
[images: At top, our beloved Sherlock. He used to meditate with us. After 20 minutes, he would get up and leave the room, anticipating the clock. When he began to die three years ago, he didn't know what hit him; neither did we. It was hell for him and us. I still miss him. There will never be anyone like him. Just above, Tashi, who enlivens our life now, attempting to sample a sunflower after Cassie's wedding.]