I am surprised to find the beginning chill of Fall to be comforting. My diagnosis became clear a year ago, as August turned to September, at the beginning of the Fall season. Last year’s treatments and loss of weight left me freezing most of the time, and the winter was a kind of temperature torture. I have wondered and dreaded how I’d respond to Fall’s return a year later. Instead, the evenings are beginning to have a chill that I find comforting. Rather than heat completely sweltering the days, the intense warmth of the sun is now framed in coolness. I have always loved sleeping with blankets and throwing on a sweater over my short sleeves. I also love the moments in the middle of the afternoon when I can take off my sweater and take in the warmth again.
We are living with dear friends, Ginny and Ante, in Glenwood Springs while we look for an apartment. Soaking in the hot springs here is perfect for my recovery, and the lap lanes are available to help me build strength.
Work in Leadville is one day a week. Every Tuesday, I head to Saint George’s for the Community Meals and then church at 5pm. I am grateful for the spirit of creativity and flexibility that is alive at St George’s, willingly changing Sunday services to Tuesdays so I can lead services on the same day as the meals. Both the meals and the mass are vital elements of what we call “eucharist”. Jim and Patty and others lead Compline in the evenings on Sundays. George and I have ample time now to reflect on this past year and imagine how to shape our life at this point.
I feel my strength improving and am finding myself in this body in a more familiar way. Sprouts of hair make me feel like a human chia pet, but it’s hair!
This new sense of feeling human again wakes me up to the trauma of this past year. It’s like walking out of a cave. While going through it, I felt alert and aware, but the awareness was a strange and strained, tunnel-like awareness … a time of deconstruction, loss and focus on survival. Thank you to each of you who have been patient with George and me while we were not always coherent or responsive.
The most significant loss we have faced is the loss of the beloved myth of certainty.
The most significant gain is the wobbly aliveness and sincerity of uncertainty.
Try saying that five times fast, “The sincerity of uncertainty, the sincerity of uncertainty….”
Two temptations that come with a cancer diagnosis are the certainty of cause and the certainty of outcome. Both have proven to be violent. The certainty of cause tempts me to figure out why. What did I do that brought this? What did someone else do? What toxins was I exposed to? What carcinogen? What lifestyle? What mistake? What blind spot? While a thread of truth can be found in each of these things, the origins of any life event are always more mysterious and complex than I could imagine. The lure of the certainty of cause is safety. If I can figure out the cause, I can rest, knowing I live in a world that is mechanical, predictable and therefore safe. If I can figure it all out, I feel powerful. The quest for that power and safety has a violent effect on me. It keeps me anxious and alert as well as distrustful and at odds with life’s freedom to express itself as it will. And a mechanical, predictable world is not capable of beauty.
The certainty of outcome is also felt as violence. I tell myself that if I can know I will stay in remission for a nice long time, I can relax. So I search for that certainty. And that search tightens my mind and body. I become defensive, irritable and distracted. Try as I might to reassure myself of a favorable future outcome, it is simply not available to me. Life keeps reminding me of that.
So back to the sincerity of uncertainty.
The origin of the word, “sincere” is “sin-cere” which means “without wax”. It was a term used in woodworking. Wax would be used to fill in the cracks in wood, to hide its flaws and make a more marketable product. To be sincere is to be without the wax that fills in and hides the cracks.
I have decided that life is sincere. It is as it is, it doesn’t claim heroics, it shows no partiality, and it has an intelligence, even a love, in its freedom to flaw-fully notice, adapt and recreate.
I am this life. I am not apart from it or other than it. As life, I too can flaw-fully notice, adapt and create (and cry and laugh and spit).
When I, as sincere life, meet life’s sincerity, I don’t find safety, but I do find beauty.