Christmas with Cancer

Rebellions might be built on “Hope”; success requires plans. One holiday season many years ago, I receive an invite to a friend’s home to have dinner with her husband and kids. I ask if I can help her cook. She demures. “Denize” says she has a system. Ok. As a cook myself I can see how that may be so, but can I come over early just to hang out while she’s cooking? Again, Denize declines politely, asking me to show up at around 6pm. Ok. On a brisk evening I bundle up, arriving on time, appropriately dressed.

Her house is beautifully staged. Tea candles spread throughout the house provide hushed lighting. I’m ushered into the living room, made comfortable on the couch while husband and kids awkwardly avoid me. I feel foolishly alone while Denize works. The turkey sits raw on the counter. I ask her kids if they want to play a game. They don’t. Ouch. I’m the sole guest. I haven’t a clue what to do with myself. I pass a boring four hours, each minute wondering if I can make up an excuse believable enough to excuse myself. The truth is, I’m not having any fun.

I’m sleepy by 10pm when we sit down to eat. But at last conversation ensues. Denize ruefully admits she invites people over for the holidays so that her kids will learn to “reach out.” ouch. Now I really regret not leaving before the food’s served. Denize fondly recalls that for the past two years she’s been inviting the elderly man down the street, but he’s (her words) “Such a downer! Always going on about his aches and his pains. He really destroys the festive mood.” She can’t decide if this is “ruining” the holidays for her kids. Her husband fails to respond so I say “Yes,” yes I think it is.

That dinner marks my last contact Denize. If she misses my friendship she never remarks. Following that experience I make much better plans. I never again accept an invite from someone is not a very, very, close, well-established friend or family member.  Charity invites IMHO are not good for the giver nor good for the getter. If I must invite others for the sake of feeling “blessed” and “better-than” do the least to make guests feel appreciated, wanted, valued.  Have a focus. Plan entertainment. Make conversation. Engage people compassionately. Respect boundaries. don’t exploit people

Left to my own devices I plan wonderful, awesome, fun and beautiful holy days. Some of the best are when my son is small. Although alone doesn’t equal lonely. I was never so lonely as when I sat on Denize’s couch, her kids in their bedrooms, her husband in the garage – – Denize shooing me out of her kitchen. I am never lonely when I hike. If you have Cancer and you feel alone and lonely I strongly suggest embracing Mother Nature. You don’t have to go on an overnight. Just put on some shoes and take a day trip, a one or two hour walk in the wilderness is nourishment. Replenishes.

Admittedly I’m not one of those people who believe the real Reality is somewhere else, sometime else. I think it’s this not that. I think it’s here, now. If I want to merge with the infinite I can request a legal medically assisted suicide in the state of California, but that thought has no appeal to me. None. “Spiritual” people who try to get me to believe that “Reality” is some place where shitty things never happen? I find that so ironic, because their “reality” sounds so much more fantastic than real. I mean seriously. Where is the logic in believing bad things are fake and good things are real? 

I suppose, since I gave up magical thinking, either I’m not very spiritual or I’m not very real.

I’ll go with not very spiritual. Being “spiritual” is nothing to be proud of. It’s a bit of a false humility if you know what I mean. A yoga teacher I know, who prides herself on being spiritual (consider the irony of that!) cuts off her students mid-emotion if they are angry, frustrated or sad. She wants only happiness, peace and love in her personal space. She admonishes clients to keep “it” outside, negativity – that is. I say, ignore-ance is for chumps.

Go through “it”, whatever the hell it is, because the alternatives are not effective. Avoiding it, what ever the hell it is, creates layers of pretense. If “it” is the fact that you hate your mother in-law, the pretense may seem innocuous enough, but if the “it” is stage 3 cancer you’re playing with bigger consequences. If it is sadness feel sad. If it is anger, feel angry. You can’t recover from what you fail to experience.

Cancer creates anxiety, terror, sadness, frustration, loneliness and longing but so do lots of things: marriage, divorce, parenthood, school, employment – just to name a few. In my experience terror is hard to sustain. I feel it for a moment, 45 face down moments in the big noisy MRI machine, and then it ebbs away making space for new emotions. Wonder at the advances of science. Curiosity at the compassion of my caregivers. Pain. There’s always something else, no feeling is finite.

Feelings float, like the wind through pines.  Is the wind made of feelings or are feelings made of wind? Where does the “is-ness” live? Remove the wind and do feelings remain? Put another way, without waves does an ocean persist? The answer is simply “yes.” Is-ness is not in the waves or the whirls. Is-ness is the stuff wind is made of. Which suggests there’s always a calm place some how, a port in the storm, an ancient tree holding steady against rough breath. All it takes to find the eye is letting the wind die down. There’s no bottling up emotions, they won’t be had.

What are you doing to avoid being? It’s funny that sometimes the answer be like praying, yoga, and other times the answer is drinking, gambling. Sometimes it’s noodling on facebook or endless rounds of computer solitaire. Where was Denize in that equation of raising her kids to be kind and caring? What did they see beyond their mother ignoring a guest – – and so they follow suit. But that ain’t no way to have a life.

Now y’all play nice. Happy Holidays