Today I received some sad, sad news.
My co-worker of 10 years from Cobble Hill School of American Studies, a woman who mentored me as a new wife, a new mother, and a fellow doctoral student/candidate/graduate found out that her 31 year old son–whom I have known of and heard about and met multiple times–has cancer.
It started with finding out he had colon cancer. Then they did a body scan before surgery to remove the tumor in his colon and found the cancer had already spread to his liver and lungs. Skipping the surgery, they put him on oral chemotherapy which made him terribly ill. Amid and between vomiting, he felt a strange sense of vertigo. Back to Memorial Sloan Kettering they went, only to find three brain tumors, one being cancerous. Let me repeat he is 31 years old. Thirty. One. 31. 31. 3.1. 3131313131313131313131313131313131……!!!!!!!????????
He was married at the end of December to a lovely young woman I just met at my co-worker’s retirement party this fall.
I am sitting here feeling HEAVY. It feels like someone has punched me in my chest, or that I have a huge vitamin stuck in my throat, or like I might throw up a little bit at any moment. I feel so heavy thinking about this one precious life I get to life and how fragile it is. I feel heavier thinking of the lives of my children, their little voices and stinky breath and bright eyes and developing souls. I feel heaviest for those whom I know who are suffering out there, right now. My friends. Their families. Heavy.
So I went to my books and came to my computer. Not a grand gesture by any means, but something I know how to do: Read and write.
What books do you turn to when the world has delivered a package of hot, steaming shit into your life?
These are mine:
One: When Things Fall Apart : Hard Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome to problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy” (p. 8).
Two: Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie, short story “Do Not Go Gentle”
“Of course, all the doctors and nurses and mothers and fathers were half stunned by that vibrator. And it was a strange and difficult thing. It was sex that made our dying babies, and here was a huge old piece of buzzing sex I was trying to cast spells with. I waved it over our baby and ran around the room waving it over the other sick babies. I was laughing and hooting, and other folks were laughing and hooting, and a few others didn’t know what the hell to do. But pretty soon everybody was taking their turn casting spells with Chocolate Thunder. Maybe it was blasphemous, and maybe it was stupid and useless, but we all were sick and tired of waiting for our babies to die. We wanted our babies to live, and we were ready to try anything to help them live. Maybe some people can get by with quiet prayers, but I wanted to shout and scream and vibrate. So did plenty of other fathers and mothers in that sickroom” (p. 100).
Three: Blue Nights by Joan Didion
“When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children…
Once she was born I was never not afraid” (p. 54)
Four: The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds, poem “Looking at Them Asleep”
“…oh my Lord how I/know these two. When love comes to me and says/What do you know, I say This girl, this boy.” (p. 91)
Five: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
“Countless people have been devastated for reasons that cannot be explained or justified in spiritual terms. To do as you are doing in asking If there were a God, why would he let my little girl have to have a possibly life-threatening surgery?–understandable as that question is–creates a false hierarchy of the blessed and the damned. To use our individual good or bad luck as a litmus test to determine whether or not God exists constructs an illogical dichotomy that reduces our capacity for true compassion. It implies a pious quid pro quo that defies history, reality, ethics, and reason. It fails to acknowledge that the other half of rising–the very half that makes rising necessary–is having first been nailed to the cross” (p. 145).
“What if you allowed your God to exist in the simple words of compassion others offer to you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What is the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through your window? What if the worst thing happened and your rose anyway?” (p. 146)
Putting love out into the universe tonight for my friend, her family, her son, his wife, her family, their friends… They wouldn’t be a more loving, inclusive, giving, and kind group of people. May what they have put out into the world boomerang back one hundred fold to bolster them during this time.
And, if you have any books, passages, poems, quotes that you turn to, please share.