Time Stolen

My husband and I enjoyed our trip to Florida so much!! It was healthy for him to spend time with his sisters, and to laugh and enjoy each other.  I only wish we would have stayed longer.  I can’t imagine why we didn’t.  We are now on permanent vacation…so to speak.  For our brief time now, we have nothing but time.  It’s a strange feeling too, learning to fill busy days, and finally just letting some of those days go by sitting together propped up on mounds of pillows, coffee cooling on the bedside tables, Shih Tzu snoring at our feet, watching television, and talking about nothing in particular.

I think that in our battle with the Monster, time is the first thing stolen simply because we don’t know how to refill it. The moments of our days that were once relegated to work, chores, family, friends, and church are now freed up, and we simply don’t know what to do with it all.  Therefore, we feel we must be doing something productive, and believe me, I am no expert.  I can only speak my small voice from this tiny corner of the universe to say that the most productive thing my husband and I did the other day was to sit propped against pillows in our bed, watching hour after hour of the Animal Planet.  We laughed, pointed, shuddered, grimaced, and laughed some more.  We held hands.  He asked for a kiss.  We ate potato chips.  We didn’t answer the phone.  There were moments of conversation.  Moments of silence.  A tear or two.  Mostly, we were just together, sharing the same space.  I don’t think any profound conversation passed between us.  There were no great words of wisdom.  He told me at one point to “Move over.  You’re on my side.”  And then, “Look!  Your foot is touching my side!”  I got annoyed with him, and told him to “Put a sock in it, buster!”  We were just us being the us that we are…

I realize that every minute doesn’t have to be full of meaning and the despairing chase to fill the gaps in a dam that cannot be saved. You out there, I know how you feel…you feel you must say your words, and speak your heart while there is still time. I know.  I know. Within our struggle (my husband and I) against the Monster, we are coming to understand that time is stolen from us only when we don’t allow it…when we don’t allow ourselves to spend the time we have left.  I know that I will remember the holidays and the trips we had together.  I will remember camping, and gambling in Vegas, walking the dog hand in hand, and laying on a Mexican beach.  I will remember the hopes and dreams we shared, and every minute detail of the life we built together and what we would do if we won the lottery, etc.  But I will also remember the afternoons spent propped up against pillows in our bed.  I will remember the pillow talk.  I will remember that it was in those softly lit moments of intimacy that I shared with this man, so strong and frail, my deepest secrets, and that no one alive will ever know me that way he knows me. So while no words of profundity passed between us that day, the time itself was “the pearl of great value.” Be comforted. No time is wasted if it is shared.

One of my favorite poems is by the wonderful Rainier Maria Rilke:

“I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough to make every moment holy. I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough just to lie before you like a thing, shrewd and secretive. I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will, as it goes toward action; and in those quiet, sometimes hardly moving times, when something is coming near, I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone. I want to be a mirror for your whole body, and I never want to be blind, or to be too old to hold up your heavy and swaying picture. I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie. and I want my grasp of things to be true before you. I want to describe myself like a painting that I looked at closely for a long time, like a saying that I finally understood, like the pitcher I use every day, like the face of my mother, like a ship that carried me through the wildest storm of all.”

I don’t know what this poem meant to Rilke, but I know what I think it might mean to my husband and I in this “here and now.” I think this is a voice speaking to itself.  I think this is a person seeing herself in a mirror, and experiencing her being within the passage of time, and realizing who she is and what she wants to be.  She sees herself in her great and clumsy eagerness to rush through life, her willingness to stubbornly avoid the consequence of time, her need to come to terms with herself, and her dire urgency to learn self-reliance.  She is all of these conflicting things at the same time, both flawed and fearless, and oh so human.  Mostly, this poem is about observing the moments that bring depth…moments that are “the quiet, sometimes hardly moving times,” that identify and release all that we are and all that we are to each other.

My sister has a terminally ill child. She told me that once, before they knew of his disease, they used to see time as a thing in volumes and oceans and ‘what will he be when he grows up?’ Then the diagnosis reordered their perception of time to ‘this is who we are today.’  She’s good at time now and gave me a new understanding of the wisdom of the Psalm, “This is the day that the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

The Monster has stolen life and replaced it with pain. It has taught us suffering.  It has stripped the dreams of our future away and with it the hubris and untruth of ‘knowing’ tomorrow is also ours to spend as we choose.  It has left us clinging to fragmented hope because we can no longer see the days rolling out before us like a carpet.  All we have left are the moments.  These moments, these irretrievable moments, the Monster will steal too if we are not careful.  So now, as the Monster’s prison encloses around us, we huddle together, propped up against pillows in our bed, and live inside the moment where hands touch, kisses are exchanged, and we squabble over who is on whose side.  And we learn what enduring love is and how the Monster cowers at the Light that still enters to defend us as we steal back from its cruel grasp our most precious moments…quiet, propped against pillows.

Introduction…

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Galileo

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. This article was written by me and previously published by me on another blog. I will be collecting other previously published blogs and re-publishing them here. New blogs will appear when the “moving in” process is complete. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

I have finished my Master’s degree now. Just as my husband and I believed this huge mountain was behind us, we immediately slammed into another one.  This one is bigger and meaner and we will not survive it together.

People talk about “living with cancer” as a thing that one simply does. One “lives” with cancer.  I don’t know how true that is.  I know, so far, that my husband has “suffered” with cancer.  By suffering, I mean that he has experienced intense pain, overwhelming sadness and grief that his life is ending, rage at the enormous unfairness of it, the terror of approaching and unavoidable death, and the utter indignity of losing much of his mobility and independence.  As for me and “living” with cancer, I simply die a tiny piece at a time, like a chisel is being applied steadily to my soul.  Little bits chipped away slowly.  There is no “living” with cancer, at least not when compared to how we lived before the monster invaded my husband’s body.

Our life together has changed catastrophically, permanently, and profoundly. I cannot NOT see minutes, moments, blinks, or inklings without the yellow-bile haze of the monster’s breath filtering the light.  We are polluted by this thing that not only follows us into our dreams, but also nags every word, smile, chuckle, or kiss that passes between us.  It is the rotting zombie, ever-present, mindless, and voracious that stands in the corner of the room—it watches us.

But… I still, strangely enough, hold on to my faith. I truly do.  But my faith has shifted…or it’s now focused on something truly solid, where before it was “in theory.” You see, I’ve come to realize that my husband has always been mortal.  At some point, my husband was always going to die.  And that truth was covered in my marriage vows, come to think of it.  That whole “til death do you part” thing.  That “as long as you both shall live” clause.  Death is already written into marriage, as a thing of certainty that, barring its own inevitability, the marriage will continue.  I did agree to it.  I did swear by it.  I did promise my husband that I would do it before God and Man.  I did.  It’s just that the other stuff, the “to have and to hold, to love and to cherish” part took pre-eminence and I narrowed my focus to the living my husband and I would do, and forgot about the dying we would also do.  I can’t be the only one who has done this, and so foolishly, so humanly forgot about mortality.  But how can we concentrate on the mortal while we are consorting within the realms of the immortal?

Love, true love, is forever. As a Christian, I believe that I take my love with me into Eternity and meet with my love there, again.  Reunited forever.  To me, love is immortal.  And I choose this belief in a world where love has become tenuous and throw-away.  Where marriage vows have changed from “until death do you part” to “for as long as you both are able.”  And this is not an assault on modern marriage vows or a holier-than-thou-only-Christians-understand-marriage thing.  It’s just one woman’s desperate attempt to attach a sense of hope to that which has moved so far from hopefulness.  I would shake my fist at the sky if it would help, but then I am reminded again that I did indeed marry a mortal man—and that I agreed to his mortality. I guess I just didn’t understand what I was agreeing to until I met the monster. Therefore, you who have vowed to love, be warned. Remember the “small print.”

So now, bucket list. His and mine.  My husband needs to clear up and order the paperwork of his life now.  And he needs to take his leave of everything.  The actual paper paperwork is almost done.  That was the easy part.  Now it’s done, the harder stuff begins…people, places, things.  Saying words, sharing hugs and kisses and tears as one person passes through the gate and boards the plane to their new home while others remain, and wave good-bye, holding on to each other as the plane lifts away until it merges with an ocean of blue.

I watched a television show yesterday where a character mused that there are people in our lives whose presence we simply take for granted as a part of our being in the world. They are such an integral ingredient in our daily living, that they are fused to us, they help define our meaning in life.  We don’t even think about losing these people.  Neither do we imagine what life would be like without them.  Maybe it’s because the mere thought is too agonizing to entertain even for a moment, so we never do.  Or, maybe it’s because losing them would cause such a catastrophic shift in our life that it’s frankly impossible to wrap our head around it.  I don’t know what it is exactly. All I can say is that it is a sudden and bizarre reality, and the person who wrote that television episode understands what THIS is.  The person who wrote the episode has been touched by a monster like mine, and understands the depth of finality it brings. Because whoever that writer is, absolutely nailed it.

Therefore, having admitted the truth to myself, I will return to faith. It’s what I know for sure.  And I know that within that safe place of faith, I can hold on to love and find joy and laughter. I will report on all of these things equally, as coins of the same value.  Telling this story will be my new project. Watching my husband’s struggle will be fearsome, but witnessing his splendid courage will surely become the yardstick by which I will measure everything that ever afterward enters my life.  And maybe someone suffering with their own monster will read this “tale of us against the monster” and know that they are not alone…

#cancer #living with cancer #surviving cancer