I’ve been waiting for a few months now, wondering if I am going to have the privilege to keep on living. It is like being suspended, dangling over an abyss of fire, when you are waiting to hear whether or not your body has been invaded by the C-word.
It starts with a routine doctor’s visit, routine lab work, and suddenly, you are sitting cross-legged before your beautiful doctor who lights the exam room with her inviting smile.
Only this time, she isn’t smiling. This time she is saying things like “abnormal” and “high-grade” and “biopsy” and “minor procedure” while you wonder if the walls are closing in on you, or perhaps someone has accidentally turned on the heater.
You don’t sleep for nights, for weeks. You celebrate your birthday with hesitation, wondering if it just might be your last. You think back to all of the times that you had flirted with darkness, fueled by teenage angst and heartbreak and sorrow. You regret ever wishing, even if just for a moment, that you could go to sleep and rest forever. Now, more than anything in the entire world, you just want to have the chance to LIVE.
How could it be possible? Not now, when you have only just turned thirty. Not now, when you have finally grown into your skin; when you have just realized your calling; when you have discovered the courage to live fully and live well. How could it be coming to an end?
But life is cruel, at times. (At least, it seems cruel to us because we cannot see the bigger purpose with our mortal eyes.) Yes, life has been cruel to me before; why wouldn’t it be cruel to me again? Why wouldn’t cruelty waltz right in smack in the middle of the most beautiful dance of my life, thus far, demanding to cut in?
Because cancer isn’t considerate. It doesn’t discriminate. Cancer has taken from me the most precious and young, the most vivacious and generous beings. Cancer doesn’t care. Once before, years ago, cancer had even existed within me.
Why would it spare me, twice?
Today I stood with my children beneath a blossoming Redbud tree. Is there anything more radiant than a Redbud beneath a cloudless, blue sky in the spring? The grass below was home to a field of dandelions. As the wind picked up her speed, the grasses began to roll like a bright, green ocean swelling with the tide coming in. It was the most breathtaking sight I have ever seen.
Spring is coming, I remembered, it is time for rebirth and renewal….
“Make a wish, mama!”
It is selfish — but on that dandelion, I wished that I could live.
Hours later, my phone interrupted the wishing. Instinctively, I knew. It was the one holding me captive over the abyss. The one robbing my sleep and tensing my shoulders and stealing my joy and knotting my stomach.
It was the call.
The message was simple: Yes, you’ll get to live.
Then, I watched my children perform their talent show, singing as they threw brightly colored pom-poms into the air, littering my clean bedroom with a confetti shower of color. I didn’t care about the joyful mess, because I get to live.
I looked right past the mud that they had tracked in, sweaty and prideful with their play, all over my freshly mopped floor. I sang loudly as I swept the mess, because I get to live.
I basked right in my baby’s cries as she wailed all afternoon. I didn’t try to shush her, or put her back to bed. I held a space for her and held her close, because I get to live.
I didn’t rush through dinner, racing for clean up, bath, books, and bed. And when my son asked to go out one last time, I said yes instead. When he peered back in saying, “Don’t you want to come out, mama, and watch as the sun sets?” I put down the dirty dish and stepped outside, because I get to live.
I didn’t stare down at my phone, or think of what work was left to be done. I sat in the fresh air with my baby in my lap, as the sun drifted away behind the silhouettes of my swinging, lovely, kids, because I get to live.
And when the whoosh of blackbirds lifted my eyes up to the heavens, I realized how small I am, and finally, I wept. My body shook in breaking sobs as the birds flew on right above me, so closely I could almost feel the fluttering of their wings, and headed westward, illuminated by the sun’s golden glow. I poured out all my sadness, because I get to live.
And when my children asked why I was crying, I told them that I wept for all the beauty — for the blackbirds; for the orange, setting sun; for their laughter; for the grass beneath my feet — I wept for all of this, because I get to live.
If they had held out one more dandelion for me to make another wish, I would have wished for the courage to live the rest of my days like the day I learned I would get to live.