Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ordinary Time

In the Catholic Church liturgical calendar there is an acknowledgment of “ordinary Time”. This is the time between holidays and the time that is not Christmas or Easter or Good Friday or Advent.

It feels like that here in the land of love and cancer too. It’s not chemo or blood tests or attorneys. It’s not exhilaration or tragedy. This day and this week are filled with grocery shopping, golf lessons, parent’s night, and girl friends. I am picking up library books, allergy medicine, dry cleaning and avocados.

Having been in cancer land so much this year I have to stop and remind myself that this ordinary time is the real holiday, the true luxury, the blessing and the gift.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Yesterday it hit me. The nervousness I feel is because April is almost at an end and May is almost here. May has seemed far off until now. And May scares me because we both have colonoscopies in May. First John’s and then mine. I’m scared of them both. I run through scenarios: If his is bad do I go ahead with mine? If his is OK and I go for mine what if I’m not OK? If his is OK do I skip mine to give us a year of no trauma? If his is bad and then mine is bad too do we end up in hospice together? So much for one day at a time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Golf Lesson

Yesterday I had a golf lesson with the course pro. A nice guy who hit that perfect middle between “guy’s guy” and “ladies man”. We broke down my swing into slow motion. I formed internal images of what I want and he gave me several swing exercises to practice. Exercises that give me feedback. I can hear and feel if I am doing it right. My body will learn and my head will follow.

Makes me wish for the same in new relationship skills. Bring the body and the mind will follow. Change your behavior and your thinking will align. Breakdown the new skill into baby steps and master each tiny change. One day I will simply swing and hit the ball high and far, and someday I will say, “No”, “Yes” or “Here is what will work best for me.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Awkward Sex

Oh, and then there are those moments in a relationship when something happens and sex is awkward. Something doesn’t work or you want something the other can’t do or the other one wants something you’re not sure, or you both try a new trick and it bombs.

This is the turning point, the critical moment when you know whether you are a couple or not. Do you laugh? Yes, with each other not at. Do you cry? Maybe, both of you. Do you get mad, yes that happens too and the words come fast and hopefully not too many.

I talk to myself. And I talk to him. “This is us” I say. “This is our sex life not anyone else’s; we get to make the rules.” “This is us” he says. And we hold each other.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Baseball is Back

Baseball season is here and it adds another layer to our lives. We both love the game and are able to teach each other. He knows more about now and I know more about then. I love the history and he loves the Yankees. It’s a source of humor, anger, passion and of competition. It’s a source of metaphors too—many of them sexual --which makes it even more fun. Here’s to getting to third base and charging home with a scream and a cheer!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The All Nighter

Maybe we needed to clear the air. Maybe it’s the frustration of the legal, financial and medical all colliding like three cold fronts. Maybe it’s the dynamic of a relationship that needs a blow-out the way the earth needs a storm to clear and rebalance nature.
Last night was an all-nighter, the blow-out and the storm.

Today we woke to warm weather and partly cloudy changing to warm sun.
We are changed for good or ill. Painful things were said. Tender things were cried.
We said the unsaid and the unsayable.
We go on.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


The saving grace yesterday was girlfriends. The women with whom I can be completely honest and who I can safely show my scared heart and messy mind are treasures in my life. I talked to one friend on the phone and had dinner with another. We laughed at our fears and fantasies and helped each other to exaggerate the scenes but then also counseled each other off the ledge.

“We are only as sick as our secrets” we say in AA and a grief shared in halved while a joy shared is doubled. I saw that come true yesterday moaning, whining, laughing and saying, “…there’s one more thing…” and telling all.

How lucky am I to have friends like this?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


How do I tell the difference between intuition and fear? A lot of fears have arisen in me around John and his life. Is it my old fear? Projection? Hearing so much about people with cancer yesterday? Knowing that he is capable of telling lies? My own thought pattern of doubt? This is a crummy place to be and I want it to be different. The truth is that I want me to be different. I want peace for myself and peace in my own heart more than I want to be with him.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Last week I had this thought:
When someone has cheated on you it’s very hard to trust again.
But it’s also true that when someone has cheated with you it’s also hard to trust again.

But today I had this thought:
(and maybe Easter was part of my shift)
I don’t have to trust him; I only have to trust God.

Friday, April 10, 2009

We Are Easter People

I have an Easter memory from years ago. I was living in Washington, DC, and that year was a low point in my life. My older sister had recently died and both of my brothers were seriously ill; my best friend was leaving town, and on top of that I was questioning my work.

In my journal that April I wrote, “Am I depressed?” When I read those pages now I laugh and shake my head. “Depressed?” That I even had to ask. In that long year I thought I’d never laugh again, just as I thought I’d never again feel love, the joy of easy friendship, or the satisfaction of good work.

I went to church that Easter out of both habit and desperation. I had grown up in a church going family. It was what we did. And so to honor the family that I was losing I went. I chose a big downtown church for Easter services—one with hundreds in the congregation--not daring to visit a smaller church where I might have to speak to people or be embarrassed by my own tears. I wanted the paradoxical safety and anonymity of being in a crowd.

The minister that Easter Sunday said many things that I don’t remember but one sentence has stayed with me all these years. He said, “We live in a Good Friday world…” That I understood. A Good Friday world is a world full of suffering, questioning, unfairness, trouble, mistakes, hurts, losses and grief. That was certainly confirmation of my life that day. “But”, he continued, “We are Easter people.” Those words stopped me cold. I was stunned to be reminded that painful morning that there was something other than what I was feeling.

My life was not instantly transformed; his words did not change the course of my brothers’ illness; nor give me answers to my questions. But the idea of being “Easter people” gave me a pause in my grief and the teeniest hope that there really did exist something other than pain.

Today all of the things that hurt so much back then have changed. As my brothers died friends came forward to help. I began to write and publish. Months later I fell in love and moved to upstate New York where a new life began with new friends, new work and yes, of course, new problems.

What strikes me now is that this believing in “Easter” in the midst of “Good Friday” is as much about being an American as it is about being Christian. Americans are, by character, a people of reinvention. There is an extra layer of intention that we bring to “new life” that isn’t true even in other predominately Christian cultures. As Americans we are future oriented, we look forward not back, and we are, for the most part, a culture of optimistic, hopeful people.

The gift from that Easter service many years ago was the reminder that we are, by religion or culture, a people who believe in possibility. When our hearts are shattered we are sometimes shocked to discover that there is joy as well as pain inside. Out of the ashes of our mistakes, from our defeats and even our despair, we rise again in better lives.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

His Mother Asks

Visiting John’s mother last week and while he was in the kitchen making coffee his mother turned to me and said, “Do you love him?”

We’ve been together a couple of years and I have known her for more than a year. She’s seen us together in many settings and has, I know, talked to him about me. Then this question, “Do you love him?”

It is a mother asking, “Do you love my boy?” and “Are you going to be good for him?” and “Will you take care of him?”

It was also, and I heard this, a mother saying, “Don’t hurt my boy.”

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Thinking about Death

I kill John over and over. Even before he had cancer, and especially now that he does, I imagine his death. I am imagining him being taken away from me. I am imagining losing him. To be fair, I have always done this—imagined that people I love will die. It’s not without grounds; all of my family has died and I watched each one go, some fast, some slow. Now, having this long fought for love, there is a special cruelty in his cancer. There are real grounds for my fear. But I also know that I can lose what is here and what is now by constantly living in his dying.

On our vacation to Florida I read the book, “Beginner’s Greek” by James Collins and in it I discovered this line that I cherish as a new mantra:

“For the sake of goodness and love, man shall grant death no dominion over his thoughts.”

It is from “The Magic Mountain”, by Thomas Mann.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Past Creates Today's fear

Yesterday in therapy I talked about this fear I have of somehow being tricked in this relationship. I know my fears of abandonment and the long standing sense of defectiveness that have been part of me for so long, but as we talked I kept coming up with this word “tricked”. It didn’t quite fit until I began to talk about how my mother could change on a dime, how her addiction to Dexedrine made her into two people: the 9 to 9 “perfect mother”…and then the Medea-ish monster that slowly appeared after 9pm as the Dexedrine wore off. Medea is the right persona. Like her, my mother was so angry at my father that she would hurt her children out of her own grief and fury. What I now understand is that as a kid it felt like a trick—someone had tricked me—I had a good, super-engaged and active, manic mother part of the day and at night the monster appeared and my better mother was gone.

The lasting piece is that I have come to not just expect but to anticipate and even strategize to deal with the other. I do this with John too. Sure he says he loves me, yes he wants to marry me, yes all the words and behaviors are there, but that younger part of me knows—she is just sure that she knows—he will trick me. One day I’ll come home to an ice cold man or one day he will just not come home.

It is not lost on me that this is also what his wife did experience. The loss of her seemingly perfect husband and seemingly perfect marriage must seem like the cruelest, most senseless trick. In my struggle to free myself from my old beliefs I also pray for her as she lives thru this reality.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chop Wood Carry Water

There is an old Zen saying:

Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water.

It applies to cancer too:

Before cancer: Chop wood, carry water, buy groceries, pay bills, make love.
After cancer: Chop wood, carry water, buy groceries, pay bills, make love.

Before and after cancer there are bills to pay and water on the sink, socks in the dryer, deadlines, aches, pains, worries, bad TV, great movies, Facebook, missed birthdays, cranky coworkers, amazing friends, too much candy, not enough water, and a poem every day.