Monday, December 26, 2016

Ordinary Time in CancerLand

In the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar there is an acknowledgment of “Ordinary Time”. This is the time that falls between holidays; it is the times 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 attorney time. It’s not exhilaration or tragedy time.

This month is filled with grocery shopping, yoga classes, buying running shoes, parent meetings and girl friends. I am picking up library books, allergy medicine, dry cleaning and avocados.

Having been in CancerLand so long I have to stop and remind myself that this ordinary time is actually a kind of holiday. This time is the true luxury, the blessing and the most wanted gift.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

In the Dark Street Shineth

Off we go trailing shopping lists and credit card receipts. Christmas is in one week. We may complain about our errands, and even about some of the folks on our list, but we do enjoy the festivity the holidays bring to our gray December days. It's no coincidence.

The holidays that celebrate light, Hanukah and Christmas, are aligned with the seasonal transit of the sun. It’s a leftover from earlier times when the religions of nature led all of the others. There was good reason, then as now, to run from the darkness. 

We know that ancient man feared that the sun had died.  It was his terror that the heat and light were gone. To coax the sun god back our ancient relatives created rituals.  The Druids lit bonfires. Now we celebrate with candles and lights in our windows. 

Spirituality is a way out of darkness and into hope and joy. The vehicle is mystery and a miracle, whether it’s oil that lasts eight days or the birth of a baby in a barn.

In the Northern Hemisphere this is a time when we face our vulnerability. Weather is the least of it. We all have moments of darkness: our grief, fears and regrets. The darkness we fear most, of course, is the grave. We still think we can outrun it. So some of us go to the Caribbean and some to sunlamps or light boxes; many pursue spirits, religious or distilled. Like our ancestors we too want the sun to come back and give us life again. So we go to the stores and burn up our credit cards; we sacrifice our savings as we gather at the mall where we may find what passes for community. 

But we still fear the dark. Much of what we do this time of year is about distraction. Not unlike whistling when we pass a graveyard, now we sing and shop and light candles and eat too much. And we complain. A lot. But maybe our railing against our holiday chores is itself a part of the solstice. Now when we are oppressed by darkness –when our primitive fears can be felt even through layers of advertising and anti-depressants-- we are drawn to the lights and to other people as our defense against the dark, just as our ancient relatives were drawn to stars and fires.

We talk of holiday depression as if it’s somehow wrong or an aberration. But these holidays we’re celebrating, Hanukah and Christmas, are also about darkness. Sometimes we forget that. But it’s true: the flip side of each story is about the darkness at the edge of the light. 

The words of this Christmas carol could just as well be a Solstice song: Yet in the dark street shineth, the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

We’re fighting something ancient, natural and necessary. Occasionally we need to feel the darkness—even symbolically--like we sometimes need a dark night or a wild storm.

So maybe there is another way to experience this day. On this, the darkest night, what if we allowed the darkness and went toward it, daring ourselves to sit still before we light the candles or the tree. What if we sat a moment seeing the tree in darkness--and breathed. That’s what solstice is about. We can enter the darkness and emerge transformed. We can stand it.

Tomorrow the sun will be at the most southern point of its transit. And what is coming is the longest night of the year. Starting Wednesday our days will grow longer again. The cycle is astronomical and holy. On this night we are as ancient as ever.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas in CancerLand

Years ago it was cancer at Christmas. The first surgery. The news about chemo. Having hope at the holidays. I found that old blog post “Christmas Past” this week. I am surprised that we were able to be so be happy then while we were in the thick of it. And surprising to remember that we found serenity and sensuality even in those first few forays into

Here is the old post from our first year in Cancerland:

“It’s all here. Love and carols, candlelight service at the United Methodist Church last night, sleeping late and making love through the morning, a sponge bath then washing his hair over the side of the tub—he cannot get the stitches wet for three more days—a walk in the neighborhood, opening gifts—books and music, and tickets and clothes for both of us. These are the things we have shared and talked about from the first day we met. Cashmere and satin and a collection of erotic poetry keep the love alive. We cook dinner together: Cornish game hens with smooth small breasts, artichokes to slide through our teeth, potatoes soaked with butter and garlic and chocolate mousse. Christmas together. We never thought we’d see this. But here it is. We have both cancer and Christmas and it is enough.”

This year’s Christmas is different: Adopt-a-Family gifts, cooking, wrapping, shopping Amazon last minute, the annual trip to buy my mother-in-law’s gift, texting the kids, realizing that the new family we made in that isolated first year has become the real family, and that we continue to love and be loved. For all of this we are so grateful.