Yesterday, for the first time in weeks, I got dressed in real clothes: my too-big jeans and a sweater. I put on boots and make-up. I found out what the weather was like by feeling it against my skin, instead of asking my family as they swept in from their busy lives. (It was COLD, wonderfully, slap in the face cold.)
I was out in the world and life was good--even if my only destination was the doctor's office in Boston.
I enjoyed traveling through the snow squalls on the Cape. Even when my daughter-in-law, Nicola, took the wrong exit, we celebrated being lost--pointing out the architecture, and imagining how exciting it would be to live in some of the neighborhoods we passed.
"Someday, when everyone's on their own, I'd like to move to the city," I said, daring to imagine the future.
When we passed the river, Nicola said she particularly loved Boston because the Charles reminded her of the river that cut through her native Melbourne.
We also acknowledged that if we'd been with our spouses, we would have been enjoying the scenery less and blaming each other for screwing up the directions more...
We got there on time, but even if we hadn't, it would have been okay. Some days, I've sat in the waiting room for more than two hours before I heard my name called. It turned out yesterday was one of those days.
"Simply waiting" in the Cancer Center wasn't easy. The fifteen or twenty people who sat in chairs along the periphery all looked scared and tense. No one spoke. Furtively, I checked out them out, wondering what form of the disease they had, what their prognoses might be. Were they among the statistical numbers who would beat the disease? Was I?
The first day I visited, most of the patients were a generation older than I was. What was I doing there? I wondered. It wasn't fair. Then I spotted a woman who appeared to be about the age of my oldest son. Damn. Cancer WASN'T fair. It wasn't democratic. It just was.
I looked down and pretended to read People magazine.
This time, however, Nicola and I had eight month old Hank with us. How would an active, squirmy baby ever endure the kind of wait that drove adults to distraction? But it turned out that Hank found the spacious waiting room perfect for exploring on hands and knees, the coffee tables just the right height to walk around, and the seats filled with people he was eager to meet.
He started with those closest to us, and then, slowly (followed by his mum, of course) he extended his reach to everyone in the waiting room, transforming the atmosphere as he crawled around, babbling and smiling.
Strangers smiled back and called to him, "Over here, buddy." When he toppled over, people leaped up to make sure he was all right. Suddenly, Nicola and I weren't the only ones watching to make sure he didn't put anything in his mouth. Everyone in the room had his back.
Soon people were sharing stories about their children and grandchildren. When someone said that babies who don't crawl before they walk often have developmental delays later, a vigorous debate broke out.
Eventually, the conversation expanded. People discussed how far they'd traveled to get there, and worried that they'd get on the road before rush hour. A couple of men started to talk about sports.
We stopped being a bunch of solitary, anxious cancer patients, and became a room full of human beings. I forgot to think about how many paients had come in after me and heard their names called before me, or to look at my watch. What remained was the goodwill in that room, the outstretched hands, and the encouraging words to Hank when he took a couple of tentative steps between table and chair.
"Look! You're doing great. You can do it!"
On the way home, exhausted, but strangely elated, I wondered why it took a baby to release us from our fear and reveal our common humanity....
And why it took a life-threatening illness to make me realize that nothing is promised to me or to anyone else--not a single breath--that it's all a gift and I'd better savor every bit of it--even the missed exits, and the unexpected detours.
Two more things:
1. To all those who have sent healing vibes, prayers and good thoughts, many thanks. All my recent pathology reports have been clean, and my current prognosis is GOOD. Alleluia.
And 2. Some amazingly generous writers and bloggers have done something so incredible for me that it could restore the faith of the most hardened cynic. I will write more about that soon. But for now, I just want to say to Laura Benedict, Susan Henderson, Jessica Keener, Backspace's inexhaustible Karen Dionne, and my good friend, Tish Cohen who have spearheaded the effort, and to the many people who've agreed to help: I thank you and I love you.
(This entry was originally posted on my blog Simply Wait on January 4, 2008)