Monday, April 22, 2013

A Shadow Fell

I've accumulated several unfinished blogs this past week; scattered thoughts I typed out in hopes that the world would make a bit more sense once those thoughts formed sentences and those sentences formed paragraphs. But the sentences were crap, the paragraphs fit together as well as Teddy's little Legos fit together with Annabel's big ones, and as the week went on, the world seemed to get more and more confusing. Finally, today, I found something to hold onto.

As my Mom and I sat in the waiting room at my last treatment, I stared at the TV perched above us. Despite Dana-Farber's relatively short waiting times, I've stared at those TVs for a combined time of over several hours and in those hours, I've learned that Dana-Farber offers lots of different classes, workshops, support groups, and conferences to patients and their families. The programs look interesting but I was never interested in attending any of them. People in cancer cocoons don't do that. But a few weeks ago, a little light from the TV shown into my cocoon. There was a writing workshop entitled, "From Blog to Memoir," and it was being held on a Monday. I could do this, I thought to myself.

So today, after the craziness of getting the kids back to school, and after a little James snuggle and a work call, I drove into Dana-Farber. When I got there, it felt strange and victorious to bypass the line where I usually receive my patient bracelet and my little yellow GPS badge.

I grabbed some lunch before the workshop and as I sat in the cafeteria inhaling my food, I noticed a familiar face. I had met this man who I will call "Jack" at the Relay for Life up in Maine just a few days ago. We had spoken for only five or ten minutes that night, but I never forget a face. Jack looked a bit startled when I said hello and reminded him of how we met. Then he felt badly that he hadn't placed me as quickly as I had placed him. Jack, his wife, and I chatted for a while about the news that Jack had just received -- that he will soon need a stem cell transplant. Sheesh. Not exactly easy news to digest along with lunch and since I wasn't even hungry after we talked, I'm sure Jack wasn't either. I had to refocus a bit after the stem cell transplant talk -- remind myself of Jack's circle -- and I did so while waiting for the elevator down to the workshop.

The leader of the program was an English professor from Boston College (I'll call her "Professor Bee"). Professor Bee was amazing -- one of those people who was born to teach; born to make her students more thoughtful, more observant, lighter, better.   

Professor Bee's agenda was simple. We started with introductions. I was already fascinated after we made our first trip around the table. What an eclectic group we were. I never thought that having cancer could be so secondary to a trip to Dana-Farber but sitting in the Yawkey building today, it hit me that even though we all had a history of cancer, we weren't just people with cancer. Rather, we were people with a pen or a laptop and a story to tell.   

With introductions complete, Professor Bee handed out a poem and a writing prompt. Thoughtfully, she had considered the tragic events of last week and the poem she chose gave me the chills: 

Any Case

By: Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Grazyna Drabik and Sharon Olds

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Closer. Farther away.
It happened, but not to you.

You survived because you were first.
You survived because you were last.
Because alone. Because the others.
Because on the left. Because on the right.
Because it was raining. Because it was sunny.
Because a shadow fell.

Luckily there was a forest.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A frame, a turn, an inch, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the water.

Thanks to, thus, in spite of, and yet.
What would have happened if a hand, a leg,
One step, a hair away?

So you are here? Straight from that moment still suspended?
The net's mesh was tight, but you? through the mesh?
I can't stop wondering at it, can't be silent enough.
How quickly your heart is beating in me.

In her writing prompt that followed, Professor Bee asked us to consider the "it could haves" that have loomed large for us. I dove into that topic like it was a pool on a hot summer day -- I couldn't wait to be immersed in all of the relief that it had to offer. 

After the workshop ended, I waited in the valet area with over a dozen people who all looked so much sicker than me. As I crossed over Longwood Ave., I noticed all of the news trucks in front of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where the surviving marathon bomber remains in serious condition. It was surreal to me that he was just across the street from our little writing group; from the stories we shared of the pain he caused.

At 2:50pm, I was stopped at the last traffic light before I reached our house. It was exactly one week after the marathon bombings so the radio went silent for one minute to remember the victims. That was a very powerful minute for me, and likely, for many others. 

In that minute, I thought more about the Szymborska poem. I considered how close we all come to tragedy even if we're lucky enough to elude it. I realized that sometimes, for better or for worse, we recognize how close we came. Other times we have no idea that we just brushed shoulders with the devil.

The poem that Professor Bee introduced to us today reminded me of the Serenity Prayer that I've heard several times before, mostly at funerals of family members. I've often thought about this prayer in terms of lots of things that scare me.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Terrorism, like cancer, is a wild beast. I wish I knew what I could do to be sure that me and my loved ones, and any innocent person for that matter, are first or last, or right or left, or wherever we have to be in order to be safe. But wild beasts don't let you plan that way.

And so I don't know what I think of the Serenity Prayer. Part of me likes it. Another part of me wonders if I will ever really find the wisdom to know the difference between what I can change and what I cannot. Because lately, life, and perhaps more so, death, seems to be a lot more about whether a shadow fell, paired with the really confusing question of whether I have any power to change that. 

No comments:

Post a Comment