“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.” ― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
My friend Fred sent me this passage, here in a time when I am dealing with both of the meanings of Lost. One of the losses of this new diagnosis—and oh, let me count the losses—is the loss of faith in a whole variety of things around me.
I decided before chemo to believe in the magic power of a necklace. Nothing ever horrible happened to me with the necklace (I didn’t buy it until after the diagnosis). I was wearing it as a talisman when Stan called. When we got off the phone, I took it off and put it in my pocket.
I believed in the power of the supplements I was taking. I have taken a cocktail of vitamins and herbs each day for the last almost three years, each of the many pills designed to kill the breast cancer or boost my immune system so that the immune system would kill the cancer. The day Stan called, I stopped taking them. (And then almost instantly got a cold. I’m taking them again.)
I believed in the power of my diet—mostly without sugar or carbs, even though baking had been one of my core joys. This week I baked a cake (but it was for Melissa’s birthday, so honestly I would have done that anyway).
I believed in the power of medicine. I believed in the power of the two prescription drugs I am taking, so lifesaving in these cases, to stave off the return of the cancer. I believed in the power of the biopsy to give me a definitive diagnosis. The place where the cancer was found was biopsied twice before in the last 8 months, both came out negative. And yet, I have cancer.
I am left howling and grasping for something to believe in. Literally. I walked around my house this afternoon and tried to think of something I could hold on to—literally hold on to—that I could believe in this week. I packed things for their luck-quotient, deciding that some things were unlucky (the bracelet I was wearing when I heard the news) and some things might be more lucky (a small Zuni carving my mother gave me that I didn’t have with me last week). There is a way this is absurd. I don’t really believe in luck. And there is a way I am looking to something—anything—to help me ground and centre myself in a world that has gotten bewildering.
It turns out that some losses can leave you lost. My wise friend Amy reminds me that perhaps the thing I’ve lost most is the sense that I am controlling my destiny right now. Each of my beliefs—in magic, in nutrition, in standard medicine—has given me a sense of efficacy. Without them, I am lost.
I teach about this, of course. I teach about giving up control, or the illusion of control that often comes at such a cost. Our desire to control and predict things exhausts us, wastes our time, and frustrates us because the world is so often unpredictable and out of our direct control. I teach about making nudges to the system without attachment to any particular outcome. But damn, in this case I am very attached to one particular outcome—I never ever wanted a doctor to tell me I had cancer again. And now I have missed the mark.
In complexity we teach that the thing we want is a direction, not a destination. Since I have missed out on my destination, I have to be directional in my thinking. Directionally, I want to see many many more dawns. I want to be healthy enough to do the work I love. I want to spend time with my family, my friends, my dog. Even though I’ve missed my destination, I can still work towards that direction.
For the next nine days, I will live in this lost place. It will be hard to see out of the fog of waiting. And then, whatever Stan says on that fateful Tuesday, I will be looking for faith again, for magic again, for science again, looking to move in the direction of many more dawns. Until then, I will try to breathe into the sense that the familiar is falling away, the unfamiliar is appearing, and that I can be rich with loss.