The summery cobalt blue skies of the last few days have been replaced this morning with a grey wind. There is a skim coat of colored sugar on my dining room table from where Aidan and Derek have been decorating the Christmas cookies. Our Christmas tree glows in the window, the most perfectly shaped Christmas tree we’ve ever gotten in this country, where the trees are generally ugly and always pollinating when you cut them down and bring them inside. This one is beautiful and will never pollinate, although it and its Made In China siblings are multiplying like actual living objects in windows around the city.
I think the initial decisions are behind me, although perhaps what I’ve got is a respite from work and from doctors for the next 8 days before being pulled back into the fray. So for 8 days, my doctors will be on holiday and I won’t get the calls and texts that come out of the blue with some new thought or appointment to be made. For right now, all thoughts are had; all appointments are made. I talk to a doctor about having my ovaries out (a decision yet to be made) on 30 December. I have the planning scans for radiotherapy—5 weeks rather than 3—January 4. Radiotherapy begins 19 January. The belly shot that will shut down my ovaries is 25 January. I am marching forward in this post-surgery phase of this recurrence. And the whole thing is taking more out of me than I had hoped it would.
I am afraid of the next phase. I am afraid of the radiotherapy that injures (only slightly, they tell me) my lungs and heart and ribs. I am afraid of the very common side effect that ruins the reconstructed breast, making it painful at all times and requiring more surgery to fix. I am afraid of the side effects of the belly shot and the tumble into menopause. And of course I am afraid of getting cancer again, of dying from this.
This season of light seems to be a season of fear, and not just on the micro scale for me. I’m afraid of the president-elect. I’m afraid of his new cabinet, afraid of the diplomats he’s choosing. I’m afraid of what’s happening in Syria. I’m afraid of trucks driving into crowds and ambassadors being shot at art galleries. I am afraid of the big earthquake they say will come in the next months. I am afraid for my children and for the children of people I do not know. I am tired of being afraid.
Each emotion, though, has its own gifts, its own teachings. Indecisiveness is a form of openness, which opens us to learning and perspective taking. Fear is a warning that we’re in important territory, that there is something we care deeply about protecting, that there is something we love. My sense of exhaustion and overwhelm is a sign that I need rest and restoration (check out Carl’s column about that this week) . Even the muted feeling I’ve had lately, where I have struggled to write anything to anyone, is a form of gestation, a silence in which new possibilities sprout in time.
What better time than this for us to reach deep inside us to find the light and the darkness, and find a way to love them both. Yesterday was the longest day of the year here; today is the shortest day at my father’s house. That is a physical representation of the spiritual truth of humanity. We are created of entwined and contradictory forces and we are never one thing or another. This year has shown us those forces in stark relief: the bombs of Aleppo and the white helmets who race to the battered buildings to save people. We have seen the confusion and rage in the election cycle and the way it both pulls us apart and also shows, paradoxically, that we all care deeply about the future, about the ways our current system is broken, about the ways we want to protect those who are disenfranchised. We are all of these things, all of us, and perhaps the thing this season of light and dark can do is remind us that our humanity is itself contradictory and confused—just as it is beautiful and coherent. It is the winter and the summer solstice right now. My doctors know things and they do not know things. Humans are cruel and loving beyond belief. Perhaps right now our collective rage and confusion and fear can be managed by the sense of our multiplicity, not to give in to the shadows, but to learn from them.