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The End

We all know it’s out there, from the time we’re little kids. We know it’s coming, it’s part of being alive. At some point, our current lives will end, and we don’t really know much about what happens after that. Some people have literally died, and then re-lived, and their experiences with death have been interesting, but we still don’t know what exactly happens long term after our bodies expire, if anything.

And most of us don’t spend much, if any, time thinking about it. One of my children went through a period when he was young where he couldn’t sleep at night, he was so frightened of dying. And I went through a few years in my fifties where I just couldn’t come to grips with facing the end of my life, it seemed absurd and unfair to me and I couldn't talk myself out of that ridiculous mindset. But overall, we live our lives each day, distracted by the ups and downs of life, and not remembering that at some point, we will no longer exist corporally on this plane.

A few years ago, I went to the Emergency Room for what turned out to be an attack of diverticulitis, an inflammation of the intestinal tract. It was causing intense pain, and while I was there, they took all kinds of photos of my lower abdomen. In doing so, they found something else as well: an unexplained mass in my uterus. 

I was immediately assigned to an OB-GYN, who did a biopsy on the mass, which was cancerous. I was then sent to a doctor I never thought I’d have reason to see, an oncologist, and after that, I was scheduled for a hysterectomy. 

Fortunately for me, I live in an age where this kind of operation is relatively routine and robotic (literally - a machine did all the surgery, cauterizing tissue as it went, so the patient is practically healed by the time the operation is over), and I was up and around after three days. I was able to get back to running, something I rely on to keep my anxiety at bay, in three weeks!

I go back to see my oncologist every three months, and the last visit, they found something suspicious, so I need to go back next week to see what it is.

This has put the brakes on just about everything in my life, although you wouldn’t notice it if you were around me. The mechanics of my life are moving forward smoothly - I write, I cook, I visit my grandson, I see family and friends - but inside, I’m a mess. 

First, there’s the guilt, the awful guilt. It’s always along the lines of regret, that most useless emotion. Perhaps I worry too much, perhaps I haven’t eaten right, or drank too much wine, no one else in my family has had cancer, I’m the only one, I let my depression get the best of me, stealing years from being happy with what I have in my privileged life, and let’s not forget to throw on more guilt while we’re on it…..

….because that will simply lead to rage, another completely useless emotion (unless it’s justified, as when someone betrays you, and you can channel it into something positive……), but at least it will expend some of this pent up energy.

Warring internally, with yourself, is completely exhausting.

So, I fall back to the thing that we must all at some point fall back to when our lives are in a snarl: What can I learn from this?

It takes me a while to remember this quote: “We are not human beings having an occasional spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having an occasional human experience.”

There is no scientific proof of this quote, of course, and it’s not even clear who uttered it, but it’s something that rang true for me when I happened upon it many years ago.

It takes me a while longer to remember that I am safe. I am in the present, exactly where I should be, and I am taking care of me in the best way I know how. Remembering this, suddenly, I can see that my life is actually glorious, I have people I profoundly love around me, I am still creative and enjoying my creativity, I am living each day with as much meaning as I can muster, and there is nowhere to go from this place where I am. I don’t need to run away, because here is here, and I am surrounded by love and light.

Meditation, deep breathing, remembering why I’m grateful, these things will get me through to wherever I’m headed.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.*

Words, writing, music, these things are also such a comfort when we’ve lost our moorings.

Yesterday, I had a biopsy of whatever is inside of me. In two weeks, I will find out the results. Could be nothing, could be something, either way won’t change that this is my time on Earth to learn, play, love, create, and be amazed.

*from “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann

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