A Yankee's Musing

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

One Year Later

It's been just over a year now since I began blogging. Who would have "thunk it?" But it is like a life blood to me now. I don't do numerous entries, but I am writing them in my head all the time. Sometimes they get down here, but other times they disappear as fast as they are created. I spent the first few months really comparing the city and the mountains, both of which are inextricably part of my soul now. I also compared it all to the chemotherapy experience, losing hair, redefining space, realizing who are friends and who really are not, appreciating living moment to moment, and the roller coaster ride that cancer takes you on.

I am still on that ride, the "ride for my life." And I have learned more about how to let go. That's a tough one in all respects, an emotional quagmire. In letting go, I have found that I first need to become aware of what it is that I need to relinquish, like anger, disappointment, frustration, or sheer vulnerability. I have some anger in a few blogs here, but mostly I have come to realize that the anger is about things I cannot control. I cannot control how someone reacts to me. If the reaction is up front and honest, I can deal with that; but when it goes by some underground circuitous route, the result is inevitably disasterous. I used to fight it, but now I just think, "leave it where Jesus flung it. I want nothing to do with it. It's your problem and I won't make it mine."

And of course there is always the lack of control over my health. I can only do so much, and the rest is up to something far greater than I or anyone else. I deal with that lack of control by accepting I have the wild cells in my body that want to destroy me and I refuse to give in to them. We are at a stand off sometimes, other times I'm gaining ground, and then they make a comeback. I accept the existance of this silent battle that is raging in my life, with my life, and I live as best I can dispite it. But I will not give in. My energy is directed in this arena full-time.

And then there is the anger. That comes with the many everyday frustrations that accompany such a battle, whether it is not being able to sleep sometimes, or not being able to have my treatment on the designated day due to side effects, or not being able to maintain the energy levels I wish I could, or having to prioritize what I am willing to expend my energy on and what is too costly. I found a great outlet for my anger the other day. Sunday I went to a NY Knicks vs. the Boston Celtics basketball game at Madison Square Garden. It was an exciting game, my two favorite teams, and I screamed and jumped up and down for the entire game. I felt so relaxed on my way home from the game, even though my Knicks lost, as if a burden had been lifted. Anger can get heavy when ignored. Screaming is great, especially when it is acceptable.

I think disapointment, frustration that comes from it, with the resulting feeling of vulnerability are all connected like a web that can strangle my soul if I let it. I just always have to remind myself that I am not brave, nor do I have to be. I just have to be determined. That is all that I require of myself. I cannot expect anything but simply unconditionally live my life moment to moment. My students tell me I am bold, and they define that as truthful. They tell me most people are afraid to be truthful. I tend to agree. I've pretty much lost my conditioned fear of being up front with how I feel and what I think. This is a result of not wanting to expend what precious energy I have to hide or censor what I feel or think. Actually, I really have enjoyed that for the most part. People usually react one of two ways to me: direct and honestly back to me which opens for a whole new, deeper level of communication that is energizing; or swallowing it as if it is a personal attack on their psyche, and totally disengaging in any meaningful conversation at all costs. The latter is what disappoints and saddens me.

And so, as I do a quick reflection here, just a glimpse of all the reflection I have been actually doing of late, I am glad I have a place to mark down my passage, my learnings as I embark on this journey that was never of my chosing. I have received some emails as well as comments to this journal that have let me know that for many, this blog has been insightful for them, or in the least, of some interest. It's funny how when you have a disease, the first thing that happens is that helpful people try to be helpful by giving you books, articles, stories, and so on about other people who have the same disease. It is quite a phenomena, one that I have written about in an early installment on my blog. But the truth is, that is the last thing I need. I, as an aware, reflective person, will learn about the disease on my own terms--let me. And my blog here is not for others with the disease. It is primarily for me to see what I think, and secondarily, for others to see what a person experiencing something in particular is feeling and thinking, and perhaps it will lend insight to someone else you, the reader knows, with a similar journey. It is not a guide on how to decipher how to react to a sick person. It is a nudging to think about how to reflect on life, maybe your life? Who knows? Ah, such graniose thoughts, eh?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Always Something to Learn

A student recently asked me what a crossroads was, and I must admit that I was stunned. How can people go through even a fraction of their lives without encountering a crossroads that will result in a decisive marker on their journey, hopefully one of many such markers. Or maybe it was just the word, not the concept? I don't know and wish I had asked. It's always best to ask before making conclusions. The question had come from one of my students, Thanh Xuan, from Viet Nam, in my US literature class. This literature class is truly an example of a crossroads where people meet: it's in NYC, Brooklyn, actually; and it is at a university with a student population that is diverse in every sense of the word. In my literature class I have students from the south and from the inner city of the US, and I have students from all over the world. My class is a microcosm of the world: Honduras, India, Guatemala, Jamaica, Haiti, the Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Somalia, China, Mexico, Viet Nam, Panama, West Africa, Syria, Puerto Rico, and god knows where else. And they all work together. They have come to trust each other as they write about the issues raised in our readings and how these issues relate to their own perceptions of life. This is a group of 34, and yet, they have become a community. It is a gift to be there, to be a part of this crossroads, and I think they know it, don't they?

And I wonder, if only...if only everyone had this unique experience to hear so may recognizable differences, and not only coexist, but appreciate our place in this infinite potential of human beings. It is a place I have chosen to be. When I enter this class, it resonates with energy. Students actually come early. Students actually come prepared. Students actually come. I am overwhelmed. It is often not this way with classes. This one is special. I don't believe in coincidences, so there is a purpose underlying this particular class and its composition of motivated individuals. There is something to learn here. This class has become a forum for the exchange of human dialogue through readings and writings. It probably would not be the same if it were a math class, a computer class, a biology class, or any of the major classes of these students who predominately come from the nursing, pharmacy, or business programs within this university. It would have not happened if core English classes weren't required. No way most of them would have elected to be here.

Thanh Xuan is an intelligent young woman. She often verbalizes how special it is to be in this class where she has finally "put down my second face a little bit." She has begun to speak out. Her voice is clear and passionate when she does. So when she asked, "Professor, what does the poet mean by crossroads?" I am surprised. She is aware of the major markers in her life. She has made a conscienous decision to not only come to the US, but to stay and complete her studies, even though she has had to return to Viet Nam twice in less than two years to bury two of her family, and most recently, to say goodbye to her grandmother who had a major stroke a few weeks ago. In an essay called, "The Things I Carry," written after reading Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," Thanh, (or Helen as she now prefers to be called), wrote about who she is and read it to the whole class. "I decided to show both faces, not just the one that is happy all the time to cover my pain." It is ironic. And we all talk about "faces" and "masks" and fears ...all of us. We all have our stories, and we share this journey called life that is supposed to have a happy ending, but really never does quite measure up to what was promised. We sort through what is real, what is illusion, in this place caled Brooklyn, New York City, United States of America. It is not all what we dreamed it would be or could be, but we have chosen to stay and in doing so, now share the responsibility together as we participate in our "little community of many."

Monique read her essay.What she carries is her fear that her mother will die of the breast cancer she has so valiantly been fighting. "It is a rare, aggressive disease, the doctors say. I do not want to lose her. I do not want to be alone. But she smiles as she goes through radiation and chemotherapy, and she now is in remission."
When she finishes reading, she sighs. It is as if a heaviness has been released, and the class applauds than gently responds. All but Michael, a soon to be professional chemist who cannot hold his agitation still. He blurts out, "You must get her off those poisons immediately." And he launches into a full blown diatribe about how chemotherapy affects DNA and the permanent reprecussions of such. As he continues on, my eyes glaze over. I must not interfere, I must not interfere; but I want to scream, I want to tell him to shut up. I don't. The class ends. Monique is still smiling shyly. Michael is still agitated. The class is warm and comforting in its reluctance to leave.

I am still on chemotherapy. I am probably destroying my DNA since I am sure that Michael does know the chemical effects of toxins. What Michael didn't say which was in his essay that he chose not to read to the class: he lost his mother to cancer; he is alone in the world; he is bound and determined to make a difference through science. He will probably one day find a cure for some dreaded disease, or discover a new way of using pharmaceuticals. What Michael did "say" was emotional, and death and disease are sure emotional issues we all share in our own way. I am a teacher because I still learn from my students. When I stop learning, I must realize I am no longer teaching.