|Morning sky over the foothills|
Another birthday came and went this week. I am now 73. With that development, my driver license expired, and I am reminded of how my first reaction to cancer was the determination to keep my independence. But that was not quite to be. I soon discovered that the brain tumor, surgery, and/or radiation have affected my depth perception to the extent that it is now hazardous for me to drive a car. I’m even dangerous with a shopping cart, as I found on a recent trip to Trader Joe’s when I took a corner too short and brought down part of a display of canned goods. (I thought that only happened in the movies.)
I have had to give up the independence that driving has given me since I was 13 or so, when I first took the wheel of a pickup on the farm. I’m now chauffeured to doctors’ appointments by my wife, which is okay for me but adds an additional responsibility for her as an already overworked caregiver. I sometimes ride shotgun on trips to the post office and for groceries, so she can stay behind in the car while I run inside.
But there is still room for adaptation. There was the flash of an idea for a new kind of independence when I received a book for my birthday called The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen. Full of recipes and ideas for meals for a cancer patient, it encouraged me with the prospect of becoming self-sufficient as my own cook.
Being homebound complicates my options for looking after myself in another way. One thing I often hear is that a cancer patient needs a support network. Right now I rely a lot for that on connections with people I know through the Internet, and I have a few cousins ready with the occasional e-mail, letter, or text. These brighten my day.
But it's also increasingly clear that I thrive on contact with people in person. I probably make myself a nuisance with the help at Trader Joe's or the cashiers at Vons because I'll take just about any excuse to chat them up like some garrulous old-timer who lives alone.
More problematic is that with the isolation, my moods darken. One night this week I lay awake for at least an hour feeling something unusual for me, a free-floating anxiety that was attached to nothing I could identify or name—like pain or sadness you can’t trace the source of.
On another night, I dreamed that I was in a large dimly lighted house, unfinished and unfurnished. Alarmed by some sudden uncertainty, I began yelling in my sleep and woke not only myself but everyone else in the house. Is this how I feel all the time, I wondered, and only by the light of day do distractions keep it below the threshold of awareness? If so, I am grateful for my defenses. This is a long-term issue that I’ve obviously got to give more time, research, and planning to.
|Palm Springs Library|
A highlight this week was a trip to the public library in Palm Springs. There I turned over an Ikea bag full of CDs and books for their fund-raising sales. I also found Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark on the new book shelf, plus Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, and A Thomas Merton Reader.
Taylor explores the search for God in darkness rather than the usual well-lighted places, reaching back to St. John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul” for insight. (I did not know that he had been imprisoned for his reformist ideals by fellow monks.) Merton is wonderful to read because he is such a lucid writer. Ceremony is a novel about the spiritual healing of a Native American, which I have long meant to read. And so the writers of books take their place in my support network, and I am grateful for them.
Meanwhile, I have come to a realization about meditation. As an impossible task (like not thinking of a pink elephant), it is an ego deflator. If you are me, you can’t look forward to patting yourself on the back some day for mastering it. After all my dedicated attempts over the months, even the idea of mastery is laughable. Still, I haven’t quite given up, and I have to wonder why I persevere—a belief maybe that nothing succeeds like failure. Failing at meditation reminds me that I am human, the full meaning of which remains elusive, and I may someday learn to accept that.
The aftereffects of the last round of chemo have worn off, and I have more energy again to go for walks with the dog in the morning. I take to desert trails, and if I pay attention as I walk, I don’t have trouble staying on my feet, that being with the help of a walking stick. If I don’t pay attention, I may take a spill and slide into a rain-washed gulley as I did once this week, raising the skin on my shin and forearm. Today I stuck to the streets.
This installment is called “Kinda blue” because my daughter who’s been here for the week has left this morning to fly back East to rejoin her husband. We will both miss her, as the months pass until we can see her again.
A night and day of blustery winds have finally ushered in the new season. We turn off the ceiling fans that have been on nonstop for months, and when I step outside in the darkness before dawn, there’s already a winter sky overhead, Orion sharply sparkling above the Valley.
I’m closing again with a jazz video suggested by a reader. This is a moody one, appropriate for the arrival of a desert autumn, from saxophonist Stan Getz, “The Wind,” from his album, Bossas and Ballads.
Any other readers with jazz favorites of their own, links to them are welcome.
Previously: Chemo sabe