HOW SHOULD I COUNT TIME NOW?

Part of the THIS IS THE MOMENT series

Begun on October 15th 2019—while waiting for blood tests and my appointment with my oncologist (which both took place) and a CT-Scan, which was postponed to next week because the machine broke down.

Henry, George; Autumn; Paisley Art Institute Collection, held by Paisley Museum and Art Galleries; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/autumn-190155

I’m close to the age when I could have retired from teaching—but I wouldn’t have.

I would have kept at it for many more years, though I would likely have become a little pickier about the contracts I accepted, not wanting to drive around the planet anymore in winter.

That was the story of my life “before-cancer-moving-from-Pointe-Claire-and-separating-from-my-husband”.

I now associate the train with life since “my-cancer-diagnosis-moving-from-Pointe-Claire-and-separating-from-my-husband” and with the hospital and treatment. I sat in the train this morning considering how routine my existence has become and yet…

As I lined up to confirm my registration for blood tests on the 14th floor this morning, I had this thought: What if you had skipped the last 15 months and just suddenly –ZIP!—found yourself standing in line here at the CHUM, feeling exactly as you feel right now?

 I would of course be terrified.

The altered condition of my eyesight, my skin (I’ve had two nosebleeds while sitting here in the first floor eating area, scribbling these notes down and running out of kleenex), my hands, feet, nails…The overall condition of my body would likely cause me to jump, startled, and perhaps shriek. My body–joints, spine, the works—is stiff and sore and rickety and alien. Without the fourteen-month-long, gradual erosion of my wellbeing, surely I would cry out in shock. Howl. And then just probably cry, frightened and uncomprehending.

Meynell, Caroline; Beech Trees; Buckinghamshire County Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/beech-trees-230934

Adaptation is a marvel and an obfuscator.

What human beings can get used to… Maybe that’s limitless. Or maybe it’s like the frog that sits in the gradually warming water until it boils to death.

These past fourteen months of cancer treatment have been a kind of immersive simulation of aging, with its sprouting of aches and pains, its limiting of movement, its incremental losses.

I like to think that aging is a gentler process; that it sneaks up on you slowly, though inevitably, and that for this reason, is less cruel than advanced disease in middle-age.

MacWhirter, John; An Autumn Evening; Wigan Arts and Heritage Service; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/an-autumn-evening-162630

I’ve been observing the oldest among us. I would say “the elderly”, but that expression often comes with a hint of being patronizing. And yet, it’s a lovely word. I have been paying closer attention to our elders of late (nos aînés). Strangers as well as people close to my heart. I’ve felt that we are on the same path, mine shortened by the surprise of a new cancer in my family’s gene pool.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of 80 as the age at which I would consider a person old. No scientific reason. Perhaps the simple fact that when you enter your eighties, you can pretty much figure you have less than 10 years ahead. Several of the people I love the most on this earth are in their eighties now. They’re among the fortunate, because they still have health of mind and body. It’s biomechanics that’s messing with their lives. They ache in places that have just worn out.

I often wonder about their relationship with time. Do they see every day as expansive and open—though their remaining years are numbered—and simply push death into a muted space in their minds?

Knowles, Mike; Rain Clouds Gathering, Autumn; Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/rain-clouds-gathering-autumn-120090

I can’t do it. This has everything to do with the tight time box in which I live. I can’t break out of the two-week cycle of treatment and the disruption and disturbances that drag along behind it. And I don’t dare think about what will happen when the cycles of this clinical trial come to an end. So…

How should I count time now?

– By the number of chemo sessions—24 equalling roughly a year?

– By the number of grey hairs that have appeared on my sons’ heads since this all began?

– By the expansion of my love for my grandchildren—those born and those I hope to see born?

– By the mountains of books I’ve been able to read through all this?

– By the friendships cemented through this ordeal which is NOT a wasteland?

– By the number of seasons that have passed: mindful of the sounds of each, the smells of each, the beauty of each?

– By the people I’ve met online as a result of reaching out blindly?

– By the length of the list of chemotherapy side effects I now live with?

– By the quality of the regrowth of white baby hair that now covers my head?

– By the number of evenings spent in the den with my sons and friends, wrapped in soft blankets and binge-watching shows on streaming channels, and DVDs?

– By the number of Dungeons&Dragons sessions I’ve participated in since my diagnosis?

– By the number of times I’ve stepped out the front door of this house in Hudson, inhaled deeply, and felt the goodness of the air?

–  By the losses of loved ones that have come to pass these last 14 months, each a warning, a wake-up, a reality check?

–  By the number of days’ endings, during which I snuggle into my bed propped up by a sultanic mountain of pillows and read till my eyes can no longer stay open?

– By the recurring meltdowns I’ve experienced—all fight drained out of my mind and body and sadness moving in?

– By my increasing, constant resistance to being trapped inside a small life of two-week cycles?

– By all of the lessons I’ve learned since having the wool peeled away from my eyes?

– By the degree of my transformation into a wizened and hopefully wiser woman?

– By the growing sense of an ending that I am moving toward ?

– By the increasing understanding that pain and love are a two-sided coin: the more I have experienced sadness and anguish, the more I have turned to love and the state of grace it makes possible?

Jaroslav Panuska Death Looking into the Window of One Dying (1900)

 

This IS the moment

Part of the THIS IS THE MOMENT series.

 September 30th 2019

On Friday, September 27th, Greta Thunberg came to Montreal to speak a little, but mostly, to act as a beacon—a shimmering example of what it means to have the courage of one’s convictions.

She, with her diminishing body (at least that’s what appears to be happening to her as her self-sacrifice to the cause of climate change siphons her energy), but growing presence on the world stage, is doing more than it seems possible to ask of any human of the twenty-first century.

She spoke very briefly and shyly before the march began. Her presence was enough: Montrealers were galvanized. Somewhere between 300 000 and 500 000 men, women and children showed up to the “Strike for Climate Change”.

Crowd on Mount Royal, September 27th, 2019

My city was so beautiful that Friday. The turnout: unimaginable.

I had been invited by my good friend Ann to join her and her party at Mount Royal (or Mont Royal). Alas! Though every cell in my body—even the malignant ones !—wanted to be there….

  • To REPRESENT;
  • To add one more person to the crowd;
  • To YELL how critical the imperative to radically transform our way of living on Earth is.

I just couldn’t:

  • Stand for 4 to 6 hours;
  • Risk exposure to pathogens in such an immense crowd;
  • Walk around for hours and hours with no reasonable hope of finding a bathroom (chemo leaves poisons in me that multiply my visits to the toilet as my body’s filters fight like mad to clear it all out).

So, sadly, and instead, I sat for hours in front of my laptop (we don’t have cable) watching  the CBC live feed–as unscripted and as raw as such things get.

It wasn’t what it could have been (for me that is), but I did feel part of that happening. I felt joy. My heart beat faster as I scanned as many faces in the crowd as I could, trying to gauge the energy levels there on the ground, and the benevolence, the generosity of spirit, the commitment of the marchers.

They were THERE, commingling, and I was tucked 60 km away in Hudson, but I received so much from them. I was hope-filled. Maybe Montréalais (and Québécois?) are truly ready for the massive change that MUST begin—the complete paradigm shift we will hopefully survive—still connected and caring about each other and about our home planet.

It’s a maybe I want to put stock in. A few weeks ago, as a bunch of us—all of them friends who were originally Simon’s and Christian’s from work and other parts of their lives, men and women across several generations—played D&D together, one of the men, a dad in his mid-forties, said, regarding the Strike for Climate Change that still lay ahead: “Forget my generation [he’s Gen X], and every other older one. My generation went for the money, just like the rest did. it’s humans under the age of forty who have to take the reins and change the world.”

 I think that intuitively, we all felt the truth of his words—the “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks” fatalism. But why accept that view?

The week following Montreal’s Greta-inspired strike, a La Presse columnist wrote a piece about the energizing effect of the event and the high so many were coasting on in its aftermath. And then he doused his readers with cold water. With the next federal election just a few weeks away, despite the regular sounding of the climate change alarm and the hundreds of thousands who marched with Greta in Montreal, according to the most recent poll, climate change is the number one issue for only 21% of Quebecers, whose top concern is taxes and the economy: the deciding factor for 36% of Quebec voters. Of no comfort at all is the fact that in the rest of Canada, 43% consider taxes and the economy most important.

Allen, Tim; In the Future; Arts Council Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/in-the-future-63049

Despite the negative effects of chemo on my eyesight, this rapprochement with death that I’m learning to accept as I live with advanced cancer has given me a different sort of clarity. When you live outside of the daily presence of death and dying, it’s so easy to cozy up to the illusion of a slippery, sliding timeline; to think of the future as something always there…undefined but lying waiting for you…And what gets lost is the urgency to live fully, which requires that you care about every moment.

How Greta Thunberg came to live with that sense of urgency is a mystery to me, though I suspect that there are far more humans like her than we might think—people who want to live long and full lives but who take not one day of it for granted. Such mindfulness can be a burden. It makes of some of us canaries in a coal mine.

On September 27th, I felt love for Montrealers and gratitude towards Greta Thunberg.

https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1791612

If you accept, as I very much do, that our beliefs, thoughts and intentions affect the physical world, then you may have experienced Friday’s march as a noetic event. A moment of elevation.

The people I know who were there on the streets, united in this single cause, felt it. All of them. Ann and her group. Cate and her gang. Anne-Marie and her companions…

Montrealers came together and lifted their faces to the sun, the blue and the clouds, and were passionate and impatient and sincere in their worry, and jubilant, offering their prayers for a future for all. It was a marvel to witness.

Montréal, je t’aime.

 I’m always at risk of having hope, lightness of being and belief in the future trampled by my cancer and its effects.

Taylor, Sarah; Still, Self, Life 3; Southampton Solent University; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/still-self-life-3-17311

Greta and my beloved Montrealers have helped redirect my energy. OURS is a fight worth engaging in. A future for everyone. The collective joy of being alive and filled with shared purpose.

This IS the moment.

Gunn, Chloe; Contemplating the Future; Imperial Health Charity Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/contemplating-the-future-251238