I just posted this picture of myself snuggling my youngest in the bathtub on Facebook.
I’d say that is highly unusual for me and who I was comfortable being pre-cancer. It’s not that now I’m particularly comfortable being naked, or really giving the illusion of so much exposure on the Internet. But it is that cancer has changed my comfort level with vulnerability and with that comes the crashing down of walls that were built to protect my ego, my privacy and my heart.
Before cancer, I was living a fearful life. I held on to things and did things not out of desire or deep sense of pull or attraction. I did them because I was too afraid to do otherwise most of the time. I checked boxes of life’s mandatory accomplishments. Things I thought would point me in the direction of comfort, or at least insulate me as much as possible against threat. It was easier to do what was safe, even if it was unfulfilling, over risk what was meaningful. It was a 2 dimensional, bland, tasteless life and I was doing it to myself.
But I clung to it. I worked so hard, held on so tightly to what I felt I had to do. My world was shrinking in around me. I keep building my own cage, laboring away at the iron bars that would keep me trapped inside. Conform to this. Succeed with that. March lock step with someone else’s expectations of what a shiny, productive life should look like.
And then, despite all my efforts, my glorious career, and great strides, I fell. Crashed like a child on a bike hitting the pavement. Ugly, ill-timed, destined to hurt. But almost immediately, instead of the pain of cancer, I felt the freedom. I felt the weight of a thousand false lives being lifted off me. I realized my opportunity to come clean, to live completely and wholly. To walk out of that cage and into a technicolor life.
And so now there is a picture of me naked on the Internet. Not because I want the attention or judgment around doing that, but because I care far more about my daughter than anyone else’s judgments about me. I want her to know her place in my life above all else. And because if I’ve learned nothing at all it is that tomorrow is not guaranteed- I want her to see this evidence of a moment I am glad we spent together. A moment where I wasn’t the person I was 3 months ago…and thank God for that.
Three months ago I would have been stressing about my own stuff. I would have been worrying about a client or the insane amount of work I was doing. I would have been taking a bath to run away from the life I had created. I would have been desperate for a moment of peace. For a sliver of time to carve out for myself. A moment to let my brain and body heal from the multiple injuries I had hurled against myself. Too much caffeine, too much stress, too much alcohol, not enough exercise, not nearly enough love.
I would have snapped at them, my sweet girls. I would have impatiently demanded that they be more to fill the holes in my heart and soul. I would have asked them to be too much because I had too little. I wouldn’t always be able to be their safe place to land because I had become a prickly desert landscape that was dried up and bare from all the bleeding out I did for others. It was unfair to them. It was unkind to myself. It was not who I was meant to be.
So thank God for cancer and it’s oddly cleansing, life-shattering ways. Thank God I had something come and hit me so hard that the emergency brake was pulled and I came skidding to a stop in my own life. Thank God for the tenderness and peace that has grown in me in this short amount of time so I can once again kiss little cheeks and wrap my arms around their incredibly tiny bodies. Thank God for cancer threatening to kill me so I can finally get up enough courage to live.
I’m not always proud of my yesterdays, but I am content with today. Today was a new opportunity to change something that wasn’t working, and so it has been washed clean. In a bathtub. With a small wonderful person next to me.
Give em’ hell.