Today marks the end of my week away from my family, friends, job, and normal life. I am rejoining the world after having been mostly unplugged in the Adirondack mountains with 12 other cancer warriors. I want to talk about what I learned and experienced on my trip, but I first have to make a note on the shock of falling back into our crazy world.
While I was away, some mentally unwell person murdered dozens of innocent, beautiful people. While I was away, Facebook kept revolving, the news stations kept spinning, people continued to try to find answers and solutions to impossible and heartbreaking questions. Approaching it from this distance of time and solitude, I see us all working so hard to find our bearings, trying desperately to understand where we came from and where we are headed. I see us as so incredibly connected and yet so painfully distant from one another. I wish you could see it from my vantage point. As I literally come walking out of the woods, I see humanity jammed up against itself. So much noise and distraction and chaos in the world. The quiet of my life this last week has pointed this out to me, and it makes me sad to see how hard we rail against such large forces that seem impossibly determined against us.
It has been so quiet where I was that I almost cannot comment on how noisy life is. There is so much working to distract us. So much working to capture and hold our attention, but seemingly for nothing really valuable. There are a lot of shiny, flashy things. Electronics, mostly. A lot of sounds. I haven’t been able to watch screens for long and even put my earplugs in for a moment in the airport just to quiet out the noise. Everything is competing for a piece of us and I wonder what we are giving away in these tiny fractions of inches of ourselves. I worry that we have become so numb to the constant assault on our attention that nothing really sinks in for impact anymore.
I know it is impossible to transcribe this experience without living it. I’ve read writings like this before and rolled my eyes. But I didn’t want to write about my time away and my perspective without offering some context. Without saying that I understand the world is different (or maybe it’s just more of the same) and without putting forward my purpose for writing. Which is only that I exist along side it, in the same space, like we all do for one another right now. All of us connected yet so oddly separated.
Which is the same message I learned while spending time with the First Descents family. We are all so much more similar than we are different. Still, we labor under the misapprehension that our pain separates us, that our hurt divides us rather than brings us together in solidarity. Instead of falling into our vulnerability, we hide ourselves so we won’t be seen. We desperately tuck away our perceived flaws. We cover up, hiding beneath layers that deepen our suffering and worsen our wounds until we convince ourselves that no one else can understand. No one else can step into that place with us. No one else can be trusted to hold our hearts in those dark, lonely corners. And we create and multiply pain. And then someone gets the crazy idea to spray a bunch of bullets into a nightclub to finally shut those feelings out.
What I witnessed while climbing and sharing life stories with other cancer warriors is that we all go through the hurt. Cancer really is just a big magnifying glass on life. It amplifies our flaws and our strengths, our glories and our weaknesses. It takes everyday life and puts it on the big stage demanding that we stare down some of the most terrifying parts in a not-so-subtle, immediate, really big kind of way. We look like the walking wounded, because we are. Our bodies are damaged, our minds are a mess, we are scared. We don’t recognize ourselves. Everything has changed. We are often coined “brave” for fighting when really we are just doing the best we can to survive. Just like everyone else.
But of course, cancer also highlights the beauty when we let it. It reminds us how sweet and precious our time is. How great our capacity for love is. How little it takes to actually touch and move our souls. We can be reminded that we can do incredible things, things we thought were impossible. We are acutely aware that if we fail to act now, we may not be again graced with the opportunity.
So while I had the opportunity, I went for it. I made friends. I climbed some mountains. I fought illness and fatigue and bad weather and fear. I accomplished mental and physical acts I literally thought were not possible. I pulled this chemo ravaged body up a rock wall after spending the morning too sick to stand. It was beautifully raw and everything I needed to be reminded of what is possible in this world despite our differences, despite our fears, and despite our objections to change.
This is what can exist when we stop believing that our suffering must hold us away from another. It’s a beautiful life, pain and all, and it’s out there for the taking.