What is the purpose of this theatrical exercise—of standing on stage, arms outstretched then falling backwards trusting life will catch you, of taking leaps of faith to prove to yourself you won’t hit the ground… at least too hard?
Maybe it’s that trust takes strength and skill, and developing these requires practice. We play scales and the exercises of Czerny on the piano—thousands of notes designed to be forgotten— in order to be able to play other notes which are arranged to be remembered.
This is what I wrote in a notebook a few weeks ago, when I was feeling philosophical.
This week I’m not feeling so philosophical. This week I’m mainly wondering, why the fuck would someone who has as much pre-traveling anxiety as me keep choosing to undertake a monumental yet completely optional and frivolous pilgrimage each year?
For the past week my chest has been tight, I get these weird pressure headaches in the evenings, and my right eyelid has been twitching intermittently. Every travel arrangement seems fraught.
For example, to keep costs down, I purchased cheaper tickets with carry-on luggage only, which seemed like a nice self-discipline when I booked – wouldn’t I be happier not lugging around a huge case? But it’s turned out that every flight has slightly different carry-on requirements. I’ve spent hours measuring, reading rules, and consulting Reddit threads about how strict they’ll be about an extra inch here or there. I have two flights on Pegasus Airlines, which seems to be the Turkish equivalent of Allegiant Airlines, in that the flights are cheap, but the baggage allowance is exactly one piece. Any item, including a purse or laptop bag counts as that one piece, regardless of its size. Anything additional must be purchased in advance or will cause a large fee at the airport
On one hand, I feel outraged at a world so clearly determined to penalize the poor at every turn. On the other hand, I absorb the judgmental messaging about what it means to be of lower economic status. If I “mess up” and end up paying a punitive fee, then I probably deserve it for failing to diligently read all the fine print, or selfishly packing so much that I can’t also fit my laptop bag into a 20” carry-on. And the fact that I chose such a low-rent airline to begin with points to suspect life choices. When people make better life choices, their money flows like a river instead of arriving too-seldom and unpredictably like the rain in LA. People who make better life choices fly Turkish Airlines, which is civilized, and allows both a suitcase AND a personal item.
Between my natural tendency (augmented by training) to see small events as representing larger issues, and the fact that these trips coincide with my birthday and the end of each year—the two traditional times for evaluating one’s accomplishments and questioning life’s purpose—it’s not surprising that in these anxious moments I can transform every little thing into a reflection of and referendum on my life. It’s not a great headspace.
But I know from experience that once I’m on the plane, a huge amount of this anxiety will disappear. In my current state, I fear that it won’t, but it will.
The first rosy flush of “up” in my last post was followed by a couple days of down — of pain not diminishing as quickly as I hoped (or becoming less masked as I tapered back on the meds), of mysterious bruises and swellings that are probably normal and not worth a call to the doctor but the source of niggling worry because what if they are not?
And also the sadness of coming face-to-face emotionally with what I already knew logically — that surgery is crest of a hill but not the end of the journey. This goes beyond my physical recovery. I haven’t really gone into the details of how, in these past months I’ve struggled with focus and direction in my creative / career efforts, but at the same time allowed for the fact that the health situation would have me reasonably, distracted! And I’ve hoped that as I move past my issues of health, there will be a moment when I’ll again feel the desire to finish any of a dozen unfinished projects — and even the hope that one project will call to me louder than the others, providing a clarity I’ve been sorely lacking. Of course, rationally, I knew it was unrealistic to expect that this desire and certainty would descend upon in my in my first days home from the hospital, but irrationally, I was still disappointed that they didn’t.
But after a day or so, the mystery swelling went down in my body and I decided I could be gentler with myself in spirit. After a week of convalescence with my mom I headed home with Paul and we had a really nice Easter with family where I was feeling good. The next day, I received word that the pathology report for my surgery was back:
NO LYMPH NODES INVOLVE, NO CHEMO!
Which is, of course, great news.
I returned to a standing weekly client meeting, and feeling frisky, even shot off some emails, feeling cocky, yes, I know it’s less than two weeks, but energetically, I’m past it, it’s downhill from here!
And then on Tuesday afternoon, I got hit by a mysterious new pain, between and under my ribs. It was alarming in that it was sharper, and in a different location than any previous post-surgical pain — but I know from experience that even the most dire-feeling Am-I-having-a-heart-attack? Am-I-dying?? pains are usually just “trapped gas.” Knowing this, I went outside to “walk it off,” only to return, defeated, after only half a block. I spent Tuesday night and Wednesday day and night curled around a hot water bottle.
But, now it’s Thursday morning and though I’m not 100%, the pain has subsided and shifted in a way that supports the idea that yes — even though I paged my doctor and considering the emergency room at one point — it was likely was just trapped gas that is running its course, if not so quickly as I may wish. There’s also a chance that this episode may be the first in a series known as “the new normal”— a non-serious but painful pain, that, as it comes and goes, will need to be analyzed (did I eat the wrong thing, or too quickly, or in the wrong order?), and ultimately incorporated—ie. balanced and juggled—along with the rest of life.
“Balancing and juggling” feels thematically appropriate to a tarot card I pulled last night. (Very recently I’ve been introduced to tarot cards, and have been drawing a card each morning and evening, not as prophesy, but as a way to learn the cards and think about life.) I drew the Two of Pentacles.
Also called “The Juggler,” the Two of Pentacles is about trying to keep all our earthly balls in the air— work, family, money, projects, food, clothing, shelter etc. And, of course, holding our temporary bodies together for as long as we can while we’re here!
I think I have a lot in common with the dude pictured on this card: We’re both running a little to stay underneath those “infinite” balls that we’re juggling or balancing— or both. Our shoes don’t match, but at least we’ve got some on — even if the same can’t be said for pants! Our boats rock on topsy, turvy, turbulent seas, but they’re still upright and moving forward. Sure, it all feels a little precarious, but somehow, nothing’s crashing to the ground. Maybe because we’ve both had some practice with boats and balls and waves all moving up and down, and understand that, tiring as it can be, there’s some fun in doing the dance, seeing how long we can keep it all going!
In a previous post, I talked about my energy-healer friends C_ and D_ supporting me after my cancer diagnosis, and how Woo-woo visitors from the beyond joined our sessions. You can catch up here.
On my third session with C__ and D__’s another relative comes to visit. They think his name is Robert. “He’s dressed,” my friend C says – “like a Quaker, but he’s not a Quaker.” “He’s dressed like Benjamin Franklin,” D_ clarifies. (Apparently she can see him too?) “He’s like a Puritan, but he’s not a Puritan — he’s not someone who’s afraid of a drink.”
I’m getting the picture—my ancestors were Scotspeople, hard working pragmatists who likely did enjoy a drink. Judging from their descendants (the ones whom I’ve met or been told about) they weren’t much for coddling and were advocates of “getting on with things.
Which is in keeping with what Robert tells them to tell me. You’ll come through this. You come from “strong stock” and there are “still important things you have to do.” *
Pretty much the same kind of tough love as I got from Beatrice, but with a little something added. I am, of course, interested in what “important things” Robert sees on my life’s to-do list. It’s fun to imagine doing something important, especially if it’s something that other people might think is important, too, or that might involves rewards like accolades! or money!! Though I’m guessing it might be writing a student referral letter that gets them into school, changing their life, or some step in my own development, like achieving more inner peace or paying off my college loans. If it’s like other predictions in my life, the trajectory will be that for a while I’ll remember and wonder in the back of my mind if every little thing is the important thing… and then I’ll forget all about it. And then much later I’ll remember again and, looking back, assign importance to to something I did in the interim when I wasn’t thinking about it at all.
But Robert isn’t the only one with a message for me this evening. My friend C__ says there are “others” who have come to visit as well. (As of now, for want of something appropriate to call these energetic beings from the beyond, I’m just going to call them, collectively, “the Woo-woo.”) C_ says the Woo-woo have some advise for me, and that advice is:
Write about THIS.
“THIS is in all caps” she says, relaying their vehemence. “Write about THIS.”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“I guess it means THIS, right here. What you’re going through now.”
(Brief digression: If C__ were the type to consciously or unconsciously embellish, this might be the moment. Nothing commits writers to life like a some project they feel they are “destined to write.” However, this is not some deathbed situation where I require new purpose to give me will to live, and C_ knows this. Also… I don’t think she’s not the type to make up the Woo-woo. So, if she says the Woo-woo is saying I should write about THIS, then she’s hearing the Woo-woo say I should write about THIS.
Okay. So what part of THIS are they referring to?
My health journey, either this particular cancer or, the mutation behind the cancer—the Lynch Syndrome?
My journey into more WOO-WOO terrain, (such as the Woo-woo telling me to write about THIS”).
Or just LIFE in general? A cancer / woo-woo combo?
Is my assignment from the Woo-woo is to keep some kind of Lynch-Syndrome-Life diary? That would be… serendipitous? Since it’s something I do already do here in this blog (albeit on a sporadic basis, and always with some sense of guilt for not spend the same time looking for a real job or writing things that I could show my agents or at least submit to literary journals).
Although, when I mention I’ve already been writing about THIS, C_tells me, she thinks I’m supposed to make it easier to access. “Like a YouTube or a podcast.” I feel like this must involve at least some interpretation on C_’s part. A bunch of Woo-woo’s in Ben Franklin era clothes can’t be saying “make a YouTube channel” right?
I don’t ask this aloud, but C_ answers anyway, “Not Youtube specifically, but something where people will see it or hear it.”
Here, I’ll mention that if you are reading this post, you should feel special, because out of the 7+ billion people in the world, fewer than 20 are likely to read this post,** and you are one of them! For me, one of the more freeing aspects of this blog is that almost nobody reads it. The almost is key. As a writer, I work and revise and publish on the premise that someone will probably read a post I write. I love my handful of subscribers (hi guys!) and the idea that a stranger might randomly happen upon any post at some point in the future. But there’s also security in being mostly lost in the online crowd, free from criticism, cancellation or multiple opinions for how I should revise my writing or my brand or whatever.
Which is NOT how I feel about talking to a camera on YouTube. I don’t love looking at myself on camera, feeling foolish and vulnerable and conscious of the growing waddle under my chin. Editing video is always tedious and frustrating. And I have mixed feelings about uploading them. What audience are they aimed for? Other people who have Lynch Syndrome, I guess? YouTube videos, like blog posts, can exist without getting any views. Is that what I want? Or does an unwatched video feel somehow sadder than an unread post?
I am resistant to the idea. Thinking about it makes my chest tight.
But in these last months, I’ve turned a corner in my appreciation for video and audio. While I’ve combed through a lot of medical journal articles, which were for informative but anxiety provoking, it was a relief when I could find explanations in video or a podcast form, delivered by a person. Personal delivery made information easier to digest, assuaged some of my anxieties, and reminded me I am not alone in my experiences. I was very grateful.
Would the Woo-woo tell me to Write about THIS simply because writing will be therapeutic for me? (Maybe… it could be, right?) Or are they pushing me to stretch and put myself out there for other people—to inform them or help them feel less scared and alone?
And, just to circle back around… could this effort —whether big or small, or the seeds of something else — be important?
I’m going to have to make a YouTube video, aren’t I?
*Robert doesn’t make any great efforts to prove his existence or his exact familial connection to me, but when I ask my mom later, it turns out there are plenty of Roberts on branches of our family tree across multiple generations.
**Extrapolating from historical statistics of average posts on this blog.
A few years ago, for a scripted project, I read several books about research on reincarnation and near death experiences. There are a number of reports that make it seem likely that there is life beyond our own lives – that our consciousnesses don’t just end.
From there, it’s not a far jump to think that sometimes those other planes might touch our own at time.
Despite this, when I talk to people who tell me about conversing with their “angels” and “guides,” my reflexive thought is, really? Intellectually I am open and curious. At my emotional core, I’m a skeptic.
I was called out on this by S__, a therapist I booked a session with to help me process my latest health crisis. She brings alternative methods into her practice so over the course of our session she “pulled some cards” for me, and consulted her guides. She concluded I was living with uncertainty. Who isn’t? I asked. But she said that I was haunted, more than others, by uncertainty and thoughts around death. Again I pushed back (at least internally) because I don’t think of myself as someone who dwells on death (after all, there are so many more immediate things to worry about!). But, then I considered more, and accepting we are shaped by our childhoods, and given that my childhood was repeatedly marked by periods of intense uncertainty that accompanied my father’s illnesses with possibility of death looming over each one, I had to admit she probably wasn’t wrong.
S__ said to me, “Life will be different for you when you believe in something after death. When you know there is.”
I agreed, though I wasn’t sure how the observation was helpful. Of course it would be more pleasant to believe in something like that, but if I’ve lived half my life without knowing, I couldn’t imagine what would need to happen to change that. Still, I dutifully recited the meditation script she gave me for the next week and ordered her book recommendation* from the library.
A week or so later my two friends D__ and C__ came to our apartment. They are taking an energy healing class where they need to accrue some practice hours, and they generously offered to do three of their sessions with me. The session itself was similar to a reiki treatment, although there was more movement. At times it felt like a pulling and moving of energies, though it’s subtle, and I never forget that I might be imagining it.
When the treatment was over and we were sitting afterward, C__ said, “You had a visitor during your session.”
She described this visitor as “a tall, stern lady who stood very straight”* who stood at the head of the massage table during the treatment.
“She looked a little like you. I thought maybe was an older version of you, because she said her name was “B.” But then I got that it wasn’t B, for Barrington, but spelled B E A, short for Beatrice. She didn’t say much, just that she was there and that you’re strong, you’ll get through this.”
I gasped. I’ve only known one Beatrice. She was the mother of a serious boyfriend in my 20s, someone I’d considered to be almost a mother-in-law. Everyone had called her Bea. She had died almost exactly two years previous to the day of our session Though I’d never thought of her as “stern,”she was tall, with good posture. People had observed we were similar. In this moment, I was struck, less by certainty than by emotion. Tears welled up when I thought of her coming to give me encouragement for my situation, and also evidence of some continued existence after life just when I had been asking for it! I’m here, she’d said.
I think this would make a good ending for the story, but it is not the end.
C_ and D_ returned a few weeks later to do a second healing session, This time, C__ again saw Bea, and this time Bea was holding hands with a younger man, whose name Caron intuited also started with the letter B. Bea said this man was known to me, although she (Bea) knew him better. That he had struggled earlier in life, but now was doing better. And that I would remember who she was referring to. I wracked my brain, but I didn’t remember. Icouldn’t think of a single mutual acquaintance whose name began with a “B,” much less a dead one…
“Wait…” C_ consulted her pendulum, then said, surprised, that she didn’t think the man-whose-name-began-with-B had passed over. He was still alive. That was interesting! But not that helpful, since I still couldn’t think of anyone. I let it go. Not everything needs explaining, and ,of course, a skeptic doesn’t need to go chasing belief.
Some time after this, I got a call from a sort-of cousin. His stepmother was the sister of my mother’s father. He and my mom spent time together as children, then lost touch for decades before re-discovering each other in their 70s. His name is Bob.
I’ve met Cousin Bob in person only twice, but he will occasionally call. Whenever we talk, there’s usually a point where Cousin Bob brings up childhood memories involving relatives who died before I was born and haven’t really heard of. My mother almost never talks about her father’s side of the family. Which I guess is how it’s possible that I was caught by surprise when I heard Cousin Bob say “something, something, your great-grandmother, Beatrice.”
I asked my mother, and she confirmed that, yes, I had a great-grandmother named Beatrice, and recollected that yes, people had called her Bea. And, yes, she was a stern woman, “We were all scared of her when we were kids.” I recounted Bea’s words, You’re strong, you’ll get through it. My mom said, “Yep, that sounds like her.”
So, to recap: My great-grandmother was named Beatrice, and the person most closely connected to her that I also know is a man who’s name begins with “B.” He is, without deep-diving into his life, someone who had struggles earlier in life, but is doing better now…
I had wondered, what would need to happen to make me believe? And then this happened.
And S_ was right, it has changed things. The transition has been more subtle more than dramatic, but it’s there. My immediate circumstances are the same — none of my visitors (there have been others now) have hinted at what decisions I should make about my health or career. Confusion still abounds— but I’m considering a different sense of proportion. There is a new question I am contemplating:
What does it mean if one’s singular life on this planet is not the entire measure of one’s existence, just a segment of something larger?
* Book recommendation: Journey of Souls by Michael Newton, in which the author interviews people under hypnosis about their existence between reincarnated lives.