It has been a very introspective week here. And the underlying theme has been transition. Our lives are in transition from day to day, but there are key points along the way where the transition is very palpable… and times when transition hits us smack in the face.
The first and least important transition for me has been the change in the semesters. I have had to adjust my thinking and teaching style to meet the needs of new students and new challenges. Working with a new circle of colleagues, adjusting to a new schedule of duties and lunches. It is amazing how anxiety provoking it can be to have even these minor adjustments to make. One gets settled into routine, and I am not one that enjoys having my routine changed.
But there are bigger transitions afoot for several people in my life. I don’t get much of a chance to sit and read magazines, but recently I caught an article that had something to do with illness and how we cope with it… all I remember about it was that it mentioned that we are so often thrown by serious illness, and yet, almost everyone probably knows many people coping with it on a daily basis. And that hit home with me because we have three friends fighting cancer as we speak.
And unfortunately, all of them are at transition points. A dear friend from college has been in a long battle with a rare cancer. Every time we think it is the end, she rallies, and comes back. Her determination as a mother, and her faith, keep her going. She wants to see her children grow. Her youngest is now 8, and she has been battling since he was in utero. This is a long time for pain and medicines and procedures. She has recently had bad news once again, and is thinking perhaps this time, to not undergo the chemo. My guess is, if it were not for her children, she would choose to let go. But I believe she will choose once again to transition to the weekly life of a cancer patient… poking, prodding and puking. I admire her strength.
Another friend was diagnosed with a rare adrenal cancer in the summer. Again, a mother with 2 young children. She transitioned to the cancer patient, but at each phase, when a new procedure was to start, she got waylaid. Surgery had to be canceled, chemo drugs quickly became too toxic… experimental drugs did nothing positive. She decided to stop fighting her cancer with toxins, and instead chose to battle with healthy foods, nutrients, meditation, treatments positive for her body. Shortly after the new year, she came home with hospice care. She is at the brink of transition. When it will come, we are not sure. But she is ready. She has written her letters, made her peace, prepared her children and home. I admire her bravery.
But the hardest transition of all hit us like a ton of bricks this week. Another friend of ours was diagnosed days before Christmas with a cancer that at first produced the shock and awe of any cancer diagnosis. By New Year’s, professionals had calmed and reassured his family that this was beatable. Totally doable. Plenty of time. Yet 2 weeks into therapy, he was admitted to the hospital for some nutritional re-hydration, and then coded in the wee hours of the night, never to regain consciousness. His transition to another life, began before we even knew to expect it. Before we could say goodbye. His young family, is now in that hardest transition of all – grief and loss. I will be praying for their courage.
It is hard to see the man about the place with tears choking his throat, battling them back from his eyes. It is difficult to see his best friend grieving. It is nearly impossible to think of what the children and wife are going through, without feeling my own sense of panic. It is difficult to make sense of it all.
I spoke with a friend transitioning to a new phase in his life. His 40th birthday was this weekend. A natural time for reflection and thinking about what comes next. We spoke about what his plans were now that he is 40. He has set this age as a timestamp – a date at which to begin to make plans about aspects in his life, to begin making decisions for or even against certain life goals and career choices. To begin being reflective and deliberate in his decisions again. And as we talked, and I took it all in, and I felt the events of the last week coming forward in my head, I felt the need to decide how I would respond.
Carpe diem, seize the day, live like you are dying… all wonderful maxims that come to mind. But what does that mean practically, for reality?
Every person on earth answers these fundamental questions differently. And I doubt any of them are the wrong answer. Because whatever we choose, that path ends up being our life journey. And regardless of whether we believe that journey is guided by powers that be, or brought on by our past events, or is totally random, there are plenty of things to learn and discover on any given path.
What I think for me is the essential focus is trying to be really present at the moments which are most important. When friends are grieving, making time for an evening of wine and storytelling. When children are talking, putting things aside just to listen. When teens are rebelling, taking the time to really listen to what is underneath the angst. If I can do those things in the context of the life we have chosen for ourselves, then I will be achieving something. 10 minutes on a Sunday evening to call my grandmother for no reason other than to make her day…. or picking up the phone to call an old friend on his birthday rather than send an email – not earth shattering, but instead celebratory of our human connection.
Embracing life and loves while we have them still…. so that the memories will linger long and sweetly after they are gone. Not a new concept, but one that seems to be constantly flung at me… as if I were a backward child, not learning my lesson the first time. I am trying to wrap my mind tightly around it this time.