September 22. All of us have dates etched into our body’s memory. That’s mine. Ten years ago.
Last month you read how the ponderosa pines talked to me back then. How I listened intently and promptly quit my corporate job. (Imagine what a redwood could convince me of.)
As you will recall, the pines also whispered “there’s something you need to do.” And because the pines’ message lacked specificity, we made a plan. My tall beloved and I headed off.
Off to a 6-week camping trip to national parks in the West. Pure delight of cooking and sleeping outdoors, hiking through the mountains, bicycling on trails, and laughing with my tall beloved. So ready.
First Stop. Crater Lake.
Our first morning there, it was crisp and cold. So much, we forewent frosty camp cooking and ate our breakfast in the radiance of sun overlooking the jeweled lake. We then hiked on the rim trail and ventured back to the campground hours later.
It was there I got a cell phone message, all broken up. (After all, we were almost in a crater.) I knew I needed to return this call to the clinic. Test results.
My visceral eye can flash back in a moment — to Martty and I standing at a pay phone at the campground’s main kiosk. The morning starting out innocently in its crispness, but when we placed the call in the mid-afternoon, the heat and dryness had taken over, rippling off the asphalt.
As my fingers dialed the clinic’s number, I remember my anxiety reaching up through my chest to my throat, and my mind and breath trying to calm it down. When the doctor came on the line, her words are completely forgettable now however the numb astonishment is still palpable.
On that afternoon, we went back to the campsite in a trance, pulled up our tent pegs, and headed back to our home in Spokane. The pines were right. I had something I needed to do.
And So It Began
It’s here where I could launch into the details of saying hello to an aggressive breast cancer and the 10 months of treatments. Or I could plunge into the story of bidding adieu to hair as in everywhere, to breasts I knew intimately, and to sweets and alcohol. Dang. Or I could just whinge about the popular version of battling cancer in the media and obituaries – the fight was on, she waged the war, he climbed the mountain.
I’ll spare you.
The Year of Showing Up
My story is about showing up. And what does showing up mean? I think it means more than just arriving to the party with chips. And I am pretty sure it means bringing a thoughtful presence to any experience rolling your way. Repeat, any experience. Even the ones you think suck or spray you with a skunk’s displeasure.
For me, showing up is leaning toward what’s happening. The fatigue dropping you to your knees. The terror tornadoing in your gut. The mind spinning narratives about what your spouse will do after you’re gone. No telling. The nausea emerging as you cross the threshold of the clinic.
Showing up is kindly mind-cradling a visceral energy as it wanders through your body and paying enough attention to witness its transformation. It’s not pushing it away or slamming it down. It’s full concentration on the experience (without texting).
The Pillars of Support
Truth be told before Crater Lake, I wasn’t so good at showing up for myself. Not in a kind, mindful way.
But the pines brought my teachers in mass. To buy wigs together. To watch the Zags win – OK, and lose. To throw a Hat Party. To send heartfelt cards and emails. To deliver flowers. To walk and laugh. To call. To send homemade stuff. To binge-watch the Winter Olympics. To share meals. To wish me healing. To weed the flowers. And to hug me.
It was a year of being surrounded by family, friends, and a most generous-hearted partner who showed up for me. Who loved me unconditionally. Without question. They brought all of themselves.
Maybe they just hadn’t shown up that way before. Or maybe I hadn’t let them. Or maybe I was so distracted, I didn’t notice.
My heartfelt gratitude continues to overflow to each of them.
It’s 10 Years Later
I still think about those ponderosa pines. Telling me there was something I needed to do. And I believe there still is. Something we all need to do.
We need to show up. We need to show up with our human wholeness and kindness for all of the pieces of our lives, for one another, and most importantly – ourselves. Fully show up.
I am humbled to celebrate my 10th anniversary of health this September 22. On that date, I’m scheduled to board a plane taking my buddy and me to the trailhead of the Rota Vicentina. In Portugal.
Believe me. I’m showing up.
May each of you be richly and magically blessed as you live your lives large and show up for yourselves.