Monday, December 13, 2010

The Party Dress




Phone call with my friend Sharon last Friday at work:

Sharon: "What are you doing this weekend?"

Me: "Um. Let's see...Tonight I have a Christmas Party. My neighbor and her "original founder of Yahoo" boyfriend are throwing a big holiday event in Cupertino. I'm going to go home and shoehorn myself into my outlet center sparkly party dress that makes my ass look like a bag of hammers, drive down to Cupertino in my 2000 Toyota Sienna, then load up on baked brie en croute while making small talk with 48-year-old women who look like Victoria's Secret models. What are you doing?

Sharon: "Nothing that fun..."

While driving home from work, I prayed. "Help me to be less jealous. More grateful. Less fearful. More accepting. Less judgemental. More loving."

I angsted about that party all week. Perseverated, really. I had vividly imagined two hours of feeling undereducated, underyoga-ed and underdressed in my On Fifth frock. Instead? I had a lovely night. The invitees and the host/hostess were interesting, interested, gracious, kind.

The next day, Saturday, I was at a church (listening to the SF Boys Choir), and pulled the hymnal from the pew pocket to see if I remembered any hymns from my youth. Being the true adolescent I am, I asked God to give me a message. Then I randomly cracked open the book. Landed on Psalm 51.

Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.

Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my guilt.

A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit.

Restore my joy in your salvation; sustain in me a willing spirit.

I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.

Rescue me from death, God, my saving God, that my tongue may praise your healing power.

Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.

For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept.

My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.


Not sure what hyssop is, but the rest really resonates. In the five years since my mastectomy and resulting hysterectomy, I've gained 25 pounds. This fact has filled me with self-pity, anger, jealousy and, ok, hatred.

But a simple prayer twice released me, if only momentarily, from these unattractive character traits. The goal? It no longer is to get thinner, prettier, fitter, smarter, wittier, although I would not turn those things down if given. The goal is gratitude and acceptance in the face of imperfection.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Obon for Mrs. Edwards




I'm sitting here in my cubicle, watching the cars drive by; watching our IT manager brave the rain in a noble attempt to get some winter exercise.

And I marvel at the ordinariness of their driving and walking. I wonder how, knowing that Elizabeth Edwards died from breast cancer yesterday and that millions of women will die from the same disease, they can drive and walk with what seems like pure oblivion.

I wondered the same thing, when as a mom who had just returned to full-time work two months prior, I listened on the phone at work to my radiologist gently tell me that my ultrasound/biopsy revealed the fact that I had 10 lumps in my right breast. "Infiltrating lobular cancer," she said. Not, "Infiltrating lobular carcinoma." I listened as I stood in the corner of the stairwell by the elevator. I listened as I watched someone drop a pat of butter on the carpeted floor as they walked back to their cubicle with their lunch. I listened as I watched the receptionist answer the phone and route calls. I listened as I heard my own terrified voice ask Dr. Borofsky questions.

When I walked back to my desk, I wondered how everyone else could go on with their lives with this devastating news hanging in the air.

Two months later, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy, followed by chemo and radiation.

It is now almost five years since my surgery.

What I've discovered in that time is that there are people feeling with the same depth of concern, compassion and sadness that I am feeling. The world may look normal, even oblivious, but there is a community of women who have experienced what I have experienced; who know what it feels like to have had and to live with cancer; who understand that terror management and practicality and faith is what keeps us looking normal while we learn a new job in a swingy brunette wig with a chest as flat as a prairie under our prosthetic breasts; who understand that every new milestone of our children's lives (the braces coming off, the first day of college) fills us with inexplicable joy and gratitude.

As I drove in the rain to work today, I listened to the radio with a heavy heart as Elizabeth Edwards voice filled my 2000 Toyota Sienna. It was an interview in which she talked about the lasting impression of seeing an Obon ritual in Japan where little boats with lighted candles in them float down a river, symbolizing the souls of the dead finding their way to "the other side of the river." It was a stunningly beautiful image. Tears welled in my eyes. And no one in the cars around me noticed. I wiped my eyes and smiled. Because I knew there were people on I-280 south who were listening to the same radio interview, who had a mother or a sister or a daughter or a wife or a friend who had had breast cancer. Who themselves had or have breast cancer. And I knew, as they drove looking straight ahead, that they were feeling what I was feeling.

Coming, all is clear, no doubt about it. Going, all is clear, without a doubt.

What, then, is all?--Hosshin, 13th Century