A few nights after receiving the cancer diagnosis, I had a dream that there was lion sitting outside my door, which wasn’t the door of my house now. When I saw the lion, I went into fear mode. Oh no! A lion is out there. He is going to knock the house down, eat me for dinner. Oh no. I went about trying to secure the lock on the front door, which was a flimsy hook-and-eye latch and couldn’t keep out a gust of wind, no less a 420-pound lion. Still, in a frantic whirl, I tried. And then I noticed — really looked at — the lion itself. He was huge, yes, but he was sitting in the sun, peacefully, contentedly. And I suddenly knew he wasn’t there to harm me but to protect me.
The next day, after the dream, when I walked into the medical facility for more tests, the check-in person had multiple photographs of lions pinned around her desk. And there I was, once again remembering that not only cancer but most things I fear can be prompts to ride the spiral of the long list of fears that have built up over a lifetime (especially now in our coronavirus era). For me, the lion was a totem that all these months later, I’ve never forgotten. A totem that what I am convinced will destroy me is often, not always, an invitation to look at how often I proceed from fear without actually looking at what is asking to be seen. It reminds me of Rilke’s lines that I quoted in This Messy Magnificent Life about dragons that ”at the last minute turn into princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave; perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us."
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