Cancer Chronicles, Part 16

I saw this photograph on Patti Smith's Instagram last week. A redwood on fire in its belly. The intensity here in Northern California, with the fires and the smoke and the lack of breathable air has been full-on. When we woke up to a tangerine sky, I felt as if I was living in a dystopic science fiction movie, and my mind, over the next few days, went careening down from there. What if and oh no.

The drama of past losses of losing everything, of feeling alone and frightened, got transposed to the future of losing everything and feeling alone and frightened and at that point, I was lost in the nightmare. Until I remembered that it was a nightmare. Until I remembered that there is no safe place other than here, in these arms, these legs, this belly that isn’t a redwood on fire. Also, and this is the same for anything, everything—cancer, Covid, fires, tangerine skies—the need to not judge or skip ahead. To not use my mind to tell me how it should be, how I should be if only I were more evolved because as soon as I do that, I lose the safe place here and just as important, I lose a true capacity to respond to fear or thoughts of loss or abandonment.

When I really really allow myself to feel the way my mind is conjuring up its nightmares, the only response is compassion. Is kindness. Is “oh sweetheart, I see how hard that is.” And as soon as that happens, my nervous system relaxes and there is peace, there is calm, despite the pain in my breast, the color of the sky, the lack of clean air.

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