I lie in darkness under warm blankets. Willow snoozes on her bed on the floor. It’s 4 a.m. My heart pounds as though I’m being chased.
No one here except me and this demon.
Each breath comes knotted and shallow. My pulse pounds in my ears. I try my favorite exercise at moments like this. Breathe and imagine sitting on the lap of the Great Mother, leaning into Her soft breasts and protective thighs.
It doesn’t help.
I throw the covers off. Willow stretches and curls back into slumber. I sit in meditation posture with Pema Chodron’s instructions to let terror in.
Be with fear. Witness it since I can’t keep it out.
I’m safe. No one breaks into my house or tries to hurt me. No bombs fall on the roof. No one steals my car or my computer. I’m OK, but my body doesn’t know that. I watch fear, breathe it in and breathe it out. I remember millions of others breathing in and breathing out their fear. We breathe together in a circle of helplessness and hope.
Last night, before bed, I sent an “I’m thinking of you” message to a friend. She’d had a biopsy that day. Doctors were sure it was nothing. Results would take time. For now we could rest on the threshold of not knowing.
Her partner texted back: “Fast-growing tumor. MRI tomorrow. We’ll know more then.”
Cancer? Cancer! More cancer.
I can’t swallow. It’s the evil illness that tore my husband from this life—and from me. And my brother and many friends. Many people you love, too.
We throw zillions of dollars at this scourge, but we’ve hardly made a dent. Cancer isn’t reasonable. The treatments feel like a new disease. My mind darts from water pollution to air pollution to pesticides, from hormones to computer screens to chemotherapy. What can I do to save my friend? My sons? Myself?
Willow follows me downstairs and curls into a relaxed ball near my desk. I write a while because that often helps, but I can’t sit still.
I open the kitchen door and inhale the sweetness of Angel’s Trumpets. Pink dawn tints the morning sky. A blue jay perches on the “blue jay proof” birdfeeder and nabs a sunflower seed. The feeder swings and creaks as another thief watches to learn the trick.
Despite the burst of morning sun, doom clings to my belly and chest. I’m scared to lose another friend. I’m scared to walk another person through cancer. I’m scared for all of us. I remember how tuberculosis frightened the grown-ups when I was a child. They whispered the word, almost with reverence. Something bigger than they were. Nowhere to hide.
I lace my hiking boots and walk toward the forest with rhythmic, determined steps. Willow runs in celebratory circles. I hear cackling crows and one loud lonely goose.
Under the tall oaks, I look up and fill my eyes with green. I walk on young acorn promises of life, gather them as an offering, and put some in my pocket. I cry my sorrow to the Tree Mothers with small shuddering sobs. “Help her. Help all of us. Please help.”
Then I turn and walk faster, faster, up a steep hill, forcing my lungs to fill with air. Pumping the bellows and welcoming everything in. Even cancer. Even death.
Where do you turn for solace when you can’t find inner peace? The initial diagnosis looked bad for my friend, but turned out to be less horrifying than we feared. She’s fine, and so am I. For other posts about Pema Chodron on letting in fear and being with it, see The Wounds We Carry. For a post about my Sacred Forest, see Give Thanks for the Teaching of Trees.