I am a storyteller. I see the world through the lens of story. I become aware of the preciousness of the moments. The transitional moments, the beat changes. The “before the news” after the knowing. The shift in world view, in perspective. Stories are not the experience. Stories are the crafting, the molding of those experiences into a thread of meaning. Storytelling is an act of creating our view of life. As a storyteller, I am keenly attuned to the pivotal moments, the essential components and letting everything else go. The moments you would linger on in a telling. The ones you would describe with salient details, eliciting the senses. For the last several years I have experienced (research and teach about) how the process of crafting your stories from the past can be a transformational experience. Sifting through memories of experiences to identify those pivotal moments, and look at them anew, from multiple perspectives to find the meanings, the take aways reframes those experiences. You choose how you frame those experiences – it’s not denial, but the process of looking deeply, having to edit for time… forces you to get crystal clear on what is most important.
Some of you heard my story of decorating my best friend, Letty’s, coffin at 14. What it’s really about is – presence. Being present with her in the darkness. Knowing that I would tell this story for 1300 people on stage motivated me to contact her parents after 25 years for permission, and to fact check. It was a joyous reunion. A couple of months after the event I’m standing on their doorstep holding my, then, 3 year old son (the same age my friend Letty was when we became friends). Letty’s mom brought us upstairs and pulled a bag out of closet and unfurled the felt covering I had made for Letty’s coffin 28 years earlier. THAT experience now changes the story. As a result, the story is not the same as I told 3 months earlier on stage. The process of crafting my story essentially changed the story.
So, last Monday night (I’d just gotten back from a conference in Chicago the night before), I slip into bed and snuggle up to my sweet husband. I kiss his shoulder and one of the writing prompts I used with my students popped into my mind – The moment that everything changed. “I wonder if this is our last night of normal.” I was taking it all in. The sweet cool air, the blue color of the bedroom walls, the warmth of my husband. A pivotal moment. See I had just finished 128 oz. of Gatorade filled with Miralax for my colonoscopy prep that would happen in 6 hours, along with a surgery to remove and biopsy a hemorrhoid and an EGD to check my esophagus and stomach for possible ulcers. 9 hours later I open my eyes and Dr. House says: “It’ a tumor. And it is cancer. Probably one of two kinds, we’ll know in a few days.”
Don’t google this! Don’t google this!… Well, I google this… and look up all the options for anal cancer, which I lovingly refer to as “ass cancer”. I didn’t like what I read. Thursday we get the call – it’s not ass cancer. It is mucosal melanoma, a very rare type of cancer, so rare there are only a few places in the world that can treat it. I do NOT google this. (If you do, don’t tell me!). It is melanoma cancer in my anus. So it is skin-ass cancer or ass-skin cancer. Either way, I can still have The Asshole Diaries.
So… I think – what is this story? Is this the story of my decline? Is this the story of my death? I intend this to be the story of my transformation. The story of obstacles overcome, of discoveries, of awareness, of precision focus and clarity. The story of gratefulness for so many blessings. I don’t know the end of this story. I’m at the beginning. My senses are taking all of this in now.
Presence. That is what this requires. Presence. In myself. What am I feeling? Be present with the emotions. Be present with the energy, the sensations. My mind runs laps around the possibilities kicking up dust. The presence is not about rounding things up, writing the list, planning the action. It’s about being. Here. Now. Quiet. It is acceptance, not fighting. Not resistance – openness. I feel moments of presence when I breath deep into my belly, to the swirling hurricane of emotion churning my guts.
I see that this is me. This is between me and my body, my soul, my spirit. This is between me. I can make it about others – family, friends, doctors, work, to dos, fear, responsibilities, …. But this is between me. AND the reaching out makes a difference. The love I feel from friends and family – emails, texts, calls, promises of good energy sent. I feel it. I feel it all. I feel wrapped in love and healing energy. It is enough. I don’t need to talk. When I do, I know so many to call. I don’t feel pressured to respond. But I appreciate it – all. It has been a long time since I have been in this role – the one in crisis. The one who can only move forward with help. The one without the answers but plenty of grim prospects. I am that one. And I must say it feels easier to me to be the one waiting for the news than the one waiting to hear the news of a loved one. The pain and worry of my loved ones is crazy making. Too far away, not enough to do, only want to fix it. Fix it. Fix it. Fix it. Somehow, if I manage things, organize things it will make it better, it will ease the pain. And in some cases it does make things easier. But it doesn’t change the thing. And here I am. There is nothing anyone can do. Nothing. But to know they are there. That is enough. To sit with me in my presence of bad news. To not try to change it or bright side it. To sit with me. And to remind me of who I am.
Thinking like a storyteller requires that I be present. The people who know me remind me of who I am. I am a storyteller and this is my story of transformation.
You are an inspiration, my friend. Always have been. Even more now. LOVE
This is so beautifully written and such powerful words of wisdom and insight. Thanks for letting us go on this journey with you. Presence really is the essential component to transformation and you are the ultimate storyteller to remind us of that.
I am present to you Al. Miles away — but present. My hope and prayer is that this is the story not only of transformation, but of TRIUMPH (probably TP too, for good measure and alliteration). You are amazing. Love you girl.
Present. All of us are thinking about you and the boys each day. I was thinking the other day about that moment in the cold icy water when you felt like laying down. When somewhere part of you had that reaction to just lay down… but you didn’t. And you weren’t alone. That seems like part of this story, somewhere too.