A week of uncertainty, confusion, feeling wobbly in so many ways.
It started last week, actually; nothing new, but echos, reminders. A restirring of a sense of loss. I realize how much I miss my parents, perhaps more acutely as I face a fresh episode of spiritual confusion , and grapple with issues of mortality.
As a cancer survivor, albeit 16 years out, I tend to be a bit more anxious about out of the ordinary symptoms and/or peculiarities in my annual follow-up labs and chest x-rays. I’ve been experiencing unusual shortness of breath over the last couple of months, and am in the process of having it checked out. Next steps are an echocardiogram and possibly a pulmonary function test, depending on the results of the former. I live in a terribly polluted valley, so maybe it’s something as simple as asthma. Then again . . .
I have a brand new oncologist who will be doing my annual follow-up exams, and I just had a brand new chest x-ray taken last Thursday. She called my home twice on Friday and left messages that she wanted to “review” my chest x-ray with me, and could I please try to get all of my old x-rays and other records from the cancer center where I was treated? She also sent me two e-mails during the day, with essentially the same messages.
The drama queen part of me immediately interpreted all of this as a pending death sentence: “My cancer’s back! My radiation therapy damaged my heart and lungs! I’m going to die!!!” etc.
Fortunately, give or take a day or so, the drama dust usually settles. My saner parts prevail once more, and I wind up with a sense of relative calm, the ability to take the macro rather than the micro view of the situation (at least for now). I’ve had this conversation with myself enough times. “I will not live forever. Nobody does. Besides, it would be boring. So pay attention, be here now, and make the best of it.”
But I’d be a liar if I said I’m ready to die (at least right now). For one thing, there’s the whole spiritual confusion deal. Lately a series of unsettling questions have been swimming up from the dark places of my soul, and have beached themselves on the shore of my consciousness. To wit:
Who am I, really? What is my purpose? Why can’t I let go of my fears?
It’s not as if these are new questions. I’ve been carrying them around in my psychic backpack for years. And it’s not as if I’ve been flailing the whole time; not exactly.
I saw my unofficial spiritual mentor the other day, and it’s like I told him: I’ve always believed in a personal God. I’m just not sure who it is. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter, but other times it does, and I think this is one of those times.
I grew up in the Presbyterian church. My mom was a preacher’s kid. Until my dad left my mom, my perception of the church was fairly positive. We knew and were friendly with other families we met; I made a few friends among them.
Then “it” happened. Keep in mind it was 1971. Divorce was uncommon, or at the very least it was not a topic of conversation in polite Presbyterian circles. So when the hidden fissures that had been forming in my parents’ marriage erupted to the surface, it shattered the illusion of the well-mannered churchy family we appeared to be. And I think that scared the hell out of us, and everyone around us.
As time wore on, it came back to me via some of my friends that their parents weren’t so keen about them hanging out with a kid from a broken home. My parents were also ostracized, even by some who were quite sympathetic towards my mother. No one seemed to know how to behave. Suffice it to say, I was unimpressed. Up until that point in my young life, I was naïve and trusting, willing to accept things at face value. But at 14, during the summer before my first year in high school, trailing a shattered family in my wake, I became acquainted with rejection and loss. And I stopped trusting people. The genesis of my distrust marked the beginning of a deep and sometimes crushing loneliness that I have never quite outrun.
In one way or another, it has left a mark on every relationship in my life from that time on. It infected me with a fear of rejection and loss so profound that almost 40 years later, the risk of pursuing or nurturing a new friendship rarely seems worth it.
And the loneliness brings me back to those unsettling questions, which lead me back to my existential and spiritual confusion.
The good thing is that I know I’m not alone. People have a way of showing up at just the right time. The universe has a way of delivering us to each other’s doorsteps as we’re already opening the door. I like that part.