Thursday, February 26, 2015

I held my breath and you said something

Once upon a time, and it feels very much like a once upon a time situation in the sense of how far back (but not really, not really), I lived in a breathtakingly beautiful city. Inescapably beautiful. Punch-you-in-the-face, Tim-Riggins, Jordan-Catalano beautiful. My daily drive to and from work was an art school short film.

When you live in such a place, I think you tend to become lazy. You are used to the constant assault of picture perfection. Just before I left, I could walk down the street without being knocked off my feet. In the beginning, I remember talking with my brother at a rooftop party in San Francisco and blurting out, waving at the vistas all around me (and admittedly a little better with the help of spirits), "I think we've found the promised land!"

Which, in retrospect, is interesting, because it wasn't the promised land at all. It was a perfect moment. There is no promised land, I'm sorry to say. But there are perfect moments. Some of them are big. Like when you say goodbye to your best friend in an airport in Germany and know you'll never be close again. Or when you graduate from college and there are bubbles in your chest that are a mixture of nervous anxiety and optimistic excitement. When you hold your niece for the first time. When your cousin, after just doing something amazing, tells you that your support and encouragement inspired him towards that. When you make the decision to completely overturn your life to pursue a pipe dream and that moment that you realize the dream is going to come true. A first kiss. Then that first, intentional kiss. A perfect night out on a New York summer night. Sitting around a fire in the middle of nowhere in Maine. Standing over a roaring waterfall in Argentina.

There is a lot I don't have in my life. But sometimes we miss the trees for the forest. From the outside, perhaps it seems I don't have very much. And yet if you strung together all my perfect moments, it could be just as beautiful as the fog settling over the Golden Gate Bridge on a perfect San Francisco fall morning.

In San Francisco, the beauty was blatant and intentional. I loved it. I'm not sorry. But I realized that there are other kinds of beauty. Believe it or not, New Jersey was beautiful back when I lived there so many years ago (and probably even now). And where I live now is very much the same. It is easy to overlook. When I first moved here from San Francisco, I just viewed it as a means to an end. Good enough, but nothing special.

I don't feel that way anymore. It's not a beautiful place. That is true. But yesterday, I realized a cherry blossom tree has been growing in my front yard for the last three years and I never noticed it until then. In the fall, little yellow leaves gleam against the sun and sprinkle down onto the sidewalk on my way to work. In the heavy rains, everything turns a deep shade of green. Today, when I was walking home, another day of working late hours and not getting home before sundown, these very large dark trees waved out to me against the midnight blue sky. And it's not a beautiful place. But it will do.


Once upon a time, and this really was once upon a time, that far back, so far back that sometimes I can't believe I've been alive long enough for it to have been that far back, I used to get these letters (paper letters, no less) from the love of my life. Or what I call the love of my life, but I'm not dead, so who knows, that remains to be seen. We were all angst in those days, and back and forth's of what if's and maybe's and if only's. He was a very good writer, and I blame (or credit) that as to why I fell so hard for him. He had that Hemingway economy; he could explain better in five words what I couldn't quite put my finger on in five hundred. Once he wrote me a letter, and I don't honestly remember what it was he was turning over in his head or confessing to me. It was something that at the time twisted my heart in knots, but now it just seems likely to have been variations on a theme of wanting something to work out that was never destined to work out. He wrote some very anguished lines, the specifics of which I don't remember.

And then in the next paragraph, probably more to himself than to me, he wrote, "Pause. Take a sip of tea." And the entire tone of his letter changed after that.

Such a stupid, simple little phrase. Sometimes I don't actually fix myself a cup of tea. But I think of that saying all the time. I sometimes think he was put in my life just so that he could deliver that line. For lo and behold, I can be the queen of hyperbole and overanalysis and anxiety. I used to get crippling stomach aches when I was a child from just the thought of going to school. And every once in a while, I get into such spirals. A shame spiral, or a rage spiral, or a stress spiral, and I think the sky is going to fall on my head, and I hear this violent crescendo leading up to some fatal moment.

Then I take a slow, deep breath, let it out and calm myself. It's not always a cup of tea. Sometimes it's Dylan telling me, "all you can do is do what you must." Sometimes it is going to bed and forcing myself to believe that tomorrow is another day, another chance. Come to think of it, he and I read Candide together in college, and I don't know if all is for the best in this purportedly best of all possible worlds, but I do know that taking a breath, pausing, taking that sip of tea, it's a good way to cultivate your gardens.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

endless numbered days

I feel this every day, but some days I feel it more than others:
"For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding." - Norman Maclean
Sometimes my heart feels so full and at the same time so useless.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

destroy the middle, it's a waste of time

I'm having another one of those episodes.

I am not posting much these days. Work is exacting an impressive toll on me, more than I thought it would. The other day, I realized I don't have a lot of patience for drama in my social life because work is enough of an emotional rollercoaster. I almost cried in a patient's room (and for the record, in case it's not been made clear before, I usually have non-functioning lacrimal glands as a general rule. I remember one time I was upset about something personal, and tried to cry, thinking it would help to let it out, and nothing happened) because she said she felt badly about being nervous about undergoing a stem cell transplant. The woman is in her late 20s, has 5 children, had a full-time job, and developed acute myeloid leukemia, and after she managed to get a remission, she relapsed just as she was getting lined up for a stem cell transplant. It's fine to write it like that, and make it sound like it's all happening to her. After all, in the end, it is all happening to her. But she was 25 weeks pregnant when she first came into the hospital, and I was the one who got to tell her of her diagnosis. I got to explain the not-benign chemotherapy regimen and its side effects, which we administered to this woman while she was pregnant. I got to tell her that her the good news that her repeat bone marrow showed no evidence of leukemia. I waited it out with her from afar as she delivered her baby and then I'm the one who got to rip her away from that new baby to give her consolidation chemotherapy to keep her leukemia away. I'm the one who got to arrange transfusions for her when she finally got home. I'm the one who got to discover that she had an allergic reaction to transfusions and needed a special suspension of platelets to keep from having hives and rigors. And I'm the one who got to tell her that the leukemia was probably back. And now it is, and she is getting chemotherapy again, and she tells me she is nervous. I involuntarily laughed and then choked up all at once. It was highly unprofessional but she didn't mind. I  told her it was okay to be nervous- her doctors are nervous for her and we're not even the ones going through it. We had this uncomfortable moment of silence in which it was clear we just were no longer doctor and patient- it's an odd thing when you cross over like that. All of a sudden, we were in a different territory. Two people navigating a difficult journey together, different stakes, different roles, but both in it, all the way in it. And I knew, just at the same moment, that this was very dangerous. So yeah, I don't need a lot of drama with this sort of thing a natural byproduct of my career (which doesn't even feel like an appropriate way to describe my job, but it would be pompous to call it anything else).

And I find, yet, that I have capcity for so much rage still. About stupid things (like television shows, and I have since deleted that portion of this post, because after posting it, it suddenly seemed stupid and unimportant) and horrible things, like three innocent people getting shot in North Carolina, one Indian grandfather being injured in an arrest, and the disturbing fact that the man was stopped because he was mistaken for a black man (thinking about the reality of what that means enrages me on so many levels that I have to step away and take a deep breath). But all that rage gets quelled by the sad realities that I often see with this work- sudden deaths or long, drawn-out expected deaths. I treat cancer patients so they know what they're contending against, but it doesn't make it all that much easier. Life is short, and precarious. The world tends towards entropy. I wish we didn't have to contribute to that entropy but sometimes it's important to shift the focus to what you can't control. I am going to strive to do better.