Cancer is a time machine. The ‘C-Word’, once attached, clings like a burr, leaving sharp bits of itself everywhere. I cannot get rid of it. I heard the word pronounced by a creature whose eyes, dark with seriousness, were telling me the truth.
Waking up in the morning, or less fortunately in the middle of the night, I am innocent, having only to pee. Unaware, forgetting, that the definition of my life and that of my family has been twisted short and for the worse. In a few seconds I remember that I have cancer and we have been pitched steeply into an unknown. I am becoming the newest specimen in the La Brea Tar Pits and must watch us all slowly sink below the surface.
Sinking, I am surprised to notice that everything is not cast in horror-show imagery. I find that the sublime and the agape, what as an artist I have sought all my life, are right there— hidden in plain sight within the ordinary. The most sublime understanding lurks enticingly within the surface of ordinary experience.
I will embarrass myself by claiming, against all my self-training, that phrases and words like I send-my-love and heart, when seriously intended, are as buoyant for me as salt water. They float my boat, the boat in which I am now a castaway. One midnight my intestine folded over itself and blocked. Perhaps in an attempt to escape by air, I swelled, resembling an overinflated blimp. Instead, I rode a bucking ambulance to an emergency room 18 miles away and was placed on a hydration-only diet. And so my life was saved. For eight days my lifeboat was drawn down into a gyre through storms I cannot remember, with no food nor compass, but with ample bags of salt-water. There, truly disoriented in a mental black hole, time became elastic and distorted. Days confused with minutes, seconds now were equal to hours later, and sequences reversed. Much light and love were poured down that vortex into me. Very little came out in return. This is how I became conscious that I was a cancer patient in an immaculate white hospital suite.
I met nurses and doctors who did the most routine repetitive tasks without boredom and somehow made me comfortable in the slop at the bottom of my lifeboat.
That’s the love that is the foundation of compassion. The ‘C-word is changed into Compassion in a cancer-hospital where love begets love. I found that for every kindness given freely to me, I welled-up with gratitude and the wish to give something greater back. I spoke freely, feeling like an oracle, and said things to strangers that I would never have said previously to my intimates. I was also high on morphine.
The trivial became serious and vital. I pointed out that discovery frequently, giving life-lessons unasked. What did I know? Morphine pulls out inhibitions like teeth removed from under a carpet of Novocain. It also erases memory. I cannot remember faces or names from that time. I cannot remember what I said.
Finally free and on the way home in the car, my minds-ears rang with the sounds of the cancer battle in the hospital. My minds-eyes were coming open as never before. I had landed on Earth. Spaceman-me documented the amazing landscape of home with about seventy-five quick photos using on my iPhone. The photos are terrible, but no matter. They are mnemonics for ideas, for light and form, for far horizons and time, for the simple emergent from within the complex, for invention, for another chance…, for awareness and meaning–making. For being.