The past few weeks have been incredibly stressful and frightening for me, but hearing someone else’s story has quickly put a new perspective on things. Today Heather Von St. James celebrates another year of life, another year of victory over Mesothelioma. I myself had a friend (luthier, Jim Norris) die of this cancer years ago. It broke our hearts to learn that our friend was diagnosed with this particular cancer, as Mesothelioma is usually thought to be a certain death sentence. Heather, however, has shown the world that it is not. Heather is a shining spokesperson for hope. Please learn about her story, and watch her video. Here is Heather’s story. May you take from her experience inspiration to face the challenges in your own life. And please, if you’re able, donate something to help fund research into fighting this disease.
Woke up with a dull headache already nestled in between my temples, just waiting for me. I wondered how long I was doomed to live with this now. Now that the corner had been turned, and I’d foolishly declared before the world that a) I had been an idiot and ruined my father’s Studio and b) had been stupid enough to announce to the world that I was going to make it all better. What kind of spell had I been under? What the hell had I just gone and done?
Last night, as I stood at the sink (washing dishes for the third time that day – my kingdom for a dishwasher!) a realization came over me in a rush, and I literally felt as if I would vomit into the soapy water. Oh fucking no – the whole thing just presented itself to me in an entirely different light. This was no opportunity! This was a trap! And I’d fallen into it! Worse yet – I’d made the trap to begin with! The ‘if onlys’ came at me fast and furious, and I almost thought I would pass out. Instantly, I was terrified at my future.
I tried to settle down, tried to break the situation down into the few things I knew for sure. Ok. I knew these two things: that if I didn’t do anything about the Studio, one day profound regret was a great possibility, and that if I at least tried to do something about the Studio, then I would never face that outcome.
I have always longed for a quiet, under-committed life, with low stress; a simple, beautiful home in which to live, occasional international travel, visits from out-of-town friends and long, lingering dinners with good wine; musicians with whom to make music, friends with whom to laugh. I’ve long imagined how my little life might pan out here in Greenfield, and it was the great consolation for having lost the possibility of a life shared with my husband and child. But if I took this on – good Lord, my life, at least for the next ten years, didn’t show itself to be any of these things. Crap. I want to be anonymous, I want to be left alone. I want to relax. I just want to be happy.
I suppose I’ve already blown it about the anonymous thing. And some mornings I wake up with a similar dread as today, and wonder just what have I gone and done? More than a thousand people are daily peering into my life, and I have almost nowhere to hide now. I can’t take any of it back, either. It’s all out there, forever. And all of my own doing. Man, I guess I just never thought…. And that’s the problem. Never thought… How many of us truly do think carefully about things?
It seems to me that there are two ways you can live your life; you can tune out and fill your existence up with distractions (career, sports, shopping, activities, living through your children, food and so on) and never truly think very critically about your life, or you can face that awesomely frightening question of your very own purpose and potential here in this world. And should you find yourself contemplating that second question, you can either go back to that first, comfortable route (I really, really want to go back to that one, but I’m afraid I’ve screwed myself out of it) or you must plow ahead into that alternate, murky future. Fucking scary. Or maybe not for some of you, I’m sure many of you don’t share my way of thinking on this – Lord knows this planet is made up of all types; I’m continually amazed at how differently people approach things. You think you kinda understand how someone’s feeling, after all, we do share the most basic needs and wants, but then you learn that they feel something quite different from what you’d assumed they did. And we all know what happens when you assume….
And I myself had always assumed that life would be fairly easy. That all that yack yack yacking about how tough life was and how ‘youth was wasted on the young’ and such – all that was nonsense. All that Buddhist four truths stuff, all this inner exploration and contemplative journey crap – what a waste of time and energy. Enjoy what you got, help out a little when you can, and just shut up already! Ok, that was a young, middle class girl who had the world in her front yard but had no clue. This was a young person who hadn’t yet faced a lump in her breast or a set of knuckles inflamed with arthritis, or the death of her father (or the ruination of her father’s work at her own hand). So, things change. Or maybe things just wait for you to catch up with them. Maybe these little atmospheric whorls of potential events lie in wait somewhere before us in time, and it’s our tiny steps in between that determine which of them we ultimately enter into.
So as I stood at the sink last night, fighting the urge to throw up into the dishwater, I remembered a woman who’d recently contacted me. She’s a reader of this blog, and she wondered if I might not help her in her own journey. For just a second, my own distress diminished as I considered the fear that Heather must have known. I think I’m afraid – but of what? My issues are external, they do not hold my life in the balance of their outcomes. They are nothing, really, compared to the challenge that Heather faced. Ok, Elizabeth, see? There are far more frightening prospects in the world. You, (saying this to myself, of course) are a wimp. You are being cowardly. How dare you? I remembered also my promise to Heather, and if I never came to fixing the Studio, I could at least do one thing I’d said I would.
Here is Heather’s story. Of course, it’s inspiring. This woman’s courage is impressive, but so too is her follow-through. Ok, so she made that mind-numbingly difficult decision to have a friggin lung removed in order to save her life, and she survived. Wouldn’t that be enough, you’d think? No, apparently not – because Heather has the drive and focus to continue to spread the word about Mesolethioma. She’s still taking action, long after she did her part. She had to face a kind of fear the likes of which each one of us prays we never, ever have to face. Ok, she did that, then she took care of it. Then she goes and does more. (Plus she’s a wife and mom. Cannot underestimate the time and energy that role represents.) Alright. My situation may feel dire, but I can temper my fear just a bit when I realize that it’s external, and that it is not a life or death situation like hers. Thank you Heather, for showing us that nothing is a done deal. I am known to say that this is a pain-in-the-ass planet we live on, and that life here is tricky. Heather, you clearly already know all of that – but have gone far beyond worrying about things and bitching about how hard it all is (that would be me doing that). Thanks for teaching us by example. I’m going to try my best to live up to my own challenges as you have yours. I’m not sayin I’ll do half as well, but you’ve inspired me to at least try…
As Heather says, “With hope, the odds don’t matter”. Thank you for your inspiration, congratulations on all your achievements, and most of all, happy Lung Leavin Day!