Tunneling Through Anxiety

Anxiety is my familiar and unwelcome friend. In my early twenties when I was teaching seventh grade, I’d stand in the shower first thing trying to breathe in the warmth, the heat, the calm, while my heart pounding uncontrollably in terror at the day ahead. Before book releases, twice I’ve landed in the doctor’s office, hooked up to an EKG. The second time, my doctor asked, “Have you tried breathing deeply?” I hadn’t. When my mother died my foundation crumbled; I struggled with high blood pressure for months; I’d wake up in the night, unreasonably panicked and sweaty. (more…)

Big Love

I’m haunted by a memory: Emily is enduring her second bout with cancer, this time preparing for extensive surgery involving her neck, chest, and leg. Like any cancer surgery, it might or might not be successful. The surgeons have warned her that, regardless of the outcome, she’ll likely lose the use of her right arm.

What haunts me isn’t the enormous stress of that time (Gwyn was six months old, still nursing; I drove my baldies back and forth to the Mayo Clinic all summer) but rather the tangle in my heart. With every cell of my being, I wanted Emily to be well. I prayed for this—make her well make her well make her well—all the while guarding myself against a bad outcome. The doctors were decidedly cautious, even pessimistic. I prayed for a miracle. I prayed that all five surgeons would be on their game. I bargained with God (“Okay, we can deal losing use of her arm so long as she can be cancer-free”). I tried praying “Thy will, not mine, be done,” but couldn’t.

And here is the crux, the bit that won’t let me go. I didn’t trust God. (more…)

For Behold

As light as a feather, free as a bird.

“Fear not, for behold: I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” I’ve listened to these words, sung them, shouted them from a church basement, and read them hundreds of times. They are the great refrain of Christmas. This year they strike me differently, though, because this year I am afraid.

I’m afraid because my mother’s no longer here, which is just sad on most days but then sometimes feels like the ground under me has heaved and is no longer trustworthy. I’m afraid because, walking to work last week in below-zero temperatures, I passed through a happy flock of robins—the climate is changing, what used to be predictable is no longer, and we’ve elected a government that will likely aggravate the problem. (more…)

Entering Shadowland

pokahoesunset16-04Cancer does this: Shake you out of the status quo and drop you into a different realm, one where your everyday priorities are rearranged and suddenly small talk, the cleanliness of the house, even your job ambitions seem ridiculous. Instead you give yourself over to what really matters: Being present to one another. Doing everything possible to tend to health and well-being. Emily and I call this place of intensity Cancerland. Life-threatening illness does a marvelous job of helping you reprioritize.

But so do other things, like the death of a loved one or losing a home or experiencing trauma. The last time our country did a collective gasp and had to reprioritize was 9/11. The recent election shocked some of us into a new way of seeing the world. Our national shadows—the parts of us that fear the Other, that wants to eradicate whatever seems to threaten our wellbeing—are now out in the open. They’ve been there all along, as people of color and immigrants and trans folks have been trying to tell us. But now we’re all plunged into a new reality: Shadowland, a country where democratic processes are scorned and fear has taken the reigns. (more…)