It is a windy morning in Palm Beach. The clouds are rolling through quickly, casting dark, then glimpses of light, as they go. I pull my sweater tight when things go dark and turn my face up instinctively when the sun reappears.
“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now.”
I am sitting at a table for one in the breakfast restaurant at the Four Seasons, drinking my green tea slowly to justify my poolside table, but I know nobody will ask me to leave or even get fidgety about my presence. That doesn’t happen at the Four Seasons and, whether I like it or not, it doesn’t happen when you sport the shiny bald head that betrays your illness even when you otherwise appear healthy. People treat you differently when they think you are staring down death. Besides, I’m celebrating. Chemo is over. Surgery is next week.
“The wheels on the bus go round and round.”
Anyone can get hit by a bus any day. I used to say this all the time. I hear others say it all the time. It is a stand-in for understanding your own mortality, but it is mostly bullshit. I certainly did not understand—really, truly feel—that I could die any day whenever I said it. If anything, saying it reinforced just how ridiculous it was to think that I could die. I was young and healthy. My bus was traveling down a side road, completely out of view. Until it turned the corner this year. Until it was charging at me, at full speed for awhile, and then with less resolve over the last five months.
I am not sure I will ever forget how it felt when I first realized the severity of my cancer diagnosis. It felt like I was kicked off the bus that everyone else in the human race is traveling in. I was left standing on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere with no luggage, dazedly waving as the bus charged forward, full of occupants singing some song with words I once knew by heart but could no longer remember.
It feels different now. I know that nobody is actually on the bus. We are all just walking down the road, trying to gain as much distance as our legs will travel before our bus turns the corner and heads straight for us. As one book put it, as isolating as illness and death can feel, death is the only thing we all have in common. We will all be hit by our bus and nobody will decide when or how. We are all connected by this and, at the same time, we are all alone on the side of the road. But it is one hell of a road to walk together, alone.
“Word is bond, I go on and on.”
And I am grateful for every single day I get to keep walking down the road. I am grateful my bus has not yet hit me. I am grateful for light and breath and new mornings. I am grateful for the most basic things. Aside from a very unlucky diagnosis, I have had an unthinkably lucky year. My cancer is treatable and the treatment is working. I am surrounded by loving and generous friends and family—some I always knew to be there and newcomers who have surprised me. I live in a beautiful place I never take for granted. I get to celebrate by the ocean. I am privileged in so many ways.
“But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
I learned a non-word today. Énouement, the bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self. It made me think of my past self—not just the one standing on the side of the road five months ago who thought she was watching the bus pull away, but also the one who, long before that, always believed she could control every outcome in her life. It made me think of my future self—the one who will again face loss and pain and grief. And death. I think of these selves, who are walking down the road with me and how I want to tell them something but, even after all of this, I somehow feel like I know less about much, much more. The only thing I want them to know is that everything is going to be okay. Even when it is not.