humpty dumpty


On the last day of a cancer retreat I was at last spring, the facilitators talked about planning for our re-entry into the real world. It was as if we had been astronauts in outer space, tucked away in a remote lodge in the mountains by Whistler, surrounded only by unconditional love, kind touch and good food. Re-entry meant taking care of ourselves when we returned to the jarring noise of the city and the tyranny of the busy.

I have been lucky to have a gradual re-entry to the paid work force after my cancer treatment and recovery. I dipped my toe in by picking up my partner duties with our communications company and dabbling in editing patient materials and annual reports. This served me well as the rest of my days were filled with long walks, mental health and physiotherapy appointments as I concentrated on picking up the collateral damage caused by cancer. I was, and still am, disoriented from what happened to me.

My ability to have a gradual re-entry is due to my privilege and the fact my husband has a decent contract that supports our little family. Many people I know who have had cancer work right through treatment or are forced back to work immediately because of draconian human resources rules and restrictive disability insurance policies. True, some people have other needs to work too, for the distraction or the social connection. We should allow everybody to do cancer recovery in their own way. But I somehow knew I had to be alone in my own thoughts in order to heal. This was both the most terrifying and the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

The world wants stories that tell the happily ever after, to tie things up like a bow on the present. There is a lot of pressure to forget about cancer, to go back to the way things were before and even worse, to be BETTER THAN EVER! This expectation is exhausting.

I cannot go back to the way things were before because I am no longer the person I was before. Once you’ve broken open, there’s absolutely no way to re-assemble those pieces in the same way. I’m Humpty Dumpty. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put me back together again.

I think a lot about how to construct a story. I like the tidy endings, the moral of the story, the lessons learned, the take-aways. It pains me as a writer not to have that now. (See how I’m jumping around here with my paragraphs, with no transitions or linked thoughts? If this was a marked essay, I’d get a D-). The messy is messy.

I often listen to podcasts on my long walks. Recently I heard a Good Life Project interview with Casey Gerald. He talked about his (brilliantly-named) book called There Will be No Miracles and said:

           My one nugget is that the world wants to turn you into a nugget.

I stopped in my tracks, rewound the interview and listened to it again.

            My one nugget is that the world wants to turn you into a nugget.

Don’t let them turn you into a nugget.

I do have some unfinished inklings: I’m done being a doormat, so I’ve started severing relationships and commitments that I’ve allowed to become unhealthy. My contributions have value and worth. Integrity – acting how you say you believe – is crucial. Small, individual kindnesses are everything. I must seek joy every day. Holding space for someone is a gift. Less talk, more listening, more action. And something political: the need to be king of the castle is destroying our world.

As much as this hurts me, I’m going to leave this little essay here – gaping and with the bow overtly untied. I’m not Oprah and there’s nothing I know for sure.

I only hold tightly to my broken record statement: we must keep speaking up to share our messy beautiful stories to both heal ourselves and to change the world.  Something I’ve added this year, that I feel very strongly about:  It is our responsibility to make room for other people’s stories too, not just our own.

I resolve only to drag all my unfinished pieces into 2019, to keep my head up and to keep going, even at my snail’s pace. I will be taking a rest when I need it. I hope you can too. Xo.

One thought on “humpty dumpty

  1. msteele34 says:

    Love this!! So deeply true. I like the Pemma Chodrin (sp?) quote that goes something like, “we come together and we come apart. That’s what life is.” And also Sartre’s , “there will be more beautiful times, but this one is ours.”

    Happy Holidays and much love. We are in Buffalo for the week but let’s talk sometime soon.



    Sent from my iPhone


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