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The Most Perfect Gifts are the Ones You Think You Don’t Want


You’ve probably heard it said that happy people do not make good writers. It’s true, the kinds of things happy people have to write about sound either unbelievable, braggy, or just plain boring. I suppose this is why I haven’t written in a while. Life is going well. I’m at the end of the movie where it shows the viewer what the people effected by the events are doing a year later. It’s somehow satisfying to know, but let’s face it: it’s usually mundane life goes on as usual fare.

And hooray for that! Though I’m not 100% (I get tired. I sometimes feel queasy.), I’ve returned to work, am eating normally, have gained and stabilized my weight, have taken up bead-weaving and crochet, started menstruating again, exercise regularly, resumed yoga. I’m well enough to feel annoyed by the intrusion of weekly blood draws and chemotherapy, well enough to complain and sometimes forget what a miracle it is to still be alive, and to remember again and feel grateful. So with all this return to normalcy, what do I have that is sad (or at least reflective!) to write about?

I suppose it is coming to terms with the uncertainty of life.

Before my diagnosis I didn’t consider health, sort of like paper manufacturers don’t consider trees, or electronic manufacturers don’t consider e-waste. Now, health is always on my mind. Whether or not I fall out of remission is beside the point; what I realize is feeling great is never a given, no matter how many preventative practices you do. The past month I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, I was doing everything right before I got sick – I was betrayed by life! Then I remember I was overdoing it, living three lifetimes in one: my career life, my yogi life, my home life. Those three were vying for top spot simultaneously while straddling the Pacific. Add the stress of international travel, my father’s death, the loss of a child, and my inability to choose a life, and I exploded. That’s what is so groovy about ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia), it’s present in all our bodies, just waiting for the right circumstances to be ignited. So betrayal is a funny word — funny interesting, not so much funny ha, ha. When betrayed I like to act all surprised: “How could this happen!” I say. But come on, I was begging for something to force a decision, a change. Nothing works better than a life threatening health crisis!

Leukemia isn’t my life’s first major betrayal. I was married once before. Eight months into it he revealed that he was a cocaine junky. He systematically showed me where he had hidden his rigs all over the house. In that moment, my dreams of white picket fences and homes in the suburbs and 2.5 children burst. “How could this happen!” I said. But deep inside I knew that I knew all along. I feigned shock, but there were signs. Just like there were signs that my immune system was collapsing. Somehow, in both cases I was asking for something to happen, for some intense experience to create a change in me. Please don’t misunderstand, saying so does not mean that I believe I deserved it. But I certainly asked for it!

Why be surprised when things go awry? Why believe unpleasant changes, no matter how severe, are betrayal? Have you ever received a gift you didn’t want? Somehow something you communicated inspired the gift-giver to choose it for you, and now that you have it, what will you do with it?

I think my word this year is gift. I am practicing giving them, starting with the gross or physical realm (i.e. actual gifts). I want to learn how to give wanted gifts, because I hypothesize being an adept gift-giver is an indication of your ability to listen; to hear what people want and need, and to respond to that. But I also hope it will help me better hear what I ask for. What requests am I sending out? I do not believe life betrays me. I believe it is trying to give me the perfect gift, and that it listens better than I can imagine.

BrandiAuntWhen I was diagnosed, my aunt-in-law, Margie, left a most beautiful message on my phone. It touched me deeply. Part of what she said is, “People like you don’t get cancer, people like me get cancer.” And wouldn’t you know it? She did. Just over a year later she died. People get cancer, anyone can get it. The experience can be fast and final. It can drag on for years. Cancer is a gift, it’s just one of those gifts no one wants.

I already miss Margie. I loved her no-nonsense approach to life. She was a gifted kitchen and bath designer. She was among my very few clients back in my website designing days. She gave me her ex-husband’s mother’s wedding dress when I married her nephew. I can’t believe that she’s gone and I’m still here. I’m glad I listened, and gave her a call days before she left us. I would never have guessed she was leaving so soon—she was so lively on the phone. But she was asking not to suffer, and sure enough, she didn’t have to.

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