Preparing for chemo . Dreading chemo . Understanding that it will be a week of physical trauma and then I’ll be ok. I never know from time to time however, just what traumas will show up. Will my eyelashes and eyebrows come out THIS time? Will my toenails shrivel up? Will I have some new side effect that I haven’t even considered?
I was supposed to go to a 65th birthday party today, and everyone was asked to speak for 30 seconds about their feelings about the aging process.
I hate aging of course, although perhaps Hate is a strong word. I do not like the physical changes anymore than anyone else. I do hate the wrinkles, and falling flesh, the thin skin, the dryness EVERYWHERE, the stiff ankle that sometimes makes me feel like an 80 year- old woman when I get up from sitting for more than an hour.
But just like all the fears that are arising with chemo and “my diagnosis,” I must find ways to befriend these things, and THAT is what is different at 61. I’m willing to befriend my body, perhaps in the deepest ways I ever have. For so much of my life I saw my body as having betrayed me—the part of my life that was never good enough, never “right,” never the way it was “supposed” to be. The part of my life that caused me shame and humiliation and the constant desire to be other than how I was. IF I were to be loved and respected and appreciated in this world, I surely had to be tall and thin. I surely had to have “good legs” and a flat belly. I surely had to be different than how I was.
This self-hatred is so deeply ingrained in all women in our culture. I watch the thin and strong and young and perfect ones in the gym locker room standing before the mirror complaining that there is something wrong. The ½ inch of skin on the belly that they can pinch between their fingers makes them feel they are too fat. Any imperfection of the skin. And OMG, what if they dare to step on the scale and it proves that they indeed ate that ice cream last night and shouldn’t have because now they weigh 112 instead of 110 and their size 4 or 2 jeans are even tighter than they were meant to be. Our culture has created self-hating monsters out of all of us!
SO…what I like about the aging process is that even though I still have days and moments of really wishing that at least the one side effect of chemo I could appreciate is weight loss, MOST days I look at this alien-looking, bald-headed, female organ-less woman in the mirror and I think—YOU look pretty good! I am loved, appreciated, respected, despite my imperfections and lack of body parts. I have a lover, friends, colleagues, family even, who are not judging me by how I look and now I cannot judge myself. Most days. Some days, I revert to my old ways of thinking, I admit.
What I like about the aging process is tolerance and understanding and more compassion. Wisdom, I believe it is called.
Danielle and I saw the movie “Philomena” yesterday. There were characters that I hated, and angry feelings expressed that I agreed with. As we discussed the film, Danielle said—“Compassion is being able to feel, appreciate , understand every perspective without judgement and understand that there are reasons for each being to act/behave/ live the ways they do.” As much as I think of myself as a compassionate person, I still have a ways to go in terms of embracing the behaviors and actions of all beings. But perhaps, that too, will come with aging. After all, I’m only 61!
Another thing I appreciate about the aging process is the truth of the “serenity prayer.” We have more ability to accept the things we cannot change, more courage to change the things we can, and more wisdom to know the difference.
I am learning to prioritize in a different way. Maybe because of cancer, and how having a “diagnosis” effects the aging process by allowing one to look more closely into the mirror of mortality. But what IS important? Taking the best possible care of my body, mind, spirit. LOVE, as I’ve said in my book about tending the dying, is really the most important—each kind of love in our lives. Practicing love and compassion must be the highest priorities. Doing the work that has the most heart and meaning and purpose, is most important. I hear the words of Angeles Arrien, about the 4 principles of life in my head—
- Show up and be present.
- Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
- Stay open to outcome but not attached to outcome.
- Speak the truth without blame or judgement.
These things must become the pillars of whatever we build in our lives as we move into our later years, no matter how many years we have left.
I love the way the aging process forces (or perhaps encourages) us to live in the present moment because we have the awareness that there may not be as many moments left. At 30 we are invincible and cannot imagine the concept of impermanence, unless we have experienced a lot of loss at a young age. But at 60+, we know that there is an end, and that each moment needs to be felt, understood, appreciated for whatever lesson it teaches us, and then let go.
So this morning, as I prepare for Chemo #4, I sit in gratitude for my life and for the RAINS. I vow to TRY to be more present, TRY to be more compassionate, TRY to be more loving, every day. To my Self, to the ones I love, to the ones in my many circles of people, to the healers in my life, and to the strangers on the street.
A FEW MORE LINES from RUMI…
“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. (or start singing!)
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”