The Circus Master

It’s amazing how fast things whirl around you when you are set perfectly still.  There are times when no matter how hard we try, we just can’t keep up.  Instead of the perfectly spinning top, we find ourselves wobbling like one about to topple.  It’s in those times when we must accept that we are no longer the efficient version of ourselves.  But it’s hard to give yourself permission to carry less than you once did, and it’s hard to be the one taking on the extra load.

From where I sat, watching our Family Circus, I thought things seemed pretty typical.  The boys skirted their homework, played video games too loudly, bumped off the walls while doing just about anything, and were generally the same old mess makers they had always been.  But for some reason it seemed this was no longer tolerable to their dad, and his patience was clearly running out.  A casual thing for some perhaps, but a rare event in our household.

Our easy-going guy had become the barking task master and was now making everyone jump.  So many things got under his skin.  The dishes, the schedules, the appointments, the laundry, the housework, the meals.  All the things that made up our three-ring life.  Even my reminder of whom-needed-to-be-picked-up-when resulted in a sharp snap in my direction.  Something was definitely off.  It didn’t make sense that the regular routine had now become so irritating.

Certainly things weren’t working quite like they once had, and I could see my husband was working harder than ever.  The energy required to parent this household was already demanding enough, and now he was going it alone.  His juggling act got very complicated.  On top of his job, the boy’s schedules, and caring for me, he was trying to keep normalcy balanced up in the air for fear it would all come tumbling down.  It was no wonder he was losing his grip.  I worried, wondered if he had anyone to talk to, and decided we had better try to sort it out.

Carving out some time alone, we finally got to talk.  As we did, we began to unpack the load, sorting through the tightly bound piles looking for things he shouldn’t be carrying.  Would things go smoother if the boys pitched in more?  Sure.  But we know they aren’t going to become perfect children just because of my cancer.  A loosened knot.  It’s unrealistic to think any of them will change into superman overnight (or ever).  An untied bundle.  And you know, you can’t expect to, either.  Another burden set aside.  The piles of shoes, the backpacks, the afternoon dishes, are these really worth being so upset?  Unbound.  Considering everything… do these things really matter…?  Unloaded.

We sat talking, working, unwinding, unbinding, until there was only one thing left in our pack.  And then I saw.  It wasn’t about any of those things.  It was about the single, biggest, hugest thing we had ever carried before.  It was about the one thing we couldn’t bear to speak.  The thing too difficult to articulate.  Beyond what to do with anger when there is no right place for it to go.  Beyond staying mute with indignation while wanting to cry out I am sorry that I am sick.  It was about standing on the high wire of our life and looking out and seeing nothing underfoot.  Not daring to take a step forward, not even daring to take a breath.

Finally, we exhaled.  Then the words came.

“We both know… if God decides it’s my time to go, then no one and nothing can prevent that from happening.  But if God decides it’s not my time to go, then no one and nothing can make it happen.”

And for some reason, simply knowing only that, it was enough.

Enough to gather up the things we should carry, give all the rest to God, and walk hand in hand into another day.

Queen Anne's Lace ©Lynnea Washburn

All portions of this blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All right reserved.

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Overliving

Halfway to the halfway mark.  You’ve got to find your milestones no matter how small they are.  A new cycle had emerged; treatment, side effects, normalcy, repeat.  Four cycles, evaluation, then four more.  It was a deceptively simple routine.  One in which I felt I was accomplishing nothing, but at the same time experiencing everything way too much.  I called it “overliving”, a side effect of sensory overload, an awareness dialed up to the tenth power.

It began with oversmelling.  Every smell had intensified so much that a once-pleasant scent was now acrid.  Cooked chicken smelled like dead foul, steak like rotting cow, and coffee smelled exactly like what it was; burnt beans.  The smells were closely paired with overtasting.  Even water now had the flavor of chemicals and chlorine.  Nothing tasted as it had before, or perhaps it tasted exactly as it should… about this I have continued to ponder.

Then there were the soaps, the cleansers, the shampoos.  I can’t tell you how many different varieties were tried.  Even the unscented had scent.  And oh, how they lingered!  On the sheets, on my clothes, on my skin.  The products certainly did their job, and no amount of rinsing reduced their ever-so-fresh guarantee.  Each scent was now overdone and overblown, and made my nose zing in agony.

Body temperature was another thing.  Whether it was my skin or my internal gauge, I was completely out of whack.  At times overly hot, but more often much too cold.  I felt every little draft, and spent many hours wrapped up and still chilled to the bone.  When a wood fire was lit in an effort to bring me comfort, it smelled as if I was inhaling the burnt cinders themselves.

Surprising however, were the emotional changes.  This wasn’t on the radar of possible side effects.  I started noticing and enjoying seemingly little things I had missed before.  I felt happiness more strongly, gratefulness daily, and found much to appreciate around me.  The purity of a bird’s song, the warmth of a single ray of sun, the peace found in the dusk of the day, and the uplifting breeze that held the promise of spring.  I found new appreciation for small joys.

Music fell fresh upon my ears, with new meaning and more emotion than before.  Sunday messages held words spoken uniquely for me as if I were the only one in the room.  Conversations were filled with insights and resonating truth.  Books were read with new levels of understanding and empathy.  I often felt as if I were seeing things for what they truly were for the very first time.  I found new significance in familiar places.

It was as if somewhere it had been decided that if I had to endure the physical discomfort of this new kind of overliving, then I would also get to experience a new kind of overjoying.  And although the physical effects would gradually diminish, there has been something lasting about the emotional ones.  One was clearly medication-based, but the other?  Perhaps… this was merely grace.

And once again I pondered, if life is not the same as it was before… perhaps now it is exactly the way it should be.

Water Lily 1 ©Lynnea Washburn

Water Lily 2 ©Lynnea Washburn

Water Lily crystal paper weight

From the Living Victoriously collection of fine products by Boston International.

All portions of this blog ©Lynnea Washburn.

Beauty for Ashes

“Would you like me to cover up the mirror?” the wig maker asked.

“No,” I said.  I thought that watching the progression of my hair being removed would be easier than seeing it all gone at once.

I had been warned that it would fall out suddenly, and that long before I was ready, I would need to make a decision about what to do with my hair.  Or lack of it.  They were right.  It was mere weeks after the first round of chemo that it had begun to fall out.  Reality hit too soon as hair filled my brush, laid upon my pillow, and came off in my hands when I stroked it.

I hadn’t sought out the wig maker.  Someone I once worked with some ten years prior, in another state no less, just happened to have a close friend from her college days that lived not far from me.  I had met this friend briefly some 12 months before, and when she heard I had cancer, she called me.  It was upon her recommendation that I considered the wig maker, and I had made a consultation to find out more.  But since the hair had started to go, my consult was quickly changed to a hair removal.

His name was Kurt, and his talent was amazing.  Kurt’s father had immigrated from Europe to the United States with the craft of wig making using human hair.  What began as a thriving high fashion business in New York City changed over time to become a specialized salon that catered to the needs of cancer patients.  Kurt’s father may have taught him the trade, but Kurt’s tender disposition was uniquely his own, empathic, caring and kind.

With my husband in tow, we arrived early in the morning, as Kurt had cleared his entire day for me.  Gently he began, starting at the back of my head, and he carefully removed my hair in sections.  He then placed them on a bed of long pins in a very specific order.  This way, the hair would be sewn onto a silk cap exactly where it had once belonged on my head.  All the while, he left the front of my hair in place which framed my face.  He knew what he was doing.  From my vantage point, all I saw was me looking back at myself looking normal.

“Ready?” he asked before the last of it was taken.  After a quick breath and an encouraging smile from my husband, I nodded.  The last two sections were removed as I watched, and I sat there in disbelief as I looked in the mirror.

“I look the same!” I said in surprise.  Then I laughed.  What was I thinking?  That my whole face would suddenly change?  That I would morph into someone else?  Or something else?  I startled myself with this silly realization.  The fact that this irrational fear had only vanished when all the hair was gone was equally stupefying.  I gained some composure, put on a long scarf, topped it with a hat, and turned to my husband. Voila.

“You look beautiful”, he said.  I married the right man.

Later that day, when the wig was finished we returned.  It looked amazing.  You couldn’t even tell I was wearing a wig.  I was shown how to wash my hair in the sink, attach it to my head with double-sided tape, and style it as usual with the blow dryer.  It was a bit challenging to find where my hairline used to be as I positioned it on my forehead.  A bit off and something just looked… well, a bit off.  With practice I would get it… most of the time.

But the hardest part of the day came as we prepared to leave.  I attempted to tell Kurt how much this meant to me.  To still have my hair, to keep a part of myself, was huge.  Overcoming my fear that somehow I would lose myself was even greater.  I was humbled by the fact that his talent, this gift, would help keep me whole.  He had gathered the markers of illness and had woven them into a crown.  My gratefulness overwhelmed me, and the longer I stood there the harder it was to speak.  I got as far as saying thank you, but the rest of my words were choked back by tears.  It’s okay, he said.  He gave me a hug.  He understood.

Later that evening, as I was saying goodnight to the boys, I asked each one if they wanted to see my bald head.  Tyler and Nate’s reactions were the same.  They looked me over and slowly nodded, as if to say… so there’s your head, uh huh, okay, we can deal.  Then when I showed Nick, I laughed aloud for the second time that day as he exclaimed,

“You look the same!”

From now on every morning, my cancer was going to show its reflection to me when I looked in the mirror.  But it would be my choice to decide what it is I truly saw… how I had changed, or how I remained the same.  And it would be my choice to decide what I would reflect to the world.

* * * * *

God says He will give you a crown of beauty instead of ashes*, and this I know to be true.  He tends to your needs through providence that appears to be coincidence.  He tells you what you need to hear through someone words.  He comforts you through someone’s gifts, encourages you through someone’s smile, touches you through someone’s hug, and loves you through someone’s heart.  He sees you for what you really are, and no matter what you’ve been through, you are beautiful to Him.

Roses & Damask ©Lynnea Washburn

* Isaiah 61: 3

All portions of this blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All rights reserved.