This has been the longest hiatus I’ve taken since starting this blog nearly two years ago , and I feel a bit rusty. I’m pretty constantly writing even when I’m not blogging, but these last 6 weeks have been a notable exception.
Paul was finally discharged from the hospital a few days ago, where his combined stay was nearly a month. There were some genuinely fraught moments, and there is still (straightforward, laparoscopic) surgery in his future. But far more importantly, he was able to avoid the (complicated, emergency, major) surgery that we were beginning to fear was the only way through. He’s recovering at home now and finally eating on his own, and it’s an enormous relief to be moving forward.
Emergencies and illness and infection and complications – those things that are life-threatening are also life-altering. The clichés about truly appreciating life after experiences like this of course hold true, and I’ve been reminded both of the fragility and the privilege of mere existence. But more importantly, for me it has been a reminder that even given a frightening and challenging experience, I can choose to navigate through it with clarity and a sense of abundance, and that ultimately this is what makes everything ok.
I had a conversation not too far back about the idea of being “wired for” either lack or abundance – another way, I suppose, to look at the glass as half empty or half full; but there’s a little more specificity there that spoke to me. Pessimism and optimism feel like broad and impersonal terms; lack and abundance, to me, speak of fear and acceptance, and these I can better grasp and internalize.
When Paul was rushed to the hospital while I was thousands of miles away, preparing for a concert, my immediate reaction was fear. Fear of losing him, fear of our lives changing, fear of not knowing what the future would hold. Discipline and a knack for compartmentalization got me through the concert and onto the next flight home, but that fear, and the sense of loss of control, were prevalent and overwhelming.
For me, fear leads to catastrophizing and imagining a worst-case-scenario, and this can be absolutely devastating, because when we obsess about a possible terrible future, we create present suffering. For so many of us, it’s hard not to contemplate all the things that could go wrong, even though it makes us feel worse than we need to. And by allowing ourselves to be guided by fear, we make a bad situation even more untenable.
I have a close friend who was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery within nearly the same timespan. Now as they await pathology results, their focus is on the 50% chance of needing chemotherapy, how horrible chemo is, how sick it will make them, and how terrible they’ll look. And while I have remained deeply sympathetic of their pain, it has been difficult to watch them create their own suffering, to watch them practicing fear. It has led me to contemplate the alternative.
So for the last month and a half, I have made it my charge and challenge to face every day with a sense of acceptance and abundance. And while I haven’t always been successful, it has been an eye-opening experience. Because when you choose abundance, you’re able to see the small beautiful things that are knit into the fabric of life.
The furrow of concentration as a nurse adjusts an IV line, and the crinkle of compassion as I thank her for her care. The first tiny green blossoms on the cherry tree down the block, because time passes and spring arrives even when life seems confined to a hospital room. The texts of support from colleagues I haven’t seen for years, because the extraordinarily close-knit network of musicians means new travel quickly. The comfort of the simple activities of everyday life – loading a dishwasher, stacking the mail, watering a parched house plant. The glory of watching Paul take a sip of apple juice, the firs thing he’s been allowed to eat or drink in weeks.
And by cultivating abundance, even throughout the constant turmoil of the last month, I’ve been able to maintain a sense of gratitude – for access to healthcare, to the extraordinary efforts of the nurses who largely cared for Paul, for the unflagging support and love of our friends and family, for the colleagues who jumped in to cover for me when I had to bow out of work. And with that sense of abundance and gratitude, life is far more navigable – and I feel ok.
We live to keep learning, and we learn to live. I’ve certainly learned a lot over these last six weeks, and for that I’m grateful.