Every two months I walk up to the edge of the cliff. Will I live another two months of uninterrupted life? Meandering walks with Zach. A deep pour of wine on a patio somewhere. Everything begins to feel like it is made of glass.
It started when I joined the clinical trial at Emory, and a good scan meant I would get to continue treatment on my million-dollar miracle drug. A bad scan meant that I would not. And now it’s almost the same thing, but with a little less drama. I get a scan every two months with a ton of fanfare but without the scare of immediately being put out to pasture. If it’s bad, it’s still really, really bad, but maybe there are a couple things we can try.
I’ve done this six times now, and I hope to do it a million times more. But there’s a weird liturgy to it. My life is parceled out 60 days at a time. Right before the scan is a building terror, and right after is a deep relief. And everything else is…well…what exactly?
This is the two-month challenge. How do I live beautifully and faithfully and absurdly in 60 days as if they were my last? I tried to summarize this to my friend, Kori, as we were sitting on the floor in my office last week.
“I think it’s something like, ‘Living Well, Grieving Well,’” I said uncertainly.
“Oh, absolutely not,” she said. “That all sounds very serious and proper when you say it like that.”
We were quiet for a minute.
“How about your motto should be: ‘Balls Out Living. Balls Out Grieving.’?” she ventured.
“This coming from a pastor in the United Methodist Church,” I said, laughing. “And you understand me completely.”
She was right. I am circling around a way of being, but it’s hard for me to explain it to myself. I am trying to ask:
How do I live bigger and braver?
What should I take on?
And what should I let go of?
I think you’ll hear me talk about this a lot because these questions are sticking to me in this humidity. How do I live bigger and braver? Not in general, but now. In 60 days.
I have no idea.
Oh. My. Goodness. A butterfly just landed on my laptop. I’m not making this up. I wish I believed in signs because this is all very liveinthepresent and stopandwatchthebutterflies. But I’m getting the picture. How do you cultivate habits of living in the beautiful now?
Part of it has to be saying yes, yes to vulnerability. Yes to stupidity. Yes to an improv comedy night?
In my defense, I actually thought I was only agreeing to be part of a single scene for the DSI Comedy Club in Chapel Hill, North Carolina because someone nice asked me in a nice way. Would I come on the show and tell a story? NO PROBLEM. I know a great story about how my sister thought her friend was a pedophile, how I didn’t believe her, how Interpol became involved and how she ended up featuring in the documentary about his capture called “The Hunt for Mr. Swirl.” True story. She does her own voiceovers (“I never thought it would come to this,” she says in an ominous voice to the camera.)
So I said yes. Chances to talk about your sister’s international manhunt don’t come along every day.
The problem with saying ‘yes’ is that then you actually have to do it. So last night I went to this comedy club to discover that, no, I was going to be telling a LOT of stories because I was the premise of the whole show. Congratulations! You’re a star!
The great thing about comedians, as it turns out, is that they are funnier than you are or ever hope to be. So they used material from stupid stories from my life. There was the time a family member used to be late for gatherings because he was picking up roadkill and putting it in a cooler in the trunk for amateur taxidermy. (Correction: my sister is now saying that it was also so he could collect the fleas. So much to learn here!) There was that time my bridesmaids got the full weight of bird excrement falling from the skies and had to wash their dresses off in the decorative fountains. Which is visible in the background of many of my wedding pictures.
So maybe that was the best part of all. I gave up stories from my past—great moments, ridiculous moments—and watched them become something new. Something even better than the past, because they were happening. Right now.
There were, of course, a million things that can’t be said. “A funny thing happened to me on the way to the chemo room…” That the only time I can’t breathe is when I think about my son not being able to remember me. That at night I write him letters so that, maybe, he can piece me together. These are the thoughts that feel like lead.
It is the odd work of grieving—all your stories become the weight of the past.
But I suspect that’s the beautiful thing about living. All your stories are still unfolding in front of you. In bright colors. In butterflies and a two-year old who figures out how to turn the hose on and run toward you at top speed. And, only sometimes, in front of a crowd of 80 intoxicated Chapel Hill undergraduates.
P.S. If you’ve done something bigger or braver, or taken something up and let something go, feel free to add it to the comments section. I’m always up for some inspiration.