The Two Month Challenge

calendar

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.

IMG_1215 (1)

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.

4 thoughts on “The Two Month Challenge

  1. Josiah Daniels

    Ah, Dr. Bowler, I always appreciate your take on things! Your words always challenge me to think more deeply, live more fully, and fight more fiercely. Thank you for living out your brave with such an incredible presence!

    Reply
  2. Betsy

    It strikes me that trying to live fully, in the present, is what we are all trying to do all the time. Your awareness of the task is heightened by being uncertain of what comes after 60 days. I can only tell you that as 60 days becomes 90 days and then 180 days, the fear decreases proportionally. Just keep finding fun.

    Reply
  3. Susan

    A childhood friend, now grown up to official historian status, posted the link to your site. In the last 3 years, my life has changed radically due to autoimmune disease. It isn’t that an EF5 struck my life, it’s that my go-to me… isn’t there. Every day carries evaluations and no’s I never had before. My biggest struggle is learning “me” all over again in the midst of translating this new person’s behavior to those around me. I think I must be the linguistic equivalent of Mandarin using the Russian alphabet.

    One sentence in, and I can tell you if a person’s been through a gruelling, act-of-God & I don’t know why experience. We don’t trade in promises of war ending. We agree a battle on front X _sucks_. We dig down to find where the unique core of God-made you is hunkered so we can affirm it. We know that God’s gifts don’t come in wrapping we would choose.

    I actually don’t ask myself to live large. I’m too prone to comparison and rarely if ever satisfied with my attempts. No… I ask myself if I was brave today. I ask myself what I tried today & failed. If I failed, it means I didn’t limit myself to what was comfortable and familiar and safe. I ask if I’m trying to live in a way that makes no sense without the element of God’s friendship & love. I offered myself to watch a friend’s children once a week so she can have a break; I’m still slightly anxious I won’t KNOW if my energy will be there every week. [As a sidenote, Philippians 4:6-8 should never–NEVER–be quoted at another person. Nor James 1. Most especially not Romans 8:28, sweet Lord have mercy.] My offer to my friend must stand, then, on faith. It must rest on trust that God’s manna for that day each week will suffice or trust that my friend will understand and still love me if I have to cancel at the last minute.

    Not living large, but living listening. Hearing my Abba whisper, “Where do you see me?” and playing an on-going game of hide & seek with him so I’ll know more than the outline of him in heaven. Adhering rigorously to C.S. Lewis’s abjuration to bring God what is in us, not what ought be in us. I think lying flat on one’s back, yelling at the ceiling, could be praying large, don’t you? ; )

    Reply
  4. Robin clauson

    Kate,

    I’m so sorry for this hard you are in the midst of right now. Prayers, prayers, prayers, for many days and years to come. I don’t know you but love your writing, humor, honesty and faith. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *