It’s hard for my kids to imagine a world without 24/7 access to social media, cell phones, or their favorite movies at their fingertips. For them, freak-out moments are sparked by a malfunctioning charging cord or a missing remote.
I would love to send them back to 1983 and see just how long they could survive.
Even as a latch-key kid, I didn’t have many freak-out moments growing up. Time just moved a lot slower then. Though there was a pool in the backyard, I didn’t swim alone. Mama worked long hours as she climbed the corporate ladder and Daddy worked night shifts so he could take care of Grandma and Grandpa during the day. My older sister, Christine, had far better things to do than entertain me. I spent a lot of time by myself, alone, learning how to listen to the world around me and within me.
I explored the woods, played school and made my own mixed tapes as Casey Kasem counted down the top 40 songs of the week. I perused volumes of World Book Encyclopedia and my mom’s vast Reader’s Digest Condensed Book collection.
I punched the keys on both the family piano and on the antique Underwood typewriter. I tinkered in my dad’s tool closet and made many-a-Christmas-wishlist from the Sears and JCPenney catalogs.
But perhaps my favorite place was sitting in the shade underneath the two giant Pin Oaks in the front yard, picking the clover with my toes, and painting the most magnificent cloud portraits on the blue canvases of my imagination.
Little did I know then just how important the ability to retreat would be.
I marked my 51st birthday earlier this summer. One would expect all birthdays to be joyous occasions when cancer finds you living life from one MRI scan to the next. Yet this year, one of those scans of my chest and abdomen was scheduled just after my candles were to be blown out, and the anticipation was deflating. I cannot open my eyes without a reminder of the beast.
Yet as it turned out, the scans came back with no evidence of disease which meant I had another three months to start counting down, but I didn’t breathe easy for long.
Some changes were happening to my vision, more blurs and floaters than usual. Something just wasn’t right. As I was sharing my concern with my husband, Kip, I placed a hand over my good eye and soon realized that I couldn’t see his face with the other eye. Nothing. Nada. The darkness had set in.
I had been preparing myself. I knew that there could eventually be serious side effects from the radiation but was hoping that it wouldn’t happen to me. My luck had run out.
Eye drops. Bright lights. Ultrasounds. Photographs. More bright lights. I had developed retinopathy, a build-up of fluid that can sometimes happen as a tumor shrinks. But most concerning was that my eye tumor measurements had increased by a few millimeters. In the ocular melanoma world a millimeter might as well be a mile. Was my tumor showing regrowth? Was the change in measurements caused by the fluid? Was it within a margin of error? Was the sonographer having a bad day? Was I going to lose my eye? Was this the beginning of worse things to come?
Your mind can’t help but start pulling the shades down.
I left with a follow up appointment and a hefty prescription for Prednisone, neither of which made me feel much better. I sat in the car pondering if it was the dilated eyes, the tears, or the dark places in my mind that was keeping me from seeing clearly.
A quick phone call to my forever friend, the nursiest of all nurses, talked me back from the ledge. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and once again began to listen to the world around me and within me. I began my retreat.
I retreated into my family. This summer I watched every swim stroke as they competed. I smelled their hair and dreamed their dreams. I awoke each day with a hand in mine. The laces of our fingers are hard to untie.
I retreated into my work. Those I work with and those I work for will certainly be better for it. It’s less of a job and more of a purpose. No doubt I am where I was meant to be.
I retreated into my writing. Some pages are really going to feel good to turn. Stay tuned.
I retreated into my running shoes. I love both the solitude when alone and the conversations when I have company. And I have the best of sidekicks.
Those who know me well know that I would retreat into my vinyls. It’s no secret that Sturgill Simpson still takes me to church. My hymnal is a large one.
I retreated into some uncomfortable places too, among them my backyard when the rain wouldn’t stop. Even a driving rain didn’t drive me from picking blueberries. Those bushes are among the finest of sanctuaries.
I retreated into conversations with voices that I can no longer hear. I stopped to visit an old friend, listened for the whispers of my father, and felt the comforting words that only Papa could offer.
And when the darkness of each evening enveloped both eyes, I retreated into a much higher power, the One who can teach us all just how important it is to find those spaces to be alone, to invite the quiet, to listen to that which cannot be easily heard, and to see those things that are slowly being revealed to us.
Those early days spent alone, retreating into the wonder of my childhood, prepared me for a time when life is much faster and more uncertain. I have learned to retreat into those things that help me find a better pace, center myself, and just hold on to the hope I find in the quiet spaces.
The Prednisone improved my vision AND my running speed. Kip’s face was the first I saw when my vision returned and I haven’t wanted to close my eyes since. My guru of an ophthalmologist is convinced that the tumor is not regrowing and is stable enough to see me again in six months. I put my trust in him many moons ago. I have another round of scans for mets coming up in a few weeks. I’m working hard at not worrying about what hasn’t happened yet. It is a work in progress.
For now, I’ll just retreat on…. and hope that someday soon our children, and perhaps all of you, find a tall, mighty oak of your own.