When I come home and walk through the door, no matter what Dianna is doing, her whole body turns toward me, her face lights up, and I am greeted with an enthusiastic, booming, high-pitched “Hi, honeeee” that proclaims in a single breath how glad she is I am alive and well and home again, and how her life has suddenly been made complete because I am there with her, and there is no one else she would rather be with—the very same feeling I had the first time she showed up at my door so many years ago.
She actually sees me. She is present to me. Still. After all these years.
My mood, even my consciousness, shifts to another level, enveloped in appreciation, acknowledgment, love, vaporizing my normal illusion of separateness, at least for this brief moment in time and space.
If “Hi, honeeee” could be translated, it would tell a story about this woman we would want to tell our children and grandchildren.
Greetings are vastly underrated and mostly ignored.
I was unaware of this until I met Dianna.
Sometimes I wonder why this simple act of being fully present to another being can be that hard for any of us to do. Yet, somehow, it is. So, each day, most of us endure so many missed opportunities to be alive, to light each other up, to lighten up.
I am one of the lucky ones.
One day, I realize Dianna is this way with everyone, not just me.
Dammit, I think…smiling.
The End of Something
“Honey, why don’t we make love anymore?”
We are in bed. Dianna is reading a book about healing cancer, while I’m thumbing through a bird hunting magazine. Dianna lays her book on the end table and rolls over toward me. I lay down the magazine, too. She has my undivided attention now.
“I think we make love every day in some way,” I say.
“You know what I mean.”
I let out a big sigh. We have not had sex since the transplant. I have been thinking about this for quite a while, and nothing ever comes up making sense to me.
“Don’t you find me desirable anymore? Do you still love me?” “Do you actually have to ask me that?” I’m looking her right in the eye.
“I love you more now than I ever have.”
“I don’t have a way to explain it. It’s not that I don’t find you attractive or desirable. It’s just with everything that has happened to us, to you, I just…I don’t know what to say.”
“It’s because I’ve lost my breasts, isn’t it. You never touch them anymore.”
“Well, honey, we’ve discussed that already. You’ve admitted you don’t have any feeling there anymore. Why would I touch them? I don’t fondle doorknobs, either. But, anyway, your breasts have nothing to do with it.”
“The only way I can put it is, I love you very much, and more and more with each passing year. But expressing my love for you in a sexual way feels…I don’t know…just feels inappropriate somehow.”
“Like you will hurt me or something?”
“I guess so. No matter how much you love someone, if the person you love is wounded and bleeding, you don’t try to have sex with them. Feels… just doesn’t feel…right. You protect them. You care for them, not have sex with them. Something like that.”
“I’m not a cripple, you know. I’m not a piece of glass. I won’t break.”
“I know that, honey.”
“I’m a woman with womanly needs. I still desire you sexually. I would love to have sex with you like a normal human being.” She slides her arm under my arm. “I feel rejected. That hurts.”
“I realize that. I feel terrible about it. Don’t you think I haven’t thought about how much you’ve lost? You have lost your dream of having a child. Now your menstrual cycles have ended, reminding you that all you are going to get from now on is hot flashes instead of the child you so dearly wanted. You’ve lost your breasts, a part of you, you were always so proud of…, and you have lost your hair twelve times. You…”
“Three times.” I laugh. Then, so does she, a little.
“What I’m trying to say, maybe not very well, is I realize all these losses assail your femininity, of what it means to be a woman, …and… not having sex with your partner is just another thing piled on top of all the rest. It’s the last thing you need to have happen in your life, right now. I know I can’t feel what you feel exactly…, but I do understand these are losses you deal with every day. That’s why it hurts me so much to be stuck like this, this way.”
“Then, I don’t understand why you would want to deprive me of this, too.”
My eyes are getting wet, and my heart is thick in my throat. “Believe me, if I could do anything about it, I would. I just can’t. Men can’t fake it, you know.”
“I don’t want you to fake it.”
I put my arms around her and pull her close to me. I can’t stop the tears now. “
And so I don’t. I’m not faking my love for you, either. I would do anything I know how to do for you. I do what I can. I’m so sorry, honey.”
She starts to cry, softly, quietly, burying her head into my neck.
“So am I,” she whispers.
We fall into silence. There doesn’t seem to be anything else to say. I keep my arms around her, and she keeps her arm over me.
We fall asleep that way
As Dianna wades through choppy waters, “presenting” an ever-changing kaleidoscope of “discomforts,” a continuing stream of friends and family visit. So much love, but none of them fully appreciate, understandably so, what she is going through. She doesn’t help them much, either. I listen to her when people ask how she is doing.
“Better,” she invariably says.
One day I’m thinking about this new word in her lexicon, one of her favorites these days. Is she saying this because she really believes it?
I live with her every day, but I can’t really know what it’s like being in her body. So my appreciation for what she is up against slips through my consciousness, unnoticed, like the wind through the trees. When something is always there, it often becomes invisible.
What I do notice is, with each setback, it may take her an hour or a day to process her anger, disappointment, sadness; but it’s never long before she just somehow changes her mind about it. Instead of sliding into a pity party, or even doing a “grin and bear it” routine, she reliably chooses to genuinely let it go, exiting each valley with renewed optimism and resolve, showcased with the same scintillating smile emerging from deep within her being. She is focused like a laser beam on living her life as fully as possible, on doing her Work.
I am struck full force by the pain she is mastering only when I’m rubbing lotion into her cracking, bleeding feet, or massaging her legs because they hurt so much, or changing her diaper again, or…. In return, I get all the Hi, honeeees I always got.
Her favorite therapy is working on her home, or visiting and receiving her huge collection of friends and family. My favorite therapy is to walk with Cracker in some nearby woods or field, and occasional fall grouse and deer hunting trips with my sons and brother.
One winter day, Cracker and I make our way across an open field through a couple inches of snow and into a cluster of evergreens surrounding a frozen swamp. I sit down on a snow-covered log while Cracker drifts off on his own, nosing around. A metallic gray sky spreads a silver patina over everything—the prickly firs and soft cedars surrounding me, the tufts of grass poking through the snow, even the snow itself.
I start thinking about “better.” If sometimes her situation looks better to me, and other times worse, why does she always believe things are better?
People thrown to be more cynical or “realistic” may look at her as incredibly unrealistic, even foolish. But it is clear to me, it is their attitude that’s foolish. She is reliably hard-nosed, deals with the facts as they are, and she can read what she is up against better than anyone I know. So they just don’t get it.
But get what, exactly?
Cracker lets out a bark deep into the swamp, and I wonder what he’s up to now. After considering all my options, I decide to let him be. He’s a big boy.
A flash of insight. Dianna somehow, naturally I think, comprehends the power of creating from a future she can imagine rather than surrendering to current circumstances, whatever they happen to be. She ignores conventional wisdom and lives from her own inner wisdom.
Maybe at some level, she is in touch with her spiritual path and, as long as she is on that path, things are “better” no matter what the circumstances look like. This feels somehow authentic. I’m excited. I’m onto something true.
Does she consciously know this? I doubt it. I think it is part of the natural Talent she brought with her into this reality, like red roses bring red, or Cracker, his desire to hunt.
A crow screams its disapproval somewhere on the other side of the swamp. Maybe Cracker. I whistle for him, and a few minutes later he shows up, trotting casually toward me, looking satisfied and content. Who knows what the hell he has been up to, but he looks happy.
I stand up, ready to go. My ass is wet. What I get for sitting in one spot for too long. As I start back, I’m thinking, no one will ever know how incredibly satisfying it is to live with this woman, no matter what the circumstances. The best part of my “better” is her being in my life.
Cracker counts real big for me, too, I’m thinking, as I watch him pushing through some naked dogwood surrounded by died-back ferns, maybe ten yards ahead of me. The light is fading fast now as we follow a deer trail that looks like an expressway, taking us around the swamp and out of the woods.
The days are short now. It will be dark soon.
“Cancer as a Tool”
We’re crossing a huge open meadow under a diffuse pale-blue sky in early May 2011. Chili is casting back and forth ahead of me, nose to the ground pushing through knee-high grass flashing in the wind. A single huge red oak, its still-tender pale-green leaves partnered with long strands of beaded chartreuse catkins, marks the center of the meadow up ahead on a gentle rise. I decide to break there. Soon after slumping down against its rough serrated bark, Chili circles back and drops down beside me, temporarily content to pick up on the wind, nose twitching. We share a long view of the low rolling hills rippling out in front of us to the east.
I start thinking about how Dianna appeared to be, in most ways of the world, an ordinary human being, but, like each of us, with extraordinary Talents.
Those who knew her marveled at how she routinely flipped the negative energy coming at her into the positive energy she expressed in her life with a stunningly simple grace. Her song was bright and consistent, “Look at me! If I can do this, so can you.”
Chili nudges me hard with his nose. “Pay attention to me.” While gently passing my hand through his silky hair, I muse about how cancer turned out to be a tool she used for achieving her Purpose. Many more people would pay attention to how she handled life if she had cancer than if she didn’t, finding her behavior all the more remarkable. My intuition is she understood this, and it was all part of a game plan she created before birth.
Having cancer benefited her, too, keeping her keenly aware her days were certainly numbered, motivating her to make the most of every single one— which has nothing to do with working, not working, traveling, not traveling, having things, not having things, or even having love, not having love—but simply being Present to whatever is in our lives now, in each moment. She somehow understood, this is the only space where joy lives. So as I see it, her having cancer not only enhanced her capacity for being the transformative teacher she was in her life, but also for transforming herself.
Neither could I miss that an important focus of her attention was toward me. Always the gentle teacher, short on words, long on action, she used her way of being—and her cancer—as a way to draw me into what I most needed to learn, to touch my own heart, to practice living the path of the heart, providing me with endless opportunities for expressing it in very practical, “down to earth” ways, whether it was noticing the need for a tiramisu moment, helping her get on and off a portable potty, cleaning her gently with soft wipes, fetching coffee, changing diapers, or the million laughs we shared while extraditing ourselves from the endless predicaments we found ourselves in.
I’m not suggesting Dianna consciously “wanted cancer.” Nobody wants cancer. Only that, in the living out of her Life Purpose, it would be useful. Others, wanting to stick with the reality they are comfortable with, may say if anyone could turn lemons into lemonade, it was Dianna. Or, she simply played the cards she drew. We each prefer whatever meaning confirms our own beliefs. All are internally consistent anyway.
Neither would I say her attitude helped stave off cancer. This may or may not be true. Certainly, her way of being is not the only way to live with cancer—or do one’s life, for that matter.
Chili gets up, impatient to move as the sun slides off its zenith.
I start walking again, imbued with the single thought that, whatever else may be so, Dianna understood the game at a very deep level and played that way.