Heading into my third week of recovery after my bi-lateral explant surgery, I have discovered the truth about myself:
I am an absolute utter and complete failure at the art of forced “resting”.
Now it’s silly
because after sixteen prior surgeries, I understand the importance of physical rest
in surgical recovery.
Rest equals healing. Healing equals getting back to life sooner than later.
But rest, true rest, is so much more than just closing my eyes. It’s about shutting off that internal motor that powers my brain around the clock, creating to-do list after to-do list, until it runs out of gas.
In my recovery, I have support and plenty of it. But I find myself day after day, night after night, pushing my mind at a fever pace to problem solve, to plan, to create, to design, to negotiate. As the lists in my head grow longer and longer, my stress level mounts.
Does this sound familiar
to any of you?
Now you might be thinking I’m talking about not wanting to let go of control of my routine. I’m am not.
I truly have no problem letting others take control while I recover from my latest surgery and I am grateful that I have people I can count on to do just that. It is a luxury I know not everyone is blessed with and I do not take it for granted.
But, somewhere in my wiring, I’m not good at shutting off the planning department in my mind: the forward thinking minions racing around in my brain looking ahead.
In other words, I never fully allow myself to live in the moment when I’m just plain ol’ me, with no agenda, nothing to do but rest, physically and mentally.
isn’t it? I mean I know people
understand I’m out of commission for a bit and they are doing their very best
to help me, expertly in fact.
So why don’t I just let them do their thing and leave the planning department shuttered in my mind while I heal?
Why does my mind race all the time, forever spinning through a growing agenda of imaginary problems and issues and things I should tackle? Why is it so hard for me to accept that shutting down and powering off for a bit isn’t a negative for me?
The other day my husband came home from work and asked if I had rested. I said, “Yes! I had a wonderful two hour nap with the cats.”
I then proceeded to tell him that before that nap with my fur babies, I had scheduled window cleaners, household painters, tree trimmers, sorted through some paperwork my occupational therapist needed, had a friend over, texted with my parents and my brother and one of my kids and worked on my blog.
He looked at me like I was …Well, let’s just leave it that he looked at me funny, shook his head and began to make dinner for us and a martini for himself! I honestly don’t blame him. What’s wrong with me?
Just as an aside, my husband is rock solid when it comes to housework and cooking and any honey-do projects. We are a team and when one of the team is down, the other team member steps up to the plate without asking. It’s worked for thirty-one years and so why I felt the need to push through an agenda of projects that would make the Property Brothers on HGTV sweat and my husband need a martini, I have no idea.
Later that evening, as my husband and I finished the absolutely amazing meal he had prepared, suddenly the weight of all I had done during the day began to feel like an anvil on my shoulders.
Yes, I had physically rested, had napped. But mentally, I hadn’t rested at all.
Uncertainty about whether or not I was going to be able to follow through on all I had scheduled, all I had planned, all of my forward thinking, was like an anchor around my neck, slowly pulling me into the abyss.
I began to cry. I cried as if a dam were breaking and it hit me that to fully recover from this surgery, I had to let go of this idea in my head that just because a part of me is on mandated rest, I needed to activate, full throttle, all of my other abilities, specifically my mind, to compensate.
No one is asking this of me, so why am I asking this of myself?
My wonderful husband pulled me close and told me not to worry.
“Everything is going to be o.k.!”
He also reminded me that I’ve been through a lot in the past three years and that it was perfectly fine for me to check out of the “agenda in my mind” while I recover.
Life would go on whether we painted the interior of the house, had dirty windows or an overgrown tree. He’s right.
I need to figure out a better way to push the pause button in my mind completely. I need to give myself the gift of healing not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and in all ways that matter.
Well, I’d like to say that I cancelled all of the honey-do projects, but I didn’t. The window cleaners have come and gone. The tree trimmer is scheduled to show up on Friday and as I write this, I’ve been sealed in my office by plastic and painter’s tape. The painters assured me they would let me out in five to seven minutes after they get the ceiling outside of my office painted.
It’s now been 45 minutes!
Damn, I really do need to pull the plug in my mind, power off and embrace my faulty wiring, let life go on for a bit without my input. Then maybe, I’ll be able to say truthfully that I’ve finally mastered the art of “resting!”
“Hey Painters, it’s getting hot in here!”
“Guys…c’mon guys…anyone there???…Hello???”
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Have you ever thought about what your “mission” in life is?
Have you ever thought about what your “mission” in life is?
I’m not talking about the lists of errands and forgotten “To Do’s”. I’m talking about if you could focus on something that would bring you happiness, joy, purpose, and encompass all that “You” represent to yourself and the world, what would your “mission” be?
My journey to uncover my own “mission” has by no means been an easy one. In fact, it’s actually pretty fluid and right now, I guess you could say that in this particular moment my “mission” is to spread “POSITIVITY” through my blog on PositivelyAnne.
As my life ebbs and flows though, so does my “mission”, but it might help you to understand how to define your own “mission”, if I share with you a little back story on how I have been able to find and define mine.
My journey to find my “mission” began when one afternoon, at the age of eight, I happened to hear these powerful words spoken by Captain James T. Kirk (actor: William Shatner)of the starship Enterprise in the opening credits of Star Trek: The Original Series:
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year “mission”: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
I imagine you are laughing now, but I am totally serious. Totally!
You see I grew up at a time when space was on the minds of all of Americans. Once Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the American flag on the moon in 1969, those grainy images on our television set of subsequent Apollo missions and the nightly commentary from broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, sent my imagination soaring. The nursery rhyme of my childhood that talked of a cow jumping over the moon, was now replaced by real people traversing the “cheese” planet with lunar landers. It all seemed so big and grand, a “mission” of the utmost importance.
In addition, my father was an aerospace executive and one of my earliest memories is standing with him and my brother in front of a rocket as it was intentionally blown apart on a launch pad as part of its’ “mission” testing. I have never heard a bang as loud as that since then. It was truly awesome to witness, but more importantly it etched the word “mission” into my subconscious. The idea of something powerful, something important, something BIG, really, really BIG!
I was too little to watch the original Star Trek series when it premiered on NBC in 1966, and if not for the growing interest in space after the moon landings, the show probably would have faded into obscurity, written off as a novelty, as were most of the shows in the early days of television. But the moon landings happened and after it’s 3 -year run, Star Trek was blasted into syndication riding high on the possibility that the secrets of space were now within our reach. I watched it as often as I could.
Now being so young, I had no real concept of the deeper meaning of Star Trek. I didn’t understand the lasting implications of the diversity of its’ cast. I didn’t understand its’ ground breaking storylines addressing differences, and inclusion and compromise I guess you could say I didn’t understand much, if anything, of the historic context of the television I was watching.
But, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really care about any of that. I didn’t watch the show for its’ story lines, my little girls heart was captivated by the opening credits and Captain James T. Kirk’s hypnotic voice inviting us to be a part of his “mission.”
“Space, the final frontier…”
I was rapt with curiosity. I wanted to be a part of the “mission” of this crew. To explore, to seek, to go where I had never gone before.
It sounded so important. I wanted to be important. To do important work like the men on the moon and my father. I wasn’t sure that my calling would be space flight…math was not my favorite subject, but I knew that whatever I did, I wanted my “mission” to matter, to my family, to strangers, to the world.
As I entered high school, America had long ago stopped going to the moon, both in real life and on television. We discovered the moon was not everything the Gumby cartoons had portrayed it to be, let alone Star Trek. My father now worked on a new space program, a space shuttle that would be able to return to earth…a sort of “space truck”, if you will. While its’ initial missions seemed endlessly exciting to me and my heart soared along with my fathers at each successful flight, I was watching television both times the shuttle exploded. First the Challenger, then several years later, the Columbia.
I felt the horror, along with thousands of other students across America, as our disbelieving eyes tracked the sky for the glittering remains of lives lost and dreams shattered. Something in me decided that day that it was no longer practical to reach for the stars and the moon. Keeping my feet grounded here at home, where I knew it was safe, seemed the best course of action. At this point in my life, my “mission” was to get my head out of the clouds and remain rooted in practical tasks and goals here on earth, at least for the next several years. Sometimes my “mission” seemed very trivial.
I’m on a “mission” to finish my homework so that I can go out with my boyfriend.
I’m on a “mission” to pass my geometry class.
I’m on a “mission” to get my college applications completed before the deadline.
I’m on a “mission” to get my laundry done.
I’m on a “mission” to go to the grocery store.
I’m on a “mission” to finish this book I’ve been wanting to finish.
I ‘m on a “mission” to lose 5 pounds.
I’m on a “mission” to not have tan lines.
I really like those Mission Tortilla Chips!!!
Yes, the grandeur of Captain Kirk’s “mission”, the same “mission” that made landing on the moon possible and sent the shuttle into outer space, was now reduced to nothing more than making sure I had a decent tortilla chip to dip into my salsa.
So much for the final frontier!
But trivialities aside, I did accomplish quite a bit after high school. I graduated with degrees in Liberal Studies-Journalism and Business and launched a successful career, first in hotel management and then in higher education. I met the love of my life in the dorms and got married and within a few years we were expecting our first child.
One day, in the first trimester of pregnancy, I found myself on the floor of the bathroom wrapped around the toilet battling a terrible case of morning sickness. I had pretty much memorized “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” and realized I needed to do something to take my mind off of the nausea. Laying down seemed to make it worse, so bed was out, but I decided I could probably prop myself up on the couch and watch a television program as a distraction.
I crawled out of the bathroom and over to the couch and turned on the television. I had no idea what was on. I heard the opening notes of Star Trek and Captain Kirk’s comforting voice:
“Space, the final frontier…” I relaxed. The nausea left me. I closed my eyes and I began to dream about all the “missions” that had come before me and were to follow.
I dreamed about those men who braved the odds to fly millions of miles above our earth to place their footprints and our flag in the dust, only to travel home to crickets chirping once we knew that aliens were not a part of the equation. They never gave up on their “mission”, even as America lost interest in them.
I dreamed of my dad and how tirelessly he and his team worked to make space flight look as easy as driving a truck and the sadness he must have carried inside him when all that was possible for space exploration, suddenly seemed impossible. He never gave up on his “mission” of searching and seeking answers to mans quest to explore space.
I dreamed of my unborn child, the bean inside me that soon would become our son or daughter and how much I wanted them to know that whatever their “mission” in life, their father and I would never give up on them, ever!
Lastly, but most important, I dreamed of my own “mission” and how I didn’t need to let life’s twists and turns stop me from progressing. At times, I move forward at warp speed. Other times, I sit quietly in the shadows taking it all in. Sometimes, I am a great success. Other times a great failure. But, I am always, always compelled to keep trying, not only for myself, but to honor all of those who have come before me and risk it all.
I have a “mission” and it’s ever changing, like me. But I’m all in. I’m ready for the challenge and in doing so, I truly think I have a damn good shot at this whole live long and prosper thing.
Thirty years of marriage, three kids, and four careers later, I’m still trying, one positive step forward at a time. Won’t you join me? PositivelyAnne
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The elderly woman with the walker said, “Yes, we know that honey, the gal opens up at 8am, come and sit with us and help us figure out this damn puzzle!”
I entered the waiting area of the radiation oncology department a half hour early, anxiousness after all of my pre-appointments with the oncology team, and ready to get the actual radiation started. The receptionist area was still closed, a sign taped to the wire cage that the office opened at 8am, but I was surprised to see three women already seated, their heads huddled together around what appeared to be a large puzzle.
One woman was definitely in her eighties. She had a walker perched to one side of her, a cup of coffee in her hand and she was wearing a bulky, ill- fitting cable knit sweater that dwarfed her petite frame. Around her neck was a patterned wool scarf that literally swallowed her chin, and on her head of silver, was a knit cap of the same pattern. Her ensemble struck me as really odd given it was mid-October in San Diego, our Indian summer, and despite the air- conditioned waiting room, once outside it was hovering in the low 90’s. Her face was deeply lined and her skin, an ashen shade of grey.
“Wow, she must really have cancer pretty bad”, I thought.
The woman to the left of her was probably in her fifties and she was wearing a pastel pink headscarf with a beautiful jewel pin on the front. In contrast to the woman in the bulky sweater, this woman looked very elegant in a tailored crème pantsuit with a silky blouse of jade and matching jade pumps. She was leaning forward over the puzzle, a piece of it in her hand, and her face registered intense concentration.
Seated next to her was another woman, she was much younger, maybe mid-twenties. She had on yoga pants and an off the shoulder sweatshirt that said, “#cancersucks”, her hair was little nubs like grass seed that is just beginning to sprout. She greeted me with a big smile and said, “Welcome to the Club” and motioned me to come sit next to her.
I looked at her confused, what club? “Well, um, I need to check in, I’m starting my radiation treatments today.”
The elderly woman with the walker said, “Yes, we know that honey, the gal opens up at 8am, come and sit with us and help us figure out this damn puzzle!”
I was taken aback. I just stared at them. Puzzle? What in the world, are they nuts? I’m here for radiation. This is serious you idiots. I HAVE CANCER! I have no time for the trivialities of a puzzle!
I turned towards the registration counter, and read the sign again. “Open at 8am!” I turned back towards the waiting area and the elegant woman, puzzle piece in hand, motioned towards the open seat next to her. “C’mon over here and help me find where this sucker goes!
Again, I just stared.
This time my voice was a little firmer.
“Um, thanks, but I’m here for my first radiation treatment today, I don’t think I could work on a puzzle.”
The elderly woman said, “We’ve all been there honey, but trust us, together is how we beat this thing. I’m back for the fourth time, not much left to radiate, but I’m going to beat it like I’ve beaten cancer all the other times. My friend here (pointing to the elegant woman) is almost finished with her radiation treatments for breast cancer, she gets to ring the bell tomorrow. And the youngster there (pointing at the woman in the yoga pants) is a newbie, like you, but she started a couple weeks ago.”
I’ve blanked out what happened next because I certainly don’t remember the elderly woman getting up and coming to stand beside me. But suddenly she was just there, walker and all, right next to me gripping my hand. I have a fuzzy memory of her saying something like, “C’mon, it’s ok, come join us!”
I remember her hand was like ice. Cold… so very, very cold. The bones of her fingers had a gnarled appearance, blue veins standing out like cracked porcelain against the grey of her skin. Two of her fingernails were black. I tried to recoil my hand, but she held on tighter. “C’mon, we need you!
Despite her cold hand, I felt a trickle of sweat drip down my back. Fear???
The elderly woman drew me over to the puzzle area, “Sweetie, fighting cancer is like this puzzle. It takes us apart and we have to put ourselves back together one piece at a time. Sometimes we need help to complete our puzzle…lots of help. C’mon and sit a minute with us while you wait for your radiation appointment and help put “US” back together.”
Did I hear her right? Did she just say, “Help put “US” back together?”
What is this “US” business? Poor thing, she must be delusional. I’ve never seen her or the other two women before in my life. I’m here for my radiation treatment, not to work on a puzzle. Again, I tried to pull away, but the elderly woman patted my hand and softly said, “Help us.”
Something about this elderly woman fascinated me, but also scared me. It was silly. I was towering over her and she looked as if a gust of wind could topple her without the security of her walker. Something about what she said made me want to run, to hide. The sweat was now rolling down my back. She tugged on my hand harder.
I took a seat next to her like she had asked me to. I was too afraid not to.
I was 52 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom had breast cancer in her 50’s and so the possibility that I might someday have it was always lurking in the shadows of my mind. But my mom had beaten the disease for over twenty years and in all honesty, I really didn’t spend any measurable time worrying about cancer or any other sort of life altering disease. If I got cancer, or any of the millions of other illnesses that were possible to ravage the human body, I’d deal with it as I’ve dealt with every other drama in my life.
On my own terms, head up, and with my usual can-do spirit.
But here it was, this cancer demon not only on my doorstep, but taking over my entire house. Every room.
It was overwhelming. The neat and tidy box I imagined my cancer journey to be, was not so neat and tidy in real life. I had complications, lots and lots of complications. I felt torn apart, like pieces of a puzzle waiting to be put back together.
It was unsettling, disconcerting, humbling and frankly, the scariest thing I had ever dealt with in my entire life.
I stared down at the puzzle in front of me and back up at the women.
The elegant woman said, “We were just saying to each other that figuring out the puzzle of life is hard enough, add cancer or any other major trauma and sometimes things don’t fit like they used to because cancer changes us, not only physically, but in all ways.” She talked a bit about how she had to rethink her life priorities, particularly when her cancer returned in a new, more aggressive way.
I found myself opening up. I told these strangers about my breast cancer, the complications, the surgery I was facing after radiation to fix my colon and after that a very probable hysterectomy. I told them I was so scared.
The elegant woman handed me the puzzle piece that was in her hand. “Honey, sometimes we need a little teamwork to get us through the darkness.”
I looked down at the puzzle before me. It was one of those thousand-piece deals, of a very famous Thomas Kinkade painting. A cobble stone street stood in the foreground of a white cottage. Yellow lights winked happily from the cottage windows and the street lanterns along the cobble stone street showcased an abundant garden, flora of every color, wrapping itself around the sides of the cottage like a hug. It was a happy looking picture and I smiled, until I looked down at the puzzle piece in my hand.
The piece was not pristine white, or cheery yellow, or even red or green or blue, no, it was midnight black.
The reality of the entire puzzle came into focus then. All that was left to finish of the happy scene was one corner, one dark corner. Every piece that was left to place was midnight black and indistinguishable from each other except for the individual intricacies of their jagged edges.
Why these women wanted me to help them because this is the hardest part of the puzzle!
A solid field of darkness that requires a keen eye, patience and sheer determination in order to solve. I didn’t think I had any of that left in me.
I held up the puzzle piece to the light above me. It was unremarkable. One of those typical puzzle pieces that look like two hands sticking out from a horseshoe. Common, except one of the hands was a little longer than the other.
The woman in the yoga pants said, “These two ladies come a half hour early for radiation to work on the puzzle together.” “I thought that was ridiculous! Why would anyone come early to radiation? Then I went home that first night after treatment and the fear crept in and ever since that day, I am here early, with these amazing ladies and one of these crazy, silly puzzles.”
“We are often surprised when we arrive each day that all that is left to finish of the puzzle is the darker, solid pieces”, said the elegant woman.
“We often need the assistance of a new person to help us solve where those darker pieces go, “said the elderly woman, that’s how we met our friend here”, she said pointing to the woman in the yoga pants. “In fact, she finished this tricky corner over here yesterday.”
I looked back down at the puzzle. The dark space that was yet to be completed. Suddenly, the puzzle dissolved before my eyes and in its place I imagined myself prostrate on the table with these three women hovering over me.
“I think it might go here,” the elderly woman said trying to put a piece of me back together. “No, can’t you see that edge there is a bit jagged?”, the elegant woman said. “Keep trying”, the younger woman said, “Together we can do this!”
“Help me”, I said. “Help me to be whole again.”
I was suddenly back in front of the puzzle, the three women at my side, their eyes on me with a clarity and a knowing that was palpable. I took the puzzle piece in my hand and pressed it in place.
“You did it!”, the elderly woman said. “We needed you and you did it.”
My name was called for my appointment and I got up and hugged each of them. The radiation tech smiled and as she walked me to the back area she said, “It’s funny how a silly puzzle has a way of helping us see just what we need.”
I lay on the radiation table, bare from the waist up, hands above my head, while the radiation tech maneuvered my body into place. I was told not to move as gears began to grind and my body slowly, very slowly was placed inside a large tube.
“Are you ready”, the radiation tech said. For a split second I felt a pang of fear.
Then a warmth enveloped me and I was laying there, my three new friends hovering over me in my mind, reassuring me that they would pick me up and put me back together, no matter how hard the puzzle.
“Life is a Puzzle, We are the Pieces”
Cancer is indeed a part of my life puzzle and it has certainly changed the physical me. However, cancer also gave me the opportunity to understand that the puzzle of my life is not mine alone to solve. When it comes to the hard parts of my puzzle, the pieces that don’t seem to fit, the dark spaces where it’s almost impossible to see the light, I can rely on the kindness of my family, my friends and yes, even strangers, to bless me, to put me back together in a way that is better and stronger than anything I could do on my own.
I hope I can be that for you too! PositivelyAnne
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I remember the minute the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to crawl in a hole. I could literally see the light go out of my husbands eyes…
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you
-Lewis B. Smedes (Ethicist and Theologian)
It seems I’m always asking for forgiveness
again, and again and again!
My request is almost always met with confusion.
And yet, I keep asking,
“Do you forgive me?”
“Do you forgive me?”
“FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME!!!”
Then one day I hear you say
“Do you forgive me?”
and clarity blooms.
For forgiveness is not about the
question, nor the answer, but about trusting the action.
Copyright 2019 PositivelyAnne.com
I remember the minute the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to crawl in a hole. I could literally see the light go out of my husband’s eyes; those two brilliant green orbs that had welcomed me to the breakfast table just a few moments before, now blinked at me dull and hooded. As we ate breakfast, my husband had made some forgettable joke about some HGTV show we always watched together. I was nursing a cold and had awoke with a terrible headache and my initial reaction to his joke was not to go along with the fun or respond in kind as I usually would, but to bite his head off. And when I say bite, I mean “CHOMP!” To be honest, my reaction caught me off guard as much as it did him. Damn that Nyquil is some scary stuff! When the heck did I turn into Godzilla? But my own disbelief aside, I knew what I had said. I owned it. I was an adult. I had to fix things, make it right.
“I’m sorry honey, that was pretty crazy.” I mumbled something about not feeling well and then with a question in my voice I said those four timeless words:
“Do You Forgive Me?”
At first he said jokingly, “No”…then seeing my crestfallen face, he broke out into a big smile, those green eyes twinkling and said, “What do you think?”
I said I honestly didn’t know. I mean I thought I did, but I needed to hear the word.
“Yes” he said and went back to his eggs and casual conversation. All be it, any and all discussion of HGTV was unspokenly off the table lest Godzilla rear her ugly head again.
Now after over thirty years of marriage I can attest to the fact that my husband and I pretty much read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences. It is quite funny sometimes and actually catches us off guard at other times.
“Oh my gosh, I was just going to tell you about that…you must have been reading my mind.” “I can’t believe we both were thinking the same thing about that person!” “I just read that article and was sending it to you!” Happens all the time with us. We are simpatico. Soul mates and instant best friends since our first date in 1984.
So, it might surprise you to know that despite our deep connection and my sorrow at spoiling our beautiful morning with my Godzilla impression, I didn’t put a lot of stock in his simple one-word response of “Yes!” I guess you could say I didn’t trust it.
Which is odd because my husband is truly one of the good guys. The most genuinely honest and decent person I have ever met. So there is absolutely no excuse for questioning his forgiveness. I mean this is a guy who makes his living working fourteen hour days as a contractor and yet at the end of the day, he still finds the energy to cook a wonderful gourmet meal for us and give a damn about my day. This is the guy that got up early on his day off to make me fluffy eggs and oranges with sugared rims and I just bit his freakin head off. I’m blessed, more than blessed.
But something in me just wasn’t buying that I had done enough to earn his forgiveness. So again I told him I was sorry for my words. His response was to say that it was o.k. and that he was going to clean up the breakfast dishes and go outside to do a little gardening. He truly seemed unaffected. But not me. No inside me, I was a bubbling caldron of guilt. OMG, he’s washing the dishes after what I said to him! Why aren’t we rehashing all I said so I can really apologize? Really earn his forgiveness.
My head was throbbing now. My tummy gurgling despite just having had breakfast. I felt like I was going to throw up. How the heck can he garden after what I said to him? Maybe he’s still mad at me and just needs to clear his head? Yeah, that must be it.
I told him to go on outside to the garden while I finished up the dishes and I would join him when I was done.
Working in our yard has always been one of those things my husband and I enjoy doing together. Immersing our hands in the soil, pruning and sculpting our trees and bushes, coaxing fruit and veggies from seeds, fussing and putzing till whatever troubles we have on our minds are long forgotten.
Did he have me on his mind? Was he angry at me? Did he really forgive me?
I found him in the garden shed getting his tools.
Me: “Um, did you mean it when you said you forgive me?”
My Husband: “Yes!” It was a casual, almost flippant response.
Me: “Well what kind of a “Yes” is that?”
My husband: “It’s a Yes kind of Yes!” A slightly irritated, but still pretty casual response.
Me: “Well are you sure?”
My Husband: “Yes!” His tone was definitely a little annoyed now.
Me: “Well, I think we should talk about it, because you still seem upset!” I don’t remember if he walked past me or ran past me, but he definitely walked away. He looked completely perplexed.
But that did matter, I wanted to talk about it and talk about it I did … ALL AFTERNOON!
I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
While I babbled on about how I didn’t mean this when I said that or how I was cranky because I wasn’t feeling well, my husband stood in our yard carefully and methodically pruning our lemon tree.
I didn’t catch a clue that he was over it. Moved on. That he knew I wasn’t feeling well and had given me a huge pass on my behavior the moment the words were out of my mouth that morning. That he couldn’t even remember what he had said about the goofs on HGTV, let alone anything I had said.
I wasn’t ready to accept the trust implicit in the words “I forgive” that he had given to me. I was too consumed with blaming myself, with not forgiving myself.
It was all so silly given the triviality of how the whole thing started. But I was determined to get to the bottom of this whole forgiveness deal. So I dug in and morphed into a self-appointed private investigator, invisible note pad at the ready, British accent, pipe in mouth, on a quest to dig and analyze and probe the sincerity of my husband’s forgiveness of my words.
In my head I heard a little voice that sounded an awful lot like Benedict Cumberbatch.
“Now sir, when you told your wife this morning that you forgave her, what was the context of that conversation? Did you say “I forgive you” with clarity of thought, no malace or conjecture, or did you say it with just a hint of snark?”
Huh? What the heck am I doing? Why is Benedict Cumberbatch vocalizing in my head?
I came back to reality long enough to look at my husband, still pruning the lemon tree, a look of peace and contentment on his face despite my Sherlockian attempts at interrogation. Ah gardening….
Suddenly another voice popped into my head…but it was my own. “Are you so caught up in the idea of forgiveness that you have forgotten what it actually means to forgive and the joy that comes from accepting the simplicity of the gift that it is?
I had a feeling I knew what the answer would be.
The word “forgiveness” is a noun, a label that categorizes all the steps, processes, things we do to rectify an offense. It’s a label in which we strategize, question, ponder, mull, what it’s going to take to fix our misdeeds. Sometimes when I talk about forgiveness, I convolute it’s meaning with all of the other things I want out of those two simple words, “I forgive.” Yes, it’s admirable I want people not to hurt anymore. But I tend to take it a step further and I want people to forget what I did, to immediately let go their anger, frustration at my actions and I want them to like me. I become “The Forgiver!” and boy am I demanding as hell of the humans I hurt. I need proof I’m forgiven. And I can’t provide that for my own misdeeds, so I go round and round in a circle complicating all that it means to forgive.
Because the word “forgive” is an action, a verb. It’s simple, uncomplicated, a little gem of a word, without caveat. It is to be taken at face value as simply, “I stop”. Now you can fill in the blank after I stop to anything you want. “I stop feeling resentful or angry or frustrated or sad or hurt!” It is one of those words where it means what it means and that is all there is to it. And I might add that what it means is up to the individual and their timetable, but it has a heck of a lot to do with trust.
Ah there’s the rub. My husbands ability to forgive and the parameters he places on it are his and not mine to control or manipulate or worry about. His simple response of “Yes” when I asked if he forgave me, was absolutely the best and most appropriate response for him.
His “Yes” meant “Yes” and it was my job to trust in it, not to question it’s sincerity.
To forgive is simply to stop and trust. Trust in love, trust in kindness, trust in faith and hope and all of the things that help us to heal when we wake up cranky and spout nonsense. To trust in the goodness in each other. To trust in the goodness in ourselves.
Life can really can be that simple sometimes, if we humans stop complicating it.
On a journey to live life more positively…come join me!
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…and everytime before the surgical anesthetic took me under, a fleeting thought crossed my mind: “Turn off the Stove!”
photo: “Goodnight Flame” by PositivelyAnne
At some point you grow out of being attracted to that flame
that burns you over and over and over again.
In 2016, my remarkably stellar health decided to make up for 52 years of an otherwise perfect track record. I spent fifteen consecutive months floating in and out of stark operating rooms; their interiors filled with all sorts of monitors and robotic machinery sporting lobster like claws and dozens of masked strangers, whose eyes reflected the seriousness of my condition and yet, were somehow comforting.
After so many consecutive surgeries, it often times felt like I was dropped into the middle of an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”. But unlike the television drama, my encounters with Mr. McDreamy and company were a little strange to say the least, as each and every time before the surgical anesthetic took me under, a fleeting thought crossed my mind:
“Turn off the Stove!”
Given everything I could possibly consider as my last conscious thought: gratitude for my life, love for my family, thankfulness that the doctor hovering over me with that long needle was pretty good looking…concern for “turning off the stove” didn’t even register.
Definitely not an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy!”
“Maybe it’s just some crazy side effect of the anesthetic!” My family and close friends knew how often I fell into the “only one percent of the population gets this side effect” column, so the possibility that this was just some sort of reoccurring hallucination (brought on by some very powerful drugs) wasn’t unreasonable.
“Maybe it’s just one of those random things we humans worry about, like turning off the lights or locking the front door, when we are going somewhere for an extended period of time.” Possible, but…the fact that this idea of “turning off the stove” kept happening, surgery, after surgery, I had to think there was something more to it.
“Turn off the Stove!”
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my family was already dealing with my father-in-law’s declining health due to dementia and so I was determined not to let a little thing like “cancer” rock my world any more than it had to. My prognosis was better than good and I had no concerns that life wouldn’t soon return to normal once I took care of this little blip on my radar.
But as time passed, and complications arose for me and other surgeries were required to treat those complications, it became a daily chore for me to keep up the positive veneer.
On the inside, I was angry. A seething, burning flame! A stove perpetually lit!
Seething with anger that I didn’t have any control over getting cancer or the other issues that ravaged my body. Seething that my perfect life plan was no longer perfect. Seething, just to seethe because, well, just because!!!
One could argue that it’s perfectly normal to be angry at the cancer demon. I mean we are trained from the cradle to light a fire in our bellies to beat life’s demons, right?
But what if that that fire is always on, not only to produce the energy and passion needed to conquer life’s demons, but to fuel perpetual anger and negativity?
“Turn off the Stove!”
A stove doesn’t turn on unless you light it, and when you light it, it breathes flames. Flames that can only be controlled by a knob. Turn the knob to high and the flames rise like a beacon in the night. Turn the knob down low and the flames simmer, barely visible, but always there, just under the surface.
Now, it matters not if the stove is turned up high or turned down low… as long as a stoves flames are left on, they can burn, scorch and destroy everything they touch UNTIL THE STOVE IS TURNED OFF!
My personal stove had been lit for fifteen months straight!
On the morning of my 15th surgery, I was handed a clipboard by a nurse with the usual paperwork attached and I began to fill it out with my usual nonchalance until I got to the line, “I understand that complications may arise that result in permanent injury, disfigurement, even death.” I had signed my name to that line fourteen times before without giving it second thought, but today I paused, and the magnitude of those words hit me. I felt the flames of my stove rise, higher and higher. I COULD DIE!
And if those words came true, then would my husband, my kids, my friends remember a woman who had given life the best she had to offer or, would they, instead, remember a woman drowning in the flames and ash of her own imperfections?
No, NO, NOOOO! I couldn’t let the latter be my epitaph.
So, I turned down the flames of my stove to simmering and I signed my name on the line, put the clipboard aside and cheerfully asked my husband to pass me my purse. In my purse, I found my makeup bag and I pulled out my trusty tube of cherry lipstick. My “happy” color always made me smile. I painted my lips (without a mirror) and put the tube back in my bag. I asked my husband if I looked o.k. and he said, “Great.”
But as I said, I had left the flames of doubt on my stove still simmering, just there under the surface. So I pulled out my compact and took a look at myself in the mirror:
WHO ARE YOU KIDDING GIRL? A little cherry lipstick can’t hide the fact that YOU ARE TERRIFIED! Yes, you’ve beaten the odds time and again…but, c’mon, it’s only a matter of time!
My stoves flames licked higher and higher beckoning me towards negativity.
My anesthesiologist walked into the room at that moment, and I looked up from my compact, cherry lipstick smile quivering, our eyes met,
“Look at you,” he said cheerfully. “Wow, I needed to see a bright face this morning.”
“Bright face…me?”, I thought. I’m dying inside. Burning up. Searing. Tears came to my eyes and I just stared up at him. Everything in my heart, my soul, my entire being was in my eyes at that moment. I could feel the flames of anger and sorrow that I had been carrying around with me for the past fifteen months rise up to the surface of my body. My skin, like the flames within me, felt so very hot. Could he feel it too? Could he see the flames? Something in my eyes must have registered with him because at that moment he came closer, pulled up a chair and grabbed my hand.
“I will tell you a secret”, he said. “It’s fine for you to be scared, I get scared too…I do, but keeping you alive is also what I do and I’m good at it. I need you to trust me, but more importantly, I need you to trust in yourself. No doubts! You’ve made it through fourteen other surgeries just fine and this is just another one. We’ve got this!”
I’d like to tell you that I had some profound words in response and we hugged and it was a true “Grey’s Anatomy” moment, but all I did was lightly squeeze his hand. Two quick pulses of my fingertips against his palm. A fleeting gesture of confidence in his words that I have no idea if he even felt. But I’d like to think he did.
photo: “Joy” Carlsbad Flower Fields by PositivelyAnne
But it doesn’t matter. I felt it. I felt the sincerity in his words. His willingness, like so many others before him, to take on my lifes complications and face the fires of hell for me. I closed my eyes and imagined my hand reaching, slowly, slowly for my stoves knob. I quickly turned it all the way off. The flames winked out and unbelieving of what I had done, I reached out and touched the grate…it was cool to the touch.
Soothing. Calm. Comforting. A balm to my weary soul.
It was then that I came to understand the immense value of what the words, “Turn off the Stove” meant the past fifteen months and for my life going forward.
In times of stress, I had to let go of my ego, my pride, my fear that I, and I alone, could handle all of drama life was handing me. God and a whole host of family and friends and medical professionals had been whispering in my ear each and every time I went into surgery and all along the road of my life, that I did not have to go it alone. I didn’t have to fear things. I had help…help to stay positive.
I had to “Turn off the Stove” and trust others to light my way.
As you sort through your own laundry list of challenges: health problems, difficult family dynamics, financial worries and all sorts of unresolved situations that raise your flame quotient higher and higher, just remember to keep your eyes, ears and heart open to those helpers, both familiar and stranger, who are there to whisper a reminder:
“Turn off the Stove!”
And then turn it off and go live your best life. I can tell you it works!
I take great pride in being a problem solver. A helper.
I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.
-Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being
I take great pride in being a problem solver. A helper.
I enjoy the puzzle like quality of problem solving and the sort of “high” that comes from seeing a problem resolved and the happiness it brings not only to myself, but to others. Over the years, besides working through my own personal problem arsenal, I have solved literally hundreds of problems for individuals, groups, companies and organizations I have been associated with. My track record of success is pretty darn good and so it’s not a stretch to say that I am one of those “go to” people when the junk hits the fan.
But as I entered my 50’s, I noticed that some of the shine was starting to wear off the challenge of tackling problems day in and day out. At first, it was nothing more than a little irritation or a few bouts of indigestion.
Take a few Tums and move on.
But after my cancer diagnosis and especially during my treatment, I found that tackling any problems, outside my own set of health issues, set off a vicious cycle of anxiousness in me that left me feeling so tired I could barely function some days. The joy of problem solving was gone!
I talked to my physician. “Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer treatment and that can lead to a level of depression that can compound that fatigue.” In other words what I was feeling was totally normal and expected.
But I wasn’t buying that explanation. Something else was going on with me. Yes, I did understand that cancer fatigue was real and I was experiencing it, but I was also feeling more blessed and positive about a lot of things in life since my diagnosis. The little things. In fact, I was feeling so blessed that the idea for starting this positivity blog bloomed and I began to take pictures and write, engaging my inner muse in a way I had only dreamed about pre-cancer. The only thing that seemed to rob me of energy was solving problems…something I used to love.
So, what the heck was happening to me?
Recently a friend, (who is also a terrific problem solver) and I were discussing the fact that a program at our church was not going to happen this year because a critical volunteer had dropped out and a replacement wasn’t readily available on the horizon.
“You and me, we are “The Fixers”, she said, “And, I guess we can’t always “fix things”, can we? “
I remember I stood there rather stunned that she had recognized this “Super Hero” label in herself and more importantly, in me.
You see the dictionary definition of Problem Solving says this:
A thinker who focuses on the problem as stated and tries to find a solution.
Notice it says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING…NADA…ZIP…ZERO about implementing the solution to the problem.
That’s where I got off track. Somehow, I moved from being a joyous problem solver to embracing being “The Fixer”, the implementer, if you will, of the solution, all day, all the time.
And there-in lies the reason WHY I WAS SO TIRED!!!
Why had I let my life as a successful “problem solver” morph into that of a tired, overworked, “problem fixer?”
A negative in my “positivity tool kit”.
Upon reflection, I think it was a combination of a lot of things: I’m good at team building to solve problems and people know it, so I get asked all the time to help in some pretty dire situations; I’m willing to take on tough problems and stick with it until a solution can be found; and I’m not afraid to do battle with people (who are unreasonable, egotistical, lacking empathy and tact) to achieve a solution.
All of this can be quite stressful, especially if it’s a daily thing.
But I think the biggest reason problem solving has become such a tiresome chore for me, is that I lost sight of the fact that just because I can provide a reasonable solution to a problem, doesn’t mean that I AM the right person to implement it.
I do not have to be “The Fixer!”
You might be thinking, why not just say “no?”
That’s a valid point! I agree, many times I should have said no. But it’s also true that we live in a culture today that values one stop shopping, in business and in pleasure. How quickly we can get from point A to point Z has morphed problem solving and problem resolution into a single mouse click.
Maybe I got caught up in that mindset.
But let’s face it, sometimes a single click isn’t that satisfying. Sometimes our skill set is better suited to only certain aspects of problem resolution.
In layman terms that translates to:
I know I am not. When I think about problem solving, what excites me about it is that I love being the catalog; the wealth of ideas and possibilities that others can peruse, take bits and pieces from and make it their own.
That brings me happiness. It brings others happiness too and that’s important for me not to forget, but to make clear to those I agree to help.
Sure, I can implement solutions, but I’m happiest when I’m number two or even in the shadows. When I’m the person behind the scenes engaging others to take a solution and implement it into action.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t step up in life. Stepping up is as much a part of me, as problem solving, especially with something I’m passionate about.
But I know I need to be more comfortable putting out the “stop sign” without fear and taking back control of my own narrative when my plate is full. Fighting cancer seems just as good a time as any. But really it doesn’t have to be that dramatic. When it stops being fun, it’s time to stop!
Just as not every problem is mine to solve;
Every solution is not mine to implement!
Sometimes we all need to put “The Fixer” on ice for a while, including me!
Maybe you are feeling the same way? I encourage you to take the time to think about whether your current approach to “problem solving” has evolved into something that is leading you down a road to negativity and unhappiness. And I can assure you, that if you choose to put “The Fixer” on ice for a while, you can trust that it’s going to be o.k.
The wonderful thing about ice is that it melts; so, when it’s time to jump back in and become “The Fixer” again, opportunities will be there.
They always are for talented people like you and me.
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