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???”
All are Welcome to like and follow PositivelyAnne.
worked so hard to build a beautiful life for my husband and kids, dedicating
myself to creating a home environment that is warm and inviting and welcoming
spent years crafting a career that I felt was worthy and purposeful, going
above and beyond in my education so that I modeled for my children the benefits
of a lifetime invested in continuous learning and self-improvement. For thirty years, I have been a dedicated
volunteer in my church and community, devoted to sharing Jesus message of
shalom and inclusion and helping all those in need. I have cultivated friendships I treasure and
enjoyed travel, dining and cultural and sporting experiences with my husband,
family and friends.
been a good life, a happy life, a positive life by all accounts that I’ve had a
large hand in creating.
But a small, barely detectible, cancer tumor in my right breast forced me to reckon with the fact that no matter how hard I try, I am never going to be 100 percent the architect of my own destiny.
Why? Because life, by its’ very nature is
spontaneous, and we humans spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out ways
to sabotage that spontaneity. Without
thinking, we all work tirelessly to reign spontaneity in, so that we can
control it, manipulate it for our own purposes, and get angry at it for
disrupting our plans. I am a master at
I love to fight with spontaneity.
dare you trample on my life’s blue print! It’s my life spontaneity, not yours!!!
my own defense, it is not that I am closed to spontaneity. Far from it. A lot of people tell me I adapt well to
changes and can catch a curve ball better than most. I like “different” and enjoy the mix of
planned and unplanned in my life so spontaneity isn’t such a foreign concept.
that being said, going off-script can still bring on a case of the tummy
butterflies. It sometimes seems
unnatural, against the grain of how I was conditioned by this world to view a well-planned,
guess it would be understandable if that logic was applicable only to something
as serious as cancer. But truth be told,
despite wanting to embrace the “idea” of spontaneity, I can only take impromptu
“go with the flow” for so long before I am rounding up the cattle and putting
them back in the pen. Spontaneity
scares the hell out of me because the world doesn’t like it. No
wandering little doggies running roughshod over our master plan.
wired by this world to take all of the loose ends of life and create some
semblance of order and balance I can comfortably live with. When the pendulum swings too far out of the
norm, I’m anxious. When the pendulum
stops swinging, I’m anxious. It’s hard
to find a happy medium in the spontaneity game when all we do is fight it.
not alone in this. Embracing spontaneity sounds great and all, but if social
media has anything to say about it, spontaneity is just a buzz word for flaky,
unmotivated, undisciplined chaos?
least that’s what we are force fed to believe. Oh, not necessarily by our parents or even by
anyone related to us, but everything from schools, to employers, to just about
every aspect of marketing in this world leads us to believe that success is
akin to having our lives planned out, every “I” dotted and “t” crossed, and
failure is akin to leaving life up to chance.
our lives so full of “must do’s” that there is no time for discovery,
possibilities, opportunities. We have
forgotten that while spontaneity can bring on such things as cancer, it can
also bring the cure, in the form of unexpected blessings, things we never
showed up spontaneously one February in my life and I discovered that my
constant mapping and remapping of my life plan was not a match for good ol’
spontaneous cancer. If I was going to
beat this disease, oh not physically beat it, the medical professionals were on
top of that, but emotionally beat it, I was going to have to rewire my mind to
think differently about what it means to be absorbed with controlling my life
path and leaving nothing to chance.
had to think of spontaneity in new and different ways. I had to stop fighting it and do two specific
Spontaneity doesn’t just happen without a lot of hard work
I was going through a boatload of pencil lead crafting my life plan, I never
once thought about how spontaneity would fit into my narrative. The blanks on my calendar made me nervous,
less self-important, less everything. So,
I filled them in. That is why
spontaneity requires a lot of hard work. Hard work because we are hard wired to over
plan, over schedule. Open spaces on a
calendar equals vulnerability. Vulnerability
equals the possibility of failure and well, as I said earlier, failure isn’t a popular
choice these days. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
reality is that spontaneity isn’t calendar driven. It doesn’t wait around for those days when we
have nothing to do. In fact, more often
than not, it shows up when we are at our busiest.
the funny thing about spontaneity is that when it doesn’t work out, somehow, someone
or something comes into our lives spontaneously to help us through it. You and
I both know it’s true. The internet
knows it’s true and it’s why we all scour and search for those feel good stories
everyday where we can click “like” because deep- down we really want to believe.
Maybe that’s a God thing, some sort of
divine intervention or better yet, maybe it doesn’t need a label. But I can tell you people keep coming into my
life spontaneously over and over again that make a difference and I’m betting
it’s happening to you too!
didn’t have to do anything to “get cancer.”
One day I didn’t have it and the next day I did. It was the reality of my world. A spontaneous blotch and initially I fought
fought it with everything I had emotionally.
I had unrealistic expectations about spontaneity being only good things,
and suddenly waking up one day with cancer fueled my anger and frustration and
disappointment in all things impromptu. For
those initial first months, it was like being on a never-ending emotional
treadmill and I was losing steam.
spontaneity took over my life. I closed
myself off from everyone. Went internal,
self- absorbed with my own importance and control. My behavior was stifling my ability to move
forward, to take new paths, and caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time
wallowing in my problems and in a lot of ways, gaslighting new
a bit, I grew sick of my own self-importance.
I became curious if the pendulum of my life only swung one way. Negative!
My calendar was full, but my life was
if, I opened myself up to being blessed spontaneously in a positive way? What if, I had no idea in what form or from
whom those blessings would come, but I would remain open to it?
was time to take the boxing gloves off and let spontaneity have its’ way with
start, I focused my energy and attention on people, places and things that
brought me joy. I made a conscious
effort to not make plans, but be open to plans, spontaneous plans. I had to push aside the fear that something
would go wrong. I had a lot of blanks on my calendar.
over-night, so many doors opened for me.
Invitations to do all sorts of
things just materialized. Impromptu fun
with friends, trying new restaurants with my hubby, opening the front door to a
neighbor with an extra loaf of the best fresh baked bread I’ve ever had.
I booked a vacation to Texas, a place my husband and I had never been, to attend
HGTV’s, Chip and Joanna Gaines, “Silobration” in Waco. It turned out to be one of the best unscripted
vacations my husband and I have ever had and was a beautiful reminder that one
of the things that drew us to each other back in college was our mutual love
for unplanned adventure. Without much
thought, I agreed to visit an Indian Mission in Oaks, Oklahoma with an acquaintance
from church and this morphed into a beautiful friendship between us that I will
always treasure and a new opportunity for me to make a difference in the lives
of children half way across the country.
and again, I challenged myself to see both sides of the spontaneity coin. Bad stuff was going to happen, but good stuff
was happening too…a whole lotta good stuff. I had to keep my heart open and stay out of
the boxing ring.
began to meet people, almost daily, in my cancer journey that inspired me. People who helped me see the best in me and
who seemed overjoyed that I was in their life.
I wrote a poem to my radiation team as a thank you for their kindness
and it now hangs on the wall of the radiation center. I opened up about my cancer with family,
friends, my church, not in a Debbie Downer kind of way, but in sharing all of
the positive, unplanned things that kept happening to me spontaneously despite my
It was as if spontaneity was a fuel that was propelling me forward. Past all of the angst of surgery after surgery. Past all of the negative side effects and uncomfortable days. Opportunity after opportunity to be blessed.
Sunday, Father’s Day, was my three- year anniversary of my bi-lateral mastectomy. It could have been a depressing day, a reminder of all I had spontaneously lost. Instead, I went out and played an impromptu game of frisbee golf with my family and damn, my muscles are sore as hell, but I didn’t suck at it. Not at all.
decided to permanently hang up my boxing gloves and make peace with
spontaneity. It is welcome in my life.
fight is over.
won. You can too!
All Are Welcome to like and follow my blog either here or on Facebook. I also have an Instagram where I post daily positive photo reminders.
Oh, not in a way that I ever wanted to pursue any sort of career with it. No, I’ll gladly leave that pursuit to my very talented brother and sister-in-law who have spent decades mastering not only a variety of camera lens and filters to achieve a perfect shot, but also possess a level of chill and patience in waiting for that perfect image, that frankly God didn’t gift to me.
But thanks to some creative folks at Apple, photography novices, like me, can be pretty successful with an I-Phone. Point, click, edit a bit and post. Yep, that suits my purposes just fine. Because photography for me is strictly about appreciating photographic images for their ability to capture a moment that at once appears stagnant, but who’s meaning is a free-flowing, ever-changing story. A story that can evoke all sorts of emotions in humanity, and can sometimes be powerful enough to change the course of minds, even history. Including my own.
I’m going to tell you a story of one such photographic image. It’s an image I took in 2017 on a lonely stretch of beach in Santa Cruz, California called, “Natural Bridges.”
It was February and my husband and I had taken a drive up to Santa Cruz to spend the week-end with our oldest son. It had been nine months since my bi-lateral mastectomy for breast cancer, two months since I had completed radiation, ten days since I had surgery to control uterine bleeding and one month before my world would once again be turned on its’ end with five consecutive major surgeries having everything to do with my survival, yet little or nothing to do with breast cancer. It was a pretty scary time.
But on this day, I was feeling happy. The rain had been pretty fierce the day before, but today the sun peaked through the clouds in fits and starts. Drizzling one moment and then seeming to lift so that the gulls and other sea birds could forage in the surf crashing on the rocks of the beach below. My son thought it would be fun to show us his favorite spots around Santa Cruz and it was pretty spectacular, despite the drizzle. Everywhere I looked, the light seemed to change from greys to reds to pink to yellows and back to grey. Through my phone camera I just couldn’t get enough of the scenery. It was as if every shot spoke to me somehow.
Our son told us about this special place where the water had worn a hole through a rock outcropping called “Natural Bridges.”
“Mom, it’s pretty darn cool, a natural bridge, you just have to see this!”, he said.
To view the bridge, we had a short drive, and then were going to have to walk a little bit through some brush and pretty deep sand and make our way to the floor of the beach below. It was low tide, so access wasn’t an issue, but my husband and son were worried the trek down to the shore might be a little much for me, given I was still recovering from surgery. Maybe so, but I knew my boy and if he said something was special, it was special, and not to be missed. So without another thought I said I’d be fine and off we went.
And I was fine. I was totally fine…physically. But emotionally was something else.
As I picked my way through the brush and sand, I could see this amazing rock outcropping in the distance about 300 yards off shore. It was about the size of a football field and rose several hundred feet into the air. Birds of all sorts were perched atop its’ smooth surface, almost like a football team lining up for the kick off. The ocean was lapping against it’s surface, swirling and whirling, forming foamy bubbles that took on the hues of the changing sky.
About three-quarters of the way through the outcropping an arched shaped hole had been worn through the rock by the water and the ocean was flowing in and out of it. It reminded me of the natural bridges I had seen in Lake Powell, Arizona or a kind of imperfect Arc de Triomphe, that is, if water were to flow through it.
It was like someone just plopped a bridge in the middle of the sea with this really cool water feature.
Excited, I picked up the pace and forgetting my recent surgery, I ran down a steep incline of sand so that I could take pictures. Reaching into my pocket for my phone camera, I looked up and then I froze.
The rock was huge this close up. Huge. But all I could see was the hole in its’ center.
A giant gaping hole!
The hole, that reminded me of my mastectomy! The hole, that reminded me of the pain of finding out I had breast cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain of telling my family and friends I had cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain of having to leave a job I loved because of cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain, both physical and emotional, that I tried so very hard to hide from everyone before, during and after my cancer surgeries and treatment.
The hole, that reminded me that cancer took a piece of me. Left a hole, where now I had some silicone, some fake body parts that for all outward appearances made me look normal, but would never be the real me.
My new normal was a hole. Just like the one I was staring at in that rock outcropping and it frightened me.
Here I was this sturdy rock of positivity for my family and everyone around me and I had a hole in me…a big, ugly, negative hole that no amount of plastic surgery, no amount of anything could fill up.
I felt empty. I grieved.
“Mom, come look at the driftwood over here,” my son said.
“Just a second,” I replied, and raised my phone. I pushed the button for the camera and aimed the lens at the rock outcropping.
Once…Click. Twice…Click! Three times…Click!
Click, Click, Click, Click, Click…
With each click, I could feel the grief rolling through me.
In and Out!
In and Out!
In and Out!
Just like the ocean rushing in and out through the hole in that rock.
I’m not sure how many pictures I would have taken of the “Natural Bridge” if my phone battery hadn’t chosen that moment to die. I’d like to think it was God’s divine intervention, but whomever or whatever forces were at work in that moment, a dead battery was enough to snap me out of my grief and go in search of my son and the drift wood.
And except for that one, brief, moment in time at the “Natural Bridge”, everything else about that week-end was amazing and upon returning home, I was anxious to make a photo collage so that I could post to my personal Facebook page a memory of our trip for my husband and for our family and friends to see.
The shot of the rock outcropping, (there were over 40 photos on my phone of that hole in the rock to choose from), was hard to include. To look at it made me sad, uncomfortable, and lonely for the me that used to be. But I put those feelings away and mindlessly popped the photo into an insignificant square of the photo collage, no more powerful or important than any other memory of that trip.
And there that photo stayed until a few weeks ago.
I was looking through my on-line photo albums in search of photos of the ocean I could use for my daily Instagram and there it was, sitting there in cyber space, waiting for me, in all of its “holy” glory. That “Natural Bridge” in Santa Cruz where I came face to face with all that I had lost, with the hole in my person.
I expected to feel a rush of negative emotions looking at that photo. But they didn’t come. In fact, when I looked at that rock, at the hole in it, at the ocean rushing in and out of it, I felt…well, I guess you could say, I felt happy. It reminded me of a fun day with my son, but it also reminded me of how far I have come in the past couple of years.
The photos story had changed, because I had changed.
I mentioned before that soon after our visit to Santa Cruz, I had several unplanned health setbacks. Five major ones to be exact, with a myriad of other health issues as a result of those five surgeries. While these setbacks were not pleasant, with each one I made it a point to be more open to the positive, to remember to focus on not what set me back, but what propelled me forward. The more I did that, I seemed to grow stronger emotionally and fear less all that lay ahead of me.
It was true that my body was broken, bruised, battered, my energy depleted. But somehow, someway, no matter how many holes in my person, deep down I felt a burning light, a strength that I didn’t know was possible because time and again the blessings flowed to me, through me, no matter how large the hole in my body.
In and Out.
In and Out.
In and Out.
And the more I opened myself up to the possibilities of the “new me”, to the fact that I was always going to have some “holes” in my life, the more positivity flowed into my darkest recesses, planting seeds of faith and hope and blessing.
The most amazing thing is that many of these blessings have come from strangers. People I would never have met or opened up to, if not for the fact that I had cancer or any of the other health issues. My life is so much richer for each conversation and there is a gratitude in my heart that kindness is alive and well and abundant in the world. Do not let anyone tell you different!
It’s as if this hole in me has become a welcoming portal to all that is possible for my life and I want to shout from the roof tops, “I AM BLESSED!”
The photo I took of the “Natural Bridge” in 2017 told a story of a woman who was uncertain of her future, feared her destiny and felt she had to battle her demons alone.
This same photo, viewed in 2019, reveals the story of a woman who has accepted her vulnerability, embraced her imperfectness and is working to conquer her fears one day at a time with a whole lotta help from the world.
It is now a photo that tells a story of me.
I hope you like and follow me here and on Facebook. I also have an Instagram where I post daily positivity boosts. Together we can change the world, one positive step at a time! God bless you all!
I truly believe in the healing power of positivity not only to heal us physically and emotionally, but to inspire us to live our lives seeking not what is wrong, but what is right!
That’s challenging because humans are curious creatures and it is our curiosity that pushes us into negative territory time and time again.
Now I’m not saying human curiosity isn’t a good thing. If curious humans hadn’t questioned things since the beginning of time, we probably would have been extinct a long time ago.
But when curiosity becomes synonymous with distrusting everything and everyone we come in contact with, that’s when we need to push our positivity button and say, “Enough!”
A month ago, after a major rain deluge in San Diego, my daughter texted me that the rain had caused a super bloom of neon yellow flowers to cover the slopes surrounding her home.
“Mom, you have to see this, it’s like the hillside is covered in sunshine,” and then she added, “…of course, they are just weeds, but pretty spectacular weeds at that!”
A few years ago, my reaction to my daughters joy probably would have been to chuckle and remind her that weeds after a bloom look like the kiss of death!
But I’m not the same person. Positivity has changed me.
I trusted the joy in my daughter’s text and I arranged to meet her the next day to photograph the hillside, hoping to use a photo for my blog.
Her property is up a steep hill. Natural terrain on one side, older, aging homes on the other and most with unmanicured yards…or yards in a natural state, depending on your perspective.
I can state emphatically that a few years ago, my curious mind would have wondered into negative territory worrying about unsavory characters lurking somewhere in all that imperfectness.
But as I said, I’m not the same person. Positivity had changed me.
The minute I pulled into the driveway I could see the yellow blooms. They were everywhere. My daughter was there too, her face radiant. “Mom, isn’t it great?!!!”
Reaching up the slopes to the palm nursery above her house, where little yellow blooms, dancing in the breeze and dappled sunlight. The greenery below the blooms was thick, yet delicate, and I could imagine fairies and elves living amidst their canopy.
I had brought my camera and some props for my blog post, my old tap shoes, Moe and Joe, and some other things. I started to set out all the props, but thru my camera lens I saw clearly that Moe and Joe would be just fine among the blooming weeds without the addition of any fanfare.
They were protected. Safe. Loved. Bathed in light.
There was another area of my daughter’s property, where the blooms were reaching down the slope through a chain link fence to an old shed on the adjacent property.
My old curious self would have immediately conjured all sorts of unsavory images about who lived on the property below and I probably would have blown the moment of happiness with my daughter with some negative comment about her safety.
But as I said, I’m not the same person. Positivity has changed me.
I began to photograph the shed and a thought came to mind that the old shed, sitting in a field of blooms, reminded me of the Wizard of Oz and my old, negative self.
An old house dropped from the sky into a field of yellow. And there I am, under the house, my negative-self withering in anger and fear, begging to be let out.
Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!
But positivity takes over and the image changes.
Faded boards and rusty nails, aged and imperfect like me, welcoming the sunlight of the blooms creeping towards them. The yellow of the flowers speaking to my soul in all ways positive: happiness, joy, hope. Representing all that is good in the past, all that is good now and all that will be good. Welcoming positivity.
Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!
It’s not easy to think differently. To train our curious minds to choose positivity first, especially among the weeds of life. But I can tell you personally that the reward for doing so is worth every second of the struggle.
For when we are able to see the good in the weeds, we are able to see the good in ourselves and in others.
Our human curiosity becomes not a tool for divide and conquer, but about a shared love for what is right in our world. We are empowered by a curiosity that seeks to squeeze out every ounce of value in this short time we have on this planet and that curiosity propels us forward into a land of positive change.
Please like and follow me here at WordPress, on Facebook and Instagram for your daily positivity boost. All are Welcome, invite your friends!
For here was “faith”, not as a label, not even as a building as magnificent as Notre Dame…
It was Palm Sunday 2004, and my husband and I and our three children were on a tour of Paris, France. Our tour guide asked us if we would like to see the Dimanche des Rameaux” (Sunday of the Branches”) at the Cathedral de Notre Dame, a Holy week celebration of Jesus arrival in Jerusalem. Our kids, being huge Quasimodo fans, thanks to the 1996 Disney version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, were thrilled. My husband and I, while extremely excited, were still a bit unsure about putting our family in the middle of such a large gathering, only because the pain of 9/11 was still very fresh and we had already experienced a massive French military presence near our hotel and along the Champs-Elysees due to the state visit between Queen Elizabeth and French President Jacques Chirac. But children have a way of putting things in perspective and my little boys request, “I want to see QUAAAASIIMOOOO” sealed the deal.
Safety concerns aside, I silently hoped and prayed that some elfin creature would materialize from the bell tower of Notre Dame singing “Out There” or we were going to have some very disappointed children. I wondered if Jesus would help me out here.
Palm Sunday itself had started off in typical April in Paris fashion: gray and drizzly! But as our driver approached Notre Dame, the clouds broke to reveal a powder blue sky. The sun’s rays bouncing off the rose windows in the Cathedral tower reflected a kaleidoscope of colors onto the white robes of the clergy gathered on the steps below.
Our driver, could not find a place to park, dashing any hopes of us joining in palm procession, but he quickly zipped into a red curbed driveway and rolled down the windows.
“Prenez vite vos photos!” (Quick, take your pictures!).
I didn’t think twice and just started snapping pictures. Through my camera lens, I could see thousands of people, old and young, and somewhere in-between, locked arm in arm, standing in the shadow of this towering testament to gothic architecture and human survival. Palm branches were waving everywhere. I mean everywhere. With my ears, I could hear a cacophony of voices: some angelic sopranos, some altos, tenors and bass, some off-key, literally hundreds of languages singing what I later learned was a hymn called, “The Palm.” There were people who were not singing on the periphery of the crowds, but they were no less engaged. Most of them were smiling, their teeth white against a myriad of skin tones, their eyes raised to the heavens in joy, to admire the bell towers or possibly the spire atop, or maybe in hope that the wafting clouds might part further to reveal the Christ they had come to praise. Some were taking pictures like me. Others were silently holding hands with a loved one, or cuddling a small child.
I looked at my children, at my husband and gone were any thoughts of spying a Disney cartoon character. For, here was “faith”, not as a label, not even as a building as magnificent as Notre Dame, not as a theological doctrine or a set of rules that I struggled to follow, but rather “faith” in its’ purest form:
Raw, human interaction. Diversity in all its’ splendor. A celebration of the human spirit, of all we can be together. No barriers, no boundaries.
My three-year old son who was hanging out the window, turned to look at me, his tiny hands clapping, “Happy mommy, it’s happy.”
Quasimodo was forgotten. “Faith” had taken root instead!
I wanted so badly to get out of the car and walk with my family, arm in arm, towards those crowds outside Notre Dame and all of that “faith, but alas, our driver said we needed to move on and off we went in search of Montmartre and Sacre-Couer and all the other wonders of Paris.
But after we returned to the states, I thought about that moment at Notre Dame. The cynic in me argued that I was romanticizing things. Being a Christian and a regular church attendee, it’s natural that I would be excited to see such a diverse group of religious faithful joyously celebrating one of the most sacred aspects of Holy Week, at one of the most famous churches in the world.
But deep in my heart I knew I had been blessed by what I had seen in a different way.
And I began to wonder why I had couldn’t live out my life with a “faith” that simple and pure. No labels, no barriers, no ridiculous expectations or judgements, just pure happiness.
I knew how to do it. In fact, I think we all know how to do it.
Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, the death of a child…almost any tragedy, we move together without thinking as one “faith”. Oh, not the “faith” of a specific religion, but a “faith” that lives and breathes in each other, in humanity and in our very human desire to be the light in the face of darkness.
Yesterday, as the world watched Notre Dame burn, I once again saw the people gather, this time in the shadow of the flames engulfing their beloved treasure Their tear stained faces, reflecting the sorrow of what was lost, but in their eyes was a determination and hope that immediately took me back to that Palm Sunday fifteen years ago.
It mattered not where they came from. It mattered not their theology or lack thereof. It mattered not their income, their gender, their skin color, or any other label we humans assign other humans.
What mattered were the images of strangers, standing arm in arm, voices raised in song, defiant of the flames, reminding us that even in the face of darkness, happiness is just around the corner.
I need to make it a priority to not lose “faith” in my fellow human beings. There is much good there…SO MUCH GOOD!
Hope is alive. Positivity is stronger than Negativity. Let it in. Let it flow.
That’s what Jesus would want us to do. That’s what we should do!
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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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