posted by Amy on Feb 27

No, I didn’t mean to say “work/life balance.” Sigmund Freud said the most meaningful things for a human being are to love and to work. I agree with that, though I don’t see a sharp dividing line. I love all the work I do, some of it for pay, most of it because it is something to which I feel called in some sense–because it makes me or someone else happy, because it’s beautiful, or because I created it. (And even my paid work is a vocation that constantly presents me ways to learn and grow.)

But I have advanced cancer, so I’m always confronting death too. When he was dying of cancer Christopher Hitchens said he was experiencing what everyone goes through as they age, just at a faster pace. After living with metastatic breast cancer for almost six years, I have to admit that’s true for me too.

I am immune compromised, because cancer, cancer treatment, and steroids all suppress the immune system. That has had very real consequences, ranging from little infections that get cleared up with the right antibiotics to spending 26 hours in the hospital last June with a raging case of pneumonia (after which the pneumonia kept hanging on, or recurring, for several more months until radiation treatment corrected the structural reason for the pneumonia. The cancer was blocking the airway below it, interfering with the normal mechanisms for de-gunking the lung.)

In light of all that–cancer becoming more insistent in the last 18 months or so that it is out to get me and will most likely succeed–and with Ash Wednesday approaching, I have decided I need a better death/life balance. I suspect that being a little more respectful of the threat I’m facing might actually help me live longer, or at least better.

For nearly six years I’ve been fairly healthy, quite happy, pretty productive, and, until recently, not very impaired. I have never forgotten I have cancer, but I don’t dwell on it much either. I have come to terms with the dragon perched on my shoulder. “Let’s just coexist, shall we?” I say, and the dragon has allowed me to do almost everything I want to do. But now I need naps, and I need to ask people to slow down when we’re walking, and I need to pace myself in other ways. Giving in to those weaknesses and impairments allows me, once again, to think about who I am and what my true purpose is. It is obviously not about being strong, healthy, fit, and alive forever. So it must be about choosing words, friends, stories, work and spiritual practices that are life-giving, that do honor to the Love that created me. That’s what I mean by death/life balance.

I am part of a Creation that continually dies and is reborn. I am a minuscule speck in a vast, timeless Universe. But I believe that in some way that I will never fully grasp I was meant to be here. I know I have influenced other lives. I know others have loved and guided and nurtured me. I know we will all be returned to the Earth, that the high and the low, the haughty and the meek, the powerful and the weak, all have the same fate, but Life goes on. That comforts me.

My wise friend Dr. Trelawney J. Grenfell-Muir says it beautifully:

How much wisdom Christianity would rediscover if it remembered that the butterfly is not a symbol of the resurrection; rather, the resurrection is a symbol of the butterfly… The butterfly does what it does because it is part of a creation in which Life is stronger than death. At a fundamental level, even though there are always numerous particular examples where it looks as though death or non-being have the last word, Love and Life and Light are fundamentally, existentially stronger. Being is stronger than non-being, which is why there is something rather than nothing. The caterpillar dies so that the butterfly can live. The butterfly dies so that other microbes, worms, flowers, leaves, and caterpillars can live. That is the creation we are given. We tell the resurrection story not in spite of creation, but because of it. The resurrection story symbolizes the Truth that Love, Life, and Light are stronger, which is the truth the butterfly embodies. The story has power because it is True. The story has power because the butterfly is right. No matter how bleak any particular moment, no matter how chaotic, wild, free, and arbitrary existence can seem, the Creation that cradles us is the Source of Love, Life, and Light. Darkness is a womb, a place where new Life grows. We find stories, such as the resurrection, which can point us to that divine Truth, and we recognize them as True, and when we live according to them, we manifest wellness within and around us BECAUSE we align ourselves with the higher Truth: the Truth of the butterfly, the Truth of Creation, captured in the beautiful poem of the Resurrection of Sophia-Christ. Christianity comes from a deep, ancient connectivity with the natural world… I always hope we can rediscover that connection, and so rediscover the Source of the Power of our stories, the Source of their Truth.

Joni Mitchell sang, “We are stardust, we are golden, we are million-year-old carbon. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden.” But we never really left it. It cradles us. It whispers its secrets to us. And if we live into those secrets, that Truth, we are drawn to beauty like moths to a flame, attracted to the Truth because that is what we were created to do. And in living into the Love, Life, and Light that are revealed to us, we light the way, as well as we can, for those who come behind.

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