I believe creativity to be a window and outlet for the human soul. So imagine my discomfort when this last year the universe nailed ugly plywood sheets over every creative opening I had once enjoyed. I’m not the first person to experience this, and I won’t be the last. Life happens. I’ll tell you how it happened for me, and it’s a long story, but first let me say I did not accept this situation meekly. I always knew it to be temporary. Because NOBODY PUTS THE MAGPIE IN THE CORNER AND COVERS HER WITH PLYWOOD!!!!
Ready for Part One of the story?
In the fall of 2016 I was headed toward burnout. I was babysitting my granddaughter a lot. The baby had been sick, and so had I. When my sister invited me to come see her in Winston Salem, NC for a few days I was thrilled. I saw myself knitting, relaxing in her backyard with the chickens, having no responsibilities. As I settled into her car at the airport Ellen told me she had just seen her doctor regarding some post menopausal bleeding. Having dealt with that same situation, I was able to commiserate with her. In my case it was nothing, and likely to be nothing in her case. She would get the results next week. In the meantime we needed to gather our ingredients for a Nasty Woman, because this was Election Day, and I wanted my Pantsuit Party.
That night we made the drinks….
but there was no Pantsuit Party. In fact something was terribly wrong because Hillary was not winning! We weren’t watching television but I kept checking my phone and Hillary was not winning! When I went to bed Hillary was still not winning! In the morning when my sister woke me at the crack of dawn to go with her to work instead of letting me sit in the backyard with the chickens, it was still the same.
As soon as we were ensconced in one of the school libraries where Ellen worked, I took her car keys and went to find a coffeeshop where I could purchase enough caffeine to mitigate the Nasty Women of the previous night and call my husband, because the world had ended. I called him. I called my daughter. I would have called my sons but they were at work or school. We railed at the thought of this misogynistic buffoon holding the highest office in the land. We bargained. We denied. And it made no difference. There was no place, no space, to grieve the tragedy of this man’s election, nor those tragedies we knew he was yet to cause.
The next morning, as many of you did, I awoke to find it was STILL just the same. No one had stepped in to save our country from this ….disgraceful demagogue. And Ellen STILL made me go to work with her, this time to an elementary school library. I was shelving books, glad to be busy, when my sister’s cell phone rang, and right after that, my cell phone. My phone call was from my brother in law, wanting to know if I was with Ellen because her doctor was calling her with her biopsy results. Already.
I turned to find that Ellen had just hung up the phone. ” Blank,” she said to me and her trusty library aide. “I have cancer.”
Just then the second grade filed into the library. In some sort of a slo-mo unrehearsed ballet, the aide and I greeted the class while Ellen stepped out to call her husband and alert her principal that she would be leaving. The students, surprised to see someone else who looked just like their librarian, were full of curiosity and not all that willing to sit at the tables or on the rug to be read a story. As I sat on the rug trying to herd the second graders I wondered. Could it be true that Trump would be President AND that Ellen could have cancer? At the same time? This girl? ( I refuse to add pictures of the other.)
Still in a dream, Ellen and I left the school. What did we do now?”Where would you like to go?” I asked. “To church,” she replied, and we set off. Luckily her pastor was in and able to speak with us. She asked him for a blessing. It seemed a little maudlin, but I thought she might later like to see pictures of these moments.
When we left the church, there was nothing for us to do but to be ourselves. And what do the two of us typically do? We exult. We adventure. We plan. We read. We laugh. We do these things simultaneously, organically. Since her children did not yet know of her diagnosis there was even more reason for us to go on that weekend as we had intended. In between our activities, little awarenesses came to me: I’m so glad I was here when she got the call. And, I’m quitting my job. And Dad blast it, that fool’s going to be the president.
As we drove that day, on our way to thrift and look at art, we got down to the planning. From long years of indoctrination by our mother, we knew that the most pressing problem, now that we knew a hysterectomy, chemo and radiation were in order, was the correct underwear. New, of course, But what kind, to accommodate incisions as well as decency? Briefs? Low risers? Bikinis? Cancer is complicated.
The next day Ellen had planned to visit her son Lyle at his cute cabin in the woods. In fact it is a restored one room school house. This baby had no idea that in just a few months he would shave his head in solidarity with his mother.
Back at Ellen’s house we continued to softly discuss her situation when possible. Who to tell. When to tell. What to tell. And again, about the underwear. The socks. And we made a little offering of our own because every little bit helps.
That weekend we rappelled down a climbing wall at Raven Knob Boy Scout Camp. Ellen was of course more brave than I. I had to be talked down off the top by the gentle instructor Mac who is now my best friend.
At the end of the day Ellen, Stan, her husband, and I hiked a mile to the top of Raven Knob. Here we could talk and reflect as we wished. But Ellen and Stan, when faced with a task, are doers, not talkers. They pitch in and get get the job done without much folderol. So we all sat in a companionable silence, surrounded by beauty, uncertainty, and love. I don’t know what they were thinking. However, I, lover of folderol that I am, was feeling out the idea that Ellen had already embarked upon her journey, and that I could not be there for every part of it. Surely this was even more cruel than having an entitled jackass for the president?