My New Phase

“Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada más; caminante no hay camino, se hace el camino al andar.”

“Wanderer, your footsteps are the path and nothing else; wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking”

– Antonio Machado.

Here comes a new phase. This life is a constant re-adaption,which I guess, is the process of being alive. To stop moving would be to die.
In my case though there is a twist in the meaning of this process as each new step is a clearer confirmation of my oncoming death.

Last month a blood test revealed another steep rise in tumour markers and my consultant looked at me compassionately  (something that has come to make me wary) ‘There is no more I can do, you have come to an end of treatment I can give you’   It turned out there was a strong chemo available he could try but the side effects are heavy and he has no great faith in it anyway so my immediate decision was to let the disease progress as it will, while having the benefit of keeping my hair and experiencing symptoms of the illness alone, without the addition of debilitating chemo side effects. We were told also, that my life expectancy is ‘months rather than years’.
Both Mark and I have had to re-adjust our mindset once more. There is no longer an aim to hold this disease at bay. Inevitably it will progress and at some point in the fairly near future my life will end. When, how and in what way, is completely unknown to anybody. Care is now in the community rather than hospital so I have a MacMillan nurse who contacts me regularly and a dedicated GP who is generous with her time.

Despite this rather stark introduction I would like to make it clear that it remains natural to keep moving along the way and that meditation gives every opportunity to gather my energy and allow this to happen, albeit differently. Letting go of things I am used to regarding as significant and necessary is only too familiar, but an even further clearing of the ground allows yet other fresh saplings of understanding and appreciation to appear. Currently I have a new tiredness and background nausea that is inhibiting. The advice is to save my energy for the things I want to do. Last week I told Mark I felt like the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland and we ended up reading that wonderful account of the Mad Hatter’s tea party; deciding to record it with appropriate voices and sound effects as we read the story aloud. I can thoroughly recommend this if ever you feel severely lacking in verve!

This morning we drove to a favourite river where I leaned over the rail, listening to the sound of the water and looking beyond at the shape of it, snaking for a mile or so through the fields. In our ‘old life’ we would have followed this walk but now, listening, enjoying unusual grey, warm weather and feeling the damp humidity of the air are all gifts to the senses, born of a slow pace. We feel very alive.

Just prior to this new phase I was describing some anticipated aspects of it to Father Laurence and he asked ‘Is it like putting on a new raiment?’ ‘Raiment’ is an unusual word to use. In my imagination I saw a flowing garment of some kind, and now Christ’s transfiguration in the King James Version comes to mind; ‘His face gleaming like the sun and his raiment being so white that it shone like light’

I do not allude to a drama in my experience but a gentle process of changed perception has something of a transfiguration about it. We spoke also of the beautiful and mysterious word ‘grace’ – a gift I believe, that moves alongside our struggles and softly enables a transformed way of seeing things.

I have just been listening to the London Gospel Choir singing ‘Amazing Grace’…..’when we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.’  The music explodes into a cacophony of close harmony and extempore singing over and under the familiar words. I’m not given to spontaneous charismatic expression but Hallelujah! (anyway.. as Leonard Cohen might have said.)

So, at a trying time it is good to write my thoughts down and to hope some meaning in them may speak to you as you read. We all struggle at some time or another and it is good to try and make some sense of it together.

I would like to finish with this poem by Antonio Machado, whom I quoted at the beginning:

Has my heart gone to sleep?
Have the beehives of my dreams
stopped working, the waterwheel
of the mind run dry,
scoops turning empty,
only shadow inside?

 No, my heart is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
Not asleep, not dreaming – 
It’s eyes are opened wide
watching distant signals, listening
on the vast rim of silence.

Nothing could reflect more accurately the point in time at which I find myself.

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