I found this really awesome Facebook account called Humans of New York. I didn’t read all about it, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a photographer who finds random people in NYC, interviews them, and photographs them. It’s such a simple yet awesome idea… of course my first thought was “Why didn’t I think of that?!?” Sigh. Hashtag feelings of inadequacy.
Anyway… while scrolling through the page, I came across this one post and it instantly made me misty-eyed because it perfectly and eloquently sums up my relationship with my boyfriend. It also, indirectly, sums up what happened during my cancer experience. He didn’t really want to be involved in every aspect, nor did I want that, but the second I needed him, he was there. I think this is a good balance for people to strike during cancer treatment – you don’t always need someone, but when you do, it’s important that they be there for you. Thanks, Will!
There are many positives to living in Washington, DC, and the excellent metro system is one. Today I was taking the Yellow Line from where I live in Columbia Heights to King Street in Alexandria, Virginia. I rarely ride the Yellow line out of the District, so I was pleasantly reminded about the above-ground bridge over the Potomac River. For a brief minute, you are out of the dark underground tunnel and able to see the beautiful sights of the DC waterfront. Today, this bridge crossing was particularly smile-inducing, because of the sun, blue sky, and crowds of people out and about enjoying the last of the cherry blossoms and the trails hugging the river. Of course, just as you’ve become hypnotized by the Washington and Jefferson monuments and warmed by the sun, you drift back underground, but it makes that brief moment all-the-more magical.
Someone was asking in the Young Survival Coalition Facebook group if anyone had advice to get her through treatment, and one thing I might offer would be to enjoy the small moments when you feel happy. They might be few and far between, but they do happen and it is worth your time to bask in them before they disappear. One such moment, for me, was the week after my first chemotherapy infusion. I had just left my follow-up doctor appointment and was walking through a warm, May day in DC, amazed at how good I felt despite all that was going on. In that moment, I felt strong enough to get through the whole ordeal, and I still remember that happy feeling to this day.
Oh, I guess I should also mention that, since my last post, I hit my two-years-cancer-free mark. It was April 5, 2011, when the tumor was cut out of my right breast. Yay!?!
I am home from Ecuador a bit early. I had planned to be traveling for seven weeks, but alas I only traveled for four. It was a great run – so many empowering moments for me and a lot of self-reflection, which was the whole point. But I got tired of the backpacking style – living out of one bag that I had to pack and repack each time I was leaving a place, hauling my pack on long and dreary bus rides, staying in some dimly lit lodgings, etc. Mostly, though, I was lonely. I met some great people, of course, but the nature of my trip was such that I was in each place for a couple days and then I moved on, and people were rarely moving on in the same direction I was, so each couple of days I had to say goodbye and head off to meet new people who I would say goodbye to in a couple of days.
Late one night, as I was stewing in my own anxiety about an upcoming 8-hour bus ride across the border from Ecuador into Peru, I realized I just wanted to go home. What fun is traveling if you have no one to share it with, or if you’re going to work yourself up into a debilitating anxiety each time you have to do something difficult? It really didn’t seem worth it anymore.
I was surprised at how at-peace I was with my decision, though. Much of my self-realization on the trip was focused on how much I beat myself up over things that I don’t do or don’t do “right”. I expected to feel really disappointed in myself for what others might view as “giving up”. I met so many others who were backpacking alone for months at a time. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t do the same? Was I not flexible enough, or adventurous enough, or outgoing enough? Why didn’t I eat guinea pig or jump off a bridge or completely change up my plans or all manner of other things that backpackers did?
My “aha” moment was this: who cares that I didn’t do those things? I am myself, not other person, and I need to be okay with that. It’s so much easier to beat ourselves down about the things we aren’t doing than it is to build ourselves up about what we are doing, especially when we constantly see things on Facebook or Pinterest or YouTube that would suggest that other people are living lives much more epic than our own.
But for most people, life is about 5% epic and 95% normal (at least by other people’s standards) and so making sure that you’re happy with your non-epic moments seems a lot more important than striving to make everything epic, right?
This is not to say that I don’t want to have dreams. I still want to travel to India and sing on a Broadway stage, and I think having cancer made me feel like there was no time to accomplish my dreams so I had to do everything RIGHT NOW, and that caused me a lot of anxiety because, realistically, you can’t accomplish all of your dreams at once and sometimes you can’t even accomplish them at all. So I would like, instead, to focus on being satisfied with what each day brings because life’s too short to be anxious and disappointed.
And this is why I’m starting a new project on my blog, which is to check in each week with something that I did that made me happy. I’ll call it my “weekly happy”, and along with my own posts I’d love to hear from my dear readers with their weekly happy, too.
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?” – Thornton Wilder, Our Town
I was in New York City the other night because a family friend of ours, who also happens to be a Broadway producer, invited me to see a preview of Ann, a play that hasn’t yet opened. She also got me tickets to Once, which was AMAZING. While we were walking through a crowded Times Square from one show to the other, my friend shared a profound observation that I want to preserve, about a journal she keeps to record what she’s coined as “Our Town Days.”
For anyone who hasn’t read Our Town, it’s a seemingly innocuous play about two families living in the sleepy (fictional) town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, at the turn of the 20th century. The families go through their normal routines – sending the kids off to school, tending to their gardens, choir practice at the church, a marriage between the daughter of one family, Emily, and the son of the other, George. In the third act, though, the play takes a dark turn as we watch Emily, who has died in childbirth, reminisce from the afterlife. She is given the opportunity to visit one day of her life, and she decides to travel back to her twelfth birthday, a particularly happy day for her.
But as she is reliving the day, she gets discouraged and wants to return to the afterlife, where she laments that people don’t really understand how precious life is while they’re living it.
One of the major points of the play is to observe life in it’s most normal state, because our instincts tell us to remember grandiose moments – the wonderful, the terrible, the horrifying, the profound – so much so that we lose track of the little joys that happen every day: waking up to the smell of coffee, watering a plant, eating spaghetti, taking a warm shower, getting in the car, visiting a friend, etc.
My friend’s “Our Town Days” journal reflects this idea. Her aim is to record events that are not monumental but normal, so that she doesn’t take those moments for granted.
I absolutely love this idea and hope that you do, too. I think it’s the one gift that cancer has given me that I don’t want to lose sight of: thankfulness for each moment that passes, not because something amazing has happened, but because it is simply amazing to be alive.
Today, as I sit at home battling a nasty cold, I’m thankful for time off from work, tissues, the fluffy clouds and blue sky that I can see out the window next to my computer, the hum and thud of the trash truck that’s hauling away our refuse, the melodic tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, and WordPress, for giving me a free blog where I can record these simple observations that make life worth living.