Thursday, March 6, 2014

A lump, and quiet wisdom in the night

Not long ago, I found a lump. Not only that, but my breasts were sore and ached as if deeply bruised. To women of my age, that means only one thing: panic! For a week I shuttled between medical services. My doctor felt the lump and raised her eyebrows. She sent me off to the hospital. I stripped down in a tiny cubicle and put on a freezing, open-backed gown. I was shown into a dark room where a brisk woman ground an ultrasound wand into my aching breasts. She decided I needed a mammogram, and so I moved to another dim room where a different brisk woman pulled and kneaded my tender breasts into place, lowered the great weight of the machine until they were nearly flat, and took some shots. When it was over, I dressed and wandered out through a crowded waiting room, feeling sick.

The next day, the hospital called me. The pictures didn’t give them enough information; I had to go back. Again, I waited in a crowded room, stripped off in a tiny cubicle, and had my breasts kneaded into place. Again, the machine squeezed them into pancakes and took shots. Again I dressed, and left feeling sick.

And all the while, I panicked. Calm on the outside, I went through the motions; but inside, I was in turmoil. I couldn’t sleep. Instead I lay in bed each night beside my husband, kneading my breasts, feeling the soreness, getting the full measure of the lump, and thinking about death. Not yet forty, the mother of three primary school aged kids: I was not prepared to die.

About three o’clock one morning, something shifted. I realised that life was good. I didn’t want to be married to anyone else; I enjoyed being a mother; I loved where we live; I loved my work; and I had recently understood my life’s trajectory, a big deep satisfying revelation which filled me with a sense of home. And I realised that there was little more one could expect from life than to come to understand oneself, to be happy with one’s situation, and to be flooded with gratitude for all that has been. Even if this life was coming to an end, it had already been so much more than enough; I had already experienced abundance.

A couple of days later, I discovered that the lump was not malignant; it was just a lump; and the sensation of bruising was just the latest symptom of the candida that has raged through my system for years.

If the results had been different, I don’t know whether I would have been able to hold onto that early-morning moment. The quiet wisdom of the small hours is hard to remember in the full light of day; in the face of work and study and children; in the reality of sickness; in the waking awareness of all the things a person my age is still expected to do and be.

But I want to record it here, to remember that at one time I knew deep in my bones that already my life has been more than enough; already, it overflows with goodness and mercy; already, my life is abundant.

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