Tag Archives: cancer


Vanity is universal. We are all vain.

Yes, it is Lent, so I am paying closer attention to where and how I spend my time and resources. Or am I? The siren call to look better and younger is rarely ignored.

When we spoke yesterday, an elderly friend, suffering from stage 4 cancer and the side effects of chemo, complained as bitterly about his hair loss. Hair loss seemed to bother him as much as his revelations about the process of dying.

He said no one would listen to him. So I tried. Maybe “Mmmm” was all I needed to say. But I asked whether he was able to sleep, had a metallic taste in his mouth, and more. I failed to ask whether he was scared to death of death. He is busy being angry. He has not really accepted death as the nearly inevitable outcome of this illness. None of us is good at facing that inevitable outcome. It challenges our credulity. We cannot imagine a world without ourselves in it.

Ash Wednesday is my favorite liturgical day of the year. “You will die,” proclaims the preacher. “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” It takes off so much pressure. Dust cannot be accomplished, successful, “purpose-driven,” beautiful, kind, or wealthy. Dust does not interact with other strivers on Twitter or LinkedIn. Dust leaves no legacy. What a relief! It’s the best hall pass ever.

Despite this profound revelation, I found myself taken aback after the Ash Wednesday service when a brief conversation with the kindest, gentlest woman took a strange turn. I did not recognize Amy, so she took off her mask, and reintroduced herself. She looked at me, and pronounced me “so very beautiful.” That was then, and this is now. The lights were dim. I am beyond middle age. I am trying to accept this humbling aging business. I hope that she meant an interior glow shining through.

How are you managing the competition between your interior and exterior glow?

Whistle a Happy Tune

Do you still whistle? I just tried a Swedish song about whistling & failed. Any fellow Swedes probably know the folk song “Kan du vissla Johanna?” The interlocutor asks Johanna if she can whistle, to which she replies that she certainly can, and then trills away.

So I tried to sing and whistle the song. The singing part went well, but as for the whistling…clearly I need practice! It may have been ten or more years since I whistled last. The first try was just whispery nothings. On the second I hit a few notes. On the third a few more, but the result was still unremarkable at best.

My younger son–not the one who sings so beautifully that friends ask why he is “wasting his time” in law school–has whistled from a young age. He doesn’t reply to many of my random texts, but when I texted “Do you still whistle?”, he immediately texted back that he loves to whistle and does so every day.

When I had my “OMG, I don’t remember how to whistle!” moment, their father, standing right there, whistled a clear and sweet tune. He claims to do so often. Sorry, husbands of the world: mothers of the world are more closely attuned to their sons. But in this case I had failed to tune in to simple joys provided by father or son.

One of my favorite moments of the year is spotting my first firefly. When I excitedly report this, I am inevitably met with “Oh, I saw one a week ago.” This does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for fireflies.

Mosquitos or not, ninety degrees and humid or not, I insist on dining al fresco. During that time not only fireflies, but also bats flit about, sometimes audibly squeaking. I wonder where they sleep during the day. We make sure to leave the clover patches intact to attract the bunny-of-the-evening. One day a larger bunny may stop, sniff, and nibble, quite confidently, barely out of reach. The next evening the bunny may be smaller, and more skittish, as young creatures are. All of this is my version of “taking time to smell the roses,” a gift my father had cultivated well, and attempted to instill in me as a child.

Why was I particularly attuned to the fleeting gifts around me yesterday? First I brought some lettuce, a whole freshly picked bag full, straight from my garden to my mother, brother, sister-in-law, and niece who had all converged just around the corner. Many of the Golden Globe cherry tomatoes will be ripe by the end of the day today, but there was only ripe yesterday, so it was for mom, naturally. They were all impressed, as though I had performed a great miracle. It is nothing, I thought. But really, it is the product of several years work. First building the garden boxes, then amending the soil, then planting and tending, shading and watering. Watering was crucial when the seedlings first sprouted. hand-watered them then, to conserve water. Now when there has been intense heat and no rain for a few days, I water early in the morning before the sun’s rays hit the leaves of sunflowers, tomatoes, summer squash, pepper plants, carrot tops, herbs, and lettuce. If we did not live on a busy corner at which every large truck or van speeds by, or worse yet, makes a u-turn, and the background noise was only birds, not construction and traffic and the annoying hum of weed whackers, this would be truly idyllic.

But life remains imperfect. Yesterday I learned over and over again of acquaintances, family friends, teachers and students–most in middle years, full of responsibilities for children, spouses, and work–who were struggling with, or have succumbed to the contemporary plague of cancer. The news was so overwhelming that the best response seemed to be that of the victims themselves, to enjoy the day as I was able.

I may whistle a mournful tune as well when I have recaptured the ability, but for now, I am going to work on once again learning how to whistle a happy tune.