What Is It That I Know?

I had the great pleasure to be a writing student this past Sunday. I went to a wonderful one-day retreat with Carolyn Brigit Flynn. One of the prompts she gave was a quote from Pamela Eakens masterwork, Tarot of the Spirit. This is how Eakens begins her description of the Tarot card, The Sun:

“You have been through a deep darkness. Your shadow has accosted you from every side. But this darkness, you now understand, is only a temporary absence of light during hte movement through the great birth canal.”
Here’s what I wrote in response:
What is it that I really know? What is it that I have learned from the darkness? What is it my body knows? My body has always known I live in it, but now I know know that I live in my body. My body, as I use it and stretch it and push it to excel at being a body, as I finally allow it its space on the stage of my life, has become my teacher.
I have always been a creature of the mind. I have always known how to study, to learn, to speak, to write. In 5th grade, I held my hand up, waving madly in the air, “Ewwww… ewww…Call on me! Please, call on me! I have the answer.” My brain wanted to shine, to have the light of approval shower down on me. “She’s so smart. That Laurie is so smart.” And so I studied and read and wrote and taught. And left my body far behind.

I left in in the bed in the tenement apartment on Ave D and the East River, left it at Bubby Poppa New York. I left my body and stared at the light on the wall, the light that had to remain on for Shabbos. And I flew out the window into the dirty, clanging sounds of the street, Lower East Side, New York City, 1960, New York. I flew away when my grandfather came to tuck me in and put me to bed. Flew away from the body and the spirit I betrayed. I left my broken, shattered heart there on that bed, bled little bits of my life juice here and there, throughout the years it took me to grow up to be the shell of the girl and the woman I could have, would have, should have been.

And I have been putting her back together ever since, collecting each shattered piece, riding each wave of memory and despair. I fought my way up from the floor of hopelessness and carved out a life for myself, carved out consecutive lives for my many stranded selves.

And I lived in relative peace, until at half a century, an invader let itself be known. Cancer ripped down all that was not real and brought me to my knees. I did not resist. I did not ask, “Why me?” I embraced the journey, recognizing that is always the traumas and the breakdowns that burnish the soul. And so I lived in the underworld of the sick, under the cracked asphalt crust of the world, and my soul came out of hiding and sat in my chest, singing like a bird.

I said to them all, the doctors, the healers, the chiropractor, the homeopath, the acupuncturist, the Reiki master, the radiation therapist, the oncologist, the surgeon, the nutritionist and the cranial sacral bodyworker, “Give me everything you have. I want to live. I will die now if that is what to be, but I want to see my children grow up to become who they are meant to be. I want to live.”

And so far, I am living. So far, I am coming back. I am emerging from the underworld and looking around, gratitude oozing from my pores, at the simple beauty of the world around me–lap swimming with Lizzy at Simpkins pool, five minutes enjoying the lush back garden with Karyn, a moment of truth in a writing class.

And now, a year out of treatment, I am walking 20 miles a week. I am swimming. I am stretching. I am following through on a commitment I made in honor of the community that held me and fed me and prayed over me and drove my kids to school and stroked my head and sat with me while poisons pumped through my veins. I stood up and said, “I will walk 60 miles in 3 days for you. For you, and for all the women who find a lump, all the women cast suddenly, despairing, into the underworld.”

I am ready to give back now and I am doing it in the hardest, most challenging way I possibly could–by being embodied, by discovering my physical being as a source of strength and power, something I have not done since my 14th year. And with each mile I walk, I am waking up and becoming whole.

My mind, still fried by chemo and menopause, is weak and full of holes; but who needs it? I’ve already lived half a century with my mind playing the leading role on the stage; it’s time for him to retire. These are the days of open heart, open hands, a body that is pumping with life and reminding me of my birthright–what it means to be whole.

And what have I learned from my journey? That I do not have to try anymore: I just have to be. It is a joy to discover who I am underneath the false layers of warmth that shrouded me, to be naked in newness, to feel anew the sense of wonder that died in New York City under the weight of fingers that went where they should not go.

I don’t need to do anything; I just need to shine my being, the being I have carved and eked out of disaster. I just have to shine that heart of mine, that big, jagged, stitched-up beating heart through my eyes and hands and legs and voice. I just have to be myself now that there is no one and nothing in the way–and that’s all there is to the rest of my life.

It’s not that I won’t forget; of course I will. That’s the nature of this dance. But for today, I am the Sun and I am burning up with the heat of knowing that finally, finally, I have become whole.

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