In the Episcopal Church, Easter isn’t a Sunday, but a whole fifty-day season to focus on resurrection. The image of resurrection spoke to me on a recent vacation to see my family in Arizona for the first time since my two cancer diagnoses. Experiencing serious surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy without being able to see or touch my siblings, nieces, or nephews made a tough time even tougher. I can’t express how joyful it was to spend time with them. Adding to the joy was the news that my one-year CT scans this month were “NED”: “no evidence of disease.”
I have to be scanned every six months for both cancers for the next four years, which makes it tricky to stop the Lenten practice of “remembering my death.” You may remember from a previous newsletter that my stage of lung cancer has only a 35% five-year survival rate. But in Arizona, among beloved (and yes, fully vaccinated) family members, I felt like that Lenten awareness of mortality had culminated into Easter: being mindful of my close brush with death and remembering that my time is limited made each minute more precious and filled with joy. Living as if we’re dying may sound dark and morbid, but sometimes it can be bright and over-the-top, like the colorful floaties we enjoyed in my sister’s pool. Also: I have every reason to believe and hope that I will be in that 35%, and my doctors believe that I will. Watch me!
Even more than resurrection, my long-delayed time with family resonated with the doctrine of the incarnation: that is, God donning flesh and living among us. I felt alienated from that doctrine when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, as I wrote about in this essay, but seeing my Arizona family in person, instead of through a screen, eased that struggle.
I’m also experiencing the incarnation as St. David’s regathers in person, which began on Palm Sunday. We had closed to in-person worship per our diocese in March 2020 and re-opened in a limited way last summer but then had to close again in December. Some of the people who are now returning because they are fully vaccinated had not been for more than a year, so had been worshipping via the livestream. Our livestream is hugely important, but I learned last summer when I was on disability for four months that it doesn’t compare, at least for me, to worshipping in person. Right now, we still have to sign up, sit far apart, and can’t sing; but being in the same room, even when spread out and masked, stirs me.
A month and a half into “full vaccination” I still haven’t been to a grocery store, and while my oncologist approved my Arizona visit (even the airplane) she doesn’t want me to go to the gym yet. I’m surprised how much my body craves the gym, since the gym had seemed like a necessary evil before. Our country isn’t anywhere close to “back to normal,” and I don’t know what normal will even look like after this pandemic. I don’t know what church will look like. But being able to spend time with family and seeing many of my parishioners in person has nourished my soul.
What about you? How is your daily life different today than it was in April 2020? What are your hopes? I hope you will share them in the comments.
On another note, last Saturday was independent bookstore day. My favorite indie, The Little Bookshop in Midlothian, was one of my first stops as soon as I was fully vaccinated. It’s a small store so I decided to avoid potential crowds last Saturday but still want to pass on how much the shop means to me. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I messed around on Amazon seeking books that might help, but Amazon “recommends” books based on logarithms, so I asked for recommendations from the Little Bookshop. After expressing genuine dismay and hugging me, they thoughtfully recommended several: Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death, and The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, all memoirs, because they know that memoir is my favorite genre. I devoured them. None of those titles had shown up via Amazon’s logarithm, and they were exactly the books I needed at that time. Befriend your local indie bookstores’ owners and staff. (And librarians.)
We still have almost a month of Easter, as Pentecost is not until May 23. I wish you all a month of resurrection as we creep closer to herd immunity in our country (please God). I am praying for the countries where vaccinations are still a distant hope and am trying to embrace joy in a dark time.
What I’m Reading:
Dictionary of Lost Words: My beloved local bookshop recommended this novel. SO GOOD, especially if you love words.
Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism, and Treason. I bought this one because I was annoyed by the bad review it got in the New York Times so read it on my flights to and from Arizona.
Margreete’s Harbor by Eleanor Morse. A woman with developing dementia accidentally sets her kitchen on fire, leading to her daughter and family moving in. Touches on marriage, racism, music, feminism, and other topics in 1950s and 60s Maine. I was blessed to work with Eleanor Morse two years ago in a book-length manuscript workshop in Spalding University’s MFA program.
Just started Susan Tweit’s latest, Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying. I really enjoyed a book Tweit wrote about the desert, and this one is sad and beautiful. More beautiful than sad so far.
Finally, my brilliant mentor Elaine Neil Orr has a new essay you won’t want to miss about aging and living and spring.
What I’m Writing:
Good Shepherd Sunday sermon, in which I confess to being terrified of marionettes.
Why I Write blog post: I was thrilled that the Little Patuxent Review, who published my essay “Armed” in their Winter 2021 issue, asked me to answer the question “Why do you write?”