Falling into Autumn

As I heard on the radio this morning, I am like the majority of Americans–fall is my favorite season. Fall brings weather I like (at least back home), clothing that makes me comfortable, a few of my favorite holidays, my birthday, and, because I’ve been tied to an academic calendar for so long, a sense of beginning, of possibility. The same feeling I get with a new notebook.

So it took me by surprise today when I thought it was all over.

I had gone to the doctor for an ultrasound because I’d been having some mild pelvic pain. It was over cautious, really, but as I’ve already experienced one breast cancer scare, I don’t like to take chances, and my doctor agreed. I have no idea how to look at an ultrasound, especially if it’s not a well-developed baby I’m looking at. So the technician is moving the wand around in there, and this big black blob shows up in the picture. She is interested in this blob. She keeps measuring it from all different angles. I am trying to remain calm, even crack a joke with her, but she is all business, which scares me. When she’s done, she tells me to wait outside the lab area for my blood pressure and other vitals to be taken. So I sit.

Before I’ve been there even a minute, my eyes fill with tears. I have cancer. My kids will have no mother. I am going to get very sick, have treatments that will make me very sick, and then I am going to die. I cannot stop. Maybe it is a panic attack. But there I am in the hallway with tears running down my face. I am not like this. I’m not much of a crier, not a hypochondriac, but I realize that I was terrified. My doctor walks by and sees this mess. “What happened? Did she find something? I haven’t even seen them yet! Come with me, you’re fine, we don’t need your blood pressure.”

She whisked me to her office, where she looked at the results and told me repeatedly that everything was fine and entirely normal. The blob looked big on the screen but was a typical follicle, unusual in no way. I mopped my face and blew my nose. She sent me on my way with a hug and instructions to freak out about something else. She probably thought I was nuts, but she was very nice about it.

For the rest of the day I should have been elated. I’d been to the brink of death, and I’d been pardoned. I could go home to my family. But I was in a fog. I wandered around in stores, hoping to find a dress to wear for Rosh HaShanah. Everything looked weird or meant for a much older woman. And I was dressed for the gym, not shopping. I bought a hair dryer.

Later when I went to pick up my daughter from school, I missed my turn and found myself on a bridge headed out of the city. A few careful moves later, I pulled up to her school just as she came out. I texted my husband. “I’m going to need a good long hug when you get home. I’m a mess.”

By the time I’d put away the groceries, I felt more calm, and I took the dog out for a walk. My dog loves me like no one else. You can see it in the way he looks at me. lookofloveWhen I’m in the right mood, the dog walk is perfect. It was cool outside, I was feeling better, and Max was being good, not pulling on the leash. He did his business, and when I bent down to clean it up, my back objected. Strongly. I stood up slowly and “ambled” home. My daughter helped me sit on the couch. My husband came home and gave me alcohol. The ibuprofen is kicking in, too. So I can feel the return of that September mood, that sensation that things will be clean and new, that I can make them that way and begin again. I can’t bend over right now, but maybe upright and eyes forward¬† is the best way to greet the new year. L’Shanah Tovah.

Writer’s Envy

So, your friend got his work published in yet another magazine, did he? How does that make you feel? It can be¬† difficult to enjoy your friends’ successes, no matter how authentic your love for them, if you are not enjoying successes of your own. Most of the time when I am feeling this way, I take an honest look at my efforts. How much/how often have I been writing? How much/how often have I been submitting? The answers to these questions are always the same. Not enough, not nearly enough. And probably a lot less than the friends who are doing better. This actually cheers me up, because I can do something about it. I can write. I can at least try. And now that so many journals are electronic, and the submission processes are electronic, it’s not the time-consuming chore it used to be. Excuses are only that. Sorry, but you’ll have to do the work. Put your behind in the chair. Etc. There, don’t you feel better?

There’s another kind of envy I suffer from that I have never been good at fixing. It’s envy of what other people have, how they live. Given how many people live quite happily on less than we have, and how many people don’t even have food to eat or a decent place to lay their heads at night, this envy has a backhand: I feel like a jerk for feeling it in the first place. This one’s not so easy. We hear all the time stories of people who overcome hardship or live with an illness or have some other large trouble, and they have these amazing positive attitudes. They say things like, “I’m glad to have another day,” and “I have everything I need,” or “I’m praying for the person who did this to me.” And I always think, “Oh, I wish I could be like that”–I wish I could put a positive spin on things and be the kind of smiling, pleasant person that others gravitate toward and for whom good things happen. But I am known, I think, for being someone who speaks her mind, and I can promise you the friends that characteristic wins over are some pretty tough, solid folk, small in number.

So how to appreciate what I have? Reevaluating my situation from time to time, actually thinking, what is it I want that I don’t have, goes a long way. Because except for maybe a house that doesn’t need a new roof, I want stupid things–a piece of clothing, or jewelry, or shoes. And I don’t need any of those. I mean, I have plenty. Another solution is to find work to do that allows me to get to know some people whose lives have less “stuff” in them than mine. This requires that I stop staring at my navel and look outward.

As the Jewish New Year approaches, Jews are encouraged to repent for wrongdoing on their own behalf but also on behalf of the entire community. This is so smart, because it makes us think about other people in a constructive and sensitive way. We are a community, after all, and what one of us does affects the rest. Religious people might add “in the eyes of God,” but even without that caveat, this seems an important idea, and one that could help me stop thinking about me, and what I want and why I don’t have it.

Don’t think I’ve become that Claudia of my dreams, however. I’m pretty pissed off that my beautiful, smart, funny children have been saddled with lifelong problems just because they hit the biological jackpot. I’m angry as hell at the university department that let me go jobless. And when people try to put a positive spin on it for me–“It’s so great that you have a diagnosis” “Lucky that you caught it when you did” “It’s a good time for you to be unemployed”–I get even angrier, even if I’m smiling and acknowledging that yes, these things are true. But new shoes and even a new roof can wait a bit longer.