Bearing Witness

“Be as a bird, perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her; still, she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.”

Victor Hugo

“A forest bird never wants a cage.”

Henrik Ibsen, ‘The Master Builder,’ Act 3

Life is a serious business. Serious enough that it sometimes needs to be taken more lightly than we think we can manage. Being confronted with a serious illness can be the moment when that challenge is laid down, and we find ourselves standing before a strange new world for which we are utterly unprepared.

The serious business of my first cancer diagnosis in 2020 found me living inside a cage of fear and physical weakness, dreadful fatigue and hospitalizations from the chemotherapy that I withstood for four months. I endured as best I could and found solace in bits and spurts. Then, there was a prolonged but ultimately full recovery for another six months.

I found my wings. And I found a full and rich life once again, and a calm and a resilience that I’d not known before. I found sturdy branches and new light and the freedom to fly wherever the Spirit and my spirit would lead me.

Then, at my one-year checkup, on January 10th, I got the surprise news that the non-Hodgkin lymphoma was back and as sturdy as ever and difficult to treat. The branch was suddenly more fragile again and I did not know what song to try to sing now.

I just knew that I did not want – nor intend – to return to that cage in which I had imprisoned myself before. I wanted the wings of my spirit to take me on a different journey this time.

I found that I was already prepared to do just that. The hungry soul finds a way when the stakes are great enough. The way had been forming all along, hidden and subtle, but strong and confident.

I have received 4 infusions of monoclonal antibodies now and all have been without any side effects. I still await my chemotherapy pills as the bureaucracy makes its way along its rules and regulations. For all of its complications, I am receiving these pills for free, an outward and visible sign of what we call grace. I yet await the side effects that may come along with those. But I have been finding a source of power and endurance that have arrived as soon as I invited them to be with me.

I receive a steroid in my infusions, and that has been a gift of joy and delight! For three days after a visit, I find myself with unbounded energy and the ability to see the day and indeed, the future, with hope and peace. I could even call it ‘euphoria.’

This wondrous brief period has led me to explore my options with clear eyes and a clear mind and heart, and so it was that I found several substantial YouTube videos about palliative care and about what dying looks like. I know, I know, that could be morbid, why go there? But it was not morbid – it was empowering and hopeful and lifted the mystery and uncertainties of my life with a serious illness.

It did not take me to obsessing about death. It took me to a place of gratitude and hope and a focus on just how wonderful the rest of my life can be, however long it happens to be. Finding the way to loving all of life – including its end – is freeing me to find a wholeness that leaves nothing out simply because I am afraid of it. My life is so big now, even within its limits.

Life continues to become less fragile, less dependent on how long it lasts and more dependent on how I can live it as freely and joyfully as I can. It is my obligation to myself to remain attentive and open to where the Spirit is leading me in these mysterious and preposterous later years.

There is a new kind of urgency – not so much to get last things done, though I am aware of my obligations to do some of those kinds of things, too – but to attach my spirit deeply into even what is familiar; to live in deepest gratitude for what is and what has been so that I can be as aware as I can for all that life has yet to show me. This is, I believe, how live in the kind of joy that is only possible when there is nothing left to lose and everything yet to gain.

My dreams are telling me that they are working hard to help me discover and walk the paths that are here for me now. The branch grows stronger.

I am painting again and practicing my calligraphy after finding a place to make room for a table just for them. They bring me joy even in their considerable imperfections. The branch is becoming stable.

I have been watching magical videos of travel in Norway, my ancestral heritage, and I sit smiling and exclaiming at its beauty and strength and the power of its turquoise waterfalls and fjords and its mountains and wildness. And I am filled. And I sing.

The bare branch may sometimes seem fragile, but I am not. There is not a cage that can hold me. My faith is strong, love is endless, and God’s grace holds me as it always has, in both my weakness and my strength.

And I am very okay with all of that!

18 thoughts on “Bearing Witness

  1. You write with such eloquence, Martha! Thank you for sharing your journey, preparing us for what may lie ahead in any of our lives–the challenges, yes, but also the strength, confidence, endurance, joy, hope, and peace God provides when we most dearly need such attributes. He is SO incredibly faithful and gracious–your testimony proves it!


  2. I am a very new reader of your blog. I do not have words to express what your beautiful writings mean to me. What grace indeed. Blessings and gratitude.

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rosemary, welcome to the blog! I’m so gratified that you’ve found us and that what I find to write about resonates with you! Thank you so much for both your blessings and your gratitude!


  3. You are a blessing to so many people, Martha! Shining your light for the rest of us to see, because really, almost all of us will be where you are someday. I love that you are choosing to live as fully as you can, for however long you can. That’s what all of us should do, because no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. I’m not saying this well…..but what I mean is that your post touched me deeply, and the wisdom, love and faith in it were a real gift. Thank you for that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ann, you are certainly saying everything very well! Just paying attention to what someone else says and finding some grace for your own life is what I would hope for, for all of us. Thank you for your lovely words!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. How I wish I could tell you how I am feeling after reading this post(which I have been watching for) as eloquently as you write !! I wonder how many lives you are touching at this moment in time?! Your words touch me with each post; but this one, dear Marti, has touched my soul. God bless you and keep you – and may it be so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know that I answered you on Facebook, Nancy, but reading this again, here, makes me all the more grateful for our long friendship as sisters since 1960!!! So glad we’re still in each other’s lives!


  5. You do have ‘wings’. God’s Holy Spirit is within you and will guide you. In that way, we are never alone. We remain free in that respect forever. How blessed we are that no matter our circumstance, God abides with us fully. You are in my prayers each day…So glad that you are painting and using all of your talents. I think that in itself is very healing…and we are blessed by your productivity in beautiful, uplifting posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Liz, I need to be reminded of it every day – and usually more than once in that day! I have to take my first chemo pill tonight, and that branch is not quite so sturdy as I add that to my everyday work. I shall watch a Norway video and get perspective and be present tonight before that takes place. Thanks for your ever encouraging words!!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Learning to live in the present moment is probably the best gift I’ve received in this cancer journey. It makes such a difference when the road takes an unexpected turn. Thanks, as always, Liz, for your support and wisdom.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Here you are, encouraging us! I rejoice that you’ve experienced clear-eyed euphoria! (That’s what I’ve missed so during the journey of fibromyalgia.) I just savored Andrew J. Reynolds’ “There was t Time: poems, musings, and thought of experiencing cancer.” (He’s usually funny on Friday’s: Poetry was a way to put the shock and slogging of it all into perspective, in a way that’s useful to those going through it as well as those watching. Your winsome words are so compelling, dear Martha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your dear words, Joy! Those of us living with intractable physical problems are family, and we understand much together. Thank you for the link to Andrew J. Reynolds’ site; I shall look it up. I’d love to write poetry, but my mind doesn’t seem to lean there very naturally. Nonetheless, those of us who attempt to write our spiritual life keep aiming toward the center, no matter how we get there.


  7. “ Finding the way to loving all of life – including its end – is freeing me to find a wholeness that leaves nothing out simply because I am afraid of it. ”

    Wow! So beautiful!

    I can’t tell you how much gold there is in this post—such love and light and profound truth. Your words are such lovely and empowering lessons on how to embrace life, even in the most challenging of times. I shall put your words in my heart with the hope that I can live them each day! You are the gift that keeps on giving, Martha!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Isn’t life so amazing in the way that it can turn in a new direction when we least expect it to? I continue to give thanks that you were instrumental in bringing me into this blogging life, which lets me mine my brain for meaning and purpose. Forever grateful, Bill!

      Liked by 1 person

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