Back to the River

“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes”

When I was faced with “visiting this world” in very different terms last August, I took Mary Oliver’s words pretty literally. When diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, my time in this world became suddenly more urgent. The span of life that might yet remain for me to move beyond just “visiting” and into “immersing” myself further into life was now more uncertain than I’d counted on.

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

Mary Oliver, Ibid.

The road ahead that had long been paved with good intentions was now full of rocks and weeds and detours, and there were no signposts to show me the way. I had done a bit of work in the amazement department, but how to embrace life now, like a Mary Oliver, was a question that was out of my league.

It has taken a while to gather in my own bits of Martha-shaped amazement and embraces, and I’m still working on that because so much has changed in my post-treatment world. Even now.

The good news is that on Monday, at the six-month post-treatment check-up, I was amazed to learn that I am still – yes! – cancer free! I had spent too much time dithering about “What if?” in the week before. And now, I find myself looking ahead again and asking, how can I marry myself to amazement again, and how can I take the world back in my arms in real-life, everyday terms?

What have I missed along the way?

I love Big Aha’s that just can’t be missed. Moments that are so clear that I just have to see them: surprises that catch me unaware and sometimes make me cry with amazement. So far, I’m still waiting. I’m thinking that the double whammy of pandemic and cancer are making the adjustments trickier than I’d like.

So I’m thinking that my best life again is to take one day at a time. Maybe that’s the only way to live, I don’t know just yet. But I’ve always had big dreams of what can lie ahead, and for now, any dreams are in small bites.

Tomorrow, then, I shall take on my first “long-distance” trip out of Rochester on the hour and a half trip to see my son and his family. October of 2019 was the last time I took this lovely trip, crossing the Mississippi into Wisconsin. It would have been spring of 2020 when I would have gone back there, but the world had turned upside down by then. There would be no stopping to catch the new growth of trees and moss and greenly water in the backwaters. To imagine the busy life underneath, where I could not go.

But now I shall stop at the backwaters for a bit. And then I shall move on to see my beloveds and meet my dear grandson’s girlfriend and share old family photos with them before it is too late.

And that will be my first ode to embracing life and being amazed again in a bigger way for once. Small steps. If I feel I have the energy, I shall return home by another route – one that parallels the Mississippi River for many miles. I need to be married to a new amazement and gather the world into my arms again. It’s been too long. The River is my place to do that.

I have that new lease on life that comes with this new freedom. Here I am, all grown up, taking a deep breath to leave the womb of my little living space and venture back out into the Big World in a serious way.

I’ve just been “visiting” this world for a year and a half. It’s not enough. Time to be born again by the River. It has always been where I find amazing grace.

And I’m very okay with that.