Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Post-Cancer Twist

Yesterday I went for a swim at a friend's house, situated in an affluent suburb of Los Angeles – the very town that was the breeding ground and inspiration for a movie about over-privileged teenagers gone amok. One needn’t see the movie; the trailer will do if you can handle the nefarious monetizing strategy from the cyber-galaxy that makes You Tube as annoying as television, a.k.a. advertising before being allowed to watch the desired video.

As I slide into the 96 degree cement lagoon of chlorinated water, I thank god that my friend is a nice Jewish Princessa who appreciates Caribbean-style water temperatures; some of my other Los Angeles buddies come from hardier stock: the Bel Air doyenne whose Norwegian husband likes the refreshing assault of an unheated pool; my Welsh companions in Malibu who keep their pool under-heated because of its brisk shock-to-the-system quality -- not to speak of the Pacific Ocean itself, potentially bearable one day out of the year.

One could do an entire reality show on LA swimming pools and how they reflect the character of their owners, but why spoil David Hockney's innocent and painterly vision of those blue spots? And aren't there enough reality shows already, moveable feasts that entice the young and other miscellaneous voyeurs to drool over someone else's shopping sprees, pedicures and emotional train wrecks?

I muse. My days are significantly different than two years ago when I was diagnosed with stage 3B cancer that had slipped into my system undetected, growing steadily while its host innocently did her tra-la-la through life. Once treatment got underway, I couldn't sit up, leave the house, or talk for more than one minute at a stretch, thanks to the chemo and radiation that eventually killed the cancer and almost killed me along with it. But if I took the prescribed pain-killers, thoughts formed in my brain and spilled through my mouth like a torrential waterfall of verbiage, transforming the more taciturn me into a chattering bird-like creature hopping hither and yon picking at any glittering things in the environs.

Cancer, or rather surviving cancer, gave me a new perspective on the meaning of life. And my conclusion -- there is none.

So where does that leave me? Drifting from swimming hole to swimming hole like a water buffalo seeking the perfect mud-to-water ratio? Stimulating the five senses and tricking them into a version of reality so subjective that it is hard to believe I have anything in common with a Saudi jihadist or a Malawi orphan or an Albanian goat-herder? Am I just a middle-class third generation American-born Eastern European Jewish Tibetan Buddhist Atheist Princess-Pessimist living on the edge of affluence, whittling away the hours until the Grim Reaper finds a better excuse to whisk me away?

An ephipany came to me from an email that landed in my Inbox with the phrase "the magical display of appearances" in the signature. Thanks to the wise and compassionate lama who coined the phrase, its meaning springs forth from a middle ground that neither denies the existence of reality nor affirms the existence of reality. 

Metaphor helps to elucidate this paradox: endless and unique waves arise from a vast ocean, only to melt back into the depths indistinguishable from their former arising; the invisible balance point on a bicycle that keeps it straight upright even as a left foot and a right foot take turns trying to woo gravity in their opposite directions; the coin flip of the gambler, heads or tails, two sides with different pictographs that can determine a destiny even though the coin is a unified whole. 

Once one is surprised with a life-threatening illness, and once it melts away like a tidal wave retreating from an inland forest, a unique wreckage presents itself out of which new growth must occur. How and why and when new creation comes into being is a moment by moment event. I am watching, along for the ride, and occasionally marveling at this magical display of appearances.

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