I wanted to start and write a post telling you that I would be gone for a few days as my wife is going to have surgery and we will be out of town in an an urban area that offers specialist care not available here in midcoast Maine. Sort of an "out of office" autoreply post if you will...
Then I decided as I read today's posts and see the honesty and vulnerability that people have taken the risk to share with all of us, I decided to challenge my "observe from a distance" attitude that I sometimes confuse with Uchiyama's "observing the scenery of life"... and write to you with what is really going on.
My wife is having knee replacement surgery Tuesday morning. Knee replacement surgery is almost routine stuff for folks these days, I know, but at a personal level it is significant. Tam (my wife) is thirty-eight years old, hardly a replacement candidate, but has the left knee of an osteoarthritic eighty-year-old (her doctor's words) due to an injury which ended her performance career in ballet. She has endured bone-on-bone pain cheerfully for years, carrying, chasing, and raising three boys. In the course of the bloodwork and prep for her surgery (a whole other story), it was discovered (completely unanticipated and a surprise) that she may have cancer of the uterus.
She is nervous about her surgery, and on top of that has the concern and fear related to the potential follow-up diagnosis. It also explains the many symptoms which we had both written off to fatigue and stress. When she is ambulatory following the first surgery, she will have a biopsy and follow-up testing in eight-ten days.
As my wife sits on the couch knitting and reading quietly, I notice that I am the one who has been all emotions the last week. I am moved to tears constantly, and often just stare at the woman who has shared her life with me for almost twenty years. And I have noticed something. I am so afraid of losing this person, and of the pain she may potentially experience, that I wish I could take it all and absorb it into my body. Such a fine person should not suffer such pain and anxiety. But such is life - the first of the four noble truths.
When we were dating, Tam shared with me the books she had read in childhood. One of them was The Velveteen Rabbit - and I today have noticed another thing - that as we both grow creaky and frayed around the edges, that my wife has become real to me - I have stopped seeing her, and fantasizing about her - as the twenty-year old French ballerina I fell in love with - more or less an object to be admired and physically pursued - and instead accept her and love her as a human being, with her beauty, her pain, her grace, and her fear. Once upon a time her fear and anxiety would make me uncomfortable and I would "clam up" or become emotionally unavailable... and I am still challenged by this. But today, I will sit with the fear and the pain because this is what is today, and I will sit for the sake of sitting and I will sit for my wife and all those who are suffering. I have never felt closer to her or more in love with her.
My wife is tentative and afraid to share all her fears and anxieties with me, as she does not want to overwhelm herself, and because my reaction in our relationship to her expressions of pain and fear have not always been consistent, kind, or compassionate. Part of my Buddhist practice has been to develop and practice compassion for other sentient beings (and myself as well).
I don't think Tam would appreciate the comparison to the Velveteen Rabbit. She is a proud and beautiful woman. And she, like many of us, is insecure. Ballerinas I have found in particular, terminally so. I would like to find a way to show her that, with the pain, and the scars, and the fear, I have never found her more authentic, more beautiful, more human than ever before in our relationship. And for the first time I am desperately afraid of losing her. Chuang Tzu has a bit to say about the transformation of human form through age and illness, and we are counseled not to cling to gain or loss. But right now i would rather follow the zen adage "when I am happy I laugh - when I am sad I cry."
I apologize for sharing such personal thoughts with you. I wanted to share this event because it is part of my life and my practice as much as it hurts. I am going to sit with this tonight. And I will be thinking of you all during the week.