Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Waiting. And Zigging. And Zagging.

I spend a lot of time waiting.

At the kids' doctors or dentist appointments (we seem to be having a lot of those these days), or in line at the grocery store, or in the kid pick-up line, or standing on my stoop in the morning waiting for the bus to come.

I wait for someone to return an important call, or email, impatiently checking my phone or computer as though that person has nothing better to do than to respond to me.

I wait for that elusive clump of free time to open up so I can fold laundry, tidy up, wash the dishes, vacuum.

And in my new normal I spend a lot more time than I ever had in waiting rooms at my various doctors' offices.

I wait in the head and neck surgical oncology room.  I wait at the imaging center for CT scans or MRIs.

I wait at my oncology psychiatrist's office.  I wait at my radiologists office.

I wait at my regular oncologist's office.

In each of these waiting rooms I bear witness to all stages of the disease of cancer.  I see the woman who is all skin and bones and no hair,who needs help walking to the radiation room.  She is is smiling.

I see the impatient businessman who is clearly in remission, waiting for his 'routine' check-up.  He is huffing and puffing and checking his watch.

There will never be anything 'routine' about these visits to the waiting rooms, let alone to the doctors' offices themselves.

My mind wanders, as I try not to openly stare, peeking out of the corner of my eye with a fake disinterested look on my face.  There is a man covered in bandages; his whole head wrapped tightly, including under his chin. A drainage tube comes out of his nose.  He is holding hands with his wife and looking very, very scared.

I think about how life can zig while you're busy zagging. How fragile it all is.  I wonder what he was doing when he first figured out something was wrong, when his life zigged instead of zagged.

I think about how I am different, now. How these waiting rooms fill me with a kind of awed respect - for the patients fighting with all they've got.  For the doctors and nurses in the trenches all day,every day, delivering news that changes lives.  All the time.

It's odd to experience such a mix of gratitude and fear at the same time.  On good days the scales tip more towards gratitude. Actually, I mostly feel gratitude.  The fear still pokes its nose under the tent, now and then, but I'm learning to flip that fear into faith.

I remind myself that life was always precious, always precarious, even before cancer.  How we're all floating on a little raft on the open ocean, it's just that when life is zagging along the way you expect it to you don't notice how precarious, how precious, it is.

It's only when it zigs that you look down and think 'Holy shit, I'm floating on a tiny raft in the ocean and the world is suddenly very scary".

I realize this seems like an odd way to comfort myself, to think about how it has always been a tenuous miracle that we're here at all.  Kind of like backing into gratitude, I guess.

But that's what cancer does. It makes you stop taking anything for granted.  Instead of feeling victimized ('why ME?') I realize I'm no different than anyone else, it's just that I'm very aware of my little raft, of the fact that life could zig - or zag - at any moment.

I'm grateful to know this, now, to have metabolized how precious it all is into the core of my being.  Even when it comes to my kids.  Especially when it comes to my kids.  That's a tough thing to face, you know?  That they are on their own little rafts and I'm just paddling alongside, doing everything in my limited power to keep them safe.

So as I wait - in line, at doctor's offices, for that email or call that I think will change my life, for the Next Big Thing - I stop and I breathe.  I'm sitting smack dab in the middle of the Next Big Thing.  Each moment I'm in is important, because it's leading to that next moment, and the next, sweeping  me along on this joyful, scary, graceful, tenuous, precious and precarious ride we call life.


  1. needed this one today, thanks Ellie (((hugs)))

  2. Ellie, you nailed this as you do everything.

    'Holy shit, I'm floating on a tiny raft in the ocean and the world is suddenly very scary".

    YES. But luckily there are friends around with boats and life vests. I am proud to have you as one of those friends.

  3. "I'm sitting smack dab in the middle of the Next Big Thing."
    That's what I forget, all too often. Thanks for reminding me. And yes, like Inigo Montoya and like a LOT of people, "I hate waiting."