Call me a navel-gazer, but as the Jewish High Holidays approach, I get reflective.
At work, I’m neck deep in preparation for them, and acutely aware of their significance on the calendar than I ever was: Two years ago, at the end of September, I was diagnosed with Leukemia on the evening of Yom Kippur, our “day of atonement,” the day on which we are either “sealed into the book of life” for another year … or not. It’s a pretty significant day on the Jewish calendar, and I have come to hate it.
I hate what it “means,” about being sealed or not into the book of life. I hate how much changed in an instant, with one sentence told to me by a doctor. I hate remembering the sore throat that began the whole prelude to my ER visit, which kept me working from home, and feeling so badly about it since it was a brand new job.
But, what remembering this day also does for me is cause me to reflect on what has changed, and what has happened in the two years hence. I have endeavored to create “a life worth living” for myself against all the internal railing and nay-saying, against all my own self-sabotage, against all the foot-dragging and self-immolation I had previously submitted to.
In the last two years, I have dragged myself kicking and screaming into a life I consider worth living.
This isn’t to say that I’d done nothing beforehand, but here’s a list of experiences I’ve had & actions I’ve taken in the last two years, post-cancer:
- Hosted my Creativity and Spirituality Workshop
- Began blogging daily again
- Went to Hawaii for the first time
- Got a bedframe for the first time since childhood
- Sang at a café with friends
- Joined their band on bass
- Played shows out, nearly once a month
- Started ushering at Music shows for free & have seen,
– Paul McCartney (about to see him again next week)
– Red Hot Chili Peppers
– Doors guitarist Robby Krieger play “People Are Strange” with Warren Haynes…!
– About to see Dave Matthews
- Bought a car
- Celebrated July 4th near my old hometown with my mom and
- Busked on the streets of Oakland and SF singing Christmas
- Got real headshots
- Auditioned for plays and musicals
- Got cast in 4 shows
- Modeled for friends
- Submitted photos to modeling agencies
- Visited Seattle for the first time
- Visited Boston to try out a new relationship experience
- Dated with craziness
- Dated with less craziness
- Got laid well
- Got laid poorly
- Visited a best friend and her newborn baby for a week
- Hiked Tilden & Marin
- Took accredited acting classes
- Took voice lessons
- Flew a plane(!) — and landed it 😉
Any of these things could have happened beforehand (and some were indeed happening, with less gusto, determination & regularity), but most of the activities on this list are new to me.
I was talking with a friend a few months ago, another cancer survivor, and she said that she feels complete with the world – that if she died today, she’d be okay with that. I noticed how not okay I’d have been with that; virulently not okay. Granted, she’s about 10 years older than me, has a daughter, teaches in a way she loves, is married.
And I think those are key differences. Having created your own family, having a career you feel impassioned about. Those are items that are not yet on my above list, and I want them to be before I expire, thank you.
I do however, write this list to reflect to myself that there are things that I’ve done that are miraculous, fun, and inspiring for anyone to have done, let alone l’il ole me. I forget this, frequently.
It’s hard to admit this here, and it’s not precisely the entire truth, but if I were to expire sooner than later… Well, I won’t say, “If I died today, I’d be okay with that,” but that I am exponentially grateful for this role I’ve recently landed. To play in a musical, comedic role at a community theater is the cat’s pajamas. (If I have to go soon, I hope it’s after we open!)
When I returned from teaching English in South Korea almost 10 years ago, I said I was coming home to “break onto Broadway.” Then instead, I got sober!
And now, 8 years since then, I’m taking steps that are developmentally appropriate to that dream. It’s in the right direction, even if I never get there. It’s my impassioned avocation, even if it’s not a vocation.
I do not wish to expire soon. I have more experiences I want to add to that list, and more sanity and evenness I wish to accrue. But I feel more comfortable now than I had been even a few months ago in noticing that I am accumulating the experiences that, to me, express a full and well-lived life.
I wouldn’t have as many regrets if it were to happen soon. I have a few regrets of things I’ve done & ways I’ve re/acted in the last two years, sure. It’s not as if I’m a saint, and sometimes I still choose experiences I know are more damaging than useful.
But instead of waiting to be “inscribed in the book of life” by some entity or religion or benchmarks of success otherwise prescribed to me by my childhood, my faith, my inner critic…
Instead I am coming to believe that I am following my own North Star: I may never get there, but I’m headed in the “right direction.”
And for the first time ever, I deeply feel that.