I love Sarah MacLachlan’s song I will remember you – you will hear me singing it often to myself when I am holding the story I’ve yet to birth in my heart. When I do that, I feel this beautiful feeling, this warm sense of something larger than I am inside. The feeling is resonant of that sweet stretch of an April day when I knew my daughter Katie would be born, but chose to keep the knowledge secret, this constant, bearable labor – an echo of a Christmas Bible verse I love:
” But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19:
On that early March day in 2006, when I was diagnosed with cancer, the reality that I might not be there for my kids and my family struck first like a hot iron thrust in my center – I’m not ready-I’m-not-ready-I’m-not-ready was all I felt, as these stormy waves of fear and sadness passed through me, sweeping me under.
On that same day, I also thought of the story I’m speaking of (the one in the box in the closet) and panicked – if I wasn’t here, no one else would write it, and the world would never know the profound impact this one child had had on my life.
That September, I applied for a writing residency at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island, WA. It was my 4th or 5th time applying. Here is part of my essay:
The piece I am creating is, by its nature, going to be a painful, like birth I imagine. The places that I will need to go in my heart and mind are dark and uncomfortable ones: the murder of a child; a mother’s struggle with post-partum depression; and the gaping-hole-in-the-heart that is September 11. Being diagnosed with breast cancer last March was probably the best and worst thing ever to happen to me. Cancer broke me, forced me to look in the mirror at the woman and mother I had become. I had not recognized how isolated I was; how much I was taking my children and family for granted; how little of life I was allowing myself to experience. I had built an iron wall around my heart, dug a moat around my life, and kept the drawbridge up and closed.
I can write this story now because I am here and alive to tell it.
My application was rejected (wisely). And while I began an application again the following September, but in the midst of divorce, I needed to let it go . . .
The truth is: I am afraid.
I am afraid that once I finish this piece (the one boxed up in the closet marked: Open on Mother’s Day 2016), and it is out there in the world, I will have accomplished all I am have been called to do in this One Beautiful Life. That the cancer will come back. That I will die.
[Typing this now, though, I can see the frayed and irrational connection my mind has made – between this story and my health. As though by not writing it, I could somehow keep Death over there, at someone else’s door. ]
Clinging to a past that doesn’t let me choose
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night
You gave me everything you had, oh you gave me light
I didn’t directly answer the Quest 2016 prompt this time. Instead, this piece emerged when I held on to Seth Godin’s question:
Theme: Imagine Your Future While Being Wholly Present
Visionary: Seth Godin
Prompt: “Would they miss you if you were gone? What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?”
Would they miss me if I were gone? All depends on who “they” is.
- My children & Mike and my parents and my family (and of course the dogs, but probably not the cat) would miss me. So much so it breaks my heart to think of their pain.
- The few friends I have would miss me. A little bit. (I’ve kept myself hidden from them for the most part anyway)
- My corporate work colleagues would be shocked and some sad, but only for a moment, barely a breath. Sure, there would be a flurry of activity trying to piece together budgets and understand where things are and how to cover my role. But soon it would be like I had never been there. I know this. I’ve watched death visit here too many times, in my 22+ year career.
- Readers here might miss me though, the sad truth is that they wouldn’t really know how much. Because I don’t show up consistently for them. And up to this point, I have not been brave enough to finish the story and send it out into the world: to race it down the beach – smiling, laughing, child-like – to catch the breeze and to watch it rise and hold, and then hold and hold, tugging at its string – this soaring beauty cast against a wider sky.
The birth of the story I am to write has required an unusually long gestation and a great love. It will also require great courage.
Seth Godin is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.