In daily life, I regularly heard tirades of complaining from people around me, and also from radio and TV. It seemed the more years I accumulated, the more polarized voices became, bitter and divided. Over time, I gravitated toward more positive friends and turned off the radio and TV when they veered into sensationalism-most of the time.
Through the tumult, if I listened hard, I found a stunning small voice within me saying, “Lucky me.”
This voice popped up in strange places like my hospital’s radiation waiting room. All of us in the crowded area were there with cancer cells awaiting their daily hot zaps. Although a nearly silent treatment, except for the occasional soft whirring of a machine, I imagined each individual cancer cell disintegrating with an electronic sizzling sound like the lavender glowing bug incinerator I put outside the house for summer picnics. And because I lay on my stomach with my head in a face-cradle whose surface was diligently scrubbed between each patient, I decided radiation smelled like Clorox. After more than a month of repetitive daily conditioning, I became sure that every time I cleaned the sink in the future, my body/mind would, by association, automatically go on a cancer killing spree. I should take up a new career as a maid.
When I looked at the truly ill folks’ worn faces, it was hard to accept my good fortune. At my first visit to the oncologist, I could not imagine that I, the health food devotee, had come down with cancer in the first place. Eventually, I had evolved from the negative “Why me?” victimhood to “Why not me?” acceptance and, after doing my time in cancer wards, to a positive “Why me?” What did I do to be blessed with a 90% survival rate, probably better than most pedestrians crossing a street? Within the radiation waiting room sacred space, where I prayed for myself and everyone else each day, I could only be grateful that, for now, inexplicably, I was still kicking.
This appreciation made me aware of my other good fortunes, especially bodily ones. Over time, as daily radiation became like going to church, the “Lucky me” voices in my inner ear became louder until it seemed as if my subconscious held a bullhorn to its mouth, shouting, “Time to love your body while it’s still here.” I was more dedicated to this goal than to any New Year’s resolution I ever broke. How could I more consciously savor this flesh and blood that had provided immense pleasure and pain for over sixty years?
I had always enjoyed my height. At five feet eight inches, I wasn’t considered especially tall in most of the United States. But, lucky me, I lived in the shortest state in the union, Hawaii, were I towered in the giant range for a woman. People often asked me if I was six feet, which made me vainly expand with pride. If there was ever a time to indulge in guilt-free body-vanity, it was now. I daily stretched my spine up high, like a cat elongating herself on a scratching pole, just for the pure joy of it.
My long legs have always craved walking and hiking. Nothing like a close shave with the ultimate non-walking potential – death – to get me outdoors, appreciating how good those muscles felt when they moved. “Glory Hallelujah,” my muscles seemed to sing. “We want more trails.” I signed up to hike the Grand Canyon next spring.
Unfortunately for others, but happily for me, I had a loud singing voice that I loved to blast out at full volume. No one has ever asked me to sing a solo, (so I’ve understood I’m not opera material), but my enthusiastic efforts usually filled in the weak section of a choir. Most church choirs were desperate for anyone, and I burst with an endorphin high whenever my Buddhist choir practiced or performed. I’ve seen few listeners try to escape; except for the honest autistic young woman who plugged her ears every time we sang. I decided humility was appropriate in the temple, but it hasn’t stopped my brash bellow.
In spite of some spoil-sport cancer cells, I found I could tune in to the parts of life that brought me happiness. Between that and turning the TV news off, I heard more “Lucky me” inner voices. Perhaps the sum total of these increasing positive messages showed on the outside.
The other day, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for a couple of months. She knew of my health journey and said, with a surprised lift of her eyebrows, “Hey, Cate, you look just fine.”
“Well,” I replied, “the doctors haven’t mauled my face.”
She seemed befuddled, as if she’d expected to see me pale and shaking, in a wheelchair. “But you truly look radiant,” she said, eyes wide.
“You’re correct there,” I replied with a grin. “I actually am. I’m irradiated daily. Nice there’s some benefit. This could become the next beauty craze.” Lucky me.
Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.