One of my favorite general university requirement classes as an undergraduate was cultural anthropology. My professor was a striking woman: long, lean and blond, who never wore the same outfit and who had done her dissertation on war and refugees. She was a magnificent storyteller and when she would give personal examples, she would always coin them "from my own little life." As an 18 year old, this seemed so strange to me. She was clearly, in my mind, living a very large life: travel to war torn nations, captivating 150 freshman three times a day, publishing literature. Of course, I now understand her better.
I remind myself of that saying constantly. It pops into my head at random moments, sometimes when someone refers to Mom's illness as a tragedy. Or when I catch myself crying while reading the newspaper, or a Men's Health magazine. My own little life. According to the United States National Cancer Institute, 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. And breast cancer is not anywhere near the most common form of cancer. Every second of every day, someone else's little life is also changing dramatically. And a bum diagnosis is bad news. Definitely. It's scary, it changes life forever, it significantly alters relationships and professional options. For Mom, it took her out of her career, stole her vision, her appetite, her strength, her privacy. But it made her little life much bigger. Earlier this week we were reading yet another loving email from someone Mom hadn't heard from in over 25 years. Hadn't thought about in over 25 years. And I commented how much of an impact she had made that this person not only sent their regards, but continues to do so. Continues to bring Mom's memory and image to the forefront of her mind and wish for healing. Continues to send strength. From her little life.
In my own little life, I have received more gifts in the past three months than I know what to do with. I am humbled and grateful and honored. And bewildered, because it is not in my nature to receive. I am determined to practice gracious acceptance. I often fumble, say the wrong thing, attempt to refuse and put my foot in my mouth, but I'm trying.
I'm not sure if I'm conveying what I want to here. I guess what I really want to highlight is that I can't think of Mom's illness as a tragedy. She gets the opportunity to expand her life through this, to receive well wishes and love from across the country, from seemingly everyone who has ever met her. I am so upset about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan today. Hundreds of people lost their lives in an instant, without warning, without even a chance to receive the gifts and love that my family has. That is a tragedy. That is a disaster.
Today my parents practiced dancing for my wedding as Mom's physical therapy. Please don't tell me that's tragic. In their own little lives, today, for a moment, there was joy.