“And she thought then how strange it was that disaster–the sort of disaster that drained the blood from your body and took the air out of your lungs and hit you again and again in the face–could be at times, such a thing of beauty.”
-Anita Shreve, The Pilot’s Wife
However, if we can move from feeling victimized to uncompromising honesty, we can usually find the message or raison d’être in any colossal event.
In the summer of 1990, I was a ten-month in, giddy-in-love newlywed and diagnosed with cancer (at age 29). For a fun-loving, wildly energetic girl at the top of her game, it was like being hit by a semi. As a child, I had watched an aunt die slowly from breast cancer and I thought it was just about the worst thing that could happen to anyone. Now I had it. My husband’s love and support greatly helped me through the ordeal and I optimistically jumped each hurdle.
But because of the diagnosis, I realized early into the marriage that in spite of my deep love for this man and our compatibility, his drinking would be the death of me. He was always happy and in a good mood (but had a predilection to stray when under the influence), so I know I would have stayed for many pointless and pain-filled years had I not been given the wake-up call. We ended the relationship amicably and I became crystal clear on my values. Travel trumped the list and I vowed I would visit as much of beautiful planet earth as possible.
When I was dumped in France a few years later by a charming Frenchman I’d fallen madly in love with in Portugal, I was devastated well beyond the cancer and the divorce. I had given up my life in Canada to test the waters with this man and it went to rat crap in a heartbeat.
However, that which did not kill me made me stronger. The pain broke open a cascade of words. I began to write and the poetry I wrote at that time became a book, which became a bestseller (by small Canadian standards).
I’d thought the only reason I could justify (to myself, family, and friends) or have the inner strength to move to another country—which I deeply desired—was either for love or a job offer. I discovered that in the worst emotional state of my life, I could not only survive but thrive in another country and I made some wonderful friends who are still with me today.
Once past the critical heartbreak phase, I took Spanish lessons and art classes. I designed sundresses and had them sewn for me on the cheap. I flirted boldly with sexy Italian men. I moved from thinking I’d lost everything to a very bearable lightness of being.
When the Big C returned twenty years later, my work contract was cancelled due to the time off I required only a week after the diagnosis. It felt like a monumental double whammy—at first.
But as time went on, I realized I was completely burned out. I dreaded getting up in the mornings and my job felt meaningless. I had proven myself over and over throughout the years and I was done. Cutting the cords, albeit cruelly, was just what I needed for my health and wellbeing.
I had not heeded the many signs and messages pre-cancer and it greatly stressed my body. I do believe that the gene that lay benignly in waiting was signaled out of dormancy due to the tension and anxiety I allowed to run rampant.
This year (as you may have read in a summer post) I was hit by the epic Calgary flood. This time the divine message didn’t take months, weeks, or even days. Knee deep in mud, digging through my drenched belongings, a calm enveloped me and I knew that for me, this event had to happen.
Many times in the previous few years, I had told myself it was time to leave the home I was so profoundly wedged into. But the time would slip by with no urgency at hand and my list of things to sort, give up, and pack was left to languish on the fridge.
I knew instantaneously it was time to take flight no matter what my neighbors were doing or what was promised in the efforts to restore the devastated building. All of my procrastinating and excuses for not moving were washed away. I’d been there for too long.
For some reason, the flood, more so than the second cancer, was a major catalyst. Maybe it was just one too many nasty happenstances out of my control. I truly let go and let God (or the universe or the matrix or what have you). I let things unfold. I floated with the current, so to speak. And amazing things started to happen.
My inner voice told me that nature was what I needed and I took up kayaking. I spent a lot of time alone in Calgary’s beautiful backyard, the Rocky Mountains, and did something unprecedented and unexpected, surprising even myself, by kayaking alone from Invermere to Radium. I also went to Whitefish, Montana and rented a cabin deep in the woods and kayaked on the lake, solo. Maybe not so adventurous for the more outdoorsy of you, but exceedingly outside-the-box for an urban (chickenshit) chick like me.
I was displaced for three months, staying with various friends and living out of suitcases with my life’s accessories in the trunk of my car. Apartments were at near zero vacancy and rents soared astronomically. I got to know these friends better and got an intimate glimpse of the lives of others after having lived alone for so long. I learned the meaning of living in the moment and tried to do so with grace and humor.
Somehow, money showed up from the strangest of places. I found a vastly upgraded little nest. Oddly enough, it’s just what I had in my mind’s eye over the past few years; a balcony, a dishwasher (haven’t had one in over 16 years), a granite island to cook and entertain at, stainless steel appliances, washer and dryer in-suite, and the pièce de résistance—heated underground parking! I’ve never even had a covered parking spot in my whole life. It’s micro-tiny, but adorable.
My brother once sent me a joke after yet another crisis. It’s from the comical www.despair.com
“Not every life can be a success, just like not every vessel can be seaworthy. But there’s no shame in being one spectacular shipwreck. (Actually, there is. But we’re not going to kick you while you’re down, Edmund Fitzgerald.)” –Despair Inc. The World’s Best Demotivational Posters
We laughed! But I’ve often thought that if writing about my challenges or mistakes can serve as an early warning (STOP—DON’T BE OBTUSE—LISTEN TO WHAT’S GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE) before a Titanic episode occurs in someone’s life, then I’ve served the world in some small way.
This year was the most physically tiring of my life. But I am on a different trajectory. I am allowing more and trying to control less.
At the turn of the year and with the opportunity of a fresh start, take a peak at the worst best things in your life. And seize the day. Let the twisting tides take you down a new passageway—one that you’ve not previously permitted or imagined.
We have multiple realities at our fingertips. Which do you choose?
Feliz y prospero año nuevo from Vallarta! (Happy and Prosperous New Year!)
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Post © Wanda St.Hilaire