(This is about six years old ... my dad has been in remission for five.)
Over the past five years, I've lived (for at least a brief stint) in Florida, Turkey, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City proper and Doha Qatar. Today, I find myself back in the nest where I was raised. With the help of some targeted radiation and chemotherapy, my dad is fighting cancer these days, so I've come home to offer presence and anything helpful that springs from it. I'm here for six more days and have spent the last four in adjustment phase.
There are things that I find shocking. First, my grandma can't remember things but can have sharp conversations. So I get confused about her confusion. She'll talk with me for five minutes about a topic. I'll leave the room and come back and she'll turn to me and ask me about what we talked about as if we never did. But she admits it, that she is forgetting everything. Then she will perch at the table with my dad and some other relatives and clean up the house in a game of poker. What?
Also, people hesitate a lot here before turning their cars in any direction. Residents also seem to speak in repeated loops, telling the same story again and again in different ways. These are the norms in a small town. And I wonder if they are not patterns taken from those half-hour CNN loop structures of news that blare on every television across rural USA.
I cracked open a Madison area weekly publication that I used to consider somewhat sophisticated and found that the angles and stories were written in very cautious, predictable and unadventurous styles. I was bored and shut the paper, preferring just to zone out in the bathtub instead.
Anyway, I am forging ahead with as much grace as possible, sniffing for and cherishing common ground in conversations. Observing the good in that this is the heartland and everyone has a big heart and is eager to help out. Today, I was able to observe my dad's radiation appointment. I met the two technicians who help him with his treatment everyday--at 20-something dashing fellow and a 40-something gentleman--and they explained things to me. They also asked me questions about Qatar.
After they helped my dad take his shirt off and lie back into a treatment bed area, they lined up some lasers on his skin and we all left the room to avoid radiation. they told me how great he was. They said he was rock steady and never moved during treatments or x-rays.
Looking a little longer into everyone's eyes. Watching the birds. Observing a level of silence, when the fridge stops running, that is deeper than any I can find anywhere I've been in the past five years.
It's November and unseasonably warm. I'm staying in a hotel--the Cedarberry--and waking at ungodly hours like 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. so that I can pine extra hard over things that I normally dive into my to-do list to escape. Cell phones don't work here ... at least the major plans of cities don't seem to have interest in propping towers up around these parts--for what?
The one thing I find most interesting is this allegiance to and fear of rules that everyone displays. I know these used to be within the mix of my behavior but they are much more diluted now. I mean, living abroad, you see that the rules are very relative ... and you still abide by them but you aren't so afraid anymore because you start to see the human error behind them and that they are not sent down from an imaginary heaven of sorts.
You start to see that so many things around you are constructs of people just like you. And you start to relax therefore.
There are a few things that provide conversation points and moments of solace and these all involve raw nature. I use the word "raw" because my dad pointed out yesterday that if you think about it, everything around you--every single thing--is from the earth. No matter how refined, it is of the earth. The closer you get to original form, however, you begin to find the energy of the thing more rooted and less tampered with by mental energy.
Naturally. So I hug the dog. I nap with the cat draped over me. And I pull out the zoom lens and shoot some birds as they work feverishly to stuff their dens with the food my dad and his wife put out for them--a lard and seed mixture that helps them survive the winter.
And dad is doing this too--he is eating to survive a surgery that is pending. We are all trying to cook things he might like. We're not quite sure what to do, but we try. But he explained that he feels sick, like he has the flu, all the time--and the chemo strips many taste bud cells before they come into service so everything is distorted. None of the smells and verbal propaganda around food mean anything to him anymore. He just has to follow whatever miracle craving arises and go with it.