And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
I awoke this morning to a cooler Wisconsin. A glance at my phone told me it was only 59 degrees outside, beyond my shut-tight windows that have held in the air-conditioned air for weeks. Air conditioners all around the state have been working overtime, keeping unusually hot, unusually humid, unusually wet conditions from turning us into drenched sweating crabby beasts. Which we’ve turned into anyway, because we still have to go out there, and we know it’s there even when we’re inside.
But this morning at 9:30: 59 degrees. Blue skies. Sunshine. No rain.
I went downstairs and flicked off the a/c. Then I opened the windows and the two deck doors, one of which is beside my desk.
I sat down, finally, with a cup of strong hot coffee. I turned my face to the deck door and…Fall blew in.
It was one of those moments. Those perfect moments where all I could do was hold still, breathe in air that was no longer saturated with a wrung-out Summer, but chill with Fall and with the promise of Winter. There was the strong scent of coffee. There was silence. Michael was at work. Olivia was at school. One cat slept beside me on my desk, one slept on my reading chair. A 45-pound dog sat on my feet. In five minutes, I would meet with the first of five clients today, but then, right then, I just held still.
I couldn’t help but take a breath because my world was taking a breath all around me. Encouraged by the arrival of Fall.
Fall, and familiarity. The feeling that, hey, this is all normal. This is the way it’s supposed to be.
Last week, I had a bizarre experience in physical therapy. A year after diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, I am still struggling with fall-out. Lymphedema and radiation fibrosis syndrome restrict the range of motion in my right arm. The fibrosis makes my breast feel as if there are ropes just under the surface of my skin, and these ropes pull at muscle and tendon and tissue, causing pain.
In this second physical therapy appointment, I lay flat on my back on a table while the therapist massaged my breast in the slow circle of a self-exam, the type that I should have been doing, but didn’t, from 2013 to 2017. The therapist’s fingers were primed to break apart the ropes that I apparently tied on myself, through self-neglect and busy-ness. As I lay there in the a/c air, in a room in the Cancer Center, a room right across the hall from where my mammogram turned my life upside down, where I had two biopsies, I listened as my breast gave off sounds like the shuffle of leaves as I’ve walked through them in the past. As I will walk through them again, soon.
Breasts are not supposed to crinkle.
That was not familiar. That was not normal. But by the end of the session, my breast had fallen silent.
Today was silent too, when Fall blew in.
I know I am living a New Normal. I am amazed at how quickly, sometimes, New can become Familiar. I walk into the Cancer Center without a flinch now, though I do find myself turning my face away from the radiation department, where I know Xappa lurks. I take my medication without thinking about it. I glance in the mirror, and then I glance away – the reflection hasn’t become familiar, but the avoidance of it has.
The New Normal. The Familiar Unfamiliarity.
At the end of my physical therapy appointment, I walked back out into the unusual heat, the unusual humidity, and looked up in the sky to gauge the next unusual rainfall. I snarled at the weather, but I just got in my car and drove home. I persevered. It’s what you do when the unusual becomes the usual.
But today, Fall blew in. And for one of those moments, those perfect moments, everything was normal. All was as it should be.
And you know, it really, really is.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.