Sometimes the words come easily, other times they get stuck — like a clogged drain in your tub or a popcorn kernel in the back of your throat. It’s irritating. It’s not quite writer’s block, it’s more like there’s too much to say. Too much to say and not enough time to say it. I want to write every day but like everything else in life it’s challenging to find the time. There are errands to run, a household to manage, and people to love. So much living to do. Every minute, every second is precious and choosing how to spend that time can be stressful. I sit watching television with my husband and I think, why am I wasting this time watching TV? I know that it’s something we’re doing together, and we quip back and forth throughout the show so we are at least communicating and sharing the experience, right? Is that a justification or an excuse? Watching TV is a waste of time, sure — but it’s an escape for me and probably for him, too. I don’t think about cancer when I’m watching it, unless it comes up in the show. Sadly this happens quite often and I can feel its presence reappear in the room, a lurking, malicious beast that stalks us everywhere. There is no escape, not really.
I try to squeeze in time to write where I can — when Owen is at daycare, before work, on lunch breaks, and in the evening before bed. I need the quiet to think so I prefer to write in solitude, but I hate to be alone. Having stage IV cancer is lonely enough as it is, and when I’m by myself I feel as though I’m stuck on a rock in the middle of the ocean. When I’m with others I can at least see the shore. Luckily the time that I’m truly alone is very limited and I am so very thankful to have many wonderful people in my life. It’s a complicated thing to feel so blessed and so cursed at the same time. I walk a fine line of feeling incredibly grateful and being crushed by despair. It’s very hard when you know that time is short, harder not knowing exactly how short it is. The list of things you want to accomplish becomes smaller out of necessity, and your goals change, too. Instead of saving money for a vacation or a new home you are saving for funeral expenses. Instead of cleaning out your closet to make room for new clothes you do it so your husband has less to go through when you’re gone. All the little things you thought you would get around to doing haunt you like last night’s dreams. The pictures you wanted to frame, the books you wanted to read, the junk drawers you wanted to sort. Never mind the bigger things, that’s another post entirely. There are a million thoughts you have about time when you can feel it running out. I wish I could capture them all but my mind is so crowded — with words, memories, songs and poems, hopes and dreams…with life — it’s impossible.
While writing this I remembered a poem I learned in high school, taught by one of my favorite teachers*. We were learning about the metaphysical poets of the 17th century and about carpe diem, and one poem sticks out vividly in my mind. It’s quite racy and probably shouldn’t be taught to young, impressionable teenagers if taken at face value — but the message behind it resonates with me so much more now than it did when I was sixteen. I hope when you read it that you can recognize the urgent and desperate desire for love and life, for time. It’s palpable, and it’s what I feel every day.
* If you’re as lucky as I am, your life has brought you a handful of people that are true kindred spirits. There is a connection made upon meeting that is immediate and it does not deteriorate with the passage of time. It is dependable, loyal, ageless — a bond that cannot be broken. I’d like to use this moment in time to thank my high school English teacher, Mr. Thomas Clark — he is one of these people in my life. He is the one who taught me literature and poetry, the value of debate and of speaking your mind, and most importantly, he’s the first one I can credit with teaching me to see beauty in the little things in life. Even though he made me read Beowulf, I still cherish his friendship to this day. Carpe diem indeed, TC. (And I’m only joking about Beowulf — mostly.)
To His Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart;
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity.
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But non, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in this slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
May 28, 2013 at 10:05 am
This…what you describe…the haunting feeling…not enough time and too much life to live…makes me remember what a panic attack feels like. I lived with a Father who lost his beloved Mother at a very early age, but not so early as to not remember her and he just boiled it down to a phrase he used so very often, “Life is too short.” Your gift of writing is not wasted here and you are not wasting time by watching TV with whomever…you are surviving. Just keep truckin’ on…
Found a link to a ringtone you might like: http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/xtra/clktr.php?ug_from=tabs&url=http://www.ringtonematcher.com/co/ringtonematcher/02/noc.asp?sid=NOLFros&artist=grateful+dead&song=truckin%27&campaign=lf
May 28, 2013 at 10:11 am
This is one of the lessons – and poems – that sticks out in my mind, too. Thanks, TC! And to all – carpe diem!
May 28, 2013 at 10:26 am
So beautiful! There’s so much strength in your writing and it inspires me not to take anything for granted. The stupid little things that my husband does that annoy me are really not important. Cheri you keep fighting and writing. Love you ♥
May 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm
Your words never fail to bring a tear to my eye. Sometime it’s the elegance of a phrase, or the enormity of your journey, sometimes it’s being able to appreciate through your words some of the isolation Tom must have felt during his own treatment. But most of all, it’s because I’m always amazed and incredibly impressed by your grace.
May 28, 2013 at 5:00 pm
In the words of Joe Cocker, “you are so beautiful, to me…” I have never felt so validated as a teacher as I was this morning when I read your beautiful words. TC loves you!
May 28, 2013 at 7:14 pm
Cheri. I look forward to reading your beautiful words each day. You are wise beyond your years and I thank you for your insight!
May 30, 2013 at 7:01 am
I love you so much Cheri! XOXO Mom
June 4, 2013 at 11:33 pm
Wow. I am amazed. What I am reading despite its harsh truth is a miracle. Your ability to express these wonderful and terrifying thoughts is so incredible that you are beyond any person my wife or I know. It is not how I ever wanted to get to know you, but I am so appreciative that I am!!! More than I can express.
June 5, 2013 at 1:07 pm
You are an amazing writer. Your words are beautiful and filled with peace. My precious child wrote little notes…I have files filled with notes, diary entries, letters…One day I will have the strength to read her words. I know that her final journey was lonely. She desperately longed for a partner to hold her as a wife/lover… My arms are the arms of a mother not a lover. Lots of hugs.