October 31, 2011

Family Friends

"I hope you like it," I told my brother as I went to the back room to get his birthday gift. "Because I'm trying to force something on you."

"It's probably something Republican," I heard our younger sister say as I walked to the spare bedroom of my dad's house. Forcing politics on him was the last thing on my mind, though. At least partisan politics.

October 27, 2011

There and Back Again: Food

My mouth started watering as I walked around the "Big Food" showing at the Watts Fine Art Gallery in Zionsville. I had received an announcement about the paintings of giant pieces of pie and enormous bowls of Fruit Loops, and the pictures on the gallery website had been intriguing. But I never imagined a painting of a s'more the size of a flat screen television would actually make me feel hungry.

My friend, Kay, and I walked around the small gallery deciding which of Mary Ellen Johnson's precision realism paintings looked most authentic, as if a hamburger the size of a laundry basket could look "real." But each painting had a detail that brought life to it - the shimmering syrup on the cinnamon roll, the cracked edges of the graham crackers on the s'more, the corrugated lining of the cardboard pizza box.

October 26, 2011

Radiation: Day 17

I walk into the radiation waiting room, and there are more people than usual for this time of day. A young man sits by himself, looking more like a family member than a cancer patient. A man and a woman sit together talking, though apparently they are not a couple.

An older man and woman, definitely a couple, sit talking with a woman whose quarter-inch spiky hair reveals a recently completed chemotherapy regimen. She is telling them how she feels after radiation, how it's different than the chemotherapy, how it's different than what her friend with lymphoma experienced. Two more days, she says, and her treatment will be completed. Except for the hormone therapy they will give her for five years after.

October 20, 2011

What's Fun Got to Do with It?

"Let's play Pokemon," Alex said, when he realized dinner wouldn't be ready for a few minutes.

"No!" I said, dramatically, "I don't want to play Pokemon. Not unless I can have the Pokemon with the most power because I never win."

"Well, you can't have the Pokemon with the most power, because I have that one, but you can have the second most powerful Pokemon," he explained, as though these were the rules.

October 18, 2011

Radiation: Day 11

I am tired.

I was laying on the table this afternoon as the radiation technicians tried to get my position confirmed. They were taking longer than usual, and since I was so tired, I closed my eyes. 

As I felt myself near dozing, I imagined what would happen to my arms if I fell asleep. Normally, I hold onto a foam ring with both hands, making it easier to keep them securely positioned over my chest. Were I to fall asleep, would I drop the ring? Would my arms flail out to my sides? Would the large orange cylinder that rotates around me crush my arms as it made it's orbit?

I jerked awake.


When the treatment was over, I headed back to the waiting room to be called for my weekly doctor's appointment.

I slumped in the chair, wondering if I would have to wait long.

When I saw Erin holding a rather large chart and scanning the room, I knew she was looking for me. Without saying a word, I caught her eye. She smiled. I stood up and walked toward her. 

I have seen Erin more in the last four years than I have seen most of my brothers. I have seen her pregnant, and I have heard stories about her children. I have even learned some of her medical history, as we have talked at length about mine over the years. She sticks up for me to the doctor when I try to get out of embarrassing examinations. She's as desperate for me to get married as I am.

"Are you getting some of your energy back?" she asked, knowing that I was already feeling tired last week after just five treatments. Back then, she blamed it on the traveling.

"No, in fact, I'm losing steam. I feel more tired this week," I told her, wishing it weren't true.

Erin weighed me, took my pulse and blood pressure, and asked the questions she always does, listening as though I was telling her a hilarious story. And it does get funny sometimes, me telling this friend of mine about my urinary problems and lack of sleep, her jotting down notes in my chart.

"He'll be in in just a few minutes," she said, as she left the room.


When the doctor walked in, we hugged, he introduced me to the resident shadowing him today, and then he got straight down to business: "So, I hear you're tired."
"Yeah, I think I wearing down," I told him.

He looked over my chart, commenting on the size of the radiation field and my past medical history. "Well, it is day 11," he concluded. "That's usually when people start getting fatigued. I think what you are feeling is just all the result of what's going on here."

"I don't need you to do anything," I told him, trying not to be a whiner. "Erin asked, and I told her, but I know this is part of it."

"Yes, unfortunately you've been down this road before. You know what to expect all too well," he said.

When the appointment ended, we hugged again, this doctor of mine, whom I've also seen more times in the past four years than most of my brothers.

"Be good," he told me as we started walking out of the exam room.

"I'll try, but next week's my birthday."

"Oh really," he said. "Next week's Erin's birthday too."

"Really, I didn't know that," I told him. 

And we walked down the hallway in opposite directions.

Photo by kiwinz, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

October 16, 2011

50/50: A Survivor's Review

Ordinarily when I sit in a movie theater with tears streaming down my face and a lump building in my throat, I feel a little silly. After all, the guy ALWAYS gets the girl, and the wounded animal ALWAYS comes back to win the race or save the day or make the winning basket. (Yes, I did cry a little in AirBud. I'm not proud of it.)

But today, the tears started almost instantly and didn't stop until well after the movie was over. And I didn't feel a bit silly. Today, I was watching the new movie 50/50, about a young man who is diagnosed with cancer and survives.

I wasn't sure if I should watch a movie about cancer while I am in the middle of cancer treatment. After all, even just hearing a little too much bad news from my mom about family friends and family members recently threatened to sink me into despair. But after doing a bit of research to make sure the plot wouldn't be too depressing, I decided I needed to support movies like this one, movies that both educate and provide hope.

Much of the movie falls into two categories: crude or humorous. Afterall, the movie is produced by Seth Rogen, star and producer of movies such as Superbad and Pineapple Express, who plays best friend, Kyle, in 50/50. But Rogen also is the real-life best friend of Will Reiser, screen writer and the cancer survivor whose story is portrayed, thus lending a credibility to the occasional heart felt moments in the film.

One particularly funny scene in the movie was an office party thrown by Kyle to help cheer up Adam after just learning of his cancer diagnosis. One by one, coworkers approach Adam trying to connect with his news. "You're going to be fine," one person tells him. "My uncle had the exact same thing," another confides. His boss throws his arms around him, saying, "I'm really going to miss you," as though he's never coming back.

I've had those same conversations.

Several other points in the movie seemed right on as well: the difficulty of telling the news to close friends and family, having someone promise to stick by me and then walk away, the realization that this disease might kill me, and coming to terms with the effect the disease has on people around me, not just me.

Of course, this was a Hollywood film, so not every part seemed so realistic, like when the cancer patients all sat around eating marijuana-laced macaroons. I also thought Adam going out on a date just a few weeks out from cancer treatment felt a little unrealistic, but maybe that's just me. Understanding how to consider my singleness and dating in light of cancer treatment has been one of the hardest parts of being a survivor for me.

In the end, though, I would encourage lots of people to see this movie, especially knowing that it was written by a cancer survivor.

Several friends and I were having dinner last night, and in our discussion, we were talking about people in our church who were recently diagnosed with cancer, as well as others we know who have survived the disease, even people who had very advanced disease and have beaten the odds. People like me.

"I think they should talk about people who survive cancer every night on the news," I said, "because we don't hear about the good news very often."

Everyone agreed.

So, tonight, another story of another survivor - Will Reiser. And you can even see his story for yourself!

October 13, 2011

There and Back Again: High Stakes (Radiation: Day 8)

One of these days, I'd like to climb up on the radiation table and lay down in the right position all on my own.

But from the moment I lay my head back on the hard rubber cradle, the lights dim, the green laser beams illuminate, and the radiation technicians start adjusting.

"I need a roll toward me," Sarah will say to her coworker standing across from her. Sarah's the one who's there each day, her work reliable like a clock.

Then she grabs the sheet beneath me and tugs just a little. I lay heavy just like she told me to the first day, and she matches the ink marks on my abdomen to the laser guides beaming from the walls and ceiling.

With a small control box, she moves the bed up or down, tilting this way or that to make sure I am on the table today just like I was yesterday.

And then, since she doesn't trust her eyes, she leaves the room, the red lights flashing, and takes a low-dose xray to confirm that the radiation treatment will hit the area where the tumor once was, not a kidney, not a liver.

The red light stops, and Sarah comes back into the room. One more tiny adjustment, maybe two, and I am perfect. Ten minutes after I first crawled onto the table, millimeters - maybe inches - from where I placed my own body. Just to the left of center.

Then, even though they go to great lengths to ensure I am in the same position every day, the radiation techs do a dry run, allowing the machine to move all the way around to beneath me on the left, then all the way around to beneath me on the right to be certain the giant orange cylinder will clear the table on all sides.

And before they begin the treatment, just to be sure, they ask me to say my birth date and my name, though they said it themselves when they called me back to the room.

I say it quickly, "Charity Singleton. 10, 24, 70." But I never mind that they ask.

Every day, they take the same care, make the same precautions.

Because the stakes are high.

I often wonder how people can work in a place where everyone is ill and many die.

In the way they rotate me and check the machine and ask me my name one more time, I find my answer.


I hadn't really thought about my position on the radiation table as left of center until I read High Calling blogger, Michelle Ortega's poem called "To the Left of Center." She writes,
if you exact with a surgeon’s skill,
to the left of the center,
beneath the bony shield of sternum,
suspended in tough ligament,
nestled in a spongy notch of lung,
you will see the pumping, deep pink muscle
that keeps blood pulsing
through me.
And while I read, I remember the "x" drawn with paint pen on my abdomen, left of my incision, and I remember, that every day they line me up just left of center that way.

Michelle continues,
if you close your eyes and reach me
to the left of the center you will see . . .
broken bodies healing
through Loving support and connected feeling
And I know that left of center is where His love keeps me whole.

Go THERE and visit Michelle Ortega (or visit 3 From Here and There, whose prompt Michelle was writing for), and then come back HERE again!

Join me for regular jaunts around The High Calling network, randomly visiting fellow bloggers, soaking up their words and ideas, and then coming back here to write about them from my perspective.

Each Thursday, consider going "There and Back Again" yourself. It's simple.

Photo by eviltomthai, via Flickr, used with permission via the Creative Commons License.

October 11, 2011

Finding My Voice, Finding My Place

Growing up, people told me I had a nice voice.

I joined a traveling choir and sang solos at church on the weekends. When I was a junior, I was asked to sing at graduation. I had always liked singing, but was actually kind of surprised at the compliments.

Along the way, though, my voice became an object of shame.

One evening during my senior year, I was waiting in the stands for the girls volleyball game to start. I had been cut from the team, but I stayed on to be the manager. As the team was warming up, a friend leaned over to me and said, "The coach wants you to sing the National Anthem."

"Really?" I was suspicious. No one ever sang the National Anthem before volleyball games.

"Yeah, she told me to ask you," he said.

"Oh, well ok," I said. I was the girl with the nice voice, afterall.

Only I had never sang the National Anthem as a solo. And I didn't actually know what note to start on in order to be able to hit the high notes at the end.

So, I started singing, realizing right away what would eventually happen. The coach looked at me, surprised. Even as my voice crackled and screeched through the "land of the free," I realized I had been set up.

When the song was over, I was humiliated.


It wasn't just my singing voice that shamed me. In college, when I found myself with friends from around the country, my voice revealed things about me I didn't want people to know.

Every "crick" and "hollar" I let out told my friends I was a girl from the sticks. When I "warshed" my hands or carried my stuff in a "sack" instead of bag, I was nothing more than a farm hick from the country.

So, I changed my voice. It started by calling melons "canteloupe" instead of "mush melon" and by saying "green pepper" instead of "mango," but it extended to the way I say "aunt" and "orange," creating an "ah" instead of an "oh" with my mouth. "Pop" became "soda," and I was careful never to end a question with "at."

I'm sure I'm not the first rural Hoosier to change a few vowel sounds to quiet down the ridicule. And now, it's too late to go back to "warshing."

But when people try to figure out where I'm from by the sound of my voice, they can't do it anymore. 

Now, I sound like I'm from nowhere.


It could be that these issues with the voice I spoke with and sang with were part of the reason it took me so long to uncover the voice I write with.

Having also been told from an early age that I could write well, perhaps I was fearful of the kind of set up that would leave me screeching through the proverbial "land of the free" in my writing. Or maybe, I just didn't want to sound like I was from a county so small that I couldn't throw a rock without hitting one of my relatives.

When I tried my hand at journalism, writing in my best AP style, people would thank me for just writing "like I talk." I was offended.

When I tried my hand at academic writing in graduate school, more than one professor took me aside to find out why I was really there.

"I want to write," I would tell them.

"Then go write," they would say. "You don't belong here; you're already a writer."

Ironically, during that same time of my life, as I was preparing a lesson on voice for the freshman composition class I was teaching to 18 and 19 year olds, it hit me.

I don't want to write like I'm from nowhere. I want a voice.


"Try to remember and write it yourself," I say. "So it'll be in your voice."

So, LL Barkat instructs her young daughter as she writes a story about a girl named Joy. In her book, Rumors of Water, Barkat spends several chapters on developing one's voice as a writer. On the one hand, she says, the writer's voice is "best heard by listening to oneself speak."

Maybe those newspaper readers of mine heard what I couldn't?

But Barkat also says "our voices are not entirely unique. The voices of others fill our minds."

At the Laity Lodge Writer's Retreat, David Dark called these other voices our "ancestors." They are the voices we give full access to fill our minds, to shape our thoughts, even to speak through the voice we are developing for ourselves.

Sometimes, an "ancestor" might even be a place.

Barkat says that "to have a voice, a writer must have passions and a sense of place."
These passions and their places infuse the writing with silvery leaves and orange peels, versus say, ocotillo and pequins. The words of a region, a philosophy, a passion for French or French tea, come with their own sounds and rhythm and fragrances. If we read the Palestinian poet Darwish, for instance, we will find ourselves mouthing, jasmine, doves, olives, veils. Whereas if we read a poet like Marcus Goodyear, we will find ourselves breathing to the staccato of cactus, cattle, tree poker.
Farmer-poet-philosopher Wendell Berry has developed his writing voice by embracing his rural Kentucky roots into all his fiction, poetry and prose. His recent collection of essays, Imagination in Place, speaks widely to this concept of voice and place among various writers known for their regionalisms.

In his essay "Speech after Long Silence," he discusses the writing of poet John Haines, whose voice so encapsulates the place he is writing about that Berry considers "how little 'originality' has mattered to him" and wonders "if the voice of the poems is in fact his." He includes these thoughts from Haines himself:
What counts finally in a work are not novel and interesting things, though these can be important, but the absolutely authentic. I think that there is a spirit of place, a presence asking to be expressed; and sometimes when we are lucky as writers, and quiet in a way few of us want to be anymore, a voice enters our own . . .
Or, to say it another way, you can take the girl out of the "hollar," but at the risk of taking the "hollar" out of the girl. Leave the girl in the "hollar," and you might just hear the "hollar" speak.


I am continuing on my master writer journey, considering what it means to become masterful with words. Want to join me? Here are some ideas:
Photo by by urbanshoregirl, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

October 10, 2011

Radiation: Day 5

I walk into the radiation room day after day, slipping behind the divider to remove my shoes and pants without being told. The towel they give me to cover myself seems large enough most days, when all of the technicians are women. But today, a man has come to get me, has walked me to the room, has told me that his wife's name also is Charity.

Today, the towel seems very small as I walk out from behind the curtain.

The radiation table already is covered with the plastic form of my body that I climb into each day. The large bean bag with the air sucked out of it feels just like me as I lay down and try to get comfortable in myself. The form feels just like me, but it also feels awkward. 

The day they created the form, I must have been lying there crooked, because the techs always have to rotate me a little to get my position just right. And the crease that digs into the back of my head each time I lay down is a constant reminder that I've never really been that comfortable in my own skin.

When I am settled, the large cylinder of the RapidArc machine passes over me, and I see the length of my body reflected in the glass. My face, nervous, then my hands folded uncomfortably over my chest. I see my abdomen, with its scars and ink markings; then my legs, where the machine comes to a rest. Feeling the shape of myself below me, and seeing the image of myself above me, I am very aware that I am a person in a body.


Of all the things to fight for, I never thought I would be lying in a hospital fighting for my body.

I've never liked my body much, if you must know. When I was in high school, I participated in sports because my friends did, not because I had the body for it. It was always my mind, my personality, even my spirit that other people noticed. In the senior year book, I wasn't voted most good looking or most athletic. I was voted most studious, most friendly, most likely to succeed.

Like many women I know, I have tried to change my body over the years. I've tried to make it smaller, tighter, browner, smoother.

When I was 31, I felt betrayed by my body, my own immune system paralyzing me

At times, I've even blamed my body for my singleness.

But watching my sloppy, scarred body pass over me in the image of the machine, suddenly I felt a great affection for this tent I've been living in.

Suddenly, my body felt like it was worth fighting for.


Today, I received good news that my CA125 level - a tumor marker indicating the presence of cancer - is back to the negative range after just the surgery as we had hoped. The radiation will be precautionary, to ensure there are no rogue cells remaining. I am so thankful to Jesus for this news, especially since the side effects of radiation (fatigue, mild nause) are beginning to take effect.

Photo by Detlef Schobert, via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.

October 9, 2011

Faith on the Frio

On the first night of my stay at Laity Lodge, the High Calling editorial staff met together for a little check-in. Each person in the group was to take some time to talk about how they were doing, what the past year had held, what the next year might hold, or something like that.

Most of the rest of the group had taken their turn before I finally decided to speak. I wasn't sure what I was going to say; I wasn't sure if I could talk at all. My emotions were about an inch deep.

What I ended up sharing, and the tears that ended up coming, were exactly what I had hoped to avoid, flowing out of some deep place in me that I wasn't even aware of.

Basically, I told everyone how surprised I was that I had even come.

Four years ago, when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I quit planning, quit dreaming, and even quit writing. I cancelled all plans for the future -- and back then, the future was anything past tomorrow. Somehow, I felt that if I made plans for the future and then got too sick to carry out those plans, I would be a failure. 

Better to not try, than to try and fail.

I know.

So when this cancer diagnosis came again 2 months ago, and I had all of these plans, my instinct was to shrink back, to withdraw again.

But that wasn't going to work this time. Because if God had taught me anything through cancer, it was that my soul couldn't survive shrinking back.
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,
   “In just a little while,
   he who is coming will come
   and will not delay.”

   “But my righteous one will live by faith.
   And I take no pleasure
   in the one who shrinks back.”

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.- Hebrews 11:36-39
So, I told them that night, and I'm telling you this night: I'm going to stay engaged. I'm going to keep writing. And as best I can, I'm even going to keep planning.

I don't belong to those who shrink back.

I belong to those who have faith and are saved.


One afternoon during the Laity Lodge Writing Retreat, I was sitting down by the Frio, engulfed in the sounds of creation - nature, people, life. I wrote these words as I listened in.

In the Middle
The soft murmur of conversation
skips across the meandering river.
Ripples catch the sunlight,
show me myself,
and slowly die in the ferns
growing off the rocky bank.

The water flowing over the dam
sounds louder down here on
the dock.
"I've heard other people say that,"
says the woman in the black bathing suit,
floating in the middle of the river.

She's not talking to me.

A laugh from the lodge above, 
riding down the contours of the canyon,
falls playfully on the river,
and on the woman,
floating in the middle.

She's not laughing with me.

I reach my foot down,
slipping a toe into the water.
It's not as cold as they said 
it would be.

I don't live here;
I don't live in 
the canyon with the floating laugh
I don't live here with 
the woman in the black bathing suit
floating in the middle of the river.

October 6, 2011

There and Back Again: Truth

From the minute I heard about the Cody Center art studios, I knew I would be spending at least some of my free time at the Laity Lodge Writer's Retreat drawing or painting. With my surgery just five weeks behind me, hiking and biking and swimming would be out. Even walking around the grounds from one place to another could be a challenge.

But sitting on a stool surrounded by art supplies, I had all the energy I needed for that.

I showed up at the Cody Center on the first day of the retreat and found Kathy, the retreat artist-in-residence, setting up the studio for projects the next day. She had pieces of water color paper, Japanese water brushes, bottles of ink, and jars of glue organized by technique so that the artistic novice could find her way next to the seasoned painter.

With some brief introductions, I promised to come back the next day for the class.


Months ago, when I first found out about the Writer's Retreat and the opportunity to meet the rest of the High Calling editorial team, I was ecstatic. I imagined spending the weekend talking about writing, listening to writing, and writing writing. I pictured moments of inspiration when we would read words aloud to each other, and I envisioned leaving Laity Lodge, poised for giant waves of creative mania.

Since I was going to be in Texas anyway, I decided to tack on a trip to visit my friends the Bergerons, and as the schedule worked out, I would go to their house first, then the retreat. How far apart could College Station and San Antonio be, anyway?

With airline tickets to Texas purchased, I found out that I was invited to speak at a conference in Vermont the week before the retreat. A great opportunity for me and my company, we all agreed I should go, even though I would be out of the office the following week as well. The travel would be intense, but I was young. And healthy.

And then I wasn't healthy and my surgery was planned for just four weeks prior, and my radiation would begin the day or two after I would get home.

This is an old story by now. In fact, it's all over. But I rehearse it again here just to say, by the time I got to Laity Lodge for the writing retreat, the last thing I wanted to have happen to me was a giant wave of creative mania.

When I got to Laity Lodge, I was tired.


During the first morning of workshops, 15 or so of us gathered around the room and began introductions. Author David Dark was our leader, and his instructions to us as we began was to tell the group our name, where we are from, what our experiences with words have been, and where we want words to take us.

As each writer took her turn, I jotted down names and began to take notes about the things being said. After just a few participants had gone, however, I realized that just these introductions might take up the entire workshop time; we hadn't even made it half way through to the place I was sitting when we took a break.

For a moment or two, I was disappointed. When would we get to the life-changing, earth-shattering, career-altering lessons on writing if all these people just kept talking? Then, I was confused. Does David Dark mean to let all of us keep talking and talking?

 Then, I was curious.

What if in the middle of all this talking, could be found the life-changing, earth-shattering, career-altering lessons on writing, if only I were paying attention?

What if those random words I had been jotting down as I heard people talking -- candor, witness, story-teller, gospel -- what if these words being culled through listening were the actual words I came here to hear?


Walking into the art studio on day two of the retreat, I saw Kathy surrounded by a group of familiar faces, many of whom had been in my writing workshop that morning. They were just getting started, so I quickly found my place among the budding artists and got to work.

For the first 30 minutes, Kathy showed us various techniques of water color painting: dry brush, wet in wet, graded wash, wax resist, splattering textures. With each mini-lesson, Kathy gave us the tools we needed to experiment on our own and experience how the brush felt, how the paint worked, what the result was.

The hand-lettered sign on the wall said it all: "Give yourself permission to play."

Having painted in watercolor off and on for years, part of me was anxious to get on with it. If I could just be free to paint, maybe there was a masterpiece waiting to emerge. But as I was mixing colors and experimenting with the water brush and rocking the paper up so the paint could swirl around, I realized all the things I thought I knew about painting didn't really matter in that moment.

As I mixed and rocked and swirled, something important was happening in my soul.


After I had nearly finished the mixed media project that emerged from time in the studio, I decided to add a few more flourishes by trying my hand at stick writing.

As a tribute to our wooded surroundings, Kathy had collected fallen twigs and sharpened their ends to a point. Dipped in bottles of ink, they became pens.

I practiced writing with the wooden stylus on some scraps of paper first so my project wouldn't be ruined in the last few minutes. I carefully dipped and wrote, dipped and wrote, trying to keep the right amount of ink for each jot and tiddle.

When I was satisfied with my prototypes, I took a deep breath and began to write on my nearly finished project.

As things usually go, all was well for the first few strokes until I found myself writing on an area of the paper that wasn't quite dry. Instantly, the ink spread like cracked glass, the blemish growing as I watched, helpless.

"Oh no!" I said.

Kathy rushed over.

"I don't know what to do," I said, pointing to the error.

"Well, you can either try to cover it with paper or wait til it dries and paint over it," she offered, helpfully.

But those didn't seem right.

"I think I'm just going to sit with a minute," I said. "And see what happens."

When the initial ink stopped running, I started writing again. Once more, the wet paper absorbed the ink and it began to spread.

This time, I kept breathing. And kept writing.

As I watched what emerged, tears filled my eyes. What I thought had ruined my painting was actually making it more honest. This art I was creating, it wasn't beautiful, but it was true.

And what my tired soul needed in that moment, was truth.


I can't help but link up with lots of High Calling friends this week for There and Back Again as we all try to make sense out of our time at Laity Lodge. So, go THERE . . .

and then come back HERE again!

Join me for regular jaunts around The High Calling network, randomly visiting fellow bloggers, soaking up their words and ideas, and then coming back here to write about them from my perspective.

Each Thursday, consider going "There and Back Again" yourself. It's simple.

October 5, 2011

Radiation: Day 2

"It will either kill the cancer or kill me," I overheard the gray-haired man with the fleece vest say to the woman sitting next to him. We were sitting in the waiting room of the radiation department with half a dozen other people - both patients and care givers.

"What kind of cancer do you have?" the woman asked him.

"Esophagus," he said.

"My husband has throat cancer," she responded. In a radiation waiting room, the question is not "if" but "what kind." "Can they do surgery?"

The man hesitated to answer. I could tell he wanted to answer just right. Everyone in the room was facing the same question for herself or her loved one.

"I'm not having surgery," he said, making it obviously that this was his choice, not necessarily his doctor's. "If the chemo and radiation don't get it, then I'm done. I'm 75 years old; I don't want to learn how to live all over again."

The woman didn't seem shocked by his answer.

Before the conversation could continue, the radiation tech called for the man with the fleece vest, and he left to do battle on the table.

A few minutes later, the woman's husband emerged having completed his treatment for the day. He spoke through the hole in his throat, a scratchy, whispery voice. A man obviously learning how to live all over again.

Before they could leave the waiting room, I heard my name. I had a little battling of my own to do.


"This battle is not yours but the Lord's. You have only to be still." - Exodus 14:14

Photo by epicnom, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

October 4, 2011

Radiation: Day 1

I laid on the table being tugged and pressed into the proper position, the green laser lights forming lines on my abdomen.

With a blue sharpie, the radiation technician drew Xs where the lines crossed, semi-permanent marks to help them position me every day for the next six weeks.

As the techs prepared to leave the room for the xrays that would confirm I was lying on the table correctly, one of them gave me a few instructions.

"Your job is to lay perfectly still and breathe normally," she said, as if that would be easy enough.

Then, I was alone in the room, the large orange colored cylinder hovering just overhead, red lights flashing from the far side of the room. Suddenly, lying still seemed nearly impossible and my abdomen, reflected in the machine above me, was moving up and down far more rapidly than "normal."

Once the xrays were completed, the techs returned briefly for a few more instructions, then left the room once again to begin my treatment, limiting their own exposure to the radioactive material.

The machine rotated around me as I lay on the table, completing a full circle in less than a minute as it buzzed and hummed. When it stopped, I assumed it was now in position to begin the treatment.

Instead, the techs returned. The treatment was over.

"See you tomorrow at 7:30," I told them as I walked out of the room.

One down, 24 to go.

The View from 36,000 Feet

On board Continental flight 4465, I was looking out the window at the Great Lakes. Having departed from Cleveland, I was pretty sure we were flying over Lake Erie heading Northeast to Burlington, Vermont.

As the flight attendant was handing out Ginger Ales and tomato juice over ice, he played tour guide of the skies.

"In just a few minutes, we'll be passing over Niagara Falls. If you're looking out the left side of the plane, you'll see them between the lakes," he explained. "They will look like a white patch."

I leaned closer toward the window, thankful for the clear day. Ann and her family had gone to Niagara Falls this summer, and having seen the pictures, I was excited to have a chance to witness this natural wonder for myself.

With my nose pressed against the glass, I watched as Lake Erie narrowed and Lake Ontario moved into view. Soon now, I thought, listening to the attendant.

Within minutes, I heard the murmur in the seats ahead of me. I saw the North=flowing river; I had the perfect view of the connected lakes. The chatter in the cabin convinced me that we were flying over the falls, but the only white patch I saw looked more like white sand from 32,000 feet.

Water falling at 600,000 gallons per second looked as if it could sift through the neck of a 3-minute sand timer. The falls evoked wonder in that moment only in how small they were.

"If you are sitting on the right side of the plane," the flight attendant announced as a consolation, "you'll have a good view of the Finger Lakes."

At least they actually looked like fingers. 

I saw them on the return flight home.


From Indianapolis to Cleveland, Cleveland to Vermont, Vermont to Cleveland, Cleveland to Indianapolis, I sat in seat A on the small regional jets, both a window seat and an aisle seat at once.

When the skies were clear, I watched mountains emerge from flatlands, fields form patchwork quilts, and neighborhoods wind into mazes with only one way out. Each time we took off, I watched life as we know it shrink to invisible. With each landing, tiny ants grew into semi trucks; flashing red lights became the way home.

When it was cloudy, I looked at the wing.

No matter how low or high we would fly, whether brushing against angels or bumping along the tarmac, the wing always appeared the same. And me sitting there, though things above and below me became larger and smaller as my perspective changed, I was always the same size. 

At least that's the way it looked from seat A.


Ann and I were headed back to Indianapolis from Houston after a four-day writer's retreat with the High Calling team at Laity Lodge. We had spent most of the trip laughing and telling stories; we each forked over $8 for the tapas snack box since we had nearly missed our flight and in the process actually did miss dinner; and we both decided to rest our eyes for a few minutes because it had been a long day.

As we began our descent, however, we both were peering out the window trying to make sense of where we were in the world.

"It's amazing how small we really are when we see things from this perspective," Ann said.

"Ummhhhmm," I said, agreeing with her. "But I also have been thinking how big I always am when I can't get away from myself. I can't see myself from 36,000 feet. I just see myself from right here."

Only when we see ourselves from someone else's point of view do we see how small we really are, is what I really wanted to say, sitting there next to Ann in seat E.

And though what we all think we want is to be really big, really important in this world, we all fit together better in this place when we are small, and God is big.


Over the past couple of weeks, I have been rather quiet here in this world wide web.

Mostly it was out of necessity. I was traveling so much, sleeping in so many different beds, meeting so many different people, and still trying to rest some. There really wasn't time to write.

But as I look back on this time away, I think I needed to grow smaller, to not be so concerned about my Klout score and my page views and the number of comments people were leaving. I needed to have thoughts that didn't immediately get broadcast to the world, and I needed a little wide open space that Jesus could speak into that couldn't be explained in 500 words or less.

Basically, I needed to get out of seat A so I could see how small I really am.

Photo by rob st, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.
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