Strange anniversaries, or what happens when your world is blown apart


When you are at the beginning of a journey, there’s just no way to know what it will look like when you arrive.  As I reflect upon the journey/vision quest I’ve been on this past year, I had no concept for how I would be different or how I would know that I had, indeed, arrived.  What I’ve learned more than anything else is that it’s an ongoing process that doesn’t end unless you do.

One year ago today, I began what would become one of the most bizarre weeks of my life.  I had been sick for a long time–mostly hiding it well from other people, and sometimes I even managed to convince myself that I would be able to get through it on my own.  I had recently been diagnosed with an arthritic condition in my ankle, which was so painful that I could barely walk–I was laughing about it–“what am I, 90?,” I said to friends.  I had tried to keep my sense of humor through the months of not being able to plan much of anything for fear I wouldn’t feel well enough to do it.  Then, after a weekend at herb school, it all changed.  That day at lunch–I can remember the moment–I looked at my food and wondered why I had put it on my plate.  I couldn’t eat much of anything.  When I got home 6 hours later, I had a handful of blueberries and some juice.  I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that for the next week or so, I could barely eat or drink much of anything.  Everything I took in left my body so quickly that I began to drop pounds in a rapid fashion.  By the end, I was so weak that I could barely walk across campus to work–and I weighed in about 25 pounds lighter.  (Yes, through this whole thing I was going to work–good thing because they kept tabs on me and gave me the reality check that I should go to the hospital.)

I drifted a lot during that time–half-waking, half-sleeping; sometimes keenly alert, sometimes fuzzy.  What I remember is touching in on other people’s suffering and seeing very clearly how faint the line is between life and death.  I got really serious about my life after that, and said that I was going to be so very different.  Whether I almost died or not is debatable, but I definitely honed in on the space that is between the two.  I felt the ease of drifting out–that I could have chosen that, that it wasn’t a terrible scary place.  I didn’t choose to leave, obviously.  I chose to live my life differently–to take my own passions more seriously, to show up in the world authentically and without fear.  I had aspirations to have manuscripts written and be embodied in the world more fully.

Some of what I had hoped for has happened.  I have delved into the darkest places of fear and doubt and found strength and joy amidst heartbreak and loneliness.  I have spent a lot of time examining what is truly important to me and what gifts I have to offer the world.  I’ve begun offering some of those gifts more freely and with less anxiety.  I have begun to tap back into the strength of my voice through writing, which has been such a homecoming.  I’m feeling really excited about three poetry projects that are on the horizon, which hasn’t happened in a long time.  I’m showing up…for me, for once.

The biggest lesson, the lesson I’ve always known in the abstract, is that this life…it goes away pretty quickly, and you just don’t know when or how.  I’m 41, and while statistics say that I have a good long time to live, it’s clear to me that I just can’t count on that.  Death is real to me in a way it never was before.  But so is LIFE.  This weekend, I was moved to tears by the beauty of just being able to walk along the water on a cloudless night and smell the sweetness of the linden trees blooming.  I am filled with gratitude every single time I sink my body into the ocean’s body and move with the waves.  I am in love with living, and I’m planning on making this life good for however long it’s mine to live.


3 thoughts on “Strange anniversaries, or what happens when your world is blown apart

  1. Cathleen So sorry to read that you have been going through such an ordeal. My heart goes out to you & I know I would be speaking for your friends in Philly. This is very moving and courageous writing. So glad that you are well enough to be writing poetry as too. You are such a talented artist & poet. Very much looking forward to your upcoming books. Best luck & love for continued heath. Lew

    • Dear Lew,
      Thank you for your kind and supportive words. It’s been quite a year, but I’m grateful to be well for now and to be able to enjoy it all.
      When I get a book done, I’ll send you some poems!
      Much love, Cathleen

  2. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, since we connected … once upon a time. I wish you all the very best and send my love across the minutes and the miles. Stephanie

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