As I have noted before, I am uncommonly lucky to live in a country, in a socio-economic group, that allows me to have unusually high access to personal freedom. I am free from want; I am free from oppression. I am free from bad teeth and debilitating eye issues. I am, so far, free from death. There are many places in the world where these things would not be true. But, being human, perhaps as a very symptom of the freedoms I enjoy, I construct ways to want. I invent ways to be oppressed. (I do pretty well at oral hygiene, however, and since I’m down to a mere three drops per day for my eye, I’m keeping up with that pretty well, too). But there are times when I’ll find myself dissatisfied. Other thirty-somethings, I’ll think to myself, get to do all these things. Why can’t I? I WANT TO. IT’S NOT FAIR. Or,
With my cancer/anxiety/occasional migraines/other-manufactured-things-to-worry-about, maybe I SHOULDN’T be allowed to do this thing I love. I can dig quite a hole for myself.
Nine years ago, when I first started going to Idaho to house/horsesit, I would marvel at how healthy I felt there, in the wilds, away from the cares and considerations of my day-to-day life in the city. I feel so healthy out here, I realized once, that I don’t even think about it. That, for me, at that time, was the true measure of health—a very young, sheltered, naïve definition that nevertheless was true for me—I suddenly realized that, when you’re in it, youth=health=immortality and therefore there is no discussion. The sun rises and sets. Water is wet. These are facts of life. What is there to question, or even to notice? For several years, Jerome Creek allowed me to pretend, for up to three weeks at a time, that cancer didn’t exist and I was still that same old invincible teenager.
All travel allows us to shed the cares of home, at least a little; but as I’ve grown through my cancer experience, I’ve also had it follow me to my Idaho paradise—a migraine here; a panic attack there; the medically influenced runs or jams; the very fact that one of my doctors is a Son of the Land. I have found that I can no longer escape when I go there, and this was causing me a lot of manufactured-things-to-worry-about anxiety before I left for this second trip. I invited lots of people to come and visit me in my mountain fastness, but it turned out their schedules meshed best with my first week, and I was to be left alone during the two-farm days.
In the late summer of 2009, one year after practically dying, I was out for a visit at Jerome Creek and I took Shadow, my dear horse (she is mine by now, no matter who pays all her bills or shelters her, and thank you very much for doing that for me, K&A), out for a bareback ride. As I rode along, I thought back to the last time I’d actually been on her bareback, and it had been three years before. Maybe I am too old for this, I thought uneasily, as Shadow twitched her ears back and forth at me, asking to gallop. Maybe I have passed the time in my life when I am going to be able to gallop bareback. But fortunately something in me wouldn’t accept that, and so we did gallop a little, me clutching at Shadow’s mane and desperately clinging with my legs, and I was very tired at the end of our ride, but I WAS NOT TOO OLD.
This trip out, I was stronger because I have learned in the last couple years that you’re never too old to regain strength (case in point: my 96-year-old grandmother with the 5-month-old knee), and I’m mostly active during all the times of day when most of the other people I know are mostly stuck inside at desks. But I was also prepared, as much as possible, for any eventuality health-wise, because with my new awareness of my reality, I know I must be.
I asked for several local contact numbers and met the people I might theoretically call on for assistance. MS volunteered to come right back over, forsaking her new love for another week, if I needed her. I made a plan with Ian where I would call him before and after each and every walk and ride, tell him where I was going, and write on the refrigerator white board the wheres and whens of my day. Ian had the number of my nearest contact, whom he could call if the sun had set and I was still at large. All of this prep assuaged my anxiety, and I settled into my solitude with commendable ease—in fact, pretty much unadulterated bliss, as you will have surmised from my recent posts (minus the episode with the chicken—those of you in Seattle who have hens, which I promised to take care of if you ever accidentally acquired a him instead . . . well, I’ll still do it, but much more soberly now. So choose your flock carefully, please.)
Allowing in the fullness of me today—the needs for regular meals, good protein, pills on (more or less) time, exercise, help (the hardest one to admit)—actually, I realized as I was driving home yesterday afternoon, drinking in my favorite sights in the advancing season, allowed in a freeness that I haven’t experienced in a long time, maybe ever. I was not out there ignoring my cancer; I was not out there in spite of my cancer. There was no spite involved. I was out there as MY WHOLE SELF and ALL THAT MEANS, and I have never felt more grateful for my life and the gifts it has brought me.
K&A arrived home late Monday evening, the night before I left, from their 5 days on Orcas Island (where they had spent a night on our land on their way to sailing with A’s brother—oh, the crazy intertwined threads of human lives). We were sitting in the kitchen, them just finishing their Subway sandwiches from a well-considered stop in Colfax; me chattering on about sawing down the forests and the hilarious quirks and foibles of the menagerie.
“Calin,” they said, more or less together (although not in unison—that would be a little creepy), “it is such a gift to us to have you here, taking care of things so beautifully. We are able to completely enjoy being away, knowing that you are here, able to handle anything that could come up. Is there anything we can for you in return? Anything that you would like?”
I started to tear up (I am again, now). “Only to come back,” I said. “I LOVE being here.”
“Well, that makes it pretty cheap for us!” said K, leaning back in his chair, and we all laughed. But it’s true—it is a perfect symbiotic relationship.
In a very recognizable physical way, this realization—that my true freedom came only when I embraced the needs of my whole self, as she is today, not just carefully selected parts of myself—was good for me: as I drove back into Seattle yesterday after my several days of unadulterated bliss, the usual mantle of tension did not descend onto my shoulders and around my chest, tightening my spine, squeezing me into a twisted, unforgiving corset of CANCER . . . because I had not thrown it aside in the first place.
I am indescribably lucky to have such a place where I can be wholly me: elemental, feral, capable.Free.