Monday, October 19, 2015

Beauty in Endings

I love going for walks this time of year. Here in Kentucky, the weather is just about perfect. There's a slight chill in the air and more often than not, the sky is a clear brilliant blue.  Most days, I take a walk each morning after the kids are at school.

Usually, I bring my phone so that I can listen to an audio book.  But recently, I've found myself turning off the book so that I can pay attention to what's going on around me.  We live in a subdivision, but it's one with a lot of trees and green spaces.  There are even trails through the woods behind our subdivision.

I'm a gardener, so I always pay attention to the natural world, but this year it seems particularly spectacular. There are berries and bright yellow flowers. Mushrooms on tree stumps and bright orange leaves.  It's as if nature is pouring all of it's beauty into this last gasp of life before winter sets in. Everything is a riot of color. The world is bold in a way that the rest of the seasons aren't.  Perhaps it's because Fall is a time of endings.

Perhaps being juxtaposed against death, life becomes that much more beautiful.

Last week I went to the doctor.  Anemia is one one of the complications from Crohn's disease. I have a bleed somewhere in my GI track, but we can't find it, so I'm constantly losing blood.  Twice a year I receive IV iron treatments for a few weeks. The doctor who treats my anemia is a hematologist and an oncologist, so I get my iron treatments at the same place where people get other IV treatments, including chemotherapy. For a few hours, about 30 of us sit in a large open room tethered to IVs.

There's a lot of fear in that room.  The woman sitting next to me started out with cancer in her liver, but it has metastasized. The man next to her was 74 and had never been to the doctor before being diagnosed with bladder cancer.  The man next to him had a chronic condition that left him with too much iron in his blood.  Every 6 weeks he had to drain out two pints of blood.

Dealing with a diagnosis is difficult.  Even if the condition isn't fatal, getting diagnosed with an Illness puts you smack up against your own mortality.  That explains the fear in the room.  It also explains the joy and the courage. It explains the beauty in endings.

Realizing that you're not immortal (and I meaning really knowing this deep down in your soul where you can't deny it) tears down our walls and strips away our pretenses.  Our lives become smaller, centered around the things that really matter.  The people we love.  The people we've just met.

In that room we shared our stories.  I told of my seven surgeries in the past 12 years. A man told of the mistakes he had made that cost him his marriage--something he only realized after his diagnosis.   A woman talked about the never-ending nausea she experienced on chemotherapy. We compared notes to see who was the hardest IV stick. (I won that one with 9 needle sticks for one IV! Yay me!) We talked about the stress of dealing with disease and pain management.

One of us was on meds that made him need the bathroom every 15 minutes. "Here I go again!" he'd say.

"Don't forget the bucket!" we'd call out. (He had to measure his urine output.)

He'd salute and off he'd go.

We didn't know each other.  In fact, we didn't exchange names, but we shared our trials and our fears. We were transparent in a way people rarely are.  You see, there is a lot of pain when dealing with a disease, but there's also great beauty.  Unfortunately, in the U.S., most of us go about our lives never having to deal with our own mortality until the very end of our lives.  And yet, it at the very end when we are often the most alive.

It's then that we feel live ticking past most keenly and therefore, we focus on what's most beautiful around us.  Other people. Our differences don't matter so much then.  Age is just a number, and who cares about political or religious differences.

I wish more of us could live like this.  I wish more of us could see the way the silly things that preoccupy most of our waking hours just melt away when we're forced to boil down our life to its essence. When we strip away the mask we wear and share our authentic selves.

Like the spectacular display of Fall, there's great beauty in endings. Maybe someday, maybe we'll learn to live with that awareness.