July 12, 2011
more than anger
A hermit crab seemingly wanders aimlessly on the beach. No discernible direction. It can traverse underwater withstanding the rough surf while still being able to breathe; or, it can readily glide through the ephemeral medium of air picking for tidbits of food along the beach. When in the shell, it is safer from danger, but unable to move. In order to move, it risks exposure and emerges from the shell. In order to grow, it must abandon its shell altogether in search of another that fits better. Neither exclusively terrestrial nor aquatic, it is the embodiment of adaptable and aimless purpose.
Cancer is named for just such a crab, specifically the zodiac sign of the crab which is Cancer. Early healers observed that the tumor and its blood vessels ran in every direction, much like a crab would navigate. The fact that a zodiac sign was used is curious to me. Did it signify a feeling that dealing with this disease is akin to our fates being controlled by the stars? In other words, much of cancer is out of our hands.
It takes us into places that we did not know existed, into areas where we cannot breathe, where the waves beat us senseless, where there simply is no direction. Retreat into the shell or risk exposure by growing? This particular hermit crab was found on our yearly pilgrammage to the beach but this trip was far different from previous years. The planning of the trip always fell under the purview of my brother. It first started out with just him and his wife when their kids were quite young. It then slowly grew into a larger family affair centered on Mother's Day. Last year, he delayed it because my finals overlapped with the traditional date. I remember the trip well. At the time, the chemo had worked well giving us a short lived sense of hope. He and I were bodysurfing in the waves feeling the joy at life.
This year, he died on the weekend that he had planned on having the trip. We wondered about whether we should go at all this year. The loss was still too raw, too soon, and the trip was his trip. How could we go without him? So many more feelings than just anger. But we went. A customer of my dad graciously offered us her beach house for free. She had lost her husband to cancer recently and knew all too well its sting. Shortly after my wife and I arrived at the beach house, my dad yelled from the other room, "COME AND READ THIS."
"Hold on, mom's showing me something."
"NO, COME NOW!"
He had a message from MD Anderson. One of his brothers tested positive for being a potential stem cell donor. The trip became all the more imbued with confusing emotions. Missing the lost, or celebrating the chance at life? How does one do both? Mourning and celebration are nearly mutually exclusive emotions. I know that firsthand. It's counterintuitive and requires emotional contortions, but it is possible. It's a bit like a wandering crab moving from liquid to air, from the safety of the shell to the exposed danger of searching out a new shell.