In the midst of transition to what is, in many ways, a whole other world (yes, China really is THAT different from everywhere else), I got blindsided last month: I learned that my mother has a rare form of cancer. So rare, in fact, that no one seems to know how to treat it. Additionally, a second disease is masking the cancer, so no one knows what stage she’s at. It’s been a rough road, grappling with all this while adjusting to a new life, dealing with a hundred different stressors pulling me every which way, and also missing all the people I had to say goodbye to. It was inevitable that sooner or later, the proverbial camel would get one two many straws on his back and break down. I just didn’t expect that the camel would shatter.
On Monday this week, I reached breaking point. I’d been battling along, managing not to cry all the times that I wanted to, and never once really letting myself deal with emotion, because I didn’t want to experience the pain. I didn’t want to think about the possibility of losing Mom. I didn’t want to think about how angry I am. I wanted just to be the happy history teacher, making the other faculty laugh and hearing from the students how much they enjoy my class. I wanted, in short, to throw myself into work and away from everything else. That seldom works for long. And on Monday, after countless technology problems and frustration over some students doing inexcusably poorly on my test, I reached the point where all the anger and emotion couldn’t be buried any more. I took the early bus home, seeing where I was headed, and by the time we arrived at my stop, I was in tears and breathing felt like the most excruciating impossibility.
I knew that I needed to let it out. Anger, fear, sadness . . . they’re all like toxins that you just have to pour out at some point, lest they overwhelm you. I took a long walk along the rocks in the ocean until I found the perfect secluded boulder, and then I just let it out. Tears, words, thoughts — eventually, I turned to one final balm: writing stream-of-consiousness. Although I am not a fan of much of what this style of writing produces, sometimes, it is the best therapy. What I wrote is no masterpiece; it’s not poetry, or even anything pretty. But it helped take me through the very raw emotion that I needed to release, until at last I could get up and go inside to do my grading. And so, in the hope of helping another person perhaps, I’ll share what I wrote:
A swelling gale, a churning cyclone,
A stabbing ache that never ebbs.
How can You let it happen?
Her whole life, she’s waited for now,
They’ve dumped on her at work,
They’ve taken advantage of her,
They burdened her so thoroughly,
That she nearly collapsed at the end of each day.
She’s worked so hard, waited so long
To retire and spend all day in her garden,
Or traveling, or taking up the hobbies
That she had to let go.
She’s worked so hard . . .
And just when she had earned it,
Just when she could finally stop —
It isn’t fair.
All she’s wanted, all she’s waited for —
Is the clock winding down?
Is this how it ends?
Her whole life . . .
And now she fights something she can’t fight,
Something she can’t even see,
Something no one understands,
A scoundrel disease that only fights dirty.
They’ll pump poison into her body next month,
Poison to fight something that can’t be killed,
Leaving her weak, ragged, small . . . helpless?
And the only daughter that ever says “I love you”
Is thousands of miles away.
The waves swell up and down, up and down,
This poison in my chest swells, too.
These tears will drown me yet.
I can’t cure her,
I can’t fight for her,
I can’t even hug her.
You called me away and I followed,
And now You’ve left her this way.
I want to scream at you, Lord.
I want to hit these rocks,
I want to punch the ocean,
I want to hurl myself down on these rocks
And hurt on the outside the way I hurt inside.
The sobs are shaking my whole body now —
I want to shake You.
I want to yell at You.
I’m angry at You. So Angry.
I’m . . .
The waves keep rolling by,
This rock I’m sitting on is firm, unmoving.
I could be swept into the sea,
But I won’t be.
I’m as small as this barnacle,
But you let me be angry,
You’re Big enough to let me be angry with You.
You can take it.
I think I can breathe . . . just a little now.
My tears are mingling with the ocean,
But the tide stays out . . .
Until I can breathe again.
You made this ocean, this very ocean that calms me now,
You made the rock that I’m sitting on,
You hold back the tide until I can move on.
The breeze pushes the hair out of my face,
I’m small still, but not alone.
I see the gold of your countenance,
On the water, on the sky, on the rocks.
You brought me here,
You brought her there . . .
You could take it all away,
In an instant.
But you’re giving us a moment.
I can breathe.
It hurts, but I can breathe.
You might take her,
But I can breathe.
I’m still angry,
But I can breathe.