This morning I went to Rome for Mass and was going to attend a little luncheon do to say good bye to a couple of friends who are moving back to N. America, but like an idiot, forgot my pills. I had parceled them out into my little pill container and had poured a bottle of juice to take them with. They're timed, so I couldn't take them before it was time to go get the train. So there we are, sitting in the little compartment, I pull out my bottle of juice... DANG! foiled by stupidity again!
By the time Mass was over, I was being reminded quite forcefully that I still really need to take my pills, so instead of going to the nice luncheon, I got back on the train and went home and then slept all afternoon. This little incident has reminded me that chemo really did happen and that it's not over yet.
But of course, this also means that, at some point, it will be over, and I've been thinking about what comes after. Of course, I'm going to have to have tests every couple of months for a few years, and then regularly for the rest of my life, however long that is going to be. Recurrence rates with this type and stage of cancer, and with the treatment I'm getting, are wondrously low, but of course, cancer is weird and unpredictable so...
Nevertheless, there is going to be an after, and there's nothing like a brush with a deadly disease to make you reconsider things. What has surprised me about the outcome of my thinking is how happy I am with the way things have turned out. (Those who still think that living in a weird foreign country is all yachts and champagne may feel free to laugh hollowly now). After a rough first thirty years, I feel I'm finally pointed in the right direction and moving along.
I remember being young and the one thing I remember most is how horrible it was. I had a note this evening from a Picnicker who told me about how sorry she was when, at an insupportably young age, she felt she needed to "put away childish things" and got rid of a beloved teddy bear. I commiserated. I never felt guilty about having kept my bear, but I do remember well the feeling of having to force myself to do things that felt unnatural and unkind because I was now supposed to be a grown-up. What a horrible thing it is to be young in our times.
How much worse off are the twenty-year-olds now than they were in the 80s when I was there. The directionlessness, the feeling of never being quite sure you are doing it right, the agonising over mistakes and faux pas-es. The terrible harshness with which we judged ourselves and others. On my fortieth birthday, a friend complimented me then took a quick step back and said, "That is, if you're happy with that..." I said that I was just glad I had made it this far. Past the terrible twenties.
Of course, The Crazy, the bouts of depression and the lack of personal security are likely going to be with me forever, an ineradicable holdover from my unstable upbringing. But there is something about having made it into one's forties with most of my faculties and health intact. When cancer came along, it made me realise just how well things were turning out, and how disappointed I would be if I didn't get to finish certain things.
Of course, I know that nothing in life is going to be "finished", even if I were to live in good health to a hundred. I remember only too well how strange and unnatural was the death of John Muggeridge, one of the best people I've ever known. As though he were cut off in mid-sentence during an especially engrossing conversation. We all looked around, rather shocked, and said, "But where's John?" If he had lived into his second century, there wouldn't have been enough time to spend with him.
But this feeling of pointing in the right direction, of going the right way and in the right manner, is something I never expected to experience. This is really why I am so relieved that the cancer thing is turning out OK. I really do want to keep doing what I'm doing, and do more of it. More work, more painting, more Italy, more learning. And I want to do something for all the people who have been kind to me and helped me. I've given Other People such short shrift in my life, I'd like a chance to make it up to the human race.