Two days ago I had the joy of revisiting a special time in my life. I had written about this for my good friend, Phila Hoopes, who has just created a wonderful new website about tips for surviving these challenging times. The site is a place where all of us can contribute stories to inspire one another when the going gets tough. http://www.survivorshaven.com/ Phila says, “On this site, we gather to affirm: your story matters. Your tools, your practices, your wisdom matter. That ‘something in your soul’ is recognized and welcomed and honored here.”
Anyway, I had trouble deciding what to write about. Like everyone, I have so many stories to tell. In the end I decided to write about what I learned after taking a one-year-long sabbatical following my breast cancer diagnosis. I absolutely knew that cancer had a lesson to teach me, and I was determined to discover it. And for that, I needed ample time for reflection.
Prior to the diagnosis, I had already left my job as chaplain and volunteer coordinator at a non-profit hospice in New Jersey. Even though it was meaningful work, I kept having this intuition I was supposed to leave. And when I didn’t listen to that intuition, things started happening–like two 10-day-lay bouts of pinkeye, and an accident while driving my father’s pickup to work, and slipping and falling down the spiral stairs at home. Finally I said to my supervisor, I think these are all messages telling me to resign. I’m afraid if I don’t, something more serious will happen! She agreed and so I left to explore other interests and passions.
When the diagnosis came, the desire to find other work totally disappeared. I just wanted to settle into some serious self-care and existential musing.
I realized that if I wasn’t going to work at a “real job,” then I needed to cut my expenses, and the biggest of these was clearly my rent. So, after stressing about it for a few days, I finally got up the courage to call some friends and ask if I might stay at their home in exchange for some kind of barter. I told them I could cook or give massages, whatever. Thankfully, they said yes, and I was given (to my delight) a humble apartment in the second floor of their barn.
And thus began a very special time in my life.
I loved hearing the rhythmic noise of the pellet stove as it tumbled more wood pellets into the crackling fire. I loved having a fire going to give both warmth and ambiance to my space. I loved having the privacy to sleep, dream, write, paint, cook, make love. I loved hearing the sweet clucking of chickens below me. I loved going for ambling walks on country roads–usually with the very rambunctious dog who lived at the house and was grateful for extra attention.
I had a few odd jobs that year, including my massage therapy work. I loved giving massages in my sweet little space, complete with lots of books and plants and a futon on the floor. I wasn’t making quite enough money, but it didn’t seem worth getting upset about.
Phila asked me if I had taken any photos during this time, or if I’d painted any paintings. And so I began excavating through my thousands of photos until I got to the correct time frame.
I was actually quite surprised to discover how much art I’d done during that year. I’d also done a lot of writing, a lot of therapy (I exchanged with a friend), and a lot of dreamwork. All this leisurely time to focus on what I loved (instead of caring for everyone else all the time) brought me to an important conclusion:
LIFE IS SHORT. DO WHAT YOU LOVE. AND LET GO OF ALL THAT DOESN’T SERVE YOU.
Here are some photos I took that year–of scenes seen, dishes prepared, and art completed. Enjoy!