Time & Other Means of Calculating
"I know what you are. You're our friendship historian!" she exclaimed over dinner one night.
"Oh my gosh - YES!" came his response. "That's exactly it!"
After eighteen years of friendship, these two were used to my habit, but only one Christmas ago did they decide it merited an official title. Whenever we were together, I couldn't help but rattle of statistics. X number of years since we had met. Y number of years since her wedding. Z years since the party where his cousin set the deck on fire.
I have an intimate relationship with time. I am acutely aware of its passing - of the memories piling up behind me. Maybe I developed this habit of tabulating days and memorializing dates in the years spent hoping my dad would actually show up on his scheduled weekends or anticipating a holiday that might not involve a house full of drunk adults or counting down until I could finally leave the town I so clearly didn't fit in.
Maybe that's where it began, but it was exacerbated by my first ride on the cancer roller coaster.
Because when they tell you its cancer, they're also telling you there may not be a tomorrow.
And that is a game changer.
* * *
I love calendars and countdown clocks. 30 day cleanses and 100 day run streaks and 545 mile bike rides spread over seven days. I like things I can count, cross off, countdown.
Without trying, I recall dates. Anniversaries. Birthdays. My sober date. The day we saw that rainbow over the golf course while we were playing hooky from the office. The day when we won the impossible argument in front of the difficult judge. The day I sent that ill-advised email.
Each December I fawn over my newest set of calendars. I tell myself this year I will leave space to breathe. Space for spontaneity. And then, before I know what has happened, each and every day is filled up. Travel and classes and retreats and dinners and races. All the things I may not be able to do tomorrow. Because there may not be a tomorrow. So I am going to do everything I can to make them all happen today.
That's a side effect of cancer they don't warn you about. The never-ending fear of no tomorrow.
* * *
I named him Bartholomew today. My cardinal came back - this time to the front porch - and stayed awhile. I say "Hey there, Bartholomew" as he touches down, but I'm thinking "Hello there, God."
* * *
When I first got sober I became acutely aware of counting. My first day sober stretched on forever - not because I wanted to drink - God took that right away the moment I asked - but because I was so unsure what this new life was going to look like. For months I would find myself opening the app on my phone that calculates my number of days sober multiple times a day - as if I had expected the count to change between noon and four. For as much as I loved it, time passed laboriously as I crafted this beautiful new life. Tick tock. Tick tock.
This time - now - these weeks. Its the same. I count the number of days since surgery, the number of days until the next chemo, the number of days until we should be done multiple times a day - as if I expect them to change.
I pass the time by counting. Always counting.
* * *
I had started to feel safer in the idea of tomorrow about two years ago. I started putting money in a 401k - letting myself believe retirement might actually be something I would live to see. I started to lay the groundwork for some long-term travel plans - not feeling restricted to impulsive trips scheduled less than four weeks out. I told myself that certain things were off limits for the time being - because they could always be explored later. There would be time for that.
Just as I started to believe in tomorrow, God reminds me that it isn't promised. That maybe now is the time to cash in that 401k, hop a plane to Israel, and see the world. Maybe now is the time to buy a cabin in the woods, to adopt the puppy, to buy another sequined ballgown and get that next tattoo. Maybe now is the time to live the entire bucket list as fast as I can.
The fear of no tomorrow makes you think that all the irresponsible decisions are the right ones. Because if there is no tomorrow, what does responsibility guarantee you?
But it also makes you listen to your heart more carefully.
It made me call my baby brother, just to tell him I love him. It made me tell a new girlfriend how much hope her relationship with her adopted children has brought me in recent weeks. It made me recommit to the changes I'd chosen to make in my life two years ago instead of falling easily back into my old one. It made me sit in the sun with a book for an extra hour.
The thing of it is, none of us are guaranteed another tomorrow. I could be in a car accident on the way to chemo on Thursday and lose my life more easily than I could lose it to this disease. But I know one of the ways that my life will be altered from this point forward will be in the renewed feeling that tomorrow may never come.
I think I've needed that reminder.