A Page From The Double-Overtime Playbook
“Do you feel like you’re living on borrowed time?”
We have accidentally fallen into the tradition of catching up over early morning coffee around the holidays and on this day we are each picking at breakfast while slowly waking up when he asks the question. I don’t remember exactly what I said in response, but it drew us into a discussion of how I am not only in the position of living on borrowed time – a situation a small portion of the human population will experience – but that I am in the position of living in something akin to double-overtime. I’m not sure how many of us live in this sliver of life, but it certainly can’t be many.
“The first time I survived cancer, I wanted to get out and do all the things,” I tell him as I feel myself drifting back in my memory. It’s a time I remember clearly. I was 24 and had survived cancer and I was going to go to law school, finish at the top of my class, run a marathon, backpack in Hawaii, raise a ton of money for cancer research, make partner at my firm, buy a house, ride a bike through California, get tattoos, travel the world, attain enlightenment, and be the most devout Christian to walk since Christ (this was before I got the memo that Jesus was not, in fact, a Christian at all). Hell, I was going to single-handedly save the world. The list was unending. You needed a partner in crime for some epic adventure? I was your girl. I was going to do all. of. it.
Right this very minute.
In my borrowed time, I threw myself into a frenzy of living life as intensely as possible. I did not want to miss a thing. I rarely sat still. The word “no” left my vocabulary and I became the go-to yes girl for anyone who was “out living it” and needed some company.
It almost killed me.
* * *
There is a hashtag going around the social media cancer community these days: #getoutandlive. Despite its good intentions, I have a visceral reaction to it each time it pops up in my feed. Like, want to scream and fling my computer across the porch visceral.
I get it. I really do. Particularly for those of us who got to look our mortality directly in the face at a tenderly young age, it can be painful to watch other humans take healthy bodies, unburdened minds, and a certain naiveté when it comes to matters of life and death for granted. There is nothing like confronting the reality that someone once told you that you would be dead by now to make you want to suck the marrow directly out of this lifetime.
I know because I once made a 100+ item bucket list and then tried to conquer it all in about a year. And very nearly succeeded.
I know because in the beginning of my second cancer experience, my tears were shed equally out of fear of the road ahead and the pain of abandonment and out of frustration at finding myself grounded, sidelined from a game of life in which I had become not just a starting player, but captain of the whole damn team.
What I didn’t realize until I had come out on the other side again was that part of what made me sick that second time – part of what prevented my body from processing and healing much of the emotion that would eventually need to be pulled out through my abdomen – was the “get out and live” attitude I had adopted following my lymphoma experience. I got out and lived to experience all this world has to offer, sure, but also as one of many mechanisms I would employ to avoid looking the trauma I had experienced directly in the face.
If only I kept moving, surely I could outrun the carnage wrought by surgery and chemotherapy and radiation. If I kept moving, I could avoid giving a name and a weight and a color to that experience. If I kept moving, I could ignore the fact that cancer effectively ended my marriage before it began, set me back financially before I even signed onto a single law school loan.
If I got out and lived enough, I could ensure that while I still lived in the same house as the shadow of that cancer, we were more akin to shadows passing in the night than roommates.
* * *
Its been quiet around here and around my Insta lately and the reason for that is an exciting one. Hope and I are in the process of buying a farm in Indian Valley, Virginia – a small town on the outskirts of another small town in southwest Virginia by the name of Floyd. Its 46 acres of God’s miraculous creation tucked into what has long been my favorite valley in all of the United States.
Hope is just excited about all the smells.
I just keep praying that all goes smoothly and we actually close.
“Why would you want to move out there?” one of the few people I have shared these details with asked me incredulously. “There is nothing there.”
“Exactly,” I replied happily. “Exactly.”
Floyd County is slower, quieter, more spacious than Richmond. And its all my soul has been aching for for so long now.
So I am writing this among a Christmas tree and a mixture of paint cans and sawdust. Contractors have been bustling around my Bellevue home getting it ready to go on the market, my abs are sore from bagging so.many.wet.leaves (way to procrastinate on that one, KK), and my car is filled for yet another trip to the Goodwill. I’ve been mulling this post over since that breakfast many days ago, and had put it on hold until things settled down. But as I paused to scroll through social media tonight and was met with electronic screams urging me to take over the world and dream big and stop wasting this life - and as I found myself beleiving them for a moment - I felt the need to share these thoughts before the ball falls on a new year in a few days’ time.
We live in a society where we are constantly told to do more, faster, bigger, and grander all the time. Taking a day off from work is a sign of weakness – that you’ve lost your hustle. There’s the boss babe movement and the constant pursuit to shatter the glass ceiling (and don’t get me wrong, we women should be shattering the shit out of that thing, but by no means are any of us required to take on that mission if it doesn’t feel right or to do it in the ways that others are). We even celebrate those who don’t miss a day of work and train for a marathon while undergoing chemotherapy. Books want to teach us to be skinny on just 5 hours of sleep a night and I can’t even count the number of Facebook and Instagram posts I see a day encouraging me to get my nutrition from a shake or a gummy of some kind so that I can forgo preparing real food in favor of maintaining a lightning fast pace of life.
These are not good messages. I’ll admit that I felt significant guilt that I eagerly took the Benadryl-induced nap during my chemotherapy days when I would see photos later on social media of the power-babes who brought their home offices to the infusion center with them and powered through. I felt like a loser for barely making it around the neighborhood with Hope most days, never mind accomplishing an asana practice. I beat myself up for much of this past year because running a distance race just wasn’t working out for my new body. And I continue to be called “grandma” because I choose to go to bed by 9:30 pm most days because that is what my body needs to rest.
It has taken significant work for me to realize that there is nothing wrong with me or the slower lifestyle I have chosen on this side of cancer the second time around. But there is something very wrong with a society that tells me daily how lazy I am for it.
* * *
“I am so freaking lazy.”
I am sitting on the couch bad-mouthing myself for opting for tea and the next season of The Magicians (if Hogwarts won’t have me, I swear Brakebills will) rather than getting into the studying and asanaing and socializing I had told myself the holidays would consist of. It’s a delicate time of year for me generally, and I while I know that this is what is required tonight, I also know that there are some “babes” out there in social media land currently hustling and killing it and shattering the earth in ways that I simply can’t muster up the energy to do tonight. So I snuggle deeper into my quilt and pull Hope closer to me and start to cry. I fall asleep by 7:30, the tea going cold beside me. I find out the next day that I have mono.
In the month leading up to this night, the wheels had started to come off as I juggled work and school and buying and selling property alongside the demands of the holidays. As I leave the doctor’s office, I hear God whisper that he’s reminding me gently before he has to really lay the law down again. Slow down.
* * *
I look up from my coffee and my mind comes back from that era of borrowed time. “I don’t want to do all the things anymore,” I tell him. “I only want to do the things that are right for me.”
That is the thing I have learned in double overtime. Discernment. That subtle art of understanding what it is that I was put here to do, and what is best left to others.
I am no longer the yes [wo]man that I used to be. Sure, I still love a good adventure, and I’ll jump in the car without a blink to attend a workshop 90 minutes away with one of my beloved teachers. But I don’t fill my schedule with every workshop offering in a 10-mile radius, afraid I might miss something there. And I’ll add a second week to a trip to Hawaii to do some volunteer work, but trekking Machu Picchu is someone else’s adventure this year. The word “no” has firmly rooted itself in my vocabulary, and as a result my life has slowed, has quieted, has taken on a peaceful tone that would have made by skin crawl just three years ago, but that now helps me understand just where it is that I am meant to go.
I am not lazy. Even on the Saturdays where I might not leave the house at all.
In this new space, I am finally attuned to what my body, my spirit, my mind require. Sometimes that’s a long hike in the woods. Sometimes it’s a grand adventure. And sometimes it betting every last dollar that I have to my name on a quiet patch of pasture in a valley to the west.
Maybe its not bad ass. Maybe its doesn’t make me a “boss babe”. I may not be killing it or lighting up every party or running through terminals to catch airplanes.
But I am out living the very life that was meant for me. And no one else’s.
That seems to be the beauty of double-overtime: that sometimes the quiet, carefully curated life, is the very best one of all.