There's the first life, the one I don't remember. I spent those first years growing from a tiny dot to a not-as-tiny person, being born (what an adventure that must have been), learning to drool my first words (adored by my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles) and to crawl and even walk. (My first brain tumor was beginning to grow then, too.) I must have been well cared-for in those early days, since my latter days have been mostly joyous ones. (The importance of those early days is one of the things I've learned in the School of Social Work.)
In my second life, a life I remember in snatches, I discovered that when you rub two bricks together, you get sand, that some kids threw their valuable toys in the creek for reasons I could not imagine, and that a train would flatten a penny if it ran over it. I learned the word "probably" and began to learn the uncertainty of the truths I thought I saw clearly before me.
And then there were my lives marked by elementary school, middle school (my ugly duckling life), high school and college (my beauty queen life), my twenties (my first teaching life), thirties (my life divorcing my wealthy doctor husband and joining with my not-as-wealthy teacher girlfriend), my next life with brain tumors, the swine flu, pneumonia, food allergies, and a nasty car accident, and now my life post-brain tumors (I hope), with disabilities and a slower way of moving through the world: a life of gratitude for all the lives I've had, and especially for this one. This life, I notice, is my ninth life. I'm glad I'm not a cat.
As I mulled over my wrinkling skin and my many lives, yesterday, my friend Joanna sent Stanley Kunitz's poem "The Layers," a poem that resonated with me. It begins:
Did that brush with death leave me less afraid and more alive?