Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Talking to myself
Monday afternoon, I was irritated to hear Ann's voice calling up from downstairs. I was taking my nap, and I heard her holler, "Are you up for bean bag jumping?" I figured she was on the phone with our friend Pam and we'd be bean bag jumping with Pam and Allyson's kids, so I mustered all the cheerfulness I could from my deep sleep and hollered back, "Sure!"
As I woke further, I wondered if Ann had in fact hollered up. That's just not like her. I called her name, but she didn't respond, and I lay there longer trying to figure out what had occurred. Then I thought, "What in heaven's name is bean bag jumping, and how could I do that with my disabilities?"
Since radiation for my second brain tumor, I have sometimes confused waking and sleeping, and I decided to investigate further, so I called Ann's cell phone.
"Hey, Sweet Thing!"
"Hi, My Love. Did you just holler up to me about bean bag jumping."
"No. What is bean bag jumping?"
"No idea, but I don't want to do it, and I'm glad you didn't wake me up. I must have been dreaming."
"Maybe so. For the last five minutes, you've been talking in that high pitched voice that you use when you're talking in your sleep."
I do a lot of talking to myself since my brain tumors. For example, when I'm first waking up in the morning, I lift my head inches from the pillow and say, "Up, up, up." I sound like a child watching a red balloon disappear into the sky's blue as I encourage myself to get up. At the end, I usually lay my head back down on the pillow and groan.
After a few minutes of moaning and groaning while I stretch my limbs, I sing to myself "Waking Up is Hard to Do," a bastardization of the Grease song, "Breaking Up is Hard to Do." Then I encourage myself with the idea that I'll soon get to sleep again by reciting the first part of Theodore Roethke's "I Wake to Sleep and Take My Waking Slow." As always, I get stuck on the line about the lowly worm climbing up the winding stair, and I go to a new song, this time Tom Petty: "It's time to move on. Time to get goin'. What lies ahead there is no way of knowin'"
Finally, thirty minutes later, I rise as I recite the last lines of Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise." The lines are not hard to remember: "I rise. I rise. I rise."
I encourage myself throughout the day. "You can do it, " I say, as I traverse a broken sidewalk. "Whew. Made it," I say when I sit on the bus. "Five pages down. Two to go," I say as I come towards the end of a social work paper I'm writing.
I have always talked to myself, keeping my words inside my head when others were around. Before my tumors, however, I generally asked questions: "Why are you having so much trouble with this?" and "Why am I always so tired?" and "Can my life be meaningful, or will I just leave footprints on this globe before I go?"
Perhaps my more encouraging self-talk is another gift from my tumors. Before these tumors, I expected myself to make big differences in the educational lives of my students and the other underserved students in U.S. schools. Now, I’ve lowered my expectations of myself as I’ve begun to see myself as part of a bigger picture where I am not at the center.
I still ask myself big questions. Once I've arisen, I quote throughout the day from Mary Oliver's poem "The Summer Day":
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I do believe this one life of mine, disabilities and all, is still wild and precious. I still want to leave more than footprints on this earth.
But perhaps I’m more humble now about what I might leave. Perhaps I’ve learned from the poet Walt Whitman, too:
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Perhaps I have let go of the need to write (right?) creation’s song, and see now that I will contribute a verse and see the gift in that. I am part of something much bigger than myself. It would seem that this should have been obvious before, but it has not been.
Perhaps in addition—or as part of—not fearing my own insignificance, I see life and death differently now, as part of a whole and not as two universes.
And perhaps I learn from my brain tumor flirtations with mortality as from Whitman:
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
Perhaps. And perhaps this is my Easter message as I look through Lenten eyes. Or perhaps this is all baloney.