Why has it been so difficult and taken so long for me to write about the most meaningful and transformational experience of my life? Wording the question this way may make the answer obvious but I laugh at the first thing that pops into my mind. It’s the line from The Sound of Music song, “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” Impossible to describe? Impossible to do?
My feeble attempt begins with Raymond Carver’s poem (found on his tombstone):
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
When I first heard about the Commonweal Cancer Help Program in 2013, I dismissed the idea of ever going. I was in chemotherapy; the program looked too expensive; I couldn’t imagine that I was worth taking that kind of time for myself. It wasn’t until several months later that CCHP came to my mind again, took hold, and wouldn’t let go. After incessantly thinking about it, I picked up the phone and subsequently had an interview with dear Waz who won my heart with his presence and gentleness. I was told to get my name in the system because of the long waiting list. When I hadn’t heard anything for several months after that, I called back in January, 2014, and everything quickly fell into place. I hurried to get the paper work completed and found myself on the schedule for February, 2014.
I can’t tell you exactly what happened to me during my week in Bolinas but I can tell you that I have never been the same since. I still had the same rare appendiceal cancer and I continued to live in the same “liminal space,” not knowing what decisions I would have to make nor what their outcomes would be. But somehow, after the CCHP experience, my world got bigger. I saw with a different lens. Because of the staff and because of my group, I was able to “feel myself beloved on the earth.” Through networking, I began to see that “thinking outside the box” gave me options I never knew existed. Also, I now had the love and support to move forward. Commonweal felt like a true home.
Since my initial experience, I cannot “not” do everything to support the Cancer Help Program. I’ve worked on starting a new East Bay CCHP Alumni Group which meets monthly at my home. I’ve also attended some of the wonderful SF Alumni Group meetings, as well as many of the Healing Circles’ programs. It is obvious to me, even palpable, that there is a deep hunger to be heard in a safe place where others understand; getting to the soul level is indeed precious and sacred. Intimacy is created by sharing brokenness, and the bond among us continues to grow.
How and into what we will evolve remains an unknown. I have often referred to my life since my diagnosis as my “journey.” I’m reminded of something that Margaret Silf once said: “This is a pilgrimage journey, not a tourist outing. It is a journey that changes the traveler, a process that shapes the soul in ways we cannot predict.” Commonweal has changed me and continues to shape me in unique and surprising ways. For this, I am ever grateful. Thank you!
Header photo by Corinne Bayley