This is not the “dark night of the soul” for me that John of the Cross speaks of.
I think I have been through such a dark night earlier in life, where I felt like Job on his dung heap, railing against the unfairness of the Universe and muttering against the things we humans must bear during the course of our lifetimes.
This experience is not that for me.
This feels more like heading into the belly of the whale.
It hit me yesterday, after a very long – over four hour – series of meetings at the hospital, where I found out the many details of what I will be experiencing during my surgery tomorrow. We talked with the neurosurgeon. They took blood (no fainting this time, but currently still on my “least favorite thing” list), and we met with the anesthesiology folks. It took a long time. I was nervous when we began, but we had to wait so long I got too tired to be nervous anymore, so the waiting wound up working in my favor.
When we got in the car to go home, I cried for pretty much the first time since my diagnosis. I didn’t want to be touched or comforted – comfort, right then, was not possible, although I was glad for Marshall to be there with me. I just had to let it wash over me without interruption or interpretation – sorrow to my center of my being; the realization that no one, no matter how much they love me, can do this thing that is now set before me. The task is mine alone. The path is set. If there is to be a Hero in this story (always the writer…), that Hero is going to have to be me.
It is a terrifying path. There is no way around it; there is no way to avoid it. The only way is through. I am heading into the belly of the beast. Tomorrow I leave the ordinary world on a journey to the underworld, where I must face my greatest trial. Those of you who have read Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces will immediately recognize the pattern of the mono myth narrative embodied in these words. Others of you may, on this Ash Wednesday which seems to be no coincidence of timing, recognize my path as the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Either way, descend I must, and descend I will.
The potential, the promise, that is included in that descent is what awaits on the other side of the trial – the possibility of utter transformation; the hope of resurrection; the chance to find the “boon” that comes as a result of the “time of undergoing;” and the possibility of bringing back this boon when I emerge the other side – not just for myself, but for a world I will likely see very differently as a result of my journey.
It is a stunning narrative that rings true to my foundation – in both my spirit and my literary sensibilities. But it is utterly, utterly terrifying tonight as I stare towards dawn, into the long throat of Leviathan. It is a place of total solitude, standing alone in the Garden. Waiting. And praying for the strength to undergo this test.
For this Irish Catholic girl, it’s hard for me not to make comparisons to Jesus on this Ash Wednesday night. The Paschal Mystery of Jesus’s death and resurrection isn’t something that just happened once to Jesus. The Paschal Mystery is the pattern of life itself. We live out this pattern whenever we take up – and allow ourselves to be transformed by – our own, very personal crosses. Suffering is the crucible where the substance of our characters can be changed.
Unlike Jesus, I do not ask for this cup to pass me by. This is not because I don’t want to avoid it – I do, very much so. But tonight the vantage point is pretty clear. The cup hovers at my lips. There is nothing to done now but drink and pray for strength.
Tomorrow I will be awake for about an hour during my surgery, as my surgeons operate. This is so I can respond to questions that will help my surgeons further map my brain – so they can make sure only to take out my tumor, and not essential parts of “me.”
They can give me no anti-anxiety medications or sedation while I am awake because they need me to be totally alert – my brain needs to be functioning as normally as possible so they can get the best information to make the best possible decisions on my behalf. I cannot pretend to you that this isn’t terrifying to me – as I’ve mentioned, I have a tendency to faint merely from having an IV put in.
On the other hand, it seems like it has the potential to be a crazy exciting experience. I mean, who gets to do something like this in “the ordinary world?” And from an intellectual curiosity standpoint, being awake at your own brain surgery certainly sounds … interesting. So that’s what I’m going to try to focus on.
My neurosurgeon has given me permission to try to blog from my own surgery. This means that while I am awake during my surgery (which will be about five hours, during which I will be awake for 45 minutes or an hour), I can send a message or two out to Marshall in the waiting room. He will then text my message to Nick Stone with Charlottesville SEO Web Development, who has been extremely kind in helping me set up my blog, and to whom I am very grateful. Nick will post what I say on my blog – allowing me to blog live from my own brain surgery.
This may seem a little weird. But I know I am going to be very scared while I am awake in surgery. There will come points when I won’t be able to respond normally. This will give them the information they need, and I will need to accept it as normal and not be frustrated. It doesn’t sound like the process will be very comfortable for me – the potential for anxiety is pretty high.
It will be very important for me and my brain to stay calm and relaxed, even though the situation will be difficult to say the least. My plan is to use mindfulness and centering prayer and mantras and meditation to help me stay calm, open, positive, and consenting to all that is happening. Blogging during my surgery will hopefully also help me stay intellectually engaged and able to participate as fully as they need me to. So it is a tool for my own empowerment. What the heck, it will hopefully give me something fun to do.
I ask for your prayers. I go into the hospital at 5:30 a.m. The surgery will likely begin about 7:30 a.m.
Please pray for me to remain calm and relaxed and totally accepting of each moment of my surgery. Pray for me to enjoy it, even, and not to allow fear to control me. Pray for me to feel the grace and web of prayer and support that surrounds and enfolds me. Pray for me to undergo the test and allow myself to be transformed. Pray for me to let go and give myself over completely and in total trust.
I have a good feeling about this. I will see you on the other side of Thursday.