I am a Body
I fell this week. It was a crisp Tuesday afternoon and my daughter Ezzy and I were breaking up firewood. I stomped on a branch and it shot out from under me. A brief second of freefall and then my back hit our front sidewalk and my shoulder smacked into a ceramic pot. It hurt. A lot. Nothing was broken, but I took some time to sit up. Ezzy was great. “Dad! Are you ok? What do you need?” Grace under pressure, that kid.
Living with cancer, incidents like this (and smashing my thumb with a hammer, slicing my finger with a fillet knife, burning my hand on the cast iron…) take me back to a simpler time when I could just curse, be sore for a while, lose my thumbnail, bleed a bit... Now I’m like, “Really? REALLY? In case you haven’t forgotten, I need no extra reminders of humanity’s frail form here. Honestly, lung cancer was quite enough.”
I don’t really pray that way. Goodness, how do I pray these days? That’s fodder for another post. For now, I’ll just say that when pain is pulsing through your scapula, I think you’re allowed to espouse shitty theology if it’ll help you get through those first debilitating seconds.
After a few days, a good hard fall and the lingering soreness in my shoulder serve as powerful reminders that I am a body. 37.2-trillion cells of blood and bone, muscle and guts, heart pumping, mind spinning, cancer… It’s all me, feeling and responding to life as I fly and stumble through it. By the way, I also believe that I am more than a physical body. I am spirit, soul, light, love, memory… But in an every-day, shoulder-meet-flower-pot sort of way, I am a body.
There’s a lot in my faith tradition that drowns our body-ness with shame – a litany of flesh-vs-spirit texts in the Bible and a long history of interpreting those texts to mean that our bodies are dirty, sin-born earthen shells that must be rigorously restrained. Add cancer to all of that and you add disease to dysfunction.
So I get the temptation, especially now, to differentiate the physical from the non-physical me – to watch even my fingers as they type this sentence and wonder about their temporal nature. Or to contemplate the cancerous cells in my lungs and lymph nodes and imagine my eventual withdrawal from earthly to less-foibled form.
Next week I’m applying for disability and getting a CT scan at the cancer center. These are big days. So today I claim all the truth I can. I am a body, dammit, and in body I am good. The Divine Source that was known to hover over the chaos in those pre-creative moments hovers over the chaos in me still – the questions, the doubts, the endless wonderings, but also the 37.2 trillion cells of me, ordered and chaotic, behaving and misbehaving. God hovers over the physical body me, stirring the waters with dream, hope, promise, possibility…
“Is it good?” I ask. The breath in my lungs, the touch of my skin, the pain in my shoulder, the Divine in and beyond me… They all say “yes.”
I have stage IV lung cancer and I write about that here. If you're out there and you're fighting cancer, solidarity. If you read "lung cancer" and you wonder if I was a smoker, read this. Living with cancer is a daily, death-defying reality - one that pushes me to not simply defy death, but to affirm life, bless goodness, cheer for wonder, celebrate beauty... you get the idea. I hope I do that here.