One of the many good things about being a cancer survivor is that it’s changed my perception of time. I don’t take its passage lightly any more. My days don’t stretch out endlessly before me, bursting with possibilities, as they once did. In compensation, I have a keener sense of life's richness and fullness. Each day is qualitatively different; I observe things about each one that makes it special. You could say I've become a connoisseur of days. I savor the best ones, and record them in photos, words and thought.
I recently had the chance to take on a leadership role of a caring ministry at my church. I’ve done this before, and it was something I loved. Most churches never have enough committed volunteers. The invitation was hard to turn down.
The thought that came to me was that this task was too much too soon. It would require too much of me organizationally. It’s been just a year since my cancer recurred, and while I’m feeling whole again, I don’t have the ambition I did before. I’m shockingly content to hang out around the house, to read, to pray, to play on the computer, to think. When the weather turns warm again, I expect to be out digging in the dirt and tending my garden. Lest you think I’m a human slug, I also work—mostly teach—but that’s not consuming, and my current stint will only last a few months. Classes end about the time summer starts in Corvallis. Good timing for someone who loves long days, and who missed last summer in a drug-induced haze.
There’s poignancy to closely observing people and events, and to fully experiencing the turning of leaves and the falling of snow. Anyone can do it; poets and writers often make careers of it. It requires letting go of the drive for accomplishment, however, and the compulsion to achieve. It is in small acts, and in the many details of our lives, that we largely define who we are. Beauty and meaning can be found in noticing the frost on a desiccated rose bud, or in the ghostly drift of high clouds across a night sky. I once found meaning in burrowing deep into work, turning off my senses and disconnecting from the physical world. No longer. Like my friend Mr. Thoreau, I want to suck the marrow out of the bones of life. I do this partly by simply not being obsessively busy.
Time has slowed down. Each day is precious. Small things matter. What I do is less important than who I am. No great lessons here, but isn’t that the point?