if you have been following my ramblings on line, you probably know that my wife Chameli and I have stumbled upon a way of being in marriage that is something close to a religious experience. We have learned together to drill down through layers of personality and habit, and to discover a dimension of each other which is divine. Chameli has become not just my wife or my best friend, but my way of meeting God in human form.
A few weeks ago she was having some unusual symptoms, and the doctor sent us to the emergency room for tests. We filled out forms, she got weighed and measured and labeled, they connected her up to an endless array of beeping machines and drew many little vials of blood. Then we waited, and waited, and waited. When the young doctor came back he looked serious, unshaven and as though he had been up for days on end surviving on black coffee. He talked about elevated markers for cancer, and the need for an immediate ultrasound. They wheeled Chameli off on a gurney. She looked up at me and grinned. “If you’re not careful, you could get really lost in this movie: being the poor suffering cancer patient.”
We waited some more, this time for what seemed like forever. Once the technician had talked to the radiologist who talked to the nurse, who talked to the doctor, he came back with more papers on his clipboard. “Of course, the tests are not completely conclusive,” he told us, in the same tone one might talk about the chance of rain when you plan to go golfing, “There is a sizable tumor, and I’d say you almost certainly have cancer. You’ll need to get referred to a specialist. ‘OK?’” he smiled, as though waiting for us to say “Great! Good job, Doc, just like Gergory House!” He left the room in which we were now both reeling.
As Chameli got slowly dressed, I went out to the corridor to breathe and reel some more. There was our young doc, looking through files, no doubt getting primed for his next bad news speech. He must have been exaggerating, I thought. After all, tests are not accurate. “Excuse me…” I started, “can you tell me a little about the chances of this being serious?” I guess I thought that by asking for a second opinion, even if from the same doctor who had only just given the first one, I might get better news. “Based upon the blood count, the size of the tumor we found, and other factors, I’d say the cancer has almost certainly spread to other organs. 97% likely it is terminal. Best that you make your preparations.”
We went home. That weekend was unlike any other. Chameli started to talk about the book she wanted to complete, while there was still time. I did my best to stay optimistic and cheerful, till deep groans of pain would erupt randomly from the pit of my belly. I have known people with terminal conditions, and I’ve know the people who love them. I had sympathized, I had compassion. But never till now did I know what it would be like to face loosing the one you love completely. Over the weekend, through the tears and the terror, we also dropped deeper into relishing what is right here. Sipping a cup of tea together, the dimples in her cheeks when she smiles, the little inflections in her Norwegian accent, the slow walks in the evening air, everything became magnified. The temporary nature of our time together, which of course had always been a reality, was now flashing neon before our eyes.
And then, on Monday morning, Chameli woke up, and looked at me with unwavering clarity. “I’m not choosing to be in this movie,” she announced. “I know that nothing is solid, nothing is fixed. I know that I am healthy and I will live a long life.” With that she jumped out of bed and made herself a green smoothie: cucumber, parsley, spinach, celery, spirulina, coconut juice in the blender. She consumed nothing else for the next two weeks.
I sent word out to close friends, asking them to hold a vision of Chameli being in radiant health. We also called upon the two very powerful healers we know. Chunyi Lin is a Chi Quong Master from China, the author of the book Born to Heal. He had already turned around many other friends “terminal” diagnoses. Deirdre Hade, the creator of Radiance Healing, also has a reputation for creating miracles with long distance healing. Chameli talk to each of these extraordinary people almost every day.
Healers like these don’t talk so much in terms of “cancer” or “not cancer.” They are able to read patterns of energy in the body, and to see when it is blocked or flowing. Neither of them ever gave a fixed diagnosis, as a western doctor would. When they both started out with her, they could both see something there, but neither of them labelled it as cancer. Within a few days they both saw these energy patterns shifting. Deirdre taught me how to practice these healing techniques on Chameli myself. We could both feel the power of it. Chameli felt her organs jumping, vibrating, becoming suddenly hot, as they went through their transformation.
When we went to see the surgeon the next week, it was a whole different movie we were in. His office suite was painted in pastel colors, lots of nice art and sculpture: it felt like a high end resort. His manner was way beyond mellow. Later Chameli was convinced he had been digging into the prozac, I assumed he was a closet long time meditation practitioner. He did more tests, he looked at the old tests, with his calm presence he said “It really could be anything. There is a cyst there, but until we take it out we won’t know what it is.” His twinkly eyes conveyed the excitement and suspense of an easter egg hunt.
The surgery was scheduled for the following week. I sat beside her as they marked up her body to prepare her for the scalpel. A procession of people came by to do their thing: the nurse, the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, and then more and more nurses. On the surface, they were all there to heal her. But another current was also moving underneath. Chameli was so sure now of her determination to be healthy and happy and whole that she had become the source of healing in the room. They came busy and serious, with a forced jolliness. Her gratitude and grace made them all mushy, so they left laughing, and I suspect they never knew why.
They gave her the first injection and wheeled her away into a restricted area. I heard her giggles echo back to me as she gave in to the drugs.
They had told me the procedure would be about an hour, “unless there are complications.” This seemed like a very long time to cut her open, whip out a little lump and sew her back up. I assumed they’d come get me much sooner. So what do you do when the one you most love is being cut open behind closed doors, and there is no way you can do anything to help? I went to the garden and practiced chi kung. The first hour seemed like several days. Then I sat still and watched the insects buzzing around the flowers, as I watched my thoughts, like unruly school children, running between best case and worst case scenarios. By the time we were well into our second hour, I knew we must have entered the dreaded land of complications. Every TV hospital drama I had ever seen replayed before my eyes: hemorrhaging, lines that should have little spikes going suddenly flat, people in masked coats running in with even more beeping machines. Then the doctor walking away despondently. “I wish I could have saved her.”
After two hours I could take it no more. As I walked back into the waiting area, the surgeon came out, still dressed in his surgical gear, and a plastic hat like my mom used to wear in the shower. He looked very serious and tired, and pulled me aside away from everyone else. Now time had slowed down to about one second per hour.
“The operation went quite smoothly,” he said, avoiding my eyes.
“The cyst came out quite easily.”
“We sent it off for biopsy.”
“And just got the results.”
Will you please, please stop talking in slow motion! Tell me, tell me, tell me. Pleeeeeaaaaase!
“It was benign.”
I thought I knew what happiness was before that moment. but now I knew for sure. The Beatles will tell you that happiness is a warm gun. Hallmark greetings cards will tell you that happiness is doing kind things for small cuddly kittens. I now know for sure what true happiness is. Happiness is “My Wife Does Not Have Cancer.” I grabbed that highly esteemed and highly paid surgeon and kissed him on both cheeks.
Not only was the cyst benign, the doctor said it had probably been with her since she was born, and had been growing there her whole life. Chameli stayed in the hospital for two days. Everything was sweet and kind and lovely. Flowers were bright, smells were sweet, and the birds sang all day. She was on massive doses of pain killers, which caused her to drift off and talk to Tibetan deities and mythological figures. She came home and went to bed for two weeks with her whole library of tantric Goddess scriptures and reruns of Sex and the City.
We’ll never know for sure what was real and what was not out of all this. Perhaps external things are not so hard and fast as we might believe, they only become solid when we make them so. Perhaps things are waves, capable of being anything, until we need them to be something. Perhaps cancer, and financial challenge, and relationship conflicts, and all the other challenges we face are in a dream we are dreaming. We try to change the dream, but the art is to change the mind of the dreamer.
I grew up in England, in the Anglican Church. The Hymns and Psalms and prayers are all in my blood. The other day I remembered the 23rd Psalm.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
These weeks have been our hiking trip through the valley of the shadow of death. We come away with so many souvenirs. Even though our crisis has passed, I can’t lose the recognition that all this is very temporary. Whoever we love, whoever we are attached to, the clock is ticking every day. Sooner or later, someone will die, and someone will be left behind. Chameli and I find ourselves relishing small things now.
I emerge from the valley having taken a big step to believing in miracles. Today, just today, I have my wife.
My cup runneth over.