In this room, the room where I currently sit, I become my very best self.
I am a bit ashamed that it takes a room like this to get me there. But, I think we should take our very best selves however they come when they decide to make an appearance.
In this particular room, a small library, I await my youngest son. We are at the Wellness House outside of Chicago, a cancer support center his father—the cancer patient—does not utilize much. But my youngest struggles, at times, with the reality of having a father with cancer. And the children who bring him the most comfort are those he barely knows, at least outside of this center. They are the ones with a mother or father who sometimes sleep whole weekends away, who cannot open the refrigerator during chemo for fear of vomiting and anaphylactic shock, the ones whose surgery scars bear witness to a recurring battle. With these peers, he does not have to explain. He gets no curious stares. They are, for the time being, his peeps.
This room makes me calm. The blue walls, the shelves filled with books meant to encourage, to heal, to advise, to comfort. The sofa with silk pillows, the light pouring in through the windows, the employees and volunteers who ask no questions whether I am reading a book, sitting with eyes closed, wiping away tears, laughing hysterically. Here, I am not a writer on deadline. I am not racing anywhere. I am simply someone whose family needs support in the moment.
My teenager will not set foot in this place. At 16, he denies he needs any comfort or support. I do not force the issue. Never having a parent with cancer, I can’t imagine how to tell him to deal with it. He has always been a bit of an island that way, very much like his father.
But my youngest—he speaks of platelet counts far too often. Is familiar with cancer staging and post-surgical protocols. He needs an outlet. A place to complain that teachers don’t seem to get he will be alright one day and a mess the next—and that this may or may not show on the outside. A place to figure out how to deal with the social isolation on a weekend his dad doesn’t feel well enough to leave the house—and he doesn’t feel like he should leave his dad.
I have sat, it seems, in too many rooms like this one. When my mother was dying, the hospice house had a “quiet” room. Ironically named, as the hospice was always quiet. In moments of black humor, I would think of posting a sign that read: “Quiet, please. People dying.” As if any of us needed a reminder. In that room, also, were books. A meditation cushion. A sofa and comfy chair.
It is not that any of these rooms imbue me with any Mother Teresa traits. I still am my same impatient self when I walk out. But something about the energy inherent in these rooms changes my behavior, even if only temporarily. As if the collective of fervently uttered prayers, total surrenders to tears or hysterical laughter, the quiet moments of reflection, oozes into my pores for a bit. When someone cuts me off as I pull out of the parking lot, I could care less. I don’t even react. My mind is on the mother with children who were leaving with pensive expressions just before us. On the people shuffling in for the anti-cancer diet cooking class in the kitchen. On the man who wandered into the library while I was there, muttering aloud to himself about the books. We’re all in this soup we didn’t ask to be in. So are our families. It’s not great but no one wants pity either. There is living to do—day by day. And dying, yes, if we’re truthful.
I have found the losses of the past few years have changed me. I find it harder to relate to those whose idea of a “fun” party is too many cocktails and comparing exotic vacations. I sometimes want to shout, “Do you not want to figure out what the hell you’re here for beyond THIS?” Perhaps that makes me sound crazy. But, the clock is ticking. I can do silly. I can do frivolous. Most of the time, however, I now seek the divine more than ever. I have always been a spiritual seeker. My path over the past few years has just accelerated that a bit.
In this room, this blue room, time seems to stop for just a while. And maybe that is why I find it comforting. When the future is so very uncertain—or the end all too certain—pausing to be still is a blessing beyond belief.