Heaven and earth

I wrote this as I’m getting ready to start chemo. Audio file with transcript below.


I can’t really imagine what heaven will be like. I did think about it when they walked me into the operating room, yeah, in Canada they just walk you right in to your surgery. There’s hot white light in there…in the operating room I mean…and I closed my eyes to it as a nurse called out my stats to the team. I thought about my cat then from when I was a kid and I imagined petting him again. i thought well, my cat will be in heaven and oh well….Maybe I’ll be going there now, I thought.

But I didn’t. I woke up. And the world was full of people and beautiful. Is heaven like that? With cool breezes and kids running past? Is it summer in heaven? Do we hear the tick-tick of bicycles and feel the warm sun on our backs? Are there a lot of people? Are they all talking at once? Or is it quiet —like under the water during a really good swim?

I’m waiting now to start my chemo in 3 weeks. The prognosis is I will probably see more summers after this one. I hope. Summer feels like heaven must be —like at the city pool.

Because of Covid I’ll have to avoid the pools during chemo, so we’re going every day now till it starts. We go in the afternoon. My son plays with the other kids and I swim laps close by.

It’s so quiet under the water. A muted world. My mind travels to past present and future. I find myself dreaming as I swim and flip, swim, flip. Dreaming about the long summers before this one, the easiness of life, and of a future where life is back to normal, when this pandemic crisis comes to an end…

Is there an end? I wonder. Then I flip. And swim, flip and dream again.

Cancer really changed how I look at death. You’ll see, at whatever time in your life that life gets reduced on paper to probabilities, to 5 and 10 year increments scrawled by a busy doctor. When you’re asked to balance the decisions that are yours with the factors that you can’t change. The thing you can’t believe at first. You’ll see. I drew away from life just after my diagnosis. That’s normal. It can last. Eventually you jump back in —but you’re different though.

Now Covid…Covid changed how I look at life. Right? In the early weeks of the pandemic the past felt suspended in air like pictures of the gone world. What happened? How do we make a new life? What do we do with the now? Do we hoard our moments like a poet, scrawling them down, sketching and photographing them for later? There’s a before and and after now. What’s coming ahead of us in this world of the post? Is pre and post any way to look at the world? What are  the other ways?

In the deep end I dive down —and watch my shadow float over glittery mandalas of sunlight on the pool floor… then I see another shadow following. It’s my son, he’s stopped playing to come swim along and do the grown up thing. It’s quiet here as we glide.

Then a faraway, oceanic whistle sounds: the 5 minute warning from the lifeguards above. It’s time to swim to the edge. They have to clean the pool for the next people. We emerge to the world again and make our way through the scratchy grass and clover, home.