letter to Sensei Glioblastoma

July 22, 2020

Dear Sensei Glioblastoma,

A year ago today I learned of your existence in the right parietal lobe of my brain. You got my attention with that spooky seizure in the parking lot of Safeway. Later in the emergency room, I caught a glimpse of what you looked like in the CT scan. I remember thinking, like an artist does, that there was a certain organic beauty in your form, like an aerial shot of a coral atoll. Later in the day, when I was strapped on a gurney in the back of the ambulance on my way to Denver, we drove through a torrential rainstorm going over La Veta pass. The ambulance lurched and jolted and shuddered and thumped its way up I-25 to Denver. All this peril was clear to me but somehow removed. Miraculously, Henry arrived in the hospital about four hours behind me. For some reason, even though a lot of my memory has since  thinned to threadbare, these details are etched and inked.

Sensei, I have been training with you for a year now. I see that you are a fierce, demanding, and relentless teacher. I see that taking ukemi from you means I have to be ready for anything, especially hard falls. That’s okay; I expect it. I see that you are also a jealous teacher. Thank you for keeping Sensei  Coronavirus out of the dojo.

I have more thanks to offer: Training with you has clarified many things in my life: how I want to fill up the time I have left, or leave it empty; who I want to hang out with; what I want to put into my artistic hopper and what I want to keep out; how important it is to have my hands in the dirt and on the stone and holding the brush; how important it is to touch Esperanza every day and  hold Henry’s hand at night and giggle in the morning.

However, I need to respectfully point out that I have just passed a kyu test, possibly a dan test that you didn’t schedule. Here’s my evidence:

  • I have kept my center and ground no matter what you have thrown at me
  • I have kept and even grown my sense of humor (or is it groan?)
  • I have never borne any malice toward you. Unlike much of the language around cancer, I have never spoken about defeating you or kicking your ass, tempting as that may be. I have always tried to practice aikido with you.
  • I know that, just like me, you are a bit of star stuff simply trying to survive.
  • Here’s the last bit of evidence, the thing that has promoted me in rank: I know that if you kill me, you will also kill yourself. And I know you know that too.
  • So I’m calling your bluff. I challenge you to join me in coming to some amiable, mutually respectful agreement so that we both get to live.
  • Doing so promotes me as your equal.

Your student… and colleague

Kathy san

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