Okay sensei glioblastoma, you brought me to my knees with Nancy’s death. Even though we all knew it was coming, your throw had an extra kick in it, a little more than was strictly necessary. After I got up and shook it off, you gave me a subtle head fake and totally swept my balance with news of that clear scan. I wasn’t expecting that. Nice move. Then when I got up from being flattened again, you lined up three new attackers across the mat from me: endless treatment, more tests, and a port. Little Kathy got freaked out, feeling hopeless, helpless, overwhelmed, exposed. She could hardly breathe.
Later in the car while Henry was running errands, I wanted to call Nancy to get advice but then realized I can no longer call her except in my mind and heart. So, sobbing, I called another cancer sister/survivor. Pat was right there for me, putting me back into my larger aikido body with her wicked sense of humor and sailor’s vocabulary, but most of all reminding me to take the tests and treatments and port one bucket at a time.
Right. This is just what I used to do on the mat when I faced multiple attackers during randori practice. Ground, center, relax, and take the first attack coming at you, and then the next, and then the next after that—one at time rather than all at once. Once I caught the rhythm, it was just a matter of breathing and staying connected. And not freaking out.
Later that day, on the couch during a nap in the sun, I dreamed that baby Nancy had curled up next to my heart like a cat burrowing into its warm nest. That Nancy appeared to me as a baby defies all logic since Nancy was ten years older than me (and always will be), and I never knew her as a baby, but now that she is a spirit flying home I suppose she can take any form or age she wants.
I was reminded of an aikido seminar many years ago when Saotome sensei borrowed an infant from the arms of one of his students, stepped back onto the mat and proceeded to respond elegantly to a multiple person attack by four or five of the hefty resident black belts. As sensei effortlessly redirected their attacks — overhead strikes, round houses, punches to the face and belly, grabs to the arms and throat from the front and rear — into foundation-shaking falls and rolls, the baby remained tucked safely and tenderly in the crook of his left arm and in fact had hardly stirred from its slumber when sensei returned it to its mother’s arms. Up to that point in my training, I had never seen the basic principle of aikido — peaceful conflict resolution — so profoundly and poetically demonstrated.
So… Brain cancer as randori practice: Always get up no matter how hard the throw. Don’t brace for a certain attack but rather stay flexible, ready to move in any direction. Breathe. Call a timeout and get help if you need it. Take it one bucket at a time. Breathe some more. Stay connected. And most important of all, don’t wake the baby.
oof. That’s some tough work. The toughest, I think. I notice how you keep working it through, feeling and thinking, and arrive at your practice again, and from there you know what you have to do. Thank you Sensei.
The last sentence says it all. thank you
We almost always think of babies as dependents when they are truly a profound affirmation of our dependencies. We, perhaps especially as adults, need to know that life matters as well as that life is excruciatingly tender, vulnerable. The sensei’s lesson to me is that grace is most evident in our defense of something greater than ourselves, something/someone curled next to us in attuned slumber.