Last December was a tough month. It started with hearing about the death of an important aikido sensei, Wendy Palmer.
Not that we always saw eye to eye: we didn’t. when she became codirector with me of the prison integrated health program at FCI Dublin back in the early 90s, she was all about containment and quiet, while I was all about expression even if that expression was messy. I suppose from the incarcerated women’s point of view, we offered the best of both worlds, but our different personalities and objectives made directing the program difficult.
And yet when I recently saw a videotape of one of her last seminars, I was able to see how luminous she had become. How wonderful for her to achieve that level of light, clarity, and mastery.
(About seeing light: I remember many times I’ve been able to see the darkness emanating from certain people, almost as if someone had scribbled with dark crayon all over their faces and hearts.) The luminosity I saw emanating from Wendy was akin to being lit from within.
I mourn for her, a fellow cancer sister as it turns out. I had no idea. Characteristically, she kept it quiet, while obviously I am expressing my journey every chance I get. I mourned that my own journey leaving the Bay Area so many years ago meant I lost touch with many aikido teachers and innovators such as Wendy, who devoted her life to taking aikido to the next level both as a martial art and as a way to help humanity recover our intuitive wisdom, compassion, and ability to be effective as peaceful leaders. Not bad skills to have as we slog into the opening decades of the 21st century.
These mournings ushered in a bout of depression and a couple of meltdowns. I remember fighting with my cell phone — which I should not be allowed to touch when I’m in a meltdown phase — but it turned out that the nice TracFone lady in the Philippines discovered that I was simply out of minutes, which she easily remedied. I went through another bout of immunotherapy and then chemotherapy, which usually slams me pretty hard. For much of December, all I really wanted to do was find a sunny spot and take a nap in it.
And then an old friend called. I should have declined the call when I saw the number on my phone but for some reason I didn’t. “How are you doing Kathy,” she asked innocently, walking into my spring-loaded trap. I answered in full venomous mode: poisonous toads with bright chartreuse bumps flying out of my mouth. “I have fucking brain cancer, Judy. How do you think I feel?” She got off the phone as quickly as she could and I don’t blame her.
Shame doused me like a rogue wave and I tried to reconnect with her to apologize, but it wasn’t that simple since she was calling from out of the country and as I said earlier I should not be allowed to touch a device when I am in meltdown mode.
Lucky for me one of my errant calls went to my neighbor who was just at the corner. She came over right away, smoothed my ruffled feathers, made a couple calls for me and reminded me to breathe. When an angel.
I wrote an email to my friend and hope that someday she checks it but so far have been unable to reach her. So I am left ashamed, obviously needing to forgive myself, and can only hope that my friend can find it in her heart to forgive me.
All of this brought to mind the two-year anniversary of my older sister’s death by cancer. I remember in the last month of her life when she occasionally shed her usual diplomatic tact, and grace. When that happened, her loved ones received the sharp end of her sword and some of us got our heads bit off. I remembered thinking when Nancy bit my head off during a phone call that the hidden gift in that conversation was that she was uncommonly lucid. Her voice was robust and clear. She knew exactly what she wanted to say, and she said it without any equivocation. I remember the curious mix of having my feelings stung, and also a glow in my heart that she trusted me with her raw uncensored truth. I also remember thinking afterwards that at that point her brain cancer — not glioblastoma as I have, but metastatic — may have invaded her frontal lobe which I have learned can radically change one’s personality. Now after going through both sides of biting someone’s head off, I’m a little worried that my cancer may have migrated to my frontal lobe. I will know soon enough. The next MRI is at the end of February
I am also working on forgiving myself for not producing the kind of creative work with which I identify. No writing except for this piece and nothing worth developing on my watercolor table. Hibernation mode persists. I hope that with the steady return of the light, my own spirits will improve.