Thursday, August 6, 2009

the big shed

June 9, 2008

Subject: The Big Shed

Friday June 6, 2008 I noticed Aria’s hair was starting to fall out. She was wearing pajamas made of fleece material and her hair was sticking to the shoulders and back of her shirt. As the day went on, more and more hair gathered giving her back a halo-aura fuzzy look. Whenever I gently tugged her hair a few silky strands came out and it began to sink in that she was going bald. She really was going to lose her hair. I felt sad but surprisingly unalarmed. The sadness was simply the reality of it all. The blatant reminder that she has cancer and that cancer is threatening her life. It is so real and so hard and the fact that she’s losing her hair is the visual manifestation of just that.

Yesterday I found myself unable to take my eyes off her shirt and her head. All day it seemed that the slightest swipe of my hand across her head found it covered in hair. Her entire pajama top was covered as was her pillow and any place she laid her head. It was extraordinary. I noticed that her hair started to thin around her temples giving her the typical ‘male balding pattern’ appearance. By the end of the day, she was completely bald in those areas. This kind of shedding reminded me of a cat whose fur seems to stick wherever it sits or lies down.

One of the weirdest and most unexpected things to happen was the sick joy I got from pulling sweet little tufts of her hair out. I would take my hand and in between my pointer and middle fingers I would gently pull up and out her hair. That action completely appealed to my sun-burned skin peeling perversion and I couldn’t help myself. Several times throughout the day Aria said to me, “Mom! Would you quit picking at me?!” I literally couldn’t help myself. Even as I look at her now on Sunday morning, I’m so tempted to go sit beside her and mindlessly help the shed along. I’ve also enjoyed combing her hair and watching it thin before my eyes. It isn’t coming out in clumps or chunks. It is fairly uniform and the amount of hair at any one time is a light wispy handful.

I can see the complete outline of her head now. She is bald along the temples and the top of her head is very thin but the back of her head has the most hair. Her shirt is absolutely covered in hair and periodically she picks hair out of her nose and mouth. Hair. Hair. Hair. I imagine she’ll be completely bald in the next few days and although I feel so sad about it I’m ok.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the idea of control. This experience has been a wonderful illustration of how little control I really have. I cannot control Aria’s hair falling out in the least. It is a process that is happening before my very eyes and there is nothing I can do but watch. I found myself thinking about praying that it wouldn’t happen. I never did because it felt wrong to do so, not to mention completely futile. Still, I kept hoping that she’d be one of the lucky ones and perhaps not have to go through this part of the cancer experience. It’s so strange that all the while I hoped, I had this nagging sense that I was being absurd and trying to hold onto something that wasn’t real. Now that it has begun to happen and I can’t deny it any longer with hopes and wishes, watching it and experiencing it is so much easier.

Aria’s hair falling out and my lack of control in stopping it feels exactly like trying to stop the leaves falling from trees in autumn. When leaves change color and the temperature becomes cooler, I know it is time for them to drop. It never occurs to me to hope that it won’t happen or that it will somehow be delayed. I accept the course and know that my involvement in the matter is irrelevant. When I think of it that way, it reinforces how absurd it feels to pray for an outcome that I want but know more than likely won’t happen and so it has given me pause to consider what exactly it means to pray and more importantly, what it means to accept.

I ask myself, “If I pray that her hair won’t fall out for whatever my reasons but in the back of my mind know that it probably will and it doesn’t actually happen, do I consider this a miracle? Has my prayer been heard and answered? If I pray that her hair doesn’t fall out, knowing that it probably will and it does, then what? Has my prayer been ignored?” I hear myself say, “You can’t always have what you want when you want it.” It doesn’t seem like a much of a miracle if I pray for what I want and it actually comes to pass. Nor does it feel like a let down if I pray for what I want and it doesn’t happen. Instead, this exercise feels like I’m making the wrong sort of prayer and it reminds me in totality that what is, just is. My prayer more and more has become one of learning to accept the ‘what is’ of Life and I’m humbly reminded that I’m a beginner.

I cannot stop Aria’s hair from falling out no matter how I wish, hope and pray. I can, however, accept it. It may seem obvious to you, but this process has helped me come that much closer to understanding what acceptance means in general. There are a lot of things about being human that are hard to accept particularly when I think I have much control over the matter. I’m discovering that simplicity in life is accepting what is as it is and allowing myself to be taken from there.

This makes me think of a conversation I had with Aria yesterday when she said to me, “Hey mom, the good news is that when all my hair falls out, you won’t have to brush it or wash it!” I nodded my head but then quickly said, “Yes but Aria there’s some bad news too.” She looked at me puzzled, “What?” “Well,” I began, “it is going to all grow back and then we’re gonna have to brush it and wash it again.” She smiled and said, “Well, mom, that’s kinda good news.” I laughed and told her, “Yes it is sweetie. Yes it is good news.” Aria shrugged, giggled and proceeded to tell me, “Hey mom, you know I like my pizza cooked the right way nice and hot!”

Aria is an exquisite old soul. The miracle of all this is how much she is teaching me and more and more my prayer is a simple one of being open and willing to learn. ~j

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