Thursday, October 30, 2008

Leila Abu-Saba "Hello Kind World"

Another gem from one of my reliably smart, upbeat, blogroll writers.
When you finish here, go read what she wrote about forgiveness.

I just wrote a post at Daily Kos in response to somebody else's "Goodbye Cruel World" Diary. The diarist was facing loss of job and house, and said she might not be able to go online any longer; hence "goodbye cruel world" of Daily Kos. I called my response Hello Kind World.

There's always hope. Let me tell you that I am living with metastatic breast cancer. When they found it last year, it had spread throughout my liver, a 1/2 inch tumor in my lung, and onto rib and spine. I am now 46 with two young sons and a loving husband.

I just finished eleven months of chemotherapy in which I got infusion every week, three weeks on, one week off. 33 infusions. Took the starch out of me (as well as all my hair down to the eyelashes). Pet CT Scan shows the lung nodule is gone - no trace of it; the bone lesions are sclerotic i.e. healing, not spreading; and the liver lesions are inert, back to scar tissue. Nothing "lights up", i.e. nothing is active and cancerous. My blood counts are now "stone cold normal" according to my oncologist. So I am off chemo and I get to go on about my life, under close supervision and taking oral medication.

Today I listened to my friend's feedback on the 260-page draft of my first novel, which I had finished writing during chemo. I'm ready to get to work on the next draft! Then I picked up my kids from daycare, fed them, checked homework, read to them and put them to bed, all by myself. (Hubby was at a work-related dinner). First time I've had them on my own in over a year. I handled it! I even enjoyed it, which means my energy level is good. This is a blessing and a reprieve.

Now let me back up and tell you about a family tragedy. 23 years ago my uncles and cousins in Lebanon were chased from their homes during a bad patch of the civil war. They all fled with what they could put in their cars. My 83-year-old grandmother refused to leave her house - hit my uncle with her stick when he tried to evacuate her. She was killed during a mob attack on the houses of our village. A Muslim friend (we're Christians) went in and found her the next day and buried her for us. Meanwhile my two uncles, their wives and three teenaged kids per couple were living out of their automobiles in South Lebanon. They got plane tickets and visas to the USA and arrived with suitcases and $3,000 cash per family.

My Lebanese-American father and American mother, state employees in NC, took out a lien on their house to help stake my uncles to small businesses. My uncles and their families shared a tiny rental home that belonged to another uncle. Ten people lived in a 3 BR house with one bathroom, after living all their lives in big spacious houses with gardens. My dad gave them $500 a month cash for groceries, and in 1985 that was serious money; he was still putting my brother through private college at the time.

My uncles lost everything. They had to start over in America where people saw them as foreign, alien. They had prestige in their traditional society but in America they were middle-aged refugees, nobodies. All of them - uncles and wives - buckled down to work.

In ten years they built successful businesses - a grocery store and a gas station - bought beautiful homes, and of course repaid all loans from my dad and others. All of them had to do manual labor: flip burgers, pump gas, sweep floors, make change for customers. They had been middle class, teachers and bank managers in Lebanon. They had to work hard with their hands and they did so. Their kids got educated and moved into the world as Americans, most of them with professional degrees and positions.

The sadness of my grandmother's violent death hung over us for long years, and yet I always feel she chose how she wanted to die. I think she understood what she was facing. She preferred to die on her farm than be an elderly refugee.

Friend, you are facing great loss, but you have so much. You have your health (I hope). You have your daughter. You have parents with the resources to take you in.

Last month I flew to Lebanon, not for the first time since the end of the civil war. I visited with those same uncles and aunts, now returned to their homes. They made plenty of money pumping gas and selling Wonder Bread in the USA, and have turned the wrecked shells of their war-scarred houses into mini-palaces. Their quality of life is fabulous. They miss their kids who all live in the States, but they are survivors. They enjoy the olive harvest and the friendship and community of our ancestral village. I saw people I had not seen in thirty years of war, dislocation, disease, family tragedy and more. I was so grateful that I got to make this trip - that I survived advanced cancer well enough to fly half way around the world to see my family.

This spring when my fingernails were oozing and I couldn't get out of bed from chemo side effects, when the liver counts stayed elevated and I fended off all talk of survival rates for metastatic patients, I held on to hope. I just knew I was going to get better. I can't worry about whether I'll live 20 years... I am living today, and for today there is always hope.

So please, friend, bless what you have and let go of fear for the future. Today is the only day you have got. You are breathing. Enjoy your breath. You are alive. Enjoy your life. You have a daughter and parents. Love them. Bless everybody who comes across your path. And the work? Whatever. Bless your work, too. Bless your town, your bills, your possessions. You are lucky to be here for all of it. If some of it gets taken away, well fine, something else will take its place. You are an amazing confluence of billions of variables and nobody else is having your life right this minute.

Enjoy! And don't worry about hope. Just breathe and appreciate your breath. Everything arises from that.

No comments: