Post surgery, in oncology at UCLA, I was sharing a room with a woman who had stage four ovarian cancer with a bleak prognosis. I had the same fears and the same surgery as her, but my tumors were not cancer. I had won the cancer lottery – that day, anyway.
But I didn’t feel like I won anything.
Joan’s husband and young adult children were lovingly at her bedside sharing stories. They never closed the curtain separating me from them – inviting me to join in their family conversations. Every time they went out for vegan food, they brought back food for me also – when the doctor came to share more bad medical news for them, they asked the doctor to leave the curtain separating our beds open.
My close friend Mary Ellen was with me then, and my family and friends were calling, asking me my diagnosis and prognosis.
I found myself whispering my good news into the phone, so low they couldn’t hear me, followed by I’ll call you when I am released, or having Mary Ellen call them from outside the hospital.
Aren’t you HAPPY? They’d say into the phone loudly.
Celebrating my victory when the family next to me was trying to process the news of this exceptional woman they love dying in the months ahead, was unthinkable for me.
My human experience was intersecting deeply with their human experience. I could not separate from them and they did not separate themselves from me.
And the day after the 2020 election, the very morning, just twenty minutes after I woke up and cheered with my hometown of Philadelphia, quietly, from my bedroom, maybe loudly a bit, with my roommate, after texting friends and my daughter, I called my friend who voted for Donald Trump and invited him to breakfast. To share a meal with me, my treat. Not to gloat, not argue, but to share our experience together, to let them know I understood and empathized he was having a completely different experience than me, and to let him know I loved him.
He declined getting together, and took a rain check.
I was invited to have champagne with friends to celebrate, but I decided to walk Hanalei Bay alone, a place I go to reground and reconnect with earth, after four days of media frenzy, instead of buying into the political frenzy I wanted to reconnect with earth.
While walking, I thought of the over seventy million people in the United States who – but for the grace of god would have even me – were feeling shocked and disappointed this week.
And I understood during that walk, the winter waves crashing, the ocean gray like the Pacific, the air humid and the town too quiet, that maybe other people were processing all their personal, business and political losses in this time of Covid, and living in fear and disappointment.
I walked for miles and miles, digging my feet into the sand, the ocean licking my toes, My concern for the world is how out of harmony we are all with each other, and I pondered how we can all get back into harmony.
We are not separate, even islands are connected underneath. We need each other for healing and survival and understanding.
Only recently did I begin to understand the story of this loving Jewish family sharing more than a room with me in cancer ward, We are all interconnected, we can no longer close the curtain on another person’s pain, on their soul experience. On each others’ souls.
We need each other, we always have. This understanding is the beginning of the work ahead that is so essential to our growth inside a democracy, on a beautiful planet in a solar system inside some kind of miracle we are only beginning to understand.