I read another post by Jane, the mom of twins whose family is now 2 weeks into their cancer journey. She described the raging steroid-induced appetite and cravings of her 4-year-old daughter. (I remember those vividly.) And the restrictions against many fresh foods, such as thin-skinned summer fruits like berries, some of her daughter’s favorites, which might contain bacteria that’s dangerous to the suppressed immune system of a child on chemotherapy, though not for healthy digestive systems.
Then she narrates walking through the store for a few meal items. Seeing fresh summer peaches. Juicy. Ripe. Now grocery-shopping moves her to tears.
Jane remembers before and after. Wants dinner with the four members of her family, safe and home again. An armload of fresh fruit for everyone. Not living with cancer.
For her family, like so many of us, there’s a “before” and “after.” A dividing line between what was normal, and what’s real now.
We all have those thresholds. An excerpt from a humorous novel recommended by the NY Times, Wife 22, says, “…she was always out in front of me. I had yet to cross all the thresholds she had crossed …”
Often we don’t even know we’ve stepped across through these gateways, until it’s already happened. Too late. You can look back over your shoulder. Remember. But what came before? It’s gone. Over. Done. In the past.
Something’s changed forever. Your world is different. You must learn a new vocabulary and language. Find your equilibrium in a place that seems to have different laws of physics, as if gravity has shifted, or the spectrum of light isn’t the same, or something out-of-whack now defines your perception.
Other times this dividing line can feel like a border. You come and go. You cross back and forth between worlds. Visit the old reality. Then show your passpart at customs, and come back to the place where you’re now a member and resident (with all the rights and privileges, or lack, that comes in this new and an altered state of being, of living, of surviving).
Across the span of life, we’ll encounter many of these before-and-after dividing lines. They mark our rites of passage, like portals in great city walls. They let us in and out. They stand as testament to our coming and going. They represent old and new, past and future, then and now.
We can also label what we leave behind, and where we next arrived, as good or bad, right or wrong.
Some milestones are difficult, but natural. Even joyful. Necessary for our growth as individuals or communities. Generations share similar rhythms and cycles. Like choosing a partner. Having children. Sending adult children out into the world. Graduating from school. Earning your first paycheck. Opening your own bank account. Having your first home away from your family. Taking out a loan. Paying off a debt. Burying someone you love. Casting your first vote. Going to your first foreign country. Many of these experiences can be perceived as before-and-after moments.
Others situations aren’t expected or natural. They could be catastrophic events such as violent crime, terrorism, war, natural disasters like hurricanes, fires or floods, onset of disease, famine, drought, sudden loss of job and home, or other conditions over which we might not have control. They alter our worlds.
For us? Life before-cancer probably seemed better than after-cancer. For a while, anyway, I must have felt like Jane in the grocery store, staring at the peaches and remembering summer from a year ago, before cancer. Mourning. Comparing before and after. Wishing to go back to before-cancer.
But if this is the new reality in which you live, can you categorize all of it as bad and wrong? At first, you probably do.
After a while, though, you make a transition. You tend to accept and adjust. The “new normal” becomes more complex. Layered and nuanced. Not so easily defined as awful and terrible.
Rather, you’re simply experiencing life as you must live it now. Your “new normal,” the sometimes-unwelcome reality, must be learned, mapped and navigated. Hopefully there’s another dividing line, a border on the far side of the journey, that can be marked after-after. Like after-life-with-cancer.
But all the time between border crossings? As we trek between the threshholds that mark our lives? The time and space and distance between those milestones is when we do most of our daily living and being.
Along the way, you begin to find the goodness in every day. It’s not an innate skill, it’s a lesson you learn to keep your internal balance. You find light and hope. The raw jokes. The simple games. The deep conversations. The amazing spirit. The unexpected companionship.
Sure, in cases like cancer or diabetes or other illnesses, or conditions like unemployment, addiction, bankruptcy, survival of assault so many other unimaginable situations, it would be nice if you never had to go there. If you didn’t step through the gate or over certain dividing lines. But that’s virtually impossible.
All of us have thresholds that define our lives. That mark the territory of before and after. The person on far side of the border is different than the one who hasn’t yet crossed over.
Maybe the aisle of the grocery store is when Jane realized, again, that she’d crossed the line between before and after. I have my own places where I have stood, and known that life was different forever. So do you.
Some of them move me to tears. Sorrow. Others make me smile.