on time, and things i have learned this year

how on earth is it the beginning of august already? and why is it that we humans get so caught up in the “but i swear it was just the new year” feeling every month?

it is strange, right? that we’re so surprised by time passing? i’ve been around since november of ’86 (really december, since my birthday is at the end of november), and you’d think that, by now, i’d be used to the concept of time flying by. but i don’t think people get used to it. i can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not. on the one hand, maybe it’s good – we’re so caught up in the things we do every day that we are surprised (and maybe saddened) by the passing of each month. but maybe not – perhaps we should learn to welcome each new month.

this year has been a doozy for my family. i knew going into the year that it would be a crazy one – finishing graduate school, finding a job, moving to DC (and moving in with the manfriend), and celebrating the wedding of one of my closest friends. but life, oh life, being an unpredictable animal, threw something at me that i did not expect and that taught me a lot. not too long into the new year, we found out that my mother had breast cancer – and it was like a punch to the stomach that just kept pounding away.

i haven’t talked about it here on the blog, because it was – and is – a very private thing, a dark and private and ugly thing that sent me to a very unpleasant place, mentally. but we’re past the immediate treatment now, and she’s starting the long-term, take-pills-and-get-tests stage, and her prognosis is good (and god help me, i hate that phrase: mostly because we have to use it and it is SO fucking medical and the worst and i never thought it was a phrase our family would be so intimate with).

but here’s another thing that i have realized: yes, cancer is personal, because it happens to individuals and spills into families and colors your lives from one point onward, indefinitely. from january 2013 onward, breast cancer is part of our family story. but cancer is also everywhere. i told a core group of people and was stunned by how many people responded with “i know what you’re going through, because i’ve been there, too”. i did not expect it. i knew cancer was a thing that happened – but to others, not to the people i loved. except, wrong. cancer is part of a lot of family stories, and for many families, it is what took someone away. so i think it’s a thing that we have to talk about, to shout about, to be angry about, because maybe being loud about this personal thing will help it eventually become a thing of the past.

mom found her tumor because of a self-check. i’ve been self-checking for lumps since i was in high school, because my breast tissue is “dense” and so doctors tend to feel a lump and not know whether or not it’s a normal one. i know what’s normal for my body because, between dense breast tissue and a tendency to develop moles that look dangerous but aren’t, i have to know myself really well. so, PSA: know yourself. know what is normal. when you’re at the doctor, be vocal and confident about what is and is not normal for you. if your doctor doesn’t trust you, find another doctor who does. doctors know lots, but only you can know exactly what is right and not right in you. ladies, check yourselves every month. please. tell your moms, your grandmas, your aunts, your cousins, your sisters, your nieces, any woman in your life.

so time goes by quickly and slowly at the same time. this year we marked its passage with surgery and chemotherapy and radiation therapy and we also marked it with birthdays and weddings and moving and jobs starting and mini-vacations. the bad and the ugly and the good and the happy, all woven together. it’s how life is. i started this post talking about a new month, how wild it is to be in august when it feels like we were just in january, peering into the unknown of the new year. this year, i’m deliriously happy that we’re in august – mom’s birthday, lily’s wedding, a new job beginning – because it is marked by many happy things and it also reminds me that no matter how ugly and dark a day or week or month is, time marches on, and you get through the pitch black night and into the pink, blushing dawn of new things. look back on the months that have passed and be grateful for the good things that happened (learn to find the funny moments in the crappy times, it’s a life lesson we were flung into and hung onto). look back on the months that have passed and be grateful some of them are done with, that you survived them. and then, turn your head, square your shoulders, breathe deep the new day, and look into the brilliant hope of a new month, a new year, and hold close those you love, because life doesn’t do what you expect. live in the past and the present and the future, all at once. it’s not easy, it’s not always fun, but as i grow up, i’m realizing how important that balance is.

there is much more to say on this, and i know this post doesn’t cover everything i’ve thought about, everything we’ve learned this year. i may write more later on, in bits and pieces. it has been a very weird year, and one that has taught me (occasionally via neon signs planted in front of my face at odd hours of sleepless nights) that it is very, very important (necessary, really) to relish every moment you get, to love as hard as you can, and to be grateful for a lot of things on a regular basis. it has also taught me that my friends and loved ones are fantastic and strong, as am i, as is my mom, as is my dad. on occasion, it taught me that a good cry is very helpful. or that a big glass of wine after that good cry is excellent therapy. also, that forcing a dog to snuggle with you can be very useful.

so. go love on your people, readers. and appreciate the oddity that is the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of time.