I Walk on Untrodden Ground

Trump and chemo have become malignant associations in my mind and there is nothing I can do about it. You might ask what the hell does one have to do with the other? For me, they are impossible to tease apart, although flawed, these are my unencumbered observations.

Today I watched the transfer of power to our forty-fifth president alongside a transfusion of chemo to my one and only mom. While Trump wants to “Make America great again,” I want to “Make Mom well again.” I’m thinking of designing a hat. From a historical perspective, I believe the United States has had a peaceful transition of power, for over two hundred years. This is quite extraordinary in the history of the world (considering I have to declare war just to get the trash taken out). As Americans, we might adamantly disagree on politics, but we are deeply united in our shared belief in the Constitution, and I might add the total eradication of cancer.

It is January 20, 2017, my alarm goes off at 5:00 am on this dark, wet, windy day. I dress quickly in the chill of the morning, juggle coffee while packing my computer, a novel I won’t read, phone, and cheese sticks. It’s a ten minute drive from my house to mom’s without traffic, I park, race across the flooded parking lot, fumble with gate keys in the rain, and make my way to her unit. I can see her through the window, still in her pjs, reaching to unlock the door. 

She says, “Good morning,” smiling she adds, “I feel pretty good today.” I look at her, no hair to speak of, MIA eyebrows, weighing in at one hundred and twenty pounds (two more pounds than on her wedding day), and only enough energy to move from bed to chair, but somehow she manages to focus on the positive. In a less tenuous situation I might weep.

Mom has the Inauguration blasting on the television. There is a three hour time difference between her house and the White House. I watch as Donald and Melania climb the steps to the Obama residence, joining Barack and Michelle for a spot of tea. I notice the awkward exchange of salutations as I place my cold lips on Mom’s pale cheek. 

The coverage shifts to the protests, I thought the unity of hands crossing the Golden Gate was both peaceful and powerful, as I reach to steady Mom’s feeble progress down the hall. Mom has one speed, slowmo, the process of dressing, grooming, and catching one’s breath is daunting. It’s a bit like waiting for traffic to clear, but it doesn’t, so you submit to the crawl. Change can be challenging in most any circumstance, requiring enormous patience, and high levels of restraint. 

“I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.” George Washington

Today I worry not only about the transfusion my mom will be undergoing, but also that of our country, I have pledged my allegiance to both, and I’m deeply concerned. We have become so polarized in our views, the gap seems incurable, as incurable as cancer from my perspective. 

“Humility in politics means accepting that one party doesn’t have all the answers; recognizing that working in partnership is progress not treachery.” Vince Cable 

Mom is preparing for an inauguration of sorts, as we settle into our spacious cubby, with a view of the Bay. It takes two tries to get the IV inserted properly in her worn out veins, I cringe, and look away. Today Mom submits to a chemo cocktail, that will not only preside over her entire immune system, but hopefully conquer a very aggressive form of lymphoma that has taken up residence in her lungs. The side affects of chemo are horrendous, but in order to eradicate the cancer, she will have to take the good with the bad. The best outcome would be a total state of remission for the better part of a decade, I realize the odds are against us, so I pray.

I ask the nurse how long the transfusion will take? She points to the Inauguration on the television, “by the time we are done, they’ll be heading to the Inaugural Ball.” I settle in for a very long day.

Donald has already taken the oath (the same oath George Washington took in April of 1789), we missed the whole thing, but we stare transfixed as he places a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier, reminding us of the honor and dignity of all life. Norman Cousins says, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Let my heart not be hardened.

I decide to make the mile hike to the cafeteria because I’m bored and ravenous, when I return, Donald and Melania are walking along the parade route, a car fire briefly slows their progress. Simultaneously, mom has to slow her process, as her blood pressure plummets, and they reduce the flow of chemicals entering her frail body. Hope and hopelessness emerge in the room, I wonder what we will think about chemo treatments in a hundred years, and what we will make of this presidency from the same centennial perspective?

In the face of disparaging odds, I remain hopeful.

As I walk around the treatment center to stretch my legs, I notice every cubby is filled with patients. They are of varying ages, ethnicities, genders, and I assume political affiliations, but they have one thing in common. Cancer. I’m reminded of the quote by John Watson, “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I am deeply humbled by the nursing staff who serve their patients with such dignity and respect.

It is dark when we return home. I’m enjoying a glass of wine as we watch the first dance of our forty-fifth president and first lady. I’m sorry but I quite literally stumbled upon this quote by Moliere, “All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.” The dictionary says to dance one must achieve a rhythmic balance of movement, form, and grace. Moliere was a playwright, actor, and comedian so there’s that.

I am far removed from the grandeur of Washington, D.C., from the hands that spanned the Golden Gate bridge, but I am deeply committed to the ideals we share as a nation. Like my faith in God, I realize our democracy is not a stagnant process, it requires participation, or it fails. Today I witnessed a peaceful transfer of power and a powerful transfusion of chemo. I might be walking on untrodden ground but I remain deeply grateful that I live in a country that values democracy, stays on the leading edge of healthcare, and remains a beacon of hope for many in a desperately feeble world.

I’m Living in the Gap, drop in anytime. 


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