The last few weeks have been a veritable flurry of activity on the “what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life” front. Something has clicked over in me recently, as I’ve realized that it is time to start looking for change, to shake up the routines of the last four years. My boy is growing a feverish rate; I must, also. Stagnation? Forget it. Let’s shake things up.
I am quite determined to find work that I will feel good about. I’m reaching out to people, looking for opportunities that speak to me, that won’t just be about “getting out of the house.” Who knows where it will lead, but I’ve gotten more aggressive about it, which is an important step. I’ve embraced the idea that my rambunctious son is ready for some more outside influences in his life; the “all-mommy, all the time” formula is beginning to outlive its usefulness. When he was first born, it was the only way, the right way. But time has passed. So much has changed. Change: that’s the thing.
As part of my flurry, I got in touch with an old law school friend, who has been continuously doing incredible work ever since we graduated (18 years ago? How is this possible?) – including having a son of her own. She has been the head of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations for the past seven years: needless to say, she’s a bad-ass. I sent her a quick note, advised that I am plowing into a job search, looking to get back into the public interest groove. She replied promptly, with these words: “What great and courageous news.” It seemed a rather grandiose sentiment at first: “courageous?” Courage is something I generally associate with people doing things like, oh, starting bus boycotts or fighting fires.
But then I thought, she’s right. This is a hard thing to do, and I am trying. And it does take a certain measure of courage to start putting myself out there again, after all this time. And it dawned on me very early this morning, after I read her words, that maybe, just maybe, there could be a Second Act for me, one that has the potential to be more focused, productive and meaningful than the first.
I inevitably think about my life in two discreet parts: Before Cancer, After Cancer. The Before part is largely a blur, at least the moments leading up to my diagnosis. It does, in many ways, feel like Someone Else’s Life. The After part, which has been going on for almost eight years, is also made of up little sub-journeys: the long road out and away from illness, to a place of some kind of strength and grounding; the path to our son; and the life we have led since he arrived.
Maybe, then, what is about to happen, is more of a Third Act: the unfolding that occurs now that I have breathed in every conceivable moment of Being Mom, of Constantly Doing for my boy – who fills my heart, who is the most delicious and amazing creature I have ever known – and I have realized that it is not only possible but perhaps essential that I start giving more back to the work of tending to my own self, and to the world I inhabit. This was always my driving impulse. This is the one thing that hasn’t changed, through illness, through profound physical and psychic transformation. Serve this troubled world; do the most good you can.
There is something to be said, I suppose, for having this framework, however complicated and painful, for understanding the narrative of my own life. My illness provided meaning that I might not otherwise have unearthed. When it comes to understanding what matters, there is no substitute for facing your own mortality.
When my son arrived, the vibrations were loud and clear: give him everything you have. Your heart needs it; he needs it. This is the moment you have waited and fought for. It was time to let go of a decade of professional frustration and devote myself to nurturing my own, miraculous child.
But now, four years later, the legacy of my cancer is telling me something else: you only live once, and you have to live for yourself, not just for your son. It is still possible, even necessary, to work and fight in the context of the world outside the walls of our home. The energy, the desire, that has always burned, to help, to serve, to fight – it is still there. And since I was lucky enough to survive, to still be here, don’t I owe it to myself to keep fighting?