My new reality, combined with a shaved head and unexpected weight gain from IV steroids prior to each chemo treatment, dealt my vanity a debilitating blow last week, right about when I decided to watch Love Actually for the first time. Let’s just say I experienced a cathartic cry.
Walking into a plot rife with tension takes courage, and I don’t mean in the movie when Nanny McPhee realizes that Snape is cheating on her. Words falter when people see me or hear about my diagnosis and I totally get that. I am one of those people who wait for a “better time” to perfectly articulate my thoughts/feelings/sentiments. Often that time never comes, resulting in perceived apathy. That’s why I’m particularly moved by people brave enough to broach discomfort by stepping into the muck. One friend’s email began:
“I have been wanting to send you a card, but have remained cautious since you said at the time that your children did not know. And today I wanted to ask how you were doing, but was cautious because I did not know how much everyone around you knew what was going on and how much you wanted to talk about it in public. It made me reflect on the many ways that I hold back in life and don’t reach out and connect…”
How beautiful is that? Another voicemail went like this:
“I am calling. I have been meaning to call for a while. And I just have not because I just want to say the perfect thing…I’ve been wanting to reach out to you, so here I am. Just want to let you know that we love you and are praying for you…I don’t know what you need and what you want, and maybe you don’t either, but just know that we love you and that we care for you and your family…”
The unique ways in which people offer their love, time and talents to make me feel better reflects the diversity of friendships I’ve been given since childhood. One high school friend volunteered himself as entertainment – “to talk about anything you like, or random silliness which is a specialty of mine” (and which got me in trouble multiple times during Mrs. Beverly Johnson’s Algebra II class). Another friend put my name on the Sulpher Springs United Methodist Church prayer list before even knowing the nature of my diagnosis. A coworker at Young Life’s Frontier Ranch back in the day now works at the Wall Street Journal and sent me a branded notebook. (His wife threw in a novel and those addictive lemon drops covered in powdered sugar). Keep in mind, I haven’t seen any of these people since the early Nineties.
Multiple friends, who shall remain nameless, offered a certain herb and lessons in using it to ease nausea. Still other helpful souls volunteered to participate in this form of healing. (I may or may not report back on that endeavor.) And, thanks to so many people and Meal Train, my family is guaranteed dinner at least three nights a week.
Here is one of my very favorite notes I received. I LOVE that Angie Anderson Ratterree sent a box of cards from which she’d used a few. I would never have done that, which means I would have never sent the box of cards, which means my friend could think I was unaware or uncaring of a struggle. This is so Angie. I also share her reticence to use special things. After reading this note, I removed from the Neiman’s wrapping new silk pjs my college roommate Melissa Miller sent and actually put them on instead of saving them for a day I felt really sick.
I was bald and bawling during a scene with Hugh Grant when Ellen Schuster crawled in bed with me mid-Love Actually. (She has the ability to let herself in because she had a panel installed by my garage door so people can drop things off while I remain sleeping on the third floor.) She fetched me toilet paper because we were out of Kleenex, then returned ornament boxes to the attic, then picked up my daughter from school and brought her home, along with a case of rosé wine. And the next day she apologized for not being able to make things better AND SHE FIXED EVERYTHING!
No one, including me, knows the right words to say or what to do when bad things happen. But hopefully I will learn from my brave friends who text, email, call, comment on Facebook or Instagram, deliver food, come to chemo, read this blog, etc., teaching me and my family what love actually looks like and what it means to give and receive.
Words are the art for Robert Indiana, who changed his given name (Clark) to reflect the state of his birth and his Americana heritage. The artist refers to himself as “a sign painter” because of his love of words. His most well-known work, LOVE, made him famous when it appeared on the MoMA’s 1965 Christmas card (its most popular ever). According to online source theartstory.org, John Lennon also contributed to Indiana’s popularity. Attending the artist’s first “LOVE” exhibit in 1966, Lennon commented “All you need is love,” the title of the Beatle’s #1 record the following year.
“It all started with my being exposed to Christian Science as a child,” said Indiana. “At one time I was even a member of the Church. ‘Love‘ is the key word—it’s the only word that ever appears in a Christian Science church. No crucifixes, no baby Jesuses, no saints. Nothing except one word: “L-O-V-E.”
Deemed “Pop art’s most famous four letter word,” LOVE became an iconic representation of Indiana’s oeuvre, next appearing in 1970 as a commissioned sculpture made of Cor-ten steel for the Indiana Museum of Art, then a 1973 commission by the US Postal Service which sold 300,000,000 Valentine’s Day stamps, and in 1977 at the Israel Museum, where the letters took on added significance.
“In Hebrew, it sort of takes on different meanings because of the positioning of the letters. If you cross it horizontally, you have the word “love” like you have it in English. But vertically, it could also be read as two different Hebrew words. You have “av,” which is the Hebrew word for father; then you have the double “hay,” which is an acronym or a symbol for God. So suddenly you have “God the father,” which is interesting because it goes back to why Indiana began his engagement with the LOVE logo—“God is love” from the Christian Science Church.” – Mira Lapidot, chief curator of fine arts, the Israel Museum
The beautiful picture below of Indiana’s LOVE sculpture was taken at the Israel Museum just this week. These families are on a tour with Houston’s Beth Yeshurun synagogue. Happy Hanukah to them and Marris Goldberg who forwarded the pic (and, with Georgia Lister, brought me tea and the best house shoes eva).
Indiana painted his acrylic on canvas Halleluiah in 1969 and it is currently on view at the Menil Collection.
As a Christian, I value this season’s ubiquitous reminders of love through the incarnation of Emmanuel, which means God With Us. And in all of the appointments, procedures and treatments of the past three months, I am thankful that I have never felt alone. Thank you and Merry Christmas everyone. Love is all we need. And, chemotherapy. And this ash tray, and this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp and that’s all I need.