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Begin With the End in Mind

When I taught high school English, I often advised my students to begin each paper with the end in mind. It took me a while to convince them that you have to know where you are going if you ever intend to get there. It made perfect organizational sense to me. It still does.

And now, when I plan a book, I pen the last few lines of the story before I even write the first. I like a proper resolution, a satisfying end, and I enjoy working toward that goal with each chapter, each twist of the plot. Somehow, thinking backwards works for me.

But life isn’t a carefully designed novel; It is wildly unpredictable, filled with ambiguous circumstances. More often than not, we are stumbling into the unknown, navigating situations by the seat of our pants. Lots of cultures do well with uncertainty, but that isn’t the “American way.” We want to know what to expect. We like forecasts, calculations, projections. We want to know the prospects so that we can be prepared for what is to come.

Sometimes, that isn’t possible. And being in the place of “not knowing” can be unsettling. I know this to be true; I have pitched a tent right in the middle of the land of random odds, surrounded by a dark and unfamiliar forest. It is easy to feel lost.

I checked the odometer on my husband’s truck. We have logged close to 500 miles this week, driving from one end of Atlanta to another to jump through the pre-surgery hoops. I have met my “bonus surgeon,” an impressive, no-nonsense woman who exudes competence with a sprinkling of compassion. I was so enamored with her that I nodded my head in agreement and smiled like a Cheshire cat behind my mask when she suggested a colonoscopy the day before I go under the knife; It wasn’t until I got home and started counting how many days I would be on a liquid diet, that I was sorry I didn’t protest a little. I did, however, ask her if she would throw in a tummy tuck while she had me on the table, but since she didn’t write that on my chart, I somehow don’t expect it to happen. I tried.

I have signed a ream of paperwork and given up several vials of blood. I had the dreaded COVID test, which basically feels like somebody has shoved an ice pick up your nose and into your brain. (both sides, by the way). And yes, it is as unsettling as you might imagine it to be. I also discovered that I am expected to give myself a daily shot in the belly for four weeks post-op, and I immediately looked to You Tube to learn how to do it. Now, of course, I am freaked out. Totally.

Being in the hospital during a pandemic is not ideal. Basically, you are dropped off at the door and picked up days later. I guess the medical folks missed the memo about how much the calming presence of a loved one helps with the uneasiness. Visitors are considered to be germy pariahs. I get the rationale, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept. I worry about things like locating my glasses or my phone and getting out of the bed. The simplest task becomes a mighty chore when you are incapacitated. And so, I hope to encounter kind, attentive folks on the surgical floor. Nobody likes to be dependent.

I wonder about the outcome of this surgery, designed to save me from the big, bad cancer monster. Even my two brilliant doctors can only present the possibilities. The ever-present anxiety is much like the mythical Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. Is my life hanging by a thread? It can certainly feel that way. I try not to give in to the fear monsters, to temper my moments of apprehension with hope, but they are relentless little boogers, taunting me in the quiet moments.

And so here I am, treading water in a sea of uncertainty. I am not so sure where the place of respite, the safe harbor, lies since there are so many potential spots, but then, I am reminded to focus on the destination. I close my eyes and imagine where I will be when this is all behind me, and I can consider where life will take me next. This will all be a distant memory soon, a battle tale to tell. I am counting on that.

Let’s face it: God is a pretty amazing author. This is just another chapter in my story., one which has already been written. I pray for the best possible outcome. I do so love happy endings. Don’t we all?

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