A friend of mine recently started chemotherapy to combat breast cancer. Before she went in for her first treatment, she wrote to me that she intended to chart her experience to have some “data points” she could have for reference later on.
I love this woman, and the grace and style with which she is approaching this challenge is inspirational. Her personality is a rare combination of scientific, logical, artistic, and sentimental. Her use of the term “data points” could come from her profession but I think it also comes from a very human determination to have a sense of control over an unfamiliar, scary, and daunting situation.
I have to admit, I smiled a sad little smile when I read her words. I knew exactly what she was searching for. I think we all long for data points as we go through the dark tunnels that dot our human journeys.
Whether it is a disease, the process of divorce, the grieving process, depression or any other new territory we enter into unexpectedly and unprepared, we long for a map. We want to be able to know when we will reach normality again and if normality is too far away, at least when we will leave one landscape and go to another.
We look for those benchmarks so that the path does not seem so rocky, and while it is a comfort to hear from those who have gone before us I think we all know, deep down that there are no universal data points.
The processes of healing, of acceptance, of grieving, while all universal, are all still maddeningly individualistic.
Still, still, we reach for the possible definitive. We want to believe we can pin down those data points. They are like shining coins in rippling, sometimes muddy water. We see them there, silvery and shining, promising certainty and confidence. We grasp for them time and time again, sure we can seize them, but they slip through our fingers every time.
In a poem by Karl Shapiro titled “Auto Wreck” he writes:
But this invites the occult mind,
Cancels our physics with a sneer
And spatters all we know of denouement
Across the expedient and wicked stones
Ah, the canceling of our physics—those laws of nature that we believe will never change and just like that—they do. Life as we know it changes overnight. We can never be prepared for such things.
In the early months of my divorce, I clung to the many books I had bought on healing after abandonment. I searched and searched for answers. Yes, it helped to know I was not alone, that other women had gone through the same thing and come out on the other side.
Still, the words in those books and even from friends did not tell me what I wanted. I wanted data points. I wanted to know when I would stop hurting. I wanted to know when I would stop crying. I wanted certainty. I wanted answers. I wanted a time frame. No, I wanted more than just a time frame. I wanted dates and times, damn it. I was furious when there were no answers.
“You’ll be fine,” people would tell me. “Just give it time.” It was maddening at the time but now I see they had no other words they could give me. While they knew something of the landscape, they knew the path I needed to go down was exclusive to me.
I have to believe my friend will be fine in the end, but she must go through this gut-wrenching treatment. Though she has friends and family who support and love her, it is, ultimately, her voyage. She will go through it and her experience will be unique to her. Those data points she charts will help at first and then fade as she concentrates on her efforts on maintaining a course that she herself will create.
I have finally come to the conclusion there is a beauty in the uncharted journey.
A timetable, a schedule, an agenda, while perhaps reassuring, would also ultimately demean and devalue our experience as humans. The range of pain and creativity, the expansiveness and contracting into oneself is essential and, in the end, stunning.
It is a awesome experience to come out of a dark time and into the light, to feel healed and whole again and to know that you did it yourself, in your own time. Even more awesome is to know, to really know in the depths of your being, that through the painful process, you honored the core of who you were, your humanness, and your soul, now even more beautiful than before.