Reflections on the Fourth of July
by Ginny Jordan
It is the evening of July 4, 2011. I am babysitting my granddaughter Isabella while her parents have a last night out before their second child arrives. I am slumped on their couch in the TV room, the windows wide open and a fan on at full speed. There is a drought in New Mexico, and now fires in Los Alamos have filled the air with smoke for miles. I have felt hot all day, and my eyes sting from the ash.
I hear the booms and cracks of the fireworks and look out of the window for the colored sparkles in the sky. I turn off all the lights and sit and think about other Fourth of Julys, especially the nights on the Maumee River, floating on a barge with my mother, father, and brothers, and piles of other kids and parents. I remember the huge white-and-red flower shapes blooming overhead and reflecting on the water’s surface. I never wanted it to end.
At this stage of life, I can pass on all the big revelry. Celebrations for me now are very small and private – like the warm feeling of the dark, or the safety of being 20 miles away from the fire. I think of how I love this little girl, asleep in her crib, unaware of this day of independence. My head throbs and I get up for a glass of water, watching how I have developed the practice of turning the dial down on my complaints and carrying on anyway.
At this stage of life, I can pass on all the big revelry. Celebrations for me now are very small and private.
I still manage symptoms: chronic ear ringing, headaches, neck pain, low-grade vertigo, deep fatigue. Some days they are strong enough to throw me back to bed. On those days, I navigate the ancient tides of hope and fear. Some doctors tell me that the symptoms are the byproducts of chemo- therapy and surgeries; others say I’m lucky to be alive. I know this. In every cell of my body, I know this. I don’t take for granted even the simplest movement of turning on the faucet to fill my glass. When gravity is my friend, I give thanks.
Yet I’ve never felt so vital. I love how my body moves. I strangely feel more like a woman than ever before. My sexuality lives all the way though me. I believe this has something to do with the sheer fact that life required I either get farther into my body or get out. There is not so much in-between now. I don’t want to pick at the small things or be mean to my body by not liking my stomach roll or the size of my upper arms. I look at other people’s bodies differently. I realize, especially in our “midlife” bodies, that we’re all losing parts. Gravity takes over and bellies start to sag; cheeks droop and chins double; hair grays and jowls develop. When I look at photos of me in my 20s, I smile at the innocence radiating from my eyes. I had no idea what was in store.
I wander through Cameron and Adam’s house, looking at the silver picture frames that house family photos: of Taylor, his wife Nicole, and Brooke. I scan the distances to where they are tonight and wonder if they’re celebrating in a stadium or staying at home. I think how hardwired this tendency is for a mother: always tracking her children’s comings and goings. I’ve become fluid in my own comings and goings, as if each step I make is both empty and full of purpose.
The house is now quiet, the fireworks finale over. There is an order to this moment, as if its small size is compressed into a kind of greatness. This is what it means to carry on, to take the next step. I place my foot forward and stand in the center of the kitchen. I sense how Isabella’s little feet have toddled back and forth on the brick floor, how soon her little sister will be next to her, and how much I want to live for a very long time.
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Ginny Jordan is a writer, poet, psychotherapist, and breast cancer survivor living in Boulder, CO. This article is a passage from her book Clear Cut: One Woman’s Journey of Life in the Body. Learn more about Ginny at Ginny-Jordan.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2013.