A few months before my own diagnosis, my friend Liza died of cancer. Liza spent her entire life relentlessly committed to social justice and never stopped working for positive change. Throughout chemotherapy, frustrated that she wasn’t well enough to attend protests, Liza would sneak out at night to paint the names of women who had been murdered by police all over sidewalks and streets. At the celebration of her life, people Zoomed in from every corner of the world because that’s how far her activism reached. But when Liza was asked how she wanted to be remembered, she said, “Just don’t let anyone say I was the best at anything. It’s so obnoxiously American.” I laughed when I heard that as it’s nearly impossible to talk about Liza without saying she was the best at so much. But after I stopped laughing I found I was changed by her words.
I’d been committed to undoing my individualism for over a decade as I understood it to be sickness at the root of most of our planet’s suffering. I actively sought out teachers who spoke to the myth of separateness. I read Thích Nhất Hạnh and Angela Davis and anyone who could guide me towards a lens of interconnectedness. Over time, I began to lose most of my competitiveness, and began to relate to other people’s success as my own. Giving things to someone else felt just like giving something to myself. I was more excited when my friends' books came out than I was my own. There was so much added joy in my life as even the joy of strangers started to rush through my bloodstream.
But there were still snags. Still aches in my heart when someone won something I’d hoped to win. Still moments I’d notice a craving to be applauded for giving a shit. It wasn’t until Liza said what she said that the cloak of individualism really stopped fitting me. And then, when I was diagnosed with cancer myself, that thing fell to the ground and burned.
It burned because I saw something – I saw who I’d be after I died, and I saw that I wouldn’t be myself, but everyone. And in seeing that, I saw that I already was everyone. Not a body, but one cell in the body of the universe. I feel it so wholly now, I know whenever I die there is no possibility I will take anything this world needs with me to the other side—every unwritten poem will scatter like a seed and bloom in other people’s pens.
I share this as we begin Mental Health Awareness Month. I’ve been more at peace this year than any other year of my life, and I know that’s hard for people to believe. Who has the most peaceful year of their life during a cancer diagnosis? I’m learning I’m not the only one.
It’s an extraordinary thing to know you are mortal, and to feel who you will be after you leave this world, and to know you already are that. It’s a portal to a kind of peace I never knew existed. It’s a portal to feeling at home in this world. And it’s a portal to compassion too. It’s very easy to show up to people when you are feeling, I am them.
I used to see “WE ARE ONE” bumper stickers and think, That’s a very nice (and very psychedelic) thought. But it’s not a thought at all. It’s a realization that I’m only beginning to learn how to speak. I’ll keep sharing more words as they find their way to me. In the meantime, I must say, it is wonderful to be a cell beside all of you other cells in the body of the universe. I’ll be sharing a number of longer posts about mental health this month. Thank you for being a part of the conversation.
Love, Andrea 🖤
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