I know what he means, and so do many of you, if the responses I have recieved via my Facebook link to Blaine’s post. It seems the idea that we could possibly leave time in our busy, structured lives for any meaningful kind of unintentional reflection, introspection or creative process is pretty much anathema to us.
Since I stopped doing paid work a few months ago, I have struggled to define myself in my interactions with other people. “And what are you doing with yourself?” is the standard salutation when you meet a friend or are introduced to a new aquaintance. What do you say when what you do has nothing to do with the attainment of money or a degree of some kind? What do you tell people when for the most part what you do, besides the minimum amount of housework possible to maintain good health, is sit down and write stuff no one reads and no one pays you for? This is the first time in my adult life I have been able not to work, other than when I was heavily pregnant or just had a baby, and it’s only because my husband has released me to not feel I have to. I wanted time to just…..breathe.
I have always been a super-busy person. I have always has at least ten things on the go at once. I have worked and volunteered and had babies and homeschooled and run my own businesses, and in between that I’ve had health problems including cancer, my marriage broke down and my husband had a breakdown and went away to rehab for six months. It’s been a busy twenty four or so years since I joined the world in it’s obsessive mania of accumulation, consumption and production. And what have I to show for it all?
We don’t own our own house any more. We had a house once, but we were so incredibly stressed trying to earn the monet it cost to pay the bank for it and actually keep it properly that we sold it. Even if we had held on to it, we’d have lost it at least twice since. Not having a mortgage probably saved us from bankrupcy a couple of times. We have a car, some furniture and some cash for emergencies. I don’t know what we’ll do when we can’t work any more. Probably buy a tent and live in one of our kids backyards. There already fighting over who gets the crazy old lady…none of them would mind having their dad. He’s the quiet one.
I have tried to be the good little capitalist my country and my community would like me to be, but I’m not good at it. Someone wise once said to me that you may win the rat race, but you are still just another rat. It’s taken nearly dying for me to realise I need time to live. I need time to create, and write, and think, and read, and talk to my kids, because that is living, that is life. I have no idea how long I have left, and I mean that most sincerely. I am living on borrowed time now… I have been on my second chance since 2004 when i went tino remission…and I am not going to waste any of it racing on a wheel of someone elses making.
Art takes time. Thought takes time. Beauty takes time. Inspiration takes time. Love takes time. You can’t make time, or even take time. It just has to be there. You have to leave it. You have to wait, and not fill the waiting with anything else. You have to resist the urge to stay busy so others will think you’re productive, prolific, useful, worthy. You have to just have big swathes of emptiness and nothingness and peace for life to come and fill you up. Life is what we were made for, not to make a living. This is the abundant life Christ speaks of – a life where we are relieved from the pressure of being full and needing to be filled, a life where we are prepared to be empty to allow something to come and fill us. We are so busy stuffing ourselves with information and experiences, we have lost the ability to imagine and to dream for ourselves. Art comes in the void…..in the beginning was the void, and God made from the void….and He saw that it was good.
The rest is not just for the time after the work. Sometimes, the rest is the work. When people ask me what i am doing, I don’t know what to say, so now I am just telling them “Nothing!” Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to go from there, but it is the truth. I don’t know if I will be able to create my magnum opus in this time I have, and I have no idea when it will come to an end. Perhaps it won’t. I can only hope.
Leave time, leave space in your life for your own thoughts and imaginings. I know it feels like fears of being poor or bereft or stupid will come in and overwhelm you, and you will need to get up and start producing again, but I promise you, the fears pass. You come to a place of seeing yourself as more than merely what you can produce. Hebrews were only of value to the Egyptians because they made bricks the Egyptians needed to build their monuments. The abundant life we are promised by our Maker is release from the indentity this Egypt has fashioned for us; fit only for producing consumables. But you, you, are an artist, you are a work of art. You were made to create, not just to make. You were created from an idea, not from a brick-mould. You are more than what you produce. Leave time. Time is where your dreams lie waiting to be realised.
I want to share with you just one part of a particular conversation I seem to have quite regularly. It usually begins when someone says to me, “Did you hear, such-and-such has cancer. Isn’t it terrible?” and I might say something like,”I heard. Did you know I had cancer?” “Oh really? When was that?” “In July 2003.” “Oh my God. Are you all right now?” “Yes, thanks, I am.” “Did you have treatment?” “Chemotherapy and radiotherapy.” “Wow, and you have how many children?” “Four.” “Oh, that’s awful. I can’t believe it.” And then, the inevitable. “And which breast was it in? Did you have to have a mastectomy? Do you have a prosthesis?” “Well, no, actually, it wasn’t breast cancer.” Blank expression. “Oh…….really?” Because everyone knows; the only cancer women get is breast cancer, right?
Now before I go any further, I will at this moment bestow well-deserved kudos of heroic proportions to the millions of men and women who have campaigned and still campaign to increase awareness of breast cancer worldwide. God knows, it needs to happen. Breast cancer is an insidious, sometimes disfiguring, always frightening cancer that can rob families of their mothers, partners, wives and daughters. Breast cancer is a horrific disease that, thankfully, we are learning more and more about every day, due to the billions of dollars raised by communities all over this planet, and thanks to ever-improving early screening and detection programs. The lives of breast cancer patients are not just being saved but also salvaged, thanks to greater understanding of the psycho-social effects of breast cancer on women, their carers and their communities, lives, livelihoods and relationships.
Having said that, I will return to the point, because everything I have just mentioned isn’t actually my point. Increasing public awareness of breast cancer, it could be said, has been a resounding triumph overall. It could also be said that breast cancer and all the various products and services related to it now have such a high media profile that breast cancer has become almost commodified in itself. Associating your event or brand with breast cancer in some way is likely to increase your profits and positive consumer sentiment toward your product like few other actions could. Unlike a lot of very disgruntled prostate cancer advocates, I stop short of calling breast cancer the ‘sexy cancer’, but you have to admit it has all the hallmarks. When I worked in advertising, I learned that either fear or sex will sell just about anything. Somehow combine the two and you have an advertisers dream. The female breast holds a veritable hemisphere of marketing power in our society. However, unlike ads which are aimed at increasing awareness of the link between lung cancer and smoking, we never see a single image of an actual diseased breast. We save boobies for the beer ads. It’s all about brand association, and the brand for breast cancer is the colour pink.
Long associated with all things pertaining to youthful, sweet, feminine innocence, pink has been universally substituted for any actual physical images pertaining to the disease of breast cancer. Pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, pink logos and cricket stumps and bandannas. Now, as I see it, two obvious problems associated with identifying everything to do with breast cancer with the colour pink are: 1) Not all women who get breast cancer can identify with the colour pink and what it represents – submissive, baby-like femininity. And 2) Not all people who get breast cancer are actually female. Some of them, more than you probably think, are men.
Here’s another conversation I’d like to relay to you. My friend Gary has something resembling the following interchange every other day of his life. “Did you hear? Frank just got told he has cancer.””I heard. Did you know, I had cancer?” “No way, really?” “Yes, actually, I’ve just finished treatment.” “That’s terrible, mate, I’m sorry to hear that. What kind of cancer was it? Prostate? Bowel?” “Actually, I had breast cancer.” Incredulous stare, awkward silence. Do men really get breast cancer? Where do you go with a conversation after that? Well, yes, men most certainly do get breast cancer. And Gary has really nowhere to go with it, in just about every real sense. Nowhere in conversation, nowhere in the community, and certainly nowhere for the most part in terms of supportive care and services for his type of cancer.
Many hospitals in this country now have, thanks to the militant findraising efforts of outfits like the McGrath Foundation, breast cancer or breast care nurses on staff. Female nurses; attuned primarily to the issues female breast cancer patients have with their disease, Gary feels. Issues such as body image, as concerning women in a society where breasts are worshipped and commodified. But male breasts have no such commodifiaction attached, except perhaps for the negative social connotations of man-boobiness, which can be made even worse when telling someone you have what is primarily considered a womens disease.
Gary has been lobbying the local breast cancer support group to allow men to join in their meetings. The groups management were initially resistant, and Gary believes only changed their minds when they realised the legal implications of excluding him and other men like him. He came back to the general cancer support I facilitate to report to us that they had, in the end decided to allow men to attend their previously exclusively female meetings, and had even changed the wording on their brochure. But Gary decided he felt more comfortable in our group, because we are not cancer or gender specific or exclusive. Yes, there is such a thing as cancer snobbery, believe me.
Increased awareness around breast cancer is a double edged sword; it seems the very changes in perception and awareness concerning breast cancer that continue to save lives have also created a set of assumptions which are perhaps as dangerous as the initial ignorance ever was. Many women seem to assume breast cancer is the only kind of cancer women are in danger of dying from. However, cancers previously mainly associated with men such as lung cancer are killing increasingly more women, as young women continue to take up smoking in greater numbers. It is interesting to nore that while breast cancer is a disease which threatens to physically disfigure, many others cancer, such as bowel and lung cancer, are perhaps percieved to have invisible and perhaps less disfiguring consequences. Women don’t seem to believe lung cancer or bowel cancer would affect them the way breast cancer might. They fear having a breast taken more than they fear having a section of bowel or part of a lung removed.
Research shows that many women actually continue to smoke because they believe it will keep them thin and attractive. I can tell you, I lived with a woman who had mouth cancer during the last few months of her life, and while she certainly kept her trim figure, it was mainly because she could no longer eat solid food through the rotting crevasse that was her mouth. I find it to be a peculiar conundrum that despite the graphic pictures on cigarette packets, women are more afraid of losing their breasts than having lung, head or neck cancers. The sad fact is that most breast cancer, caught early enough, can be treated and even cured, but by the time most lung cancers are detected, it is usually too late.
Women these days are very well-trained to check their breasts, but I wonder if this has given women generally a false sense of confidence regarding the early self-detection of cancer. While we are busy feeling ourselves up in the shower, are we ignoring that weird mole, or pretending we didn’t see the blood in our bowel motions? I think women are being programmed to believe that breast cancer is the only cancer they need to worry about, particularly if they are young and otherwise healthy. I was diagnosed with stage 3B (there are only four stages, and B means it had begun metastasizing) Non-HodgkinsLymphoma in my mid-thirties, and even my doctor was unable to be convinced there was anything wrong with me…until I presented to the emergency department of my local hospital on the verge of collapse. I had a perfectly healthy pair of d-cups – pity about the tumour the size of a saucer lying 3cm deeper under my sternum. But no one thought to check in there.
I have a friend who, like me, was diagnosed a few years ago with cancer in an advanced state. However, unlike me, she can’t talk about her diagnosis in general conversation, because no one wants to talk about vulval cancer. She didn’t even know there was such a thing. However, gynacological and blood cancers are not considered to be statistically rare in women. Not rare….just unheard of – literally..
So, this month being breast cancer awareness month, I would like to advocate another kind of awareness. While we are pinning on pink ribbons and passing around sentimental chain emails, I would like everyone to remember that not all the cancers women are diagnosed with are breast cancers. Check your boobies by all means, but check your moles and your motions too. Check your rashes, your rude bits, your lumps and your bumps, where ever they may be. Take that funny cough off to the doctor too, and for crying out loud, stop smoking. Also, please be aware that not everyone diagnosed with breast cancer is female. Many breast cancer patients are men and will never be acknowledged, serviced, celebrated or lauded the way many female breast cancer patients and survivors are. They are more likely to be isolated from support services and treatments, marginalised by stigma, and sometimes even ridiculed because of their disease. They face many of the same issues that women breast cancer patients do, but in reality have access to fewer resources and less information which is gender specific to their disease.
Personally, I will be thinking of the many friends I have lost to breast cancer, the amazing and heroic people I am blessed to count as friends who have survived, and those I know who are currently having treatment. I will also be remembering the hundreds of people I know who have journeyed through many different kinds of cancers, some of which you may never have even heard of; people who are not pop stars, or wives of cricket players or even particularly special or brave. Their cancers will be just as unfair and tragic and disfiguring and painful as the ones you’ll see on TV this month. I actually wish there were a month for every kind of cancer, but there aren’t even enough days in a year for that.
I ask of you all just two things: 1) That you may remember not every person diagnosed with breast cancer is female, and 2) That not every woman diagnosed with cancer has breast cancer. I actually hope to increase awareness that increasing awareness of cancer is only one side of the story. The other side is the responsibility we all have to become aware of the scope and effect all kinds of cancer have on a diagnosed person’s family and friends, on the community and on our society as a whole. Now that’s what I call cancer awareness.
My mate Paul Macklin from Amazing People has been dreaming of an arts and creativity adventure convention for ages, and finally, we are making it happen!
Head hand and HEART is a weekend adventure exploring your creative potential and expanding your creative self expression. Facilitated by artisans and creative people from all over Australia, HHH will be an amazing opportunity to release the creative potential lying within you for art, for expression and for life.
Bring colour, joy, intuition, imagination, intimacy
and creative confidence into your world and…
make a contribution. Proceeds to the Tabitha foundation, building homes in Cambodian communities….yes, ALL proceeds!
Not just for artists…for thinkers, for feelers and for doers; for people who need creative solutions, who dream of making their world great, and who seek innovative ways to educate and empower others.
Head Hand and HEART… You’ll discover…
■The mechanisms of the mind – how creativity is a natrual capability that we have in abundance at birth and how to overcome the voice of judgement that blocks creative flow as we get older.
■Rediscovering innocence – how creators use the childlike state in which every day is an amazing, playful adventure to fuel their creative exploration.
■Awakening the senses – how to expand awareness and perception as a starting point for your creative expression.
■Discovering your expressive voice – exploring a range of media and methods to unearth your amazing expressive voice.
■Your unique point of view – the importance of seeking out and speaking out your unique world view.
■Dare to dream – expanding the impact that your creative contribution can make in the world.
■Mastering the way – the perspectives and habits of creative masters and how to integrate them into your life.
I used to think alcoholics lay around on park benches in trench coats with brown paper bags clutched to their wheezing chests. Or that they teetered on bar stools until closing time while their wives, vacantly clutching a cigarette and staring at an empty dining chair, explained to the children daddy is working late again. I saw all this on TV, so it must be true. Alcoholics were not us; they were others. That was until my husband became an alcoholic.
My husband didn’t frequent bars or park benches. My husband did not even think he could have been an alcoholic before he went to an AA meeting. There he met people who were not park bench dwellers or bar stool teeterers. They were secretaries, real estate agents and builders with careers, families and home loans. They were not others. They were just like him.
We would all like to think we are not one of those “others”. But we are all others to someone. We all are good and bad, strangers and friends, aliens and natives. And because we all are others, when we judge others, we judge ourselves.
Jesus told us to love other people in the same way we love ourselves. When we do this, they stop being others, and start being one anothers. This phrase “one another” appears 43 times in the New Testament. One anothers are not the same thing as others. The very word “other” denotes difference. “One another” means simply another one of what ourselves are. If we can see everyone else as we ourselves are, in fact, as God sees us all, then it becomes much harder to judge who is worthy of our preference and regard and who is not.
The problem is not that we don’t know how to love people. It’s that we have this others mentality in the first place. Others has come not to mean other people, it has come to mean other sexual preferences, other religions, other genders, other ways of seeing and being which are different from our own. We look around us and see not one hundred people who need love and regard, but one hundred reasons not to love or regard people.
Why wait until people change to be more like you to love and regard them? Why wait until they put more on or take more away? Why wait until they walk your way or talk your way?
Jesus didn’t say “love others as I loved you”. He said “love one another as I have loved you”. In Jesus eyes, there were no others, only people, just like himself – one anothers.
Who are the others? In fact, we see people as we are, not as they are. When there is a mote in the eye, it makes the seer think the problem is a beam floating out there in space. No wonder the world looks like such a mess.
I want to tell those of you who don’t believe a person can be transformed, or that people don’t or can’t change, you need to come and see what God has done at my house.
Point in case; on Tuesday night, we had six adults besides ourselves, two teenagers and four children at our house for dinner, and my husband Ben was there the whole time. You would have to know what life was like before to understand how this is different. We didn’t have folks to our house for dinner before, because Ben would be present with us for about one minute and forty five seconds total. He would be a no show at his own dinner party.
As we were getting ready for bed after Tuesdays dinner, Ben congratulated me on successfully cooking a lamb roast for fourteen people, saying, “Well, that was a success!” I froze. A success? Since when did you consider having a dozen people in the house would constitute success? Who are you? And what have you done with my husband?
You see, Ben once was a master of the duck and weave. He was, as we used to joke, a professional skulker. He was in hiding. God was looking around, calling out to Ben for a long time, just like He did Adam in the Garden, “Where are you?” Ben, like Adam, did not want to be found.
Adam hid because he was ashamed. Shame will drive a sane person underground, and have him behave like a mad recluse. The shameful hide from any situation where they are forced to pretend to be anything better than the filthy, helpless sinner they know themselves to be. The will sabotaged by secret sins, they know their facade will not hold up under the scrutiny of accountability, or friendship. Those filled with shame avoid relationship, for fear they will fail others the way they have failed themselves.
What cured my husbands’ debilitating shame? He stopped hiding and allowed God to find him. I know it was frightening for him. Ben was trained to believe that God is an iron-fisted Father quick to anger and slow to forgive. Ben knew He could not pay the price he believed God would exact for his wrongdoings.
The thing is that Ben is not a bad guy. He never robbed a bank, or killed a man. He has been a faithful husband and gentle father. Ben’s wrongdoings were no worse than any mans; merely springing from an inability to deal with his own weaknesses and shortcomings, and which brought him undone.
When I became ill with cancer, Ben suffered terribly with anxiety and guilt because of what our family went through. He hurt. And he had no way to get God into that hurting part, or draw on God’s strength to get him through it. He believed God was waggling his head, telling him to smarten up and get a backbone. He was ashamed of his own weakness, and he hid. God said “Where are you, Ben?” and Ben couldn’t hear Him, because he was down the back yard with a cigarette and a six pack of beer, medicating his shame.
In rehab, Ben learned to hear God’s voice. He learned to put out a hand and draw on God’s strength when his own failed. He learned to stay in the room, even with the shame, until he was loved enough to know it was okay, God wasn’t going anywhere. When Ben finally peered out from between his fingers he found God waiting for him. Here, Ben, this is some righteousness Jesus organised earlier, I think this will fit you fine.
I have seen my husband rise up from a long sleep of self-hate and humiliation, and sit up to God’s banqueting table. He is making a pig of himself I can tell you. The empathy I see in my husbands’ eyes as he tells me about the people God brings across his path makes me fall back in wonder. How God can take a man who emptied himself out in self-disgust, and fill him with such goodness and compassion is beyond my comprehension.
A pastor once told me, “People change, but not that much.” Sorry, I don’t believe that. Fear and guilt stunt the soul – but mercy draws the withered ones stumbling forth for their healing. The enemy wants us bound in the dark, but God wants us free in the light.
Change is possible. It can happen. A man can come back to life. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Don’t give up hope. I thought Ben was gone forever, but I was wrong. The good thing about this was that I truly let him go to God. I was prepared to be an Abigail before Him. Ben was lost, but was also beyond the reach of my rejection, hurt and demands for restitution. But he came back. He was truly raised from the dead.
Ben doesn’t like it when I brag about him, but I can’t help myself. Those friends and family who saw me last year will understand how what we now call normal around here is such a miracle. I doubt that anyone present for dinner on Tuesday night would have any idea why I was staring at Ben in wonder as he carved the lamb and cracked the jokes. There, thanks to the grace of God, goes my husband.