This morning when it was still dark I poured a cup of coffee in my shiny brown mug from The Pollard Hotel in Red Lodge, Montana, and took it out on the deck. I sat in one of the Adirondacks and watched the sky lighten. I saw a strip of red through the thinning September trees at the end of my street, and I felt an autumn chill on my arms. There is no greater peace than watching a morning begin.
Light and puffy clouds in gray and red filled the eastern sky and kept getting lighter and brighter. I was afraid that if I took a drink of coffee, I’d miss something. I didn’t even want to blink. I wanted to take it all in.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
I’ve been so busy working and writing a book at the same time that I missed a lot of sunrises. I pushed myself from the time my feet hit the floor at five in the morning, or earlier, till night when I couldn’t stay awake any more. That leaves a person with a little anxiety and a lot of not seeing the world around her.
Now I want a little time to sit and watch and to know my world. I want some time to be still and let my heart rest.
I bought some peaches last week down at Betty Reed’s produce market across from the old cemetery a block off Hillsboro Road. Five of them. Big, fat, the size of softballs. I hold one, and it fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, as if it were created to sit there, like a gazing ball in a flower garden. I curl my fingers from the first joint up around it. Pink, fuzzy, yellow at the top. The core with a truncated stem looks like an eye, open, with lines running out from each side of it. A seam runs up the side, like the peach is divided into lobes.
I put one under the faucet and let water splash over it, rubbing my fingers over its velvet. It’s soft in places, has a couple of bruises and moon-sliver indentations turned brown, places where somebody’s fingernail has dug in a bit. I begin pealing the nap off, and I run into brown. Rot, deep, with a black fungus moldy growth at the core, in the eye.
I cut and cut again, cut another slice, and another. Got to get away from that brown. Don’t want to eat the rot. Don’t want to get anywhere near it. Got to have a margin between the yellow flesh I am slicing to put on my oats and the brown foreign matter that invaded the fruit. A half-inch margin, a fourth of an inch, a margin of clean space without any possibility of brown, bad cells in it. Cut, slice, cut.
And then I remember. My whole life these days seems to be about margins.
My friend has lung cancer. A mass ten centimeters long in the lower right lobe. Encasing and narrowing the pulmonary artery. Close to the chest wall.
Inoperable. Inoperable. Inoperable, they all say. Until one says, “Yeah. I can cut it out.”
Cut out maybe two lobes of three in the right lung. Goal is removing all the cancer, so may have to take the whole thing. Got to have margins. Tissue free of that yellow spiculated wild growing tissue. Margins to ensure no cancer is left behind.
Some margins I’m used to. Like the white space that surrounds the content of a page. I’m a writer, and I live with a one-inch margin at the top, bottom, right, and left of my paper. White space is good, they say. They, editors, the experts, the ones who cut. Cut words, paragraphs, pages. They want lots of white space. White space makes it easier to read. You can get white space with dialogue, with short paragraphs, with clipped phrases and one-word reinforcements. White space makes it clean. Nobody wants to see black filling the page. All writers learn this and adhere to the standards. All manuscripts are alike. Double spaced, Times New Roman or Arial font, size 12, one-inch margins. And clean.
All cancers are not alike. Surgeries are not alike either.
I find myself back at the same hospital, many floors under the roaring blades of Life Flight that brought my husband here five years ago. I listen to the helicopters go and come all day. I am in the same waiting room where I sat during my husband’s long and hopeless surgery. Now I am here with the man I go out with. I am called up to the third floor to speak to him before he is wheeled into the operating room. This is the same floor my husband died on. I wonder if both men used the same operating room. I think about the knife. The one that repaired my husband, who died anyway because he didn’t seek treatment soon enough. I think about the blade that will be used on my friend—who did seek timely care—to cut out that mass of untamed multiplying flesh and to get margins.