A beautifully decorated small cake on an ornate plate

Gratitude for bringing the light

Dear one,
I posted this on Saturday, then moments later deleted it in fear that my honesty would be too much. You see, in this post I share some of my experience of possibly having a terminal illness. This is not everyday conversation. And I don’t know what you are contending with in in this moment. So please be in choice: decide if you want to read it, where you want to read it and when you want to read it. Take good care of your beautiful self.

35/40 Gratitude for bringing the light

There was no “happy” in my birthday this year. At least none that I could conjure. See, a couple of days before my birthday I received the news that I might have a terminal illness—ALS, a neuromuscular disease that, like a tarantula bite, paralyzes every muscle in your body.

My mind, a newbie at handling news like this, didn’t take it well. My mind didn’t say, “Okay, so there is that chance, but I choose to hang out in the ‘I don’t know yet’ and wait till we have a definite diagnosis.” Nope, instead the news grabbed me by both wrists, pulled me over its back and tossed me onto the floor. Then it kicked me down two flights of stairs and shoved me into a dark basement. A tiny yet endless basement where questions flutter like bats, asking “Where will you live when you are wheelchair bound?” “Is life worth living when you can’t bite into an apple, draw someone in for a hug and say, ‘I love you?’” “Want to die in Pittsburgh or Pretoria?”

The damp dark is not only filled with questions, but also sharp images that pierce my chest. “I want to crack the spine of O’s first book. I want to wake up in S’s remodeled bedroom. I want to be part of my niece’s wedding.” And this one on repeat, “I don’t want to die so soon. Please Lord, please let this cup pass me by, I have so much to live for.”

It felt like I was walking on quicksand covered with rice paper. And that basement, that basement waiting inches below. And anything—me seeing my fingers open a tube of toothpaste or touching a shirt my mom bought me—anything sent me down into that darkness. My birthday seemed pointless against the possibility of dying in two to five years, the average life expectancy after being diagnosed with ALS.

And also, I know that (who said this?) right now is called “the present,” because it is a gift. I yearn to be in it while I am here. Be in the joy of it. But the basement bars my access.

But you. You brought the song, singing to me while our eyes lock and we try not to cry. Leaving me a voice note song so beautiful we played it over and over again. You shuffled behind a locked door, then opened the sky as you drew me into a sparkling circle, as you sang and danced to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.”

But you. You brought the light. You gave me a flickering golden glittery happy birthday sign and honey-colored candles. You lit the candles on the cake and watched me blow them out as I wished for enough time here. You built me a fire. And you showed up to the fire with bourbon, silliness and belly laughs despite the possible devastation.

But you. You celebrated me. You gave me gifts and made me cards showing that you see me, that you love me. You wrote me a poem and went around the table telling me why I matter. I can feel your care for me in your Amarula jelly, meerkat drawing, sunset painting, cardboard dice, family crafting book, face soap, gorgeous poem, gift of money.

But you. You fed me. Driving all that distance so we can eat at the Golden Pig. Ordering way too many dishes from Taste of India. Making your best homemade pizza. Getting me a gorgeous cake we savor for days.

But you. You brought the comfort. You came to my house to make hot chocolate and write a list of ways to get out of the basement. You came to my home to co-work, co-clean, pot plants or bake rusks so I could reach for your hand when I lose my footing. You held me in the many moments when I cried. You held me close at night when twitches flickered through my body and the basement felt so real. Your stillness there, your mercy, your love. Right there.

But you. You. With you even the darkest basement has light, even the saddest birthday shimmers.