The very few times in my life I’ve been told “You must not sweep,” I have looked around my house, at the floors inside and out, and wished nothing more fervently than that I could sweep. It hadn’t occurred to me that the breast biopsy last week would be the kind of procedure to result in that prescription. I came home sore, with an ice pack tucked into a sportsbra over the puncture site and the poor flesh that had been probed and snipped deep inside by a 13 gage needle. I looked around my living room, my kitchen, my outside patios, and I wanted desperately to sweep.
The good news? Now I can sweep. The great news? The tissue described on mammogram and ultrasound as “ambiguous” was benign. The night I got home after the biopsy, I read this article by a friend who’s opted out of mammograms, and felt suddenly, sickeningly sure that this biopsy hadn’t been necessary. But that’s a discussion for another time. Meanwhile, back to sweeping and rearranging furniture like a Rubik’s cube and decorating for Christmas. Breathing dust. No wonder I am short of breath sometimes.
It shocks me the filth I am capable of living in. Usually I sweep at night, before settling on the floor to do yoga or watch TV. But I confess, not every night, and not everywhere. So this morning, I am happily sweeping, the wound healed except for a deep linear bruise, the last lingering pain mostly gone. I’m sweeping! Deep sweeping. Moving furniture, reaching the broom under the heavy stuff, and I’m raking up a bucketful of dog hair, mostly from the good dog, who has a longer, denser coat. Between the two dogs, the cat, path gravel, yard dirt, and general desert dust, I’m also sweeping up a dust storm. Clouds billowing in sun slants that I can’t see when I sweep at night. Instant resolution: vacuum every day!
When I’ve swept the inside, I go outside and sweep the front patio, then sit for a rest. Any other year on this day, I would have been shoveling snow instead of sweeping grit. The big hairy dog I love like life itself comes to sit beside me. We bask in unusually warm December sun, and I stroke and stroke his broad hairy back, dig in deep with my fingers to massage his loose skin. I remember a dog I had years ago, whom I loved to pet when he was silky and young. I realized, a dozen years later as he slowly died from cancer, that I had quit petting him long ago, in that deep fulfilling way he loved, because of his slightly oily, always dirty, shedding coat. Another instant resolve: brush the big hairy dog every day.
A friend gave me a Tarot reading the other day, one he characterized as particularly significant, not about quotidian events or decisions but about a period of tumultuous life transformation. Last night I pulled out my Thoth Tarot deck, which I haven’t used in years, and laid out the same pattern he had, to see how close our different spreads and readings might be. Different cards, same gist. Both had a recurring theme of letting go; mine ended up with the Death card, a sure sign of major transformation on the way. I’m just glad I didn’t get either of these readings before I got the biopsy results!
There is a lot of letting go to be done in my life. A dear friend lives dying from cancer in California, a man of committed spiritual devotion that cost him great sacrifice in the last eight years of his life. I light a candle for him, for his saintly spirit in a body that has sustained itself on light and love for far longer than any thought possible. What have you learned, I ask him, through this journey?
When you walk in love, you’re there, he said. It was that simple. He’s been staring directly down the barrel of it since he stopped eating five weeks ago, keeping friends and family informed along the way with a few inspiring emails. In his last, he wrote unknowingly a poem that ends with these words:
it is perfection so far beyond my comprehension
as to shut down my whole system.
leaving me sitting in a grinning stupor
of wonder and awe of what can only be
that matrix of what we feebly call the utterly
ineffable LOVE that seems to be all there is.
He spent most of his adult life learning to let go of the things of this world. He spoke even before he was ill of his body as a separate thing from his self, as the vessel he inhabited with gratitude. Having let go of everything now, even his body, he has lived his last months in a state of spiritual bliss one can only hope to achieve when it’s one’s own time to go.
I’ve also seen a Chinese acupuncturist a few times this past month, and he’s had some palatable and surprising prescriptions to improve my health. In addition to eating my fill of baked potatoes, he told me the other day to Have more fun. Lighten up. Don’t be so serious. He said to do my chores with a different attitude. He said to think about global problems from a bigger perspective, and to handle death by saying See you on the other side. He said All paths lead to nothing.
Which I found strangely comforting.
I must let go of all the stuff I carry from caring for my parents, emotional stuff and especially physical stuff, boxes, bags, artwork, antiques, clothes, military decorations. I’ve clung to some of this stuff for ten years, and I can feel that it’s weighing me down. I must let go of my attachments to my precious dogs. Their family line has a history of cancer, and the sweet bad girl dog may be showing the same early symptoms her uncle did. If I can’t cling to my love for them, then let me give them both all the love and consideration I can while I can. If I have to let go of all my attachments in order to fully live, if that’s what it takes to lighten up, then let this be the winter of letting go.
And so it is that I sweep with deepest gratitude, and I wash windows with joy, and I load up generous boxes and bags for the thrift store, and I brush the hairy dog lovingly with my hands, outside on the patio. Clearing, cleaning, getting my life in order finally. Again. See you on the other side, Rick.