The Book That Cradles Hearts
The dream started three years ago, in wisps and tendrils. A slim collection of poetry and essays, written during my eleven months of cancer treatment five years previous, beckoned from its tattered manila envelope.
“Write me,” it whispered. “You need to finish your manuscript.”
I had run out of things to say. When I put pen to paper, the pain rushed back like winds whipping around a mountain and into an open plain. I wanted to leave the hurt tucked away, a bitter memory nestled in an unadorned wooden box.
“Write me.” The papers rustled. “The purpose of your life is to complete this book.”
Six months later I joined a critique group. Hand-written pages, which had not been touched since their creation, were pulled out of the envelope and typed, double-spaced, for dissection by strangers. I had never shown my work to anyone outside my cancer support group until that day.
The reviews were kind but scathing. “Your emotions are too stoic.” “Explain more.” “Show more.”
I went home and cried.
The next day, I started to write. And write. And write. Tears mingled with ink. Short paragraphs doubled, then tripled. Pebbles of experience transformed into a sweeping landscape.
With this metamorphosis, my heart opened up to see the sky. Vapors coalesced to reveal a dream. In the center of the dream was my book. Light shone through it and around it.
My hands were warm.
Over the next year, I wrote more essays. Forgotten tales were dredged from my sub-conscious and polished like small gemstones. The dream expanded into the future.
* * *
I am standing on stage in a large auditorium. Maroon and gold banners hang from skinny poles on the right of the stage, flanked by an American flag. A glass of water sits on a folding table next to the lectern.
The auditorium is packed with women and a few men. Melting snow glistens from coats.
I take a sip of water and start to speak.
My voice is soft but words ripple through the air, like hawks gliding over California hills.
“She stands at the edge of a mountain...”
I begin to cry. I’ve recited this poem a hundred times before, but I’ve yet to finish it without tears choking the syllables. Sobs and sniffles echo through the audience. Boxes of Kleenex are passed from person to person, down each row.
I blow my nose.
I read for an hour, talk about life, and answer questions. I cry frequently. The audience weeps throughout. Afterwards, women surround me with arms and stories. We cry again. I stay in the drafty assembly hall for two more hours, signing books, holding hands, and blotting tears.
When I exit into the cold Midwestern night, snowflakes dance on beams of phosphorescent light before settling thickly on the sidewalk. Six more nights, in six more cities. Then I board a long flight home, and repeat the process in one month.
* * *
Nine years ago, when I was first diagnosed with cancer, words spilled on paper to help ease the searing pain in my soul. I had no intention of spreading the agony to anyone else.
One day, I showed a handful of poems and essays to a friend, while we both waited to get blood drawn in a hospital laboratory.
“You’ll hate these,” I said. “They’re really depressing.”
She read for five minutes, without once looking up or shifting in her chair. Moisture ringed her eyes.
She faced me. “These are beautiful,” she said. “You write what I would, if I could.”
Tears splashed her cheeks. “You must show these to other people, and keep writing. You are the voice that expresses what we need to say.”
A month later, another friend echoed her, almost verbatim.
“Yes, these are depressing,” she agreed, “but ultimately, they’re about transcendence.”
* * *
For years I was tiny and hard, a seed protecting my heart from the ravages of winter.
Then the seed blossomed, and the dream sprung forth.
I finally understand the dream: I need to write this book because of what the words will accomplish. My book will become a best seller, but its importance lies, not in the money it will reap, but in the lives it will impact.
My shoulders have grown strong enough to carry the burdens of ten thousand women. I can’t heal anyone’s cancer, but for three brief hours in their life, I’ll offer hope.
Catharsis. I will travel the country and bring hope into people’s hearts. I’ll tell them, “I love you, and you’re not alone.”
We’ll shed tears, and share them. Our sorrows will fly on wings of hawks to the edge of the sky, where they’ll meet with dreams that spread light wherever raindrops fall.
The journey beckons.
© Meredith Karen Laskow
Winner of the February/March 2007 essay contest in Boomer Women Speak. The subject was "What Is Your Dream?"
The Book That Cradles Hearts
Working title: “Dancing On The Rim,” taken from the poem of the same name.
Contents: 60 poems and essays, 1-3 pages each.
Still working on: As of April 2016, everything is edited to the max except the very last essay which I'm still not happy with. Yes, this is forever, but I'm almost there!!!
Synopsis: a collection of poetry and essays about my battle with breast cancer. 40 of these pieces follow me through my first year of treatment. About half were written as they occurred and edited later. The rest were written/edited over the course of several years.
Journals and magazines want uplifting stories, triumphant tales of survivors whose faith and loving families helped them through challenging times.
This is not that story.
At least, not most of the time.
These are stories about pain and depression.
Depression so deep I wanted to die. And alternately, fear that I would.
Stories about cancer. Un-airbrushed, not made palatable for the masses. Certainly not written to inspire anyone.
And unsurprisingly, these are the stories in my book that resonate strongest with other cancer survivors. The Stories From Hell, the ones that no one else wants to talk about.
Which is why I have to write them. Or furthermore, why I have to finish writing and publish them in a book.
Because person after person who read these said, “You write what I feel.”
Person after person said, “I’m so tired of all that happy bullshit --- this is reality.”
Person after person said, “Please write more.”
And so I do. I have been given a gift, and given a burden. I have been given a Voice, but one that I can’t summon without reliving those months of pain.
I can’t “write it real” without going back to the emotions experienced at the times of these stories. Immersing myself in the pain and depression. Remembering how it felt to want to die. Each piece takes an average of eight hours to write — eight hours spent revisiting Hell.
But this time I know where the exits are. Or at least think I do.
And eighteen years later, I’m still alive and doing fine.
Maybe this is an inspirational story after all.