by Davin Franklin-Hicks
There’s a quiet that comes over me lately. It’s not something I am used to as, until recently, I likely only experienced it a few times in my 38 years of life.
The first time I experienced it I was in 1991 as a kid at camp. I did not want to go to camp, it was my first year of trying it out. I anticipated two things: I would be rejected constantly and/or murdered in the woods. The fear of rejection came from seemingly endless lived experiences of rejection. The fear of murder came in equal parts having viewed Psycho and Sleep Away Camp.
I was neither murdered or rejected. Yay!
Camp was one of the experiences I cherished the most in my life. It was safe and wonderful. We sang by campfires, for the love of endorphins! The night was chilly so we huddled up and just enjoyed the way our voices sounded with other voices. My voice had never felt more full than when it was joined with the person next to me as we experienced the belief that love does exist and it is ours to have, it is ours to give.
That stillness was a result of action. We were very brave to go to camp when we didn’t know if it was safe enough. The opening of our hearts and willingness to risk was met with wonderful connection and peace.
I have chased that feeling to no end.
Yet, that stillness is with me a lot lately. I was going to tell you that the stillness is not a result of action, but I am rethinking that as I write.
The stillness comes for me on the heels of moments in which I was not attempting to invoke it.
It just arrives in moments that I really need it. What I am recognizing in this moment, though, is it has a lot to do with a decision I make regularly to turn toward life rather than away.
Life. I have a friend who says this to me when I ask how he is: “Oh, you know, livin’ life on life’s terms.” I hear that in some recovery work I do. He says that with a lot of honesty. He is one of the people that taught me about the vigilance needed to remain sober. He truly lives life on life’s terms in a visible way. That’s the turning to life rather than away from life.
I’ve been away from you a bit. I had a pretty steady flow of participating in life through writing and sharing with you for the last couple of years. I recently, though, have a lot less words for life, especially when my life has moments of feeling unrecognizable.
Here are some words to put to it and we’ll see where we go from here.
Anyone feeling the desire to turn to these words? I haven’t been. And yet… need overwhelms wish, so would you mind turning toward these words with me? It’s much easier for me to turn toward life on life’s terms when I see you are with me and when I see I get to be with you. I wonder if that might be the same for you, too.
Since June 2016, I had been having headaches. Headaches were a part of life for me since I was little so that wasn’t new. Migraines were especially bad after a traumatic brain injury I recovered from in 2003.
These were different, though.
I had been adjusting to having a chronic health condition I learned of in February 2016 and, as many readers know, I was also recovering from some pretty awful trauma as well. I chalked these headaches up to that.
Then came the bone pain and that was severe. I noticed it when my wife gently touched my shin and I about came unglued. I felt like she had hit me with a hammer. My body felt brittle and breaking. It actually was breaking with these tiny fractures in cluster areas. I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life and it felt like it was worsening.
While I denied this being something to worry about, my doctor didn’t. She had an inkling. She followed that inkling and then the news of cancer, specifically Multiple Myeloma.
Winter 2016 we added the word cancer to the list of “What the heck is happening?!?!”
My first thought was that I was going to go through yet another name change and call myself Job because, I was clearly living someone else’s story.
Loss of self.
Loss of function.
Yet, still a call to turn toward life and not away.
Speaking of Job (well, in a homograph sense, anyway), I lost my job in January 2017. Laid off after 16 years of work was astounding and hard. I was too sick to know what to do.
That level of insecurity makes the body and bed at odds so sleep becomes impossible. As the bed invited rest, my body refused and the tossing and turning of unrest took over in nearly every part of me. With some help and support, I was able to secure another position in the company I love. People showed up. We developed a plan to be able to live within significantly decreased means we are still implementing.
What is turning toward life for me?
Answering my phone when I feel isolated and scared.
Answering a text from someone when loves me and who I love.
Answering an offer to heap love onto us.
Answering my wife when she says “What are you thinking?”
That’s what turning to life is, allowing life to continue and my participation in it is necessary.
Dear ones, I am so tired. I have never known this level of exhaustion in any other aspect of my living. It’s beyond measure. We have to create so much room now for rest that it can feel isolating. Rest, though, is a turning to life. I just have to keep standing back up after it.
I think about death a lot more than I ever have. I was very aware of mortality before all of this. I had a belief when I was younger that I would suddenly just die and I expected that to happen when I was young. I would just be dead.
As I healed and grew into who I am today, I just figured I would be alive until I am 92. I never thought I would be sick. It never entered my mind.
Sickness and death has become an intermittent pre-occupation for me this last year. I am afraid of dying. I am afraid of my wife experiencing that loss, of my precious son losing another parent (that alone infuriates me more than anything else). It comes and goes, my pre-occupation with it. When it goes, it leaves behind that stillness I was telling you about.
You can likely see why I am rethinking my original thought that the stillness that rises in me and washes over me happening without action on my part. It does take action. It just isn’t immediate.
The stillness comes from choosing to turn toward life when life is really not palatable. The frequent, often difficult, turning to means we get to experience a stillness that cannot be crafted. That stillness comes from the absolute refusal to believe the pain of life is more true and more available than the absolute love and nurture of life.
I want to take your hands and show you, pass it to you.
It’s like your hands and feet thawing in front of a fire when you come in from the chill to the bone cold.
It’s the covering up with your coziest blanket knowing the moment you are in is for rest with nothing else you have to do.
It’s like feeling utter exhaustion and realizing how amazing it is to truly rest.
It’s warmth when all your body can do is respond to cold.
It’s comfort when you forgot how good it feels to truly just be.
It’s your best nap. It’s the best book you read. It’s the song that expresses that thing you just didn’t have the words for.
It’s living life on life’s terms and realizing that was the best thing you could have ever done with your sacred life and heart.
In the stillness, clarity comes.
If I can share anything that would be true for me since all of this pain flooded into my life, it would be this:
We do not have to do anything to die. Dying needs no assistance at all; it will come when it comes. Death has a 100% success rate. It’s got this — it really knows what to do with zero coaching.
Life, though, must be nurtured, loved, grown, tended, guarded, celebrated, wanted, welcomed, received, given.
Death comes unbidden. Life comes only by invitation.
And I really love life. Still.