“Watch, Mom,” Lauren quipped when we wandered through a tent at the fair. She hopped on a crazy contraption, a simple machine designed to test balance. Beneath her tennis shoes, a wooden platform wobbled, and flickering lights blinked overhead.
She struggled, shifting her weight from one foot to the next, trying to achieve perfect balance. For a fleeting second, when she managed to hit it just right, the contraption lit up, a neon victory lap everyone in the tent could see. It looked easy.
“Let me try,” I said, giving her a shove.
I climbed on, the unsteady panel aquiver under my feet. Focus! I told myself. But the neon wouldn’t light for me. I shifted, stilled myself, shifted again. Finally, I got a twinkle, a tiny blast of neon light, elusive but satisfying.
Achieving equilibrium looks easier than it is.
That day at the fair, I was trying hard to apply balance, not just on that nutty contraption, but in my life.
I feel like I’ve been a little off because next week I have a cancer check-up. It’s my six-month meeting with my parole board to see if my deadly disease is back, or if I get another reprieve. These appointments are hard to put out of my head, and at times, it can be a struggle to stay in the present moment, to enjoy the gift of now. And what a loss it is.
On that particular afternoon, my daughter sang in a talent contest and did an amazing job. My husband treated us to a cinnamon roll easily as big as my head, the kind you can get only once a year from a carnie. I watched little girls dressed as folklorico dancers parade in colorful dresses and saw award-winning art projects created by students of all ages.
I realized on an intellectual level the treasure I was experiencing. But with cancer in the back of my mind, I couldn’t seem to enjoy it as much as I wanted. My jaw was clenched. Even though herbal tea was the strongest beverage I enjoyed that day, I felt like I’d endured successive shots of espresso, a thin but undeniable surge of electricity running through my system.
I kept visualizing what life would hold for my young daughter if my check-up was bleak, and how my husband would cope with another onslaught of angst. Although I knew I was borrowing worry from the future, I couldn’t seem to stop.
Sometimes people fantasize about bucket lists, about what they would do if they knew they were at the tail end of their lives. But the divine design keeps us guessing.
We don’t know when we’re going to go, so we can’t eat too much sugar at the buffet table. We can’t drain the savings account to pursue wild extravagance. And we can’t tell off our annoying neighbors because if we don’t die, we’ll have to pay the consequences. We have to safeguard our health, our money, our relationships to live another day. Just in case.
My cancer diagnosis brought my own bucket list to life, and helped me to assess more realistically my dreams and aspirations. Cancer helps me see more clearly that which is truly important, and the overwhelming remainder which isn’t. And that clarity usually helps me achieve balance.
But not always.
The machine at the fair reminded me to unclench my jaw, to take slower, deeper breaths, and to be more mindful of the sensory wonderland unfolding around me. That wobbly platform and its elusive lights helped me remember that real balance comes by going to that still place within, the place that is at peace.
It forgives the clenched jaw, the borrowed worry, and it invites me gently to exhale. When I find that place, I realize it’s always been there, available anytime I need it. And it will be there for me another day when I’ll have the privilege to try again.
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