Wednesday, August 21, 2013


“This will teach you who your friends really are.”

Some sage advice received since my recent cancer diagnosis. It landed heavily in my solar plexus as I heard it. I immediately recognized it as a well-worn perception that I suppose contains a relative truth. The message was that I will learn as a result of this life challenging condition which of my friends is in it for the long and sometimes tumultuous haul, and which are only here for me when the seas are calm and the sailing smooth. I have indeed witnessed some surprising reactions from people that have been in my life for a considerable length of time. I have experienced and felt some sadness and disappointment as a result of non-response from individuals I would have expected to be supportive in this difficult time. There is a key word contained in that preceding sentence that awakens me from a potentially prolonged contraction: expected. It is my expectations of people that have always led to my relational suffering. It is demanding that people show up in a certain way that sends me right into recoil. If others do not meet my demands and expectations does that mean that they do not care about me? Doesn’t my reaction say much more about me than about them? Perhaps if I had bestowed upon my friends a copy of the “How To Treat Taylor” manual they would better comply with my rules. The truth of the matter is, I am not even clear yet about how I might be best supported through this sometimes scary and chaotic journey through cancer. How can I expect others to be present and clear? And there it is again. Expect.

I am not in any way diminishing the need for support and loving attention during this more than challenging time. And I have received some astoundingly beautiful sentiments from people I barely know. But while the advice given by my friend points to a deeper potential for intimacy at this time ( or not), it is for me a calling to a more rooted and unwavering sense of autonomy. Autonomy must always precede true intimacy. At a certain level we go through these deeper valley’s alone. Please don’t disparage me with spiritual correction. I know ultimately I am not alone and separate from my Source, and I relish deep connections with both family and choice family. And yet I am the one that has this messenger in my body. I am the one that will undergo often painful treatments and procedures. While others may walk with me to an impending portal, I will make the passage alone and on my own. I am the one that is deciding how I will show up in this most profound experience. I am the one that is choosing how to see it and how to relate to it. While I would prefer to have the company and the spiritual energy of those I love and am in relationship with, I do not choose to categorize others based on their ability to be with something so frightening and evocative.

If this experience is truly teaching me who my friends are it is doing so by revealing deeper levels of what goes on in individuals when they are faced with their own mortality. Because that is what unconsciously gets triggered when others are looking at me. Looking into the mirror of my experience reveals things most people don’t want to see. My chosen transparency can be daunting. I am more than willing to own that. I will not define or exclude people from my heart based on how they are able to relate to my honest communication regarding this challenge. I will not use someone’s fear-based projection to measure a relationship and then deem it lacking. In fact, I will not lead myself into story telling about any aspect of how others choose to show up or not show up for me at this time. The gift of autonomy is maintaining my capacity to love those around me even if it appears that they are not actively bringing love to me. I choose to compassion the pain and fear that my current situation has invoked in others. I welcome those who choose to stand beside me, but I will not withdraw from those that don’t. This is a time for me to open and to deepen, not to shut down and pullback. I will not deaden myself to my own need for compassion and care. But neither will I kill off a connection based on my own expectation and demand.

So in a way cancer is indeed teaching me who my friends really are. It is giving me insight I didn’t have before and that I didn’t need to have before. It is allowing me to steady my autonomy and deepen my intimacy. My compassion for those around me is more acute and engaged than ever before. To those who seem to be keeping a silent distance, I love you exactly where you are. To those who replace themselves with detaching advice, I hold you in just how you are being. To those who invite me to call when I am in need, I must say thanks but probably not. It is much harder for the vulnerable to make the call. But I will know that you are there in the way that you can be there. And I know you are here. You are always here within me. My friends are not what they do or don’t do. They are the felt-sense love I have deep within my heart. And that is present even in those times when I need to walk this path alone.