Otherwise

I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been otherwise.

I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been

otherwise.

I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love.

At noon I lay down with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks.

It might have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day.

But one day, I know,

It will be otherwise.                                           by Jane Kenyon   (reformatted to fit the page)

I think everyone has had these kind of  thoughts, if only fleetingly, while reflecting on their life span, or the life span of a loved one. Once the stage IV diagnosis was made, I felt a tidal wave of images overcome me, some brutal, but some mundane and sweet, as I felt the acute reality of  losing the only life I knew. Cancer has created a sharper focus on the last stages of life for me, but also on the present. There is a swinging back and forth in me,between the often cushioned perspective of everyday life, and the heightened sense of new limits to these days.

Jane Kenyon had been diagnosed in her 40’s with a virulent form of leukemia just fifteen months before she died. The bone marrow transplant that she underwent in 1995 was only able to give her six weeks of stability before the disease reactivated. I don’t know how she felt in those last days, only that she spent them at home where she had wished to be. Her husband, the poet Donald Hall, has written about that time in the copy of her collected works, entitled “Otherwise”, and in his book called, “The Best Day, The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon”. Both are rich accounts of daily life and the ways in which they adapted to her quite early physical decline and eventual death. Both poets, they have faced and described so much of the private amazements and sorrows that accompany deep partnership and serious illnesses.

Sometimes I need to read accounts from others who have been through this sort of thing, and when I am done, I then move on to a stack of fiction, in which the good guys win.

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