es·o·ter·ic /ˌesəˈterik/ adjective adjective: esoteric Intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.
We all have our special understandings and knowledge, based on our experience. We live in the world together and interact with each other, but that interaction is not always on the same level with everyone. When we meet people who have experienced what we have experienced there is a special connection, a freedom to express, a sense of truly being understood, and often it can lead to communication that is so much deeper and meaningful than our regular day to days. We find our people. It's like a club. We can belong to many different clubs because there is more to us than just this one thing.
And when that thing is so life altering and soul searing as a potentially life threatening illness, the opportunity is there to connect on a level that soothes and heals even as we are going through something so raw and hurtful. There are lots of things people go through that are life altering and soul searing, and we can all find our people. But today, because this is the Cancer Journal, I am going to talk about the Cancer Club.
I have noticed that not everyone is ready for this connection, so you have to be respectful. And I even find myself at times, holding back because I am not ready for a particular conversation or the intense need for connection that the other person is experiencing. We can't be all things to all people, all of the time, and even this is esoterically understood. But I have found that when I am open, share my experience and "read the room" I am finding people to connect with. And it is warming my heart and helping me to maintain my resolve for humour and grace. It's the ones who are or have gone through cancer that have had to settle with their situation that I am noticing the most connection with. Because that is where I am at in all of this.
But while I have gone through my "scare" and the likelihood of good outcomes is now vastly improved for me (although never certain), I have met those who truly are living what I was living a few short months ago. With inoperable cancer and a shorter life expectancy, some extremely short. And the grace and joy for life, as well as the practical acceptance of their reality are inspiring. Even as it is somewhat sobering, in that those "crossroads" between being in remission and the threat of new growth for someone with metastatic breast cancer are ever possible. I have also met people who have been through it and have lived many years cancer free. Or are returning for another battle.
So so very often, I am impressed and inspired by their attitudes, fortified by their strength to endure, to accept, to carry on "until." The ability to speak pragmatically about their ultimate end, and even to engage in morbid humour, which those who are not part of the "club" often don't appreciate all too much. Those of us in the club sometimes have to navigate that so carefully that, unless we can find each other, we don't get to fully process what we are going through in order to help loved ones cope with their experience with our experience. That's fair. But it is wonderful to be with people who can laugh at themselves and the sometimes ridiculous situations and struggles. Who can empathize and encourage when we are so demoralized by this great big thing that keeps beating us down. That get it.
Accepting our circumstances is the road to peace. Committing to an outcome provides a sense of empowerment. The two work hand in hand with cancer. When we think about it, none of us really can know what will happen to us in the next 15 seconds or the years to come. Anything can happen to alter our life trajectory. But we don't often think about that when we don't have "something big and scary" going on. Something that subsumes so much of our regular existence and overwhelms our coping systems. It's hard to be terminally ill ( in reality or potentially) and not feel that many people around us are ready to move on from this intense and consuming experience we are having. It can feel lonely.
I find myself, in moments realizing how much I am demanding focus on the details of my experience. I have to be mindful to give those around me the space to have their own details be considered and empathized with. Even as they diminish their very "esoteric" experience in comparison to mine and turn mindfully to me to help ease my burden. It creates some tension. It's part of life and living with others. But when you are with those who truly are in the same head space, heart space, body space, mind space, there is freedom and ease that occurs. There is also opportunity to get out of your own suffering and enlighten and enliven yourself and those others, through the level of compassion that can come from true empathy.
If you haven't experienced cancer or another dire health issue, you may have other experiences or sets of knowledge that bind you to others who share those parts of your journey. So you can understand that "esoterica" of which I am speaking. It's part of our human experience. It's a tender mercy afforded to us. It gives us an opportunity to avoid isolation and embrace our humanity. It is something that helps us say, and truly mean , that we are glad for the experiences we are going through. I have been here before.
Moving out of the universe of one when I experienced mental illness was the gateway back to wellness. Connecting with others, helping and being helped by those who were passing or had passed through the valley of the shadow were important rungs of the ladder out of the pit of despair. When we are going through mental illness, addiction, trauma, we need people who get it. We cannot fully heal and move into wellness in a system that doesn't understand what we are going through and how hard it can be to just "get over it."
There truly are things we cannot control. There really are things we need to process. There really are times when we just cannot see how we can do that one thing that is being asked of us. There are times when we just need to be acknowledged and admired for even simply still breathing, waking up every day to fight the good fight again and again. We need to be understood to the very core of our ailment, to be able to find humour and hope in our predicament, and to be empathized with and encouraged when we feel so demoralized by this big thing that keeps beating us down.
Communities are made up of people with esoteric knowledge and experience. Webs and networks connect each one of us to each other in an interwoven tapestry of humanity. We are not all the same all the time, but many times we have passed the same way as others. Our circumstances may differ but we are all still lost, sad, scared, tired, jaded, battle weary at times. I have been in awe to think about the many qualities and treasures of experience and knowledge some of the most "down and out" who keep on keeping on every day, trying to move past the weight of how their lives have unfolded.
And then there are those who seem to be at the top of the food chain who are barely making it into the next day, under the weight of their own brokenness. If some of us where in their shoes we would fold, give up and wither. Or would we find our steel cores and find a way to march on? As human beings we have the tendency toward both. We need each other, a connection to something bigger than ourselves to be able to do the latter. I know! To move beyond the pain and weight and brokenness, we need to feel understanding, empathy, encouragement. To be seen, valued. We can do that for each other. All of us.
Because there is one level of esoteric knowledge that we all naturally achieve and when we realize that everyone else shares this knowledge we become part of the biggest and most powerful club. The Humanity Club. When we embrace our humanity and open ourselves to the value and experience and awesome wonder of the other humans around us, we can join it. This is where the true, authentic, and empowered, and sacred Community is found. And it will save us. It will lead us to look for and find all the answers, for everyone. And there is room for all of us here. This I know.