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  • Writer's pictureJulie Humphreys

Layers




Prologue:  As I’ve written and edited LAYERS, some “other” majorly transformative events have transpired in my life.  I started to go through LAYERS again, but with a different lens; I wanted to change things and alter the experience I first witnessed when creating LAYERS.  I have since decided to leave well enough alone, surrender to divine timing, and carry on.  See you here next month.  

 ***

 

Witnessing my hands on this keyboard, they look like crone fingers.  Long, dry with cracked skin, prominent veins, ink-stained from old pens, and dirty from transferring indoor plants on my windowsill.   

 

I’ve seen these hands on various keyboards for so many years.

 

I remember my word processor where I could only look at four lines at a time, and the threat of deleting a whole document, 2 or 3 thousand words, was real—and happened often.

 

I remember my first “real” computer in grad school (ok, now I’m really old!), a bright-colored hand-me-down from my boss.  The constant sound of the keyboard was ever present, even in my dreams. 

 I view writing like I view life: it’s all one big onion. 

 

There is a layer of writing on the outside; this is the onion skin that flakes off in the storage basket in my cupboard. That’s the polite stuff: nothing too deep, niceties, something to get through.

 

There is a paragraph written really well, grammatically correct, interesting, has a hook, and the reader continues.  Then, they get bored and move on.  They are looking for something deeper without even knowing it.  Peel another layer.

 

The stuff of vulnerability.  The stuff of here I am, I’m putting it all out there, have at it.  That’s yet another layer.  The calling out.  The words that cause the reader to think, wow, I’m glad I’m not her. Keep peeling, keep crying.

 

Stir these discarded layers with some butter and garlic, and you have a lovely side dish or topping to any meal.  This demonstrates the onion's potential- transforming from a hard ball in the cupboard with a flakey exterior into caramelized deliciousness. 

 

Noticing my hands cutting onions earlier, fingers stinging,  and now seeing them on a keyboard has made me think about my and my family’s journey with cancer- something that has made us sting and cry a lot. 

 

For 35 months, all I thought I needed was for my husband to return to complete health, and then life would present me with rainbows, unicorns, good fortune, endless happy days, and more abundance than I could know what to do with.

 

That seemed far away.  His deteriorating physical and mental health, a litany of unsuccessful treatments, discussions of how to frame a conversation with kids about the death of a parent, last wishes, my refusal to discuss certain aspects of his not being in this life with me… throw in some hot flashes, tween angst, and raising a kid on the spectrum in an inadequate public education system, and my nervous system has been in overdrive consistently.    

 

How does one live and experience the moment while planning the death of their beloved? How do we make memories now?  How do I raise kids without my partner, who possesses all the qualities they need that I don’t have?  How do I do family vacations without him?  Who do I talk to about… everything?

 

When he was first diagnosed, I woke up every morning hoping it was all just a really bad dream. But it was real, and I felt the heaviness of the shift in our life.  Life changes in a second.  That’s all it takes.  Someone tells you something, and BAM, forever changed. I was in that space; I have lived in that space for many months.  We all did and, to some extent, still do.  That is the uncertainty of life under any circumstance.

 

I especially felt like I was being forced to experience all of the “lasts”- my last birthday with him, our last camping trip with the kids, the last Friendsgiving, the last Solstice dinner. The last Christmas, the last weekend away, the last family vacation, and on and on and on and on…

 

I was immersed in the energy of “finality” of “this is it.”  Almost three years ago, I was thrown into that fire.  All I could feel was the flame's heat in my face, and I heard the screams of those around us to get our affairs in order, sort out finances and life insurance, Julie, stop fooling yourself, collect the contacts, and put all the passwords in one place. 

 

This past year, however, it was my husband’s voice that was on fire.  The coughing.  The blood spittle.  The fatigue.  The long hours of sleeping.  We went from actively walking a few times around the block to barely making it halfway around.  The shortness of breath.  The desperation.  The sadness in his eyes. The frustration. At what point does one see too much suffering of their beloved and say, enough is enough!  SOMETHING has to GIVE!

 

All of these layers, all of these feelings, all of this heavy discomfort, is something I got used to, and I hated it.  I had to be comfortable with the pain; I had to be OK with planning my life as a single parent, even though I had a partner who so badly wanted to be next to me.  I have been  JOY-less. I had to look within deeply.  This layer of the onion really sucked.  I refused to “wait” for my husband to die.  I just could not.  It didn’t make sense.  It never felt like the truth. 

 

My husband believed death was just over the threshold, and he was absolutely exhausted from dealing with it all (OF COURSE!) I still couldn’t believe it.  The only thing I had to support that thought was a feeling inside my body that things would turn around.  It meant something.   All of my important life changes come from this place.  But forfuckssake- WHEN?! Spirit, help a sister out, please!!

 

Then, the miracle happened: the right medicine appeared “out of the blue.” My husband was symptom-free within two weeks of taking a new drug. Read that sentence again. In TWO WEEKS, he was symptom-free after three years of suffering.

 

Once again, our lives changed in an instant.  Someone tells you something, and BAM, forever changed.  We jumped on it. 

 

An independent business retreat to sunny California for him, reconnecting with meaningful relationships in his work. A Friendsgiving celebration, a romantic trip to Italy for us, date nights, Christmas shopping, cooking together again…

 

So much gratitude.  So thankful.  So many happy tears.  We were living a little bit in shock- will the other shoe drop? We had to shake that feeling.  Have we done so completely?  I’m not sure yet.  Right now, we have a new lease on life.

 

I did not anticipate the hard part of this shift: I’ve been running a tight ship on my own for 35 months.  And now, my co-captain was no longer lost at sea.  I had to move over, make space, re-align, and re-group.  That was harder than I thought.  That story is in another letter, maybe, or perhaps just in the book. 

 

What I know is this: what’s been true for me for the past three years isn’t true anymore.

 

Right now, we feel like we have life back.  Our intentions, prayers, meditations, love, and the amazing network of support offering the same blessings have opened and given us access to the miracle we feel we are now witnessing with my husband’s stability. 

 

I feel like I have my husband back.  All of our kids feel like they have their dad back. It has been an intensely miraculous few months.  The disease still may be in his body, but finally, it’s stopped moving.  I’m hoping it starves to death. I hope those who read this have the same intention.

 

It’s difficult to describe the level of intensity that life has been vibrating at for me and my family for the past three years. How do we go from planning ceremonies surrounding his death one month, only to be on our knees in gratitude for stable health and no symptoms two months later?  I don’t know “how,” so we just “do.” That is the beauty and magic of the universe- when we release the form of what we ask for, great things happen. 

 

Currently, we have 5-year plans, 10-year plans, just PLANS that move beyond days, birthdays, or seasons…. Now, we rejoice in finding the perfect school for one of our kids.  Now, we celebrate another kid reaching milestones in life and live in awe of her creativity. Now, we see the eldest grow into an independent adult in the best hard-won way.  Now, we just get to BE in love, celebrate all we have, and have faith in the infinite blessings coming our way.  

 

I’ll eat that part of the onion any day. 

 

Thanks for listening.

 

Love,

Julie.

 

 

LET THIS DARKNESS BE A BELL TOWER

by Rainer Maria Rilke


Quiet friend who has come so far,


feel how your breathing makes more space around you.

Let this darkness be a bell tower

and you the bell. As you ring,


what batters you becomes your strength.

Move back and forth into the change.

What is it like, such intensity of pain?

If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.


In this uncontainable night,

be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,

the meaning discovered there.


And if the world has ceased to hear you,

say to the silent earth: I flow.

To the rushing water, speak: I am.

 

 

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