Let go or be dragged.
I keep coming back to that ancient Zen proverb, mostly in relation to the daily challenges of trying to get back into shape. Should I let go of this goal? Or should I continue to be dragged through the now daily extreme fatigue and unrelenting soreness?
But I have a long history of holding on.
Art by Ruth Sanderson,
When I was eight years old I loved a pony named Little Bo Peep. Banish all mental images of the mild and dainty, frocked shepherdess which her name invokes, for Bo Peep was a battery of potential energy cleverly disguised as a thick-furred, thigh-high bundle of cuteness. Her little hooves went clip-pity-clop. Her muzzle fit in the hollow of my child-sized palm. Her inch long lashes lined beguiling eyes, one brown, the other half blue and half brown. To brush Bo Peep’s dense winter fur only stirred the static electricity that made dust cling to it more tightly. When we played hide and seek I would climb into her manger and she would wibble my head with her lips. Later I’d find hardened horse slobber in my hair. She was my world.
If you don’t know ponies, you might not know that they can be, shall we say, difficult, and Bo Peep was no exception. On more than one occasion she schooled me, and my lesson was this: even though we are well matched in size, you are not nearly skilled enough to ride me. My lesson to her was this: I will be dragged rather than let go.
Bo Peep was inclined to do exactly as she pleased on occasion, which included grabbing her bit and taking off, skinny little Linda’s tugging be damned. There was no question that I could stay on her. The question was whether and when she would stop. I clearly recall the shouts of my sister, Gail, fading in the distance as Bo Peep galloped at full speed and forged a new trail on an old trail that had been devoured by sticker bushes. I tried with all my wimpy strength to pull her to a stop, as stickers ripped at my arms and legs. Finally I wrapped the reins around my hands and, once the sticker bushes gave way a bit, I jumped off her, my hands still tightly bound. The dragging was relatively short before she came to a halt, and my take on that episode was that I’d won. I also earned some street cred with Gail, my witness.
Another time I found myself once again moving involuntarily at an out-of-control gallop, this time through a wide open landscape, toward a busy road. My companions were powerless to intervene as I became a speck in the distance. I used the same drop and drag technique (which I think of every time someone says drag and drop in computer-speak) and was applauded by the onlookers, both because I was a ballsy eight year old, and because I had survived.
Me on Little Bo Peep, circa 1968.
Little Bo Peep’s owner sold her before I was strong enough to stop her the normal way or outgrow her. But during the time she was in my life, letting go was never an option. And I fearlessly got back on every time.
So, should I let go or continue to be dragged?
I can’t clean my house. I can’t cook every night. I can’t work, earn money. I can’t swim a mile, run five, or bike twenty. I can’t save the world. That’s a lot of stuff that I could do, that I can’t do now. I might need to let some of this stuff go because that’s a lot of dragging.
I’ve previously encountered the suggestion that I had to create a “new normal,” and frankly it pisses me off. I liked my old normal, thank you very much. But as I was putting the finishing touches on this piece (read: waiting for Gail to emerge from the wormhole with a good photo of Bo Peep), and not really knowing where I was going with the ending, I coincidentally read a piece in the NY Times that lead me to this article:
The concept of defining a “new normal for now” is one that I can get behind.
The first time I underwent treatment, I have to say it was about two years before I was fully back to where I was before my diagnosis, and a few years after that until I was an even better version of myself. So when I put things in perspective, I really have no business thinking that one year out from the discovery of my metastasis I’d be anywhere near where I was prior.
Thinking about creating a “new normal for now” is going to work because it acknowledges that my situation will indeed continue to evolve. It encourages me to summon that fearless, gritty, eight year old I was, and be willing to be dragged occasionally and temporarily. It is hopeful, and that’s what I need right now.