Monday, September 19, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow

So I rearranged the top header of this blog a bit. It's the first time ever this blog has had anything other than text at the top. Let me explain.

The image now in the header is the lotus flower, taken directly from a plate I purchased in Turkey right before I got listed for new lungs. At the time, I wrote a post entitled "Love Among the Lotus Flowers" -- somewhat of a play on Robert Browning's "Love Among the Ruins", which you should totally check out if you're so inclined. He's way more eloquent than I am, but I digress.

Anyway, when I purchased the plate from which this image is taken, the Turkish painter who made these plates by hand pointed out to me that the lotus was highly significant in his town's culture. He told me about the way this particular flower lives in water, folding itself up at night and reopening each morning with the sun in a type of symbolic rebirth. At the time I was suffering both from undiagnosed sepsis from a port-a-cath infection (and about to come home to the scariest hospitalization of my life to date, hands down) and from a severe case of preemptive nostalgia. I was acutely aware that this trip to Turkey would be my last "vacation" at all (and certainly my last time in Europe) with the lungs I was born with. I thought about it constantly, in fact: "this is the last time MY lungs will get on an airplane"; "this is the last time MY lungs will visit Europe"; "this is the last time MY lungs will get spit on by a camel" (oh yeah, it happened). Basically it was just one weird string of "this is the last time..." moments. And of course, underlying all of that premature sense of loss was the unspoken addition to my "last time" statements, which was my own unacknowledged awareness that Turkey might well have been MY last family vacation, my LAST visit to Europe, MY last chance to pretend for a few days at least that everything was totally fine. I wasn't focused on that, of course -- in true Piper style I decided to transfer all of that emotion onto something replaceable like, oh, say a vital organ -- but that sense of urgency was definitely there, and I was searching for signs throughout the trip to help reassure myself that all these potential changes in my life, those acknowledged and those best left unspoken, were going to be okay.

The story about the lotus flower jumped out at me as probably the best darn "sign" I could have hoped for. Here was a story of rebirth and healing, combined with a flower known throughout several cultures as a symbol of good luck. The colors on the actual plate are vibrant and alive, and the attention to detail in the painting makes me wish I had enough patience to master that kind of skill. It is truly a work of art for which, in my case at least, the overinflated tourist price seemed like a completely fair bargain.

In the two years since bringing home my precious lotus flower, I have come to a couple of conclusions. The first of these is that having new lungs does not mean that I will never again be "Piper" in the way I feared. True, I lost a part of myself, and think I'll always miss it on some level, however rotten it was to live with. And also true that I was lucky. I was able to release my old lungs into the world outside of myself and welcome in a new (to me) gorgeous pair without some of the scary complications that can, in reality, go along with that. But the end result, I'm happy to say, is that I feel like myself, again. And also that I feel like myself, for maybe the first time. I feel like I'm able to fully access the person I was before my surgery (both my strengths and my weaknesses, my virtues and my vices seem well enough and alive in this new, renewed self of mine), but I am also able to do things that would never have been possible with my CF lungs. Simple things. Even silly thing, really, like lying flat on my back on laughing extra hard at someone's joke and not stopping until I darn well feel like it. I've realized that letting go does not always mean losing one's connections to the past, or to the future.

I've also learned that there's more to life than symbols and signs, though I don't doubt that they can be helpful, and even necessary. They were for me, after all. One glance through my sketch pad from my pre-transplant waiting period shows multiple depictions of the lotus, all in different colors and sizes and intensities. I'm glad I had that image to hold on to, for sure. Looking back at all of that, I can still appreciate the lotus for all that it was in my life during a difficult period, and for all that it is now -- which is to say a very pretty plate. I can remember my conversation with that lovely Turkish man and artist and I can smile, knowing that he and I shared something of value that he might not have even known he was offering when he made his highly effective sales pitch. I wonder now what I would say if I could take Donor Bob on a trip and go back to that workshop, find the new plate of the same general design that I am sure replaced my own, and sit there pondering the real meaning of rebirth: replacement breathing on replacement; old eyes staring at a new rendition of a familiar depiction; old design impressing itself upon a new pair of lungs set inside a familiar body.

This blog, like everything else in my life right now and hopefully always, is a constantly evolving feature. As I move from a world of documenting my journey waiting for new lungs, to a world of documenting the joys, sorrows, fears, and triumphs of living with them, and through to a world of documenting life not beyond transplant -- not ever beyond transplant, or beyond any other part of my personal history -- but life with transplant, I thought it was time, perhaps, for one more sign. So I offer you the lotus flower, its colors slightly faded from a journey across cultures, oceans, time, and body parts, to symbolize not only rebirth and second chances, but the fragility, beauty, mystery, and downright miracles that can sometimes come from learning how to let go within the darkness.

And how to blossom with the sunshine.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my dear. Lovely.

    We are always being reborn and renewed and yes, even replaced. Those of us with an eye to the signs and symbols around us will always find keys that unlock those transitions, that bring us back to those moments--the purpose isn't to drag us back to that past, but to remind us of what we're looking forward to in the future. Thank you for sharing your lotus story.

    And, just as aesthetic comment, the header looks lovely!