They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I do judge books by their titles. And when I ran across one entitled Undone: A Story of Making Peace With an Unexpected Life, it resonated. Deep and melodious.
Making peace with an unexpected life. Damn, that’s good, I thought. That could’ve been the perfect title for my own book if I’d been a little more on top of things. (Or, you know. If I were actually writing a book.)
So when I found out there was an interview with the author, Michele Cashat, I had to listen– even though I haven’t read (and might never read) the book. She says the memoir covers a brief but disproportionately tumultuous period in the author’s life when, among other things, she’s faced with cancer. And I guess if “cancer” can be tossed in as “among other things,” you know those other things have gotta be pretty big kahunas too.
Michele starts out the interview talking about how she loves Thanksgiving. It’s her favorite holiday. So when she receives her cancer-positive biopsy results 2 days before turkey day, she is not waylaid. She proceeds with Thanksgiving dinner as planned, and cooks for 30ish people as per usual.
And then, in the middle of the meal, her diagnosis hits her: cancer. Cancer. And she says she was so caught up in the drama of what she would soon be facing, so lost in her personal possible worst-case scenario, she zoned out on the meal itself, forgot to enjoy turkey and cranberries and family and togetherness and had to just excuse herself and go have a cry by herself upstairs. (I mean, who wouldn’t.)
Her husband came to check on her, and wisely just held her and said, “It’s gonna be okay.” And she says, while his hug didn’t cure her fear, it was enough to get her back to the table.
At the same time, while that was awesome and all, what she really wanted was the reassurance that EVERYTHING would be okay. Not just for the rest of Thanksgiving dinner, but for the upcoming weeks and months. For the rest of her cancer treatment, and maybe the rest of her life. And one hug was not enough to encompass all of that.
Then she realized, it didn’t have to. It just had to get her through until pie was served. Life sends us what we need to get through that moment, or that day. Life gives us just enough. She equates this to the biblical story of God delivering manna to the Israelites.
After Moses dramatically freed the Israelites from Pharaoh’s enslavement by leading them unscathed out of umpteen plagues and a parted Red Sea, God’s chosen people were then rewarded by wandering around in the desert for the next 40 years, pretty well lost.
There’s not a lot to eat out there in the desert, so people got grumbly and cranky with God. And he was like, “Ugh, you guys, have a little faith. I am God, after all.” And he provided manna, a heavenly bread-like substance that magically appeared like dew on desert sand every morning (except the Sabbath), just enough for each person.
Manna couldn’t be stored; if anyone tried, the manna became mold-covered and maggot-infested. So everyone had to let go of preparing against the unknown, and just have faith that manna would show up again the next morning in time for breakfast. A fulfilling, crunchy, honey-flavored reminder that as much as you want to hoard nourishment away against an uncertain future, the bottom line is that life can only be lived day to day.
And the manna appeared. Every morning, for 40 years. Manna everywhere.
Now, I am not a biblical kind of gal, but man this story hit hard. Because I am nothing if not a definitive hoarder against uncertainty. A hardcore attempted controller of everything that could ever possibly happen EVER. It’s some kind of crazy cosmic joke that, despite my personality, I’ve actually lived an absurdly impulsive, haphazard, switchbacked life full of ridiculous plot twists.
Ever since I started this whole word-of-the-year thing at the start of each New Year, each word I’ve chosen has had an element of action to it. Fruition: tending to planted seeds, encouraging growth to maturity. Foundation, and all the heavy lifting and root-deep-digging that implies. Movement, which first requires overcoming inertia.
And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tired, but picking “manna” for my word this year isn’t about passively giving up out of exhaustion and lying in the desert with my mouth open, waiting for good stuff to fall in. It’s about practicing acceptance. Slowing down enough to appreciate the manna as it comes, when it comes. Not beating my head against brick walls in every direction just because I’m too impatient to let life happen as it’s meant to happen.
This year, I want to set prediction aside, and focus on faith. On gratitude. On trusting that what I need is coming, and will come at the right time and in the right place. Even if it’s enough just for that day. That hour, that moment, that minute.
What’s your word this year?