Miracle on Marion Street

Today, in an effort to cross more items off our bucket list, Lise took me to The Book Table, a very cool indie bookstore on Lake Street in Chicago. We left the shop with our treasures, intending to amble back to the car, taking the long way to where her vehicle was parked, at the Oak Park train station. (I suggest always taking the long way home; so much more interesting.)

Too late we saw the huge man, talking to himself and punctuating his incoherencies with his index finger, heading in our direction. He had us in his sights, and we were not going to get away easily. He stopped me, of course (I attract all manner of street people and strays; always have), and he asked me some rhetorical question, I’ve no idea what. Undaunted, he turned on his left foot, military style, and began to walk with us. I couldn’t hear Lise sigh, but I knew she wanted to — as did I.

He began some story peppered with the phrase, “She dint cut no corners, no sirreee! She said it like it was. No cuttin’ corners!” Speaking of corners, we came to one, Marion Street and Lake, and turned left toward the station. We hoped his patch might consist of Lake Street only, but no such luck; he continued walking with us. I decided maybe I shouldn’t “cut corners either,” and decided to “tell it like it was.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I have cancer, and my friend Lise and I are sharing one of our last days together before I move—”

“Cancer? My wife died of cancer.” The big man was all concern and attention now, and completely serious. “Do you believe in God?” I nodded. “Yes, I most certainly do.”

“Then give me your hand,” he said. I did.

And there, in the middle of Marion Street, with the breeze blowing, and horns hooting, and people passing, he closed his eyes and blessed me. “Lord, heal this woman. Take the cancer from her. She believes in You, and I believe in You, and I know you will take this from her. Thank you, Lord.” He opened his eyes and looked into mine, which were streaming with tears. “God will heal you, young lady,” he added, quietly.

“Oh, thank you—” I began. “Don’t thank me, thank God,” he said. “What is your name, at least?” I asked. “Ray. Ray Manse.” He showed us, because he was afraid we wouldn’t believe him, both his marriage certificate and the death certificate, dated 2006, with those cold, impartial words, “Cause of death: Metastatic breast cancer.” Both documents were creased and worn from frequent contact with those big, loving hands. “You were meant to meet me today,” he said, as he turned toward Lake Street.

Lise and I looked at each other. “Yes, we were,” we chorused. “God bless you!” we called after him.

“Don’t thank me, Praise the Lord!” he said, and walked, his head held high, left arm raised in a wave to us, down the windswept street.

Now, you know I believe in miracles. Do you? I have felt the pain and the love from all of you over the last few days. With all that love, and this man’s blessing, how can I not recover?

And here’s another little story, one that until today I had forgotten. I was living in Drogheda at the time, where I’d bought a little house. My son, living in California, had been through a very bad patch, and I’d been very down, very depressed. I was so far away from him, and felt so helpless. For three days I hadn’t left my house, but on this particular day, I decided to walk “down the Town,” as we say there, over the bridge, and onto the Main Street.

Completely absorbed in my thoughts, I started when I felt the touch of a hand on my left shoulder. Facing me was a tiny woman, one of the travelling people, if her clothes and demeanor were anything to go by. She started speaking, right there, with the horns hooting, and the breeze blowing, and the people passing. She said, closing her eyes, “There is trouble in your life…it’s a man, a young man. He is far away.” She opened her eyes to see me standing there, mouth agape, tears streaming down my face. “How on earth did you know?” I said, stunned. “He will be okay. He doesn’t want you to worry.” She patted my shoulder.

She started speaking again: “Twice—no—three times you will travel across the water, but you will stay the third time.” (I thought, “No! I want to stay in Ireland!”) She closed her eyes again, her hand still on my shoulder, but now holding my left hand as well. “You will live until you are 94 years of age—no, wait—96 years of age.” She looked into my eyes. “You will have many disappointments in love, but you will die happy. There is someone out there for you, but he is across the water.”

I apologized that I had no money to give her, but she waved me away. “I had to stop,” she said, simply. “Sometimes, I just have to stop and tell someone what I know.” And she and her red-haired son shuffled back across the road they’d crossed just to get to me.

How thankful I am that these people took the time to tell me what they know. That’s why I took the time tonight, after a long day, to tell you, too.

The Sound and the Fury

In the wee hours today, a storm of cataclysmic proportions hit DeKalb, the kind of storm that makes atheists think twice about who might be in charge of this little planet. The windows shook; the bedroom door shook (making me think someone was trying to get in); the wind howled; lightning split the sky and threw jagged shards of stark white at my bedroom walls; the thunder rolled in giant waves across our flat, inhabited prairie.

It was as if Nature were shaking my Bird Cage – shaking everyone’s cage – shouting, “Look at me! You think you have one iota of control over anything on this earth? Check THIS out!” And another mighty cr-r-r-r-ACK of thunder came, and another bolt of lightning was hurled at us. In Shakespeare’s day, weather like this was an omen—and not a good one. Think King Lear or the Tempest, and you’ve got the idea. It was a Renaissance thing. Crazy, right?

What was not understood was that no one person’s evil actions could cause weather changes; rain falls, as they say, on the just and the unjust. And the kind of weather one person is grateful for, another one (and maybe someone right next door) despises. The actions of individual people in regions, or even entire countries, do not determine whether they get hit by a tsunami, or a tornado, or a flood. We all know that now, right? (Cue stern look from teacher, the kind meant to stop students from giving a differing opinion.)

To continue my storm story:

Eventually, the fury lessened somewhat. The thunder, ear-splitting before, now rumbled far away, though the torrential rain still splatted against my window, and the trees still swayed violently.

And in the midst of this, I heard music, music from a cardinal whose family nests in the tree outside the house. Because I heard him in mid-chirp, I suspect he’d been singing throughout the storm; it was just so noisy, his happy singing had been inaudible.

Did he mind the weather? Was he frightened? No. Did he know the facts? That one out of every three cardinals who sing during a thunderstorm was hit by flying twigs and killed? That thirty percent of all singing cardinals in DeKalb would die a horrible death from lightning burns? No. He knew his place in Nature was just as important as anything or anyone else’s. He was born to sing and fly, and there was simply nothing to stop him doing what he is meant to do: nothing. When his time came—when that window with his name on it came into his flight path—then, well, that would be it. Out with a glorious burst of color and a song on his beak, no doubt.

This metaphor is so obvious I suppose I’ve no need to spell it out, but perhaps I will anyway. I am like that bird. (And I hope you are, too.) Humans are just another creature in this amazing world, and, like Red Fred, we just need to live our lives in harmony with Nature. Stop worrying about facts and figures and probabilities and statistics. THEY…MEAN…NOTHING. Despite what scientists and doctors and specialists tell you: THEY…KNOW…NOTHING. They can no more predict when one of us will die from cancer than they can tell which windshield will be the end of Red Fred.

Yesterday, I sent an email to family and friends outlining the “facts” of my illness they all seemed to want to know. Until now—this very moment—I’ve deeply regretted sending that note, for I caused needless pain to the people I love the most. There’s nothing anyone can do, and those “facts” just depress people who care about the person to whom those “facts” pertain.

But now I see the situation a bit differently. You, the person I love so much, can do something for me. In fact, you can do things, and accomplish far more, than any medical doctor can for my condition. Remember: Only methods I have faith in can help me (if the Creator still wants me around, that is), and I have, as you know, no faith in Western medicine. Here’s what I do have faith in:

The Power of Prayer. You can pray for me, in any language, to any god. It’s all good. (Substitute “send good thoughts” or “meditate” for prayer. After all, it’s energy we’re talking about here; it comes from the same place, and goes to the same place. We just don’t know where that place is.)

The Power of Visualization. Please please please visualize me as happy, healthy, and bouncing into your day wearing my red high tops, making a bad pun, and singing a stupid song! I’ll do the same. “As a man thinketh, so is he” is not just a catchy phrase, my friend. It’s as real as anything gets on earth.

The Power of Action. And what do I mean by this? Stop discussing the “facts” of my case and get your butts outta that chair. Do at least one thing today that you love to do, whether it’s sing in the shower, go for a walk, compose a new tune on your instrument of choice, paint a picture, write a real letter to someone you love—whatever. It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters whether you love to do it or not. And while you do it, think or say, “Jen, I love you! Thank you for getting me to do something for myself!” For my life is no more important than yours–and no less. Dwell on your life, and mine will be better. I promise.

Then, listen carefully, for the next bird you hear singing will be me.

Dancing Bear’s Back

“Honey, I’m ho-ome!” The door slammed. “DB, where are you? I’m home!”

Dancing Bear could hear bags dropping to the floor, doors opening, bottles in the fridge rattling. New Jen was home! “In here,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. She cleared her throat and tried again: “In here.”

“Where ARE you? I’ve so much to tell you!” Before Dancing Bear could try to speak again, New Jen appeared at the bedroom door. Dancing Bear was delighted to see New Jen was wearing the red shoes. She must not be mad at her for scuffing them up.

“What on earth are you doing in bed at this hour?” Without waiting for an answer, she rushed on. “Oh, I’ve had a great time! I had lunch with a Saudi Sultan and a Turkish Princess…I sang with a Syrian…I’m taking a belly dancing class…and I met Sting! What a weekend…”

“Why didn’t you call and let me know you’d be gone so long, New Jen? I didn’t think you’d be away four whole days.” Dancing Bear shifted in the bed and involuntarily, an “Owwww” slipped out.

Instantly, New Jen dropped to DB’s side. “What’s wrong? Has your back gone out again?” She tsk-tsked. “What were you doing? Come on, ’fess up.” When Dancing Bear wouldn’t look at her, she said, “Don’t tell me you finished that paper.”

Dancing Bear wouldn’t look at her. “Well, you had already done so much of it, it seemed a shame to leave it unfinished…and then when you didn’t call to let me know you wouldn’t be there to take your final…”

“Oh, NO! Please don’t tell me you took that final exam for me. I told you not to worry about it! I begged you not to do my work for me!” She saw the crushed look on DB’s face, and the tears sneaking from under DB’s lashes, and her voice softened. “I didn’t want you to do them because I knew you’d end up like this.” She tried to give her a hug, but Dancing Bear yelped with pain when she did. “You silly old Bear…if I’m willing to let something go, you need to let it go, too. Otherwise, we’re back where we started.” She smiled. “I’m living without fixed plans these days, DB. I know it’s hard for you, but we won’t be healthy if we can’t let go of old habits.”

Dancing Bear smiled back. “I’ll try, New Jen, I really will.” She pointed at the red handbag sitting on the floor by the bed. “Would you get me that bag? There’s something I want you to help me do.”

New Jen picked it up. “Wow! It’s a lot heavier than it looks! What have you got in here?” She brought out handful after handful of smallish papers. She looked at one that had fluttered to the floor. “Why, it’s a Martyr Point Coupon!” She started turning over the slips of paper. “And another one…and a Rationalization Voucher…and two return Guilt Trip tickets! This one’s dated June 1st, 1963…and this one’s from 1972…” She stopped, shaking her head. “I had forgotten all about these, Dancing Bear. What on earth are you going to do with them?”

“That’s what I need you to help me with, New Jen.” She started ripping the papers in halves, then quarters. “You see, I thought I might need them some day, but I was wrong. Let’s get rid of them!”

New Jen’s face was thoughtful. “What made you change your mind, DB? You’ve always hung on to everything.”

“Let’s just say a little Cabana Boy told me I didn’t need to.” She giggled. “And while you’re here, make us a couple of margaritas, okay?”

Dancing Bear’s Dream

Dancing Bear studied. She wrote, and then wrote some more. Her back hurt terribly from sitting so long. But it was Finals Week! Something made her keep going, even though she was pretty sure she’d never graduate. “Old habits die hard,” she said to herself, and then she kept typing.

It was 3 a.m. when she finished The Paper. “It’s not a very good Paper,” she mumbled, yawning. “I’ll just finish this Works Cited page, then it’s to bed for me!”

Before long, though — maybe only five minutes — Dancing Bear fell asleep. Luckily she had taken her glasses off, or they would have been smooshed. And then Dancing Bear dreamed a dream…

“I’m in heaven!” cried Dancing Bear. “Either that, or Ireland!” But she realized it couldn’t be Ireland, because it was too sunny. The sun shining on the golden gates nearly blinded her. “My glasses! Where are my glasses?”

“You won’t need them here.”

Dancing Bear jumped when she heard the voice. “Who said that?”

“Who do you think? I’m the Gate Keeper.”

“Oh, my!” said Dancing Bear, for the Keeper looked like a Cabana Boy. 

And he was holding what looked like a margarita. “Yum!” said she.

“Glad you like it,” said Cabana Boy. “Ready to enter Heaven?”

Dancing Bear started following the margarita as it moved toward the Gates.

“Oh, wait!” Her hand went to her mouth. “I’ve forgotten my coupons!”

“Coupons?” Cabana Boy looked confused.

“Well, I call them coupons, but I guess they’re really not.” Dancing Bear looked at the clouds on which she stood, and sort of shuffled. She hemmed. She hawed. And then she said, “They’re really Martyr Points, I guess. I was told they were worth a lot once you got up here.”

Cabana Boy looked confuseder. “I’m sorry, Dancing Bear, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Seeing her crestfallen look, he added (this time, more cheerfully; after all, this was Heaven!), “Explain them to me. Maybe we call them something different up here, and that’s why I don’t recognize the name!” He gave her a big smile, full of pearly-white teeth.

Dancing Bear smiled back. “Yes, well.” She felt for her handbag again, to give her something to hold onto, but of course it wasn’t there. 

“Martyr Points are what you get when you do things like, oh, spend lots of time with people you don’t like, in places you don’t want to be. Or go hungry for no reason. Or work longer hours than everyone else even though you don’t get paid for them. Or…or…stay up and study all night for something that no longer matters!” She got more excited as she explained further. “You get double or triple Points if you give up Something or Someone You Love and it falls on a big Holiday, or Day of General Importance to Everyone!” She smiled shyly. “I have lots of those points.”

“Ah.” said Cabana Boy. “I understand.” He set the tray down and came over to Dancing Bear. He put his arms around her and hugged her. She didn’t know why, but he had tears in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Is there something wrong with me? Can I not get into Heaven, because I forgot my Martyr Point coupons?”

“Nothing’s wrong with you, Dancing Bear,” he said, gently. “There never was.” He patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry, you don’t need any coupons to get in here.”

He continued explaining. “The Martyr Point scheme has been used by various religions throughout the ages, the goal being to deny people joy. The last thing rulers want is happy subjects, because happy people don’t want rulers. It’s worse than that, actually, because they convince folks that uncalled-for self-denial will bring them joy — eventually. Its success lies in its subtlety: once the program has been started, it’s self-perpetuating.” Cabana Boy sighed. “The truth is, you don’t need Martyr Points or coupons to get into Heaven. In fact, you can have Heaven on earth, if you give up the Martyr idea altogether.” He looked at Dancing Bear. “Do you want to stay here? Or do you want to go back?”

“OWWW!! Oh, my back!” Dancing Bear had woken up from the pain. There were her books, her computer, the Final Paper. She was back, all right. No Cabana Boy, no margarita. Nothing had changed.

Or had it?

“Sometimes, bad is bad…”

…but not always.

Several weeks ago, I awoke in such pain that even I had to acknowledge I wasn’t going to be able to make it in for the, oh, half-dozen or so appointments and commitments I had that day. I wrote an email to (well, I don’t know for sure “who”; I wasn’t able to see the keyboard or screen, couldn’t bend my neck) whomever, coming out with the C-bomb (no, I don’t mean a swear word, unless “cancer” is in that category; maybe it should be) and saying that although I had good days, and even great days, that day was a bad day, and I could not make it in.

Today is akin to that day. As I struggled to rise, however, I realized that labeling the day as “bad” was (a) not helpful to my healing, and (b) simply not true. In fact, “any day you wake up and you’re not six feet under is a good day,” as the Irish say. “Bad” is in the mind of the day-holder.

For one thing, I know that part of the reason I’m in pain today is because I went to a play last night (but is that really a bad thing?). Lise (aka Little Voice) and I went to see Taming of the Shrew. It was fantastic — especially because the director agreed with my reading of the play as being about domestic violence and bullying.

I know what domestic violence is, as I experienced it myself, in Ireland. Kudos to the Irish police and jurisprudence system: they back the victim. Had I gone through it in the States, I would not have been supported like I was. Someday I will write more about this experience, and the woeful inadequacy of the U.S. system to deal with it — I believe part of it has to do with that “appearance thing I talked about yesterday — but not today.

My point is this: it’s all about perception. Domestic violence is bad, right? There is no other way to look at it? Or is there? Perhaps the acts themselves are wrong, are bad, but the results of them need not be. I changed my life because of what happened. I got much-needed counseling from a fantastic woman (thank you, Trish), who in turn found the courage to start her own full-time practice, leaving the very company whose generous benefits package afforded me the opportunity to see Trish in the first place. I discovered Deepak Chopra’s profound Seven Laws of Spiritual Success at this time; I started writing again; I quit smoking; I bought a house, then a car. My friends proved brave and true, always on the lookout (I was being stalked by this jilted monster), yet always with a laugh for me. So, is a situation wholly bad when such good can come from it?

As for today, then, let me just say that I’m not feeling well, but it’s a great day. Yes, indeed it is. I’m still here, and so are you.

[P.S. Huey Lewis is the author of the quote in the title to this blog. I used to love Huey Lewis and the News!]

Keeping up appearances

It’s springtime in DeKalb — windy, bright, changeable, and green. Oh, so green! Everything’s blooming. The grass grows at such a rapid rate that homeowners and landlords can hardly keep up with it, and the sound of lawnmowers provides a background hum to every activity.

As I walked along yesterday, inhaling the pollen and sneezing with abandon, I realized there must be a city ordinance requiring that the grass be cut before it reaches a certain length, for even dilapidated dwellings, their porches sagging, their paint peeling, had well-trimmed lawns. How like Americans (especially those in the Midwest), to require lawns be kept in order, but ignore the problems — like unemployment, poverty, and lack of health care –being suffered by those inside.

It is this mania for keeping up appearances that kept me silent for so long about my illness (indeed, it may have caused it). Because I had woefully insufficient health care when I was diagnosed, I could not get treatment in Utah; because I knew there was nothing that could be done, I decided I’d better not let anyone know. When I decided to move back to the States, I did not realize what had happened to it while I was away for twelve years; or rather, I’d forgotten my country does not think healthcare is a right, unlike Ireland. My acting skills, learned at a very young age, came back to me quickly, and I fooled even myself (most of the time).

But it takes a lot of energy to keep up facades, especially “my-health-is-great!” ones. My friend Omar (co-owner of my favorite restaurant, Mediterraneo) and I talked about this yesterday. I had just been for my walk, and I stopped by to tell him I’d be moving before he got back from his upcoming tour. We agreed that doing what we love (writing, for me, and ESL teaching; playing drums, for him) takes us beyond pain or sorrow, or even ill health. Truly, when you’re present in the moment — the only moment, actually, you really have — doing what you love, you are happy; you are healthy. The trick is to pack as many of those moments into your allotted space-in-time as possible, and to live and be with those people who support that.

That’s why I feel lucky. I’m going to spend the majority of my time with people I love, doing what I love to do. And who knows? Those moments, those many moments of bliss, will coalesce into what may very well turn out to be months or even years of healthy life. Freed from the burden of keeping up appearances of health and happiness, I have the opportunity to enjoy actual health and happiness. I just had to be brave enough to start telling the truth.

If I manage to keep the lawn mowed, too, that’ll be a bonus — but it’s no biggie.


I remember Mom saying she wanted “I told you I was sick!” as her epitaph. She looked so healthy, at least until she started having chemo, that she had trouble convincing people she was dying of cancer. (I recall her doctor was one of those people.)

Epitaph writing is a vastly underrated art — think of it! (Maybe that’s why so many folks get cremated these days. Hmm.) You get a couple of lines at most, depending on how many words you can afford to have etched into your granite. Like the telegrapher in Three Amigos, I’m afraid I’d have to have the “two-peso version,” the one capable of being completely misunderstood. I’m fortunate to have friends and family more intelligent than the dim-witted Amigos, but think of the passersby on any given day! Scorpios at a loose end, wandering through graveyards, looking for epitaphs to use in their next cheery blog. I want to be sure everyone understands the cryptic phrase I choose for my plastic tombstone.

Now, why all this talk about epitaphs (not that Scorpios need any reason to talk about things death-related)? Well, yesterday at work, as I sat facing all these invitations to be sent out for next week’s do, and the piles of paperwork from the last one, and the general state of disaster prevailing there, I realized I did not want to be there any more. I mean, really — not in that office, not in that job, a-n-y-m-o-r-e. A knock came to my door (I had shut it, in self-defense), and there stood my friend Bahar.

“Do you need help?”

At that, of course, I burst into tears, saying “I just realized I sure don’t want to die doing this!!!!” And she said, “Jen, just leave it! Why are you still here?” I mumbled something about my co-worker being away, and who would do all this, and people were depending on me…blah, blah, blah. She shared her feeling at the time of a recent car accident, on the order of knowing she had to go sometime, but Lord! don’t let her die in a cornfield in Illinois. Though I totally empathized, and though I know I would urge other people to leave a job smack-dab in the middle of it, to choose life instead of stress, I couldn’t do it. I stayed, in fact, until nearly 7 p.m.

Crazy! What’s wrong with me? Please note that I am a mere grad assist, a dogsbody, doing a job any number of people could do. Why am I playing the martyr? And this morning, getting out of bed, the epiphany came. I realized that my co-worker not being there was a great opportunity for me to choose positively for myself, to choose to walk out of that job, and let others do those things. Who knows? By staying, I may be denying someone else the opportunity to work.

I’ve got some personal things in the office, so I will return to get them, and I’ll put the papers in piles that make sense, and I’ll send the handful of lingering invites out, but then I’m going.

And I’m not going to do it today. I have bills to not pay, and papers to not do, and obligations to not fulfill! Yes, I’m letting people down. Will they recover? Yes, they will. Will they insist on “SHE LEFT US IN THE LURCH” as my epitaph? I doubt it.

It won’t fit on that teeny cross anyway.

Dancing Bear Decides (the rest of the story)

First, Dancing Bear put some Super-All-Powerful-Healing-Ointment (made by her cubs) on her burned hand.

Then she took the red shoes out of the black bag.

“I’ll give these back to New Jen,” she said. “It was nice of her to let me wear them.” She realized how scuffed and dirty they were. “Oh, my!” she cried. “I had no idea how hard I was on them!” She hoped New Jen would forgive her for ruining her shoes.

Then Dancing Bear tidied the lair, and did her laundry. “That felt good!” She smiled. Her hand didn’t hurt any more.

At 5:30, she met her friends for tea. Dancing Bear almost went to a play with Sabiha! But she wasn’t quite ready for such a big step.

She watched Sherlock Holmes, because she loves mysteries.

And then, listening to the fat raindrops smack the broad leaves of the nearby trees, Dancing Bear began to write. Not the Final Paper; not the Whoop-de-do Presentation, but her Very Own Story.

So, boys and girls, this is not really the end: it’s a beginning.

Dancing Bear’s P.S. — A Story

Dancing Bear and her friend, Little Voice, tidied up after the Big Scary Day. Little Voice urged Dancing Bear to sleep long and well — and she did! Slept long, at least.

After twelve hours, Dancing Bear awoke from her dream-full sleep, resolved to put her tutu and dancing shoes into the rubbish. Her right side hurt so — she must have been dancing all-right, all-day. No more dancing for dollars; time to retire.

But even as she put the worn shoes into the black bag, she realized another Big Scary Day loomed. A Bigger, Scarier Day, on May 5th. To prepare for this day, she should start dancing now. In fact, she would have a word with The New Jen, because otherwise she will try to stand in the way, arguing her Final Papers and Whoop-de-do Presentations take priority over Bigger, Scarier Day. “We can’t have that!” cried Dancing Bear.

Although Bear thought she’d probably win this showdown (because she is much, much larger than teeny New Jen), one never knew.

“Hmm,” said Dancing Bear, rubbing her painful right hip, “I wonder what Little Voice would say.” She hit her head on the cupboard, then burned her left hand while making coffee.

Bear looked at her blistered hand; she looked at the sad shoes peeking out of the rubbish; she thought of New Jen, anxious to start her Paper…
And that’s all for now, children! Does Dancing Bear let New Jen do her Paper? What will Little Voice say about all this? Find out at our next story time!

The Dancing Bear

There are days I say to myself, “I sure don’t want to die doing this! Please don’t take me now.” The last few days have given me plenty of opportunities to mumble this sentiment. Today will be no different, unless I am able to expel my terror by writing this blog. For today is a big, fat, Dancing Bear kind of day.

The Dancing Bear. What is the Dancing Bear? And what shall explain it to you? (Format of these lines are courtesy of the Qur’an, which I’m studying this semester.) If you have Dancing Bear Syndrome, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but I’ll explain to those of you who don’t. It is something to which I will no doubt refer throughout my blog, as I believe it holds the key to why I got the tumors I did.

Dancing Bears entertain; we try to make people feel better; we are people-pleasers and co-dependents extraordinaire. We can dance around issues. We dance around reality. We smile and dance while the rest of those in our world think, “Wow, is she happy! I wish I could be like that. Not a care in the world.”

Dancing Bears, however, are an endangered species, a dying breed. Here are some little known facts about Dancing Bears, chilling facts that may disturb you (they sure disturb me). First, they tend to talk and think in the third person (ummm…I seem to be doing it herein). Another feature is that they only dance in front of others: alone, they huddle in corners and weep, or stare blankly at the wall, or eat themselves sick. They learn dancing at home, practicing on family first, perfecting their steps, before venturing out to amuse and entertain the general public. Soon they’re dancing at the first sign of discord; with their highly developed senses, they detect whiffs of trouble before others. Deftly, they divert everyone’s attention — so well, in fact, that others in the immediate vicinity will swear there was never anything wrong in the first place. This delights the Dancing Bear, who wants everyone to be happy. Unfortunately, she alters reality for others at the expense of her own. Thus begins the descent into disease, one that cannot be cured until the Bear sees what she’s doing. Depending on at what point the Bear can no longer dance, or muster the strength to do the steps, healing may or may not occur.

I know the Dancing Bear very well, for I am one of the species. Starting with a toy guitar at age two, singing “In a White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation,” I began the steps of the inexorable Dance. Those who only know the DBJ (Dancing Bear Jen) think I’m outgoing, love parties, and thrive on things like sales, acting, and performing. They think I thrive on it, and well they might believe it, based on my actions. I did stand-up comedy in San Diego, for Heaven’s sake! (I had diarrhea for three days before every performance, though, and even this Bear couldn’t bear that.)

What appears “natural” to most people — the garrulous caretaker of others, the one at ease in front of crowds — is not natural at all, it is habitual. I have learned my steps well, my friend. That does not mean I want to continue that dance. I made steps in the right direction after my diagnosis with ovarian cancer in 2006: I started a master’s program in English. I wrote and published a book last year. My happiest times are when I am buried in a book, or writing (like I am now), or sitting with a small group of my most intimate friends. They know The Real Jen, who is basically shy and nerdy and terrified of visitors to the zoo.

The Real Jen started the PhD (a chance to lock myself away and study, study, study), but DBJ took the grad assist job that has me in terror today. In a few minutes, I begin the dance that will last all day. I’m exhausted just thinking about it, for I know now how much it takes out of me. I’m not willing to have it take that much from me anymore, yet I’m compelled.

Shh! I hear something…ah, the music has started. I must go now.