And the Tigers Come at Night

The thoughts that creep in, under cover of darkness.

3:00 a.m. — alone, downstairs, in front of the computer

I’m not afraid to die. It’s not that. It’s just that there’s so much left undone. So much that still needs to be said.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t think I’m going to die anytime soon. But whenever they’re putting you to sleep, there’s always a chance the anesthesiologist could be having a less than stellar day. And since today’s my big moment with the oncologist — the one that will tell me if the cancer is really gone from my breast — I just need to get a few things out.

Some time ago a friend asked me how I would like to be seen when I became an old woman. I answered that I would like to be viewed as the “wise woman of the tribe.” I envision myself sitting quietly in front of my wickiup, dispensing pearls of wisdom to all interested (and some uninterested) comers. Only at this point in my life I think my repertoire of wisdom is limited enough to have me labeled as a “ding-bat” rather than a “wise woman.” Maybe I could use a couple hundred more years.

There is so much that needs to be learned, needs to be said. All those times we say “I love you” are lovely, but wouldn’t it be nice if we told people why. You know, like, I love you because … because … I can’t help but love you dearly. Or, You’ve touched my life and changed me. Or even, You are my precious child and my love for you is unconditional and eternal. Now, my precious child, learn to love yourself the same way.

Ah — now here, perhaps, is a pearl worthy of dispensing. It’s one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever tried to learn. A class I once attended left us with a “homework” assignment to stand, stark naked in front of a mirror, look deeply into our own eyes and say “(your name,) I love you unconditionally.”

Yuck! No way! Look at those bags under the eyes, the wattle under the chin, and, God forbid, don’t even go down below the shoulders. How could anybody love that?!

Besides, I would tell myself, I know all about the way you think. The things you think. You’re really not the nicest person in the world. In fact, ‘fraud’ might be a good term to use.

It took years of hard, constant work before I could do the mirror homework and mean it.

I think sometimes about Jesus’s charge to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” But, wait — if my neighbor loves himself as little as I sometimes love myself, do I really want him loving me?

This business of living is so much more involved than just getting through from one day to the next. Or getting better at our craft. Or making more money. Or getting promoted. Or … or … or …

It’s really about loving ourselves enough — without getting all caught up in vanity and all that ego stuff — to get on with the business of “loving our neighbor as ourselves.” It may be more difficult than anything I’ve ever done. But I know there’s a reward in it.

Article © 2011 by Kate McLaughlin