Life is a tapestry indeed, with multi coloured, interwoven threads all feeding into one large, rich image. Except that sometimes, the colours clash, or one part of the image leaves a strange and unwelcome feeling when viewed. I don’t need to spell out which parts of the picture I don’t like looking at.
At the moment, there is such a variety in this tapestry. There is the work thread, taking up a huge space at the moment, the swimming and cycling patch which is steady, firm and strong, the social and online thread which varies depending on how much space the other elements are using.
And there is the creative part. As well as reading, writing and occasionally scrabbling through the cupboards and brushing the dust off my arty materials I am also part of two structured creative activities. The first is a writing group where I am learning a great deal. And realising how difficult this writing lark is! The second is a Book Club. Both groups are fairly small, and pretty informal and warm.
The great thing about the Book Club is reading material I might well not otherwise read and learning of new authors and works. I have just finished reading The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna ( (a wonderful choice by friend and fellow Yangon blogess Becky) in preparation for our meeting this month.
Having lived in Asia for so long, it is fascinating to read of a country I know so little of, and in fact a continent I have barely visited. This book takes us to Sierra Leone with harrowing and exquisite insights into its people and the conflict years and its impact. This is not going to be a review of the book, there are plenty online and better to read the book yourself rather than listen to my take on it. No, this is a reflection prompted by a saying which stopped me mid sentence, it resonated so fiercely. The physical and emotional damage of the conflict combined with resilience and hope are clearly conveyed in everyday conversation. When someone asks you how you are, perhaps you can’t honestly answer that you are fine, so the reply “I fall down, I get up again” expresses that as much as challenges knock us down, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and keep moving ahead. If you ask someone how they are and they reply “I fall down. I stand up again” then they are saying that all things considered they are doing as well as can be expected.
Of course this can apply to life in general, but the sense of resilience, determination and hope shine particularly where the challenges are traumatic such as the armed conflict in Sierra Leone. Or conflict in any country. Or trauma and grief at times of bereavement, ill health, accident for example.
Or a cancer diagnosis.
And that is the saying affected me so powerfully. The path from the point of diagnosis feels a bit like a series of really hard knocks, followed by picking ourselves up. Sometimes those knocks bowl us right over. The diagnosis hit must be one of the hardest. Hearing those life-changing “you have cancer” words, however they are articulated knock us flat. As we lie breathless, winded and stunned though, a strange thing happens. I remember so clearly, when Dr W told me gently and irrevocably “this is highly suspicious of cancer” I was truly felled. The words echoed round and round in a surreal and cruel mockery. Yet, we pull ourselves to our feet, brush down our crumples and nurse our emotional bruises and ask “what do we do?” And gingerly take tentative steps forward.
The blows keep coming, knocking us to our knees, making us stumble or completely flooring us.
My pathology report with its “cancer in six lymph nodes” shocker, threw me back to the ground. It was not any courage that pulled me back to my feet. It was the fact that I saw no alternative but to focus single-mindedly on gritting my teeth and getting up to push myself through the process of surgery, chemo and then radiation. I stumbled onwards, tumbling down again and again. Chemo particularly enjoyed flooring me and trying to gain an upper hand by knocking me further every time. But I did get up. Slowly. Cautiously. Warily.
As time has worn on and the diagnosis date gains distance, the knocks are different and of course, not all cancer knocks. But as I fall down, I get up again. Sometimes it is such a burden to drag myself to my feet. My July embolism was a real side blinder which smashed me to the ground with no warning. I have had to look all around me, in all directions as I slowly got back up again. And then the tumour marker results in October took delight in pulling my feet from under me again. I am back on my feet after that one, but treading warily towards the next bloodwork in January, bracing for another fall in case the markers throw up trouble, yet wishing and willing for the chance to break through this hurdle. If all is well then I can pick up speed and strength to keep momentum and keep pulling myself up further.
The key thing is that I am not alone. I am not the only one tumbling as these knocks come, and I know that my knocks are nowhere near as hard as those hitting others. I am also not alone in getting myself up again. I am helped to my feet by hubby, by family and friends, by my online friends and by strangers I have never met.
I have learned a great deal from the people of Sierra Leone and their resilience, attitude and strength. I have also discovered that there are variations on this in both Chinese and Japanese cultures.
This expression is one I will hold on to tightly and repeat as a mantra. I know I will fall down again, many many times I am sure. But with this thought in mind I know that as I continue to fall, I will continue to get up again, and again, for as long as I can.