Le Bon Temps Roulé

happy almost weekend. i feel back in the spin cycle of life—schedules, work trips, eating dinners out, skipping exercise, checking my email after work hours. it all feels like a guilty pleasure in someway, like i’m cheating on my better self. but then i sleep for over 13 hours in one night and my body screams a little scream and waves the white flag to surrender.

i was blessed to spend the last week in new orleans, partly at the environmental grantmakers association (EGA) annual retreat and partly running around the city. in my life, i will figure out a way to get myself rooted in new orleans. and it’s not because a lot of members of the Black community there really admired my chemo curls (i had 2 different people give a touch my hair and numerous others compliment it). it’s because the convergence of cultures, music, spirit, and place makes me swoon.

i missed EGA last september in NY. it was less than satisfying to be on the planning committee for that and not be able to see it all come together. so, attending this year’s EGA was a goal, come hell or high water (luckily neither this time around, although we left a day early to ensure tropical storm karen didn’t foil our plans).

i got to new orleans just fine, made new connections and learned new things. as an aside, i also starting categorizing my interactions post cancer-land:  many don’t recognize me and (re)introduce themselves only to panic when they realize their mistake. others who don’t know ask why i got a haircut. and still others who i meet for the first time don’t know a thing, which is both refreshing and irritating (like, it’s nice to not always talk about cancer…BUT i almost died here and we’re chatting about the weather…BUT i don’t want to be the debbie downer or only known as cancer girl) (i came clean when asked 4 separate times by new colleagues if i’m thinking about having children. that one deserves an explanation. my friend angie thinks maybe my haircut screams maternal).

back to new orleans. one thing EGA does a fantastic job of at the retreats is highlighting the meeting place. in new orleans, that means music (see me pictured here with THE kermit ruffins…kissed him on the cheek even. holy shit!). when it came time for EGA’s annual memorial that shows all the people who died in the environmental movement this year, a new orleans jazz band entered the room. they started their dirges slowly, methodically, mournfully as images of the deceased passed on the screen. young and old, all vibrant smiling faces. i thought of all those that i’ve lost this year.  including, most recently, kookie whose handwritten notes of encouragement to me sit by our front door, and jen a fellow southern illinoisan of livinglegendary.  it then hit me that my picture could have been on that screen.

the music picked up, the mood was about to change, people started moving, and we fell into the second line waving our white handkerchiefs that were just used to wipe away tears and dancing as jubliantly as a group of mainly middle class white folks can dance on a tuesday morning in conference attire. i squeezed in with anne, rachel l, lisa j, and john d. it was appropriate. we all just knew. the music was, by then, downright joyful.

jazz funerals represent the unity of the many new orleans cultures, and as it goes, that unity allows new orleanians to face things together. we were doing just that.

i later learned that new Orleans jazz funerals mirror the very human, very natural grief cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and finally acceptance and a way forward. the base drum’s shocking beats. the slow, somber dirges and a funeral march. the spiritual hymns. then, the switch in pace to upbeat, joyous movement. the music helps you feel and express your grief. it helps you exalt a life well lived. it is cathartic.

so this trip was cathartic on many levels. one level that i want to continue tapping into is being more open, less scheduled, and in the now. my friend ann has mentioned being grateful to be there for friends going through life-threatening illnesses or other major upheavals, because they are often more open. open to exploration, to being honest and authentic, to being real.  it is my struggle to find out where i can maintain an existence between being open and being caught up in the spin cycle of life (a spin cycle that we all know only we own the controls for).

onward. with 3 chemos left…


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