What am I? Who am I? When I sit in that chair at that time?
Really for me it is “What was I” since it has been almost 18 years. I think it is sort of like a secret club, if you have been there you know what I mean. We never forget. What was I? And for those in that chair at this moment, what are you? Who are you?
I let this question go by for a long time, in part because it was convenient and in part because I didn’t know better. I do know better now. The question has an emerging urgency in me as I engage the world of love and loss through activities that surround The Actual Dance.
If you are reading this Blog, you probably know the context. The play I wrote and perform now for five years about having been with Susan – now my wife of 51 ½ years – as her breast cancer was supposed to kill her. The play, The Actual Dance, is the voice of the person in that yet to be named role as they prepare for the loss of the person they love most in the world.
The Actual Dance addresses the question: How do you do that? The line in the show most illustrative of this role comes when the character stares out into space and almost sobs: “I can’t imagine that I can do what I know I have to do.”
Who is that person? When your love is so deep that your soul and that of the one you love are intertwined, each an equal half of the other. Who is that person that is going to be spiritually split in two when one-half of who they are disappears?
Society has lots of different words or adjectives. Caregiver is a term and role that is often used to describe that person. Or it might be the relational name: husband, wife, parent, child, friend. Yet none of those work.
We all have multiple roles in life, often played at the same time. We relate to the world in multifaceted ways. So yes, I can be a caregiver and a husband to my sick wife. But that isn’t the person I am when my heart is breaking, when that “half of me” that is also her leaves this earthly dimension or plane.
Yes, I will have her or him in my heart as a memory, but it is not the same thing. Life is not a lingering feeling nor a remembered first date. Life “exists in a tangible form” and it will exist in this world as we know it only so long as the person “lives.” It exists and goes somewhere else or nowhere else depending on your theology and faith; but it does not stay here.
When the other half of our whole leaves us we become broken. I have written a fair amount the process of becoming whole again. Today my question is, “what am I as I could through the process of breaking in half.” What am I as my soul or heart is breaking?
So maybe someone who is reading this can help. What is the word for that person. Who was I when the “doctor’s fingers slid along the lips of the incision point” on Susan’s bare chest post double-mastectomy, “and he suddenly stops” and announces a post-surgery lump that he and all the other doctors think is a marker of a rampant spread of the breast cancer?
Give me a name please? Give me a word? Who are we then? What are we then?