I once read that giving up is the easiest thing one can do but to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.
It’s been one too many times when confronted by life’s defining moments I’ve found it too easy to fall apart- my inner strength found lacking. But I’m jumping ahead, let us rewind to the beginning of April. It seemed as if everything was falling into place. I’d applied to audition for The Actor’s Studio (the actual studio-not the school), I was called in by a casting director I’d been wanting to work with, I’d upgraded to an iPhone (something of an accomplishment for a VHS-owner like me), and I’d even gotten an online article published through my "survival job". I’d started dating again thanks to the needed push of a friend and suddenly my social calendar was fuller than a Hell’s Kitchen Sunday brunch. I was living the single-gal-in-the-City dream, one to make Ms. Bradshaw proud. And then my world topsy turvied.
On an impossibly beautiful morning, I walk in to my maxillofacialist’s office to pick up the biopsy for what I thought was a benign mucocele on the inside of my cheek. I’m asked to sit down and the doctor starts spouting foreign words like “extraction,” “low-grade,” “slow-growing,” “mucoepidermoid carcinoma” and just like in the movies I leave my body and everything is drowned out by a sharp ringing in my ears. Irrationally my mind races to Harry Potter and all the characters I’ve come to know and love. I think of all they taught me about valor and guile and how courageously they stood in the face of death for the sake of something greater than themselves. And I feel so weak, so small, so very insignificant. I finally bid my dry tongue to move and all I can manage to say is “But I don’t smoke.” This couldn’t really be happening to me. This was not my life. Two aspirins and many, many tears later I wake up. With the light of a new day comes the stark reality: I am an uninsured, single woman, and the hospital bills are quickly adding up. I fall into the pits of despair and it’s in that dark place where I meet myself. I’ve been here before. It’s one of those defining moments again. I sincerely consider turning back. Going home to my family would be the easiest choice; that nagging voice reminding me what an uphill battle it has been ever since setting foot outside that plane exactly one year and four months ago. Aside from the guaranteed disappointments of the acting business simply staying in New York was hard enough. Surely this was reason enough to give up. Surely people would understand the great tragedy of it all and sympathize with my woe-is-me situation; call me brave for it even! But of all the million things I doubt here’s the one thing I truly believe, you can fool everyone around you, and fool them well, but when you look in the mirror there’s the one who can’t be fooled. For a while you might even believe the lie yourself but eventually all you’ll see is the excuse. So leaving was not an option. I knew that this had less to do with strength and more to do with resilience bordering on stubbornness. It would take a whole lot more than the “little C” to send me running for the hills. Yeah, that’s right I called it ‘little’!
In the midst of so much uncertainty staying positive was the single hardest thing to do and yet that was the only advice people kept offering. One day browsing through Facebook I clicked on a link of Tina Turner chanting a Buddhist mantra- “Nam Myoho Rengue Kyo.” Something about the sounds or the rhythm stuck with me and for reasons I can’t explain I started imitating her in my head. Whenever negative thoughts came unbidden I would repeat the mantra fervently, almost obsessively, and my mind would be still. Completely intrigued by the effect this created in me I started to research it and in turn practice it. If I could not generate positive thoughts I could at least keep the negative ones at bay. As a self-proclaimed Atheist I was hesitant about the words I found in my research. Words like “faith,” “prayer,” “spirituality” are something I’ve always avoided like the plague. Dogma doesn’t sit well with me. I also resist the idea of turning to religion as a way to cope with some catastrophe in my life. But the older I get the less black and white that idea becomes. Claiming to know there is a higher being and claiming to know there is not are both very definite, even limiting, beliefs. So maybe I'm not an Atheist. Maybe I'm a closeted Buddhist. Or maybe not. Who knows. Maybe what carries me through is the “faith” I have in myself and in every single human being who wake up each morning to choose their own destiny. So for reasons still unbeknownst to me I chant. I chant and I find peace within myself. I chant to keep my sanity and to know that come surgery day everything will be OK. Better than OK. I will redefine myself yet again and be stronger for it. I'll even have a little scar to prove it. Not on my forehead for everyone's acknowledgment but inside myself as a small reminder that courage takes on many different forms. There are those who without a moment’s hesitation sacrifice everything for love. There are those whose sacrifice is to carry on without that love. And then there are those who like the Phoenix allow themselves to burn and from their ashes find the strength to rise again.