The Elements

The earth’s elements, particularly wind, fire, and water, can be brutal.

Virtuosos of unpredictability, they can turn anything on its head in a second. High-speed winds take off part of an outbuilding roof. An out-of-control fire begins making its way to a neighbor’s house. A ravenous eagle eyes a free-ranging chicken before deciding that it will be lunch.

After purchasing a 1930s farm in Wisconsin, the elements became a daily encounter. I had made the decision to move to this farm because I was exhausted by my work as a clinical psychotherapist. I was drained. My hope was that cleaning up this overgrown farm, connecting with nature, and maybe growing and raising my own food might wake me up, ignite me.

Nature’s potent Elements did just that. Maybe not in the way I expected, or would have wanted. But in their own unique way, they changed me.

Not long into my new farm life, I discovered a mole on my lower right leg that was rapidly increasing in size. I showed it to my new local doc. He referred me to a surgeon at a nearby hospital, who removed it and sent it to the pathology lab. I scheduled our “results” meeting a week out, promising myself I would make health a bigger priority. I thought of this as a belated thank you to my physical body for getting me through what I’d come to think of as a close call.

On “results” day, the surgeon looked fidgety and nervous. Strange, since our first meeting was relaxed and amicable. After a very little bit of small talk, he said, simply, “It’s Melanoma after all.”

“Oh, no no no,” I countered. I refused to accept this news. It never occurred to me that this might be the turn our conversation would take, especially on a day when farm cleanup was to have all my attention.

He pushed on. ”This will require surgery, another surgery where we’ll cut a wider swath. One of your lymph nodes will need to be biopsied to see whether the cancer has spread.”

The two of us seemed to face off. I squared up my body with his, but my expression trailed off to the right. I was unable to find the right words. ”I’ll need to think about it,” I said. Cancer wasn’t the plan, and, besides, I had come to believe the body could find its own way towards health if I just helped it along. Surgery didn’t feel like my path.

“Thinking about the surgery is not an option,” he replied. He was looking at me, but his voice felt like something I needed to set aside and deal with later. This was my body. This was my life. I wasn’t great at following instructions, no matter how well-intentioned or well-informed.

Cancer now joined the other elements, a new brutal force I wasn’t prepared for. I thanked the doctor, and as I left, I said I’d be in touch. 

As I drove away, my mind wandered to farm animals, maybe as a way to push “Cancer” away. I was thinking that I wanted to adopt some goats. Goats felt like the answer.

The big farm mess was still waiting for me when I returned. There were big piles of trees and the remains of old buildings and a sorry-looking dog house that needed burning.

I wanted to see the elements in a better light. I rounded up the kindling and the lighter and the newspaper to ignite the first pile. We all face difficulties at one time or another in life. Some we can sidestep and some we can’t. We haven’t yet found a “cure” for storms, high winds, or even wild predators; and we don’t engage in the futility of the attempt. This is probably fortunate–imagine the imbalance we might create if we were to succeed.

Tomorrow, I’ll tackle Cancer, I thought as I grabbed the butane lighter.