Geena has a big heart. Geena’s aunt Karen is living with cancer.
“The hormones are not working.”
Geena is scared, but has great compassion and vision. As I held her hand, I rubbed her thumb with mine. I felt vulnerable to be showing such an intimate form of physical expression with a stranger, but Geena held on and continued to self-disclose in beautifully honest and open ways. Geena likes to help people find their potential. It’s a great life work and mantra: finding one’s potential for growth and personal greatness. But Geena, like many, is much harder on herself than others.
Geena and I share many interests and insecurities, which made the walk a surprisingly challenging one for me to just listen and not exclaim, “Ah me too!” Though I’d get in my head about feeling like I was trying to put on a stoic air, it was a nice change in pace–to sit back and give her space rather than trying to form an immediate connection or friendship over our commonalities.
When I asked Geena what she hated, she said disorder and clutter. Which made us both laugh. She described how if she sees a poster up with a date that has already passed, it takes everything in her power not to take it down.
As a slightly obsessive tidy-upper myself, I could relate to the feeling; you know it really doesn’t matter, but you just want to make things look and feel more in sync. Some may view this as an annoying or even obnoxious behavior trait, but it’s just another way of coping. We all have “our things”, our rituals, our care routines that make life more manageable. It’s the little strange tidying tidings that keep us sane.
I was surprised (and then again not surprised) to learn that Geena loves vogueing and twerking. She seemed very unassuming, calm, and nurturing so it was funny to think of her in such an aggressive and flamboyant style of dance. But as soon as I asked if she would like to pose for me in the fountain at Washington Square Park, she jumped up to the center like a warrior.
I saw a completely different person than the one I had been walking with for the past half hour. Geena in motion is beautiful. Things take shape; she is given color, taking form with such purpose and life that it leaves you wondering if she’d been waiting the whole time for this moment to move.Geena’s proudest moment: raising money in an 18 hour dance marathon for children living with cancer. It was certainly a great accomplishment and sounded like successful fundraiser, but the truly tender part of this experience was the way Geena described how one of the kids cut Geena’s event band off at the end of the marathon.
Raising money for research and care for patients living with cancer is important work for Geena. It has been imprinted on Geena’s heart in memory–and you can feel its power in the way she talks about it.
Those dedicated to service often forget to care for themselves, a quality I’ve found to be true in myself as well as in other care-taker types. Geena’s charitable nature has a toll.
“I’m hard on myself.”
“I don’t give myself enough credit.”
These words hit too close to home.
When I asked Geena what she hated, she immediately replied, “Cancer…Cancer, ignorance and war…The enemies of life.”
Geena was so at ease with our walk that I kept wanting to ask, half-accusingly, why she felt so comfortable. I hated how much she reminded me of myself. I judged her in my mind, as I often do myself, for being in constant motion, analyzing, reflecting and planning.
When I asked how she felt about our walk, she said it was a nice break from reality. “Reality sucks.”
I guess I didn’t want my family’s experience with cancer to shadow or be related to Geena’s. It’s different and it’s not. I wanted to hold onto the idea that everyone has the right to have the space and time to share without interruption. I wanted Geena to have this. I let the silence speak.
I was by no means trying to be distant, but the moment didn’t feel right. Like the time my friend was diagnosed with cancer and was raising money for her treatment; it felt very weird to tell her about my mom after donating to the cause. Because you shouldn’t have to know someone to care.
More than 1.5 million cancer deaths have been averted this year according to the American Cancer Society. While the mortality rates have dropped in the past two decades, this doesn’t change the reality of many people and their families living with cancer. Health care costs are astronomical and for those without the privilege of a secure socio-economic status, the emotional as well as the financial tolls can be detrimental. There’s been progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do… We need to be there for each other. During a life at its end just as much as its beginning.
With my large lumpy bag bouncing around, my cold hands growing numb, and the never-ending circles around Washington Square Park, this was one of the most tiring (both physically and emotionally) walks for me. I hope Geena had no idea how heavy it was for me. I wanted to give her the gift of a walk and talk, apart from reality, apart from both the intense and non-intense relationships of her life.
She made me want to give more. And the more I pulled my own thoughts, worries and history out of the way, the more present and focused I became with Geena. I gave a lot of love that day. It was a long walk, but worth the weight.
We cannot control time or cancer, but we still have the power to move, feel, touch, act and care. We still have the gift of life and of bringing light. Thank you Geena for this lesson that you may have unknowingly given to me.
Give time to dance. Dance is your life. Life, your dance.
11/03/14 Washington Square Park