The Poetry of Reality



Mariya has been here for the past few days. For a person who loves family time, I am doing pretty damn well. Nothing like looking across the table at our two beautiful grown daughters to make the air feel like dancing. Together, Mariya and Elena have cleaned and organized our overwhelmed life, cooked and nursed and chauffeured and generally been super stars. This also allowed Steve to get up to the island for a couple of days—something he sorely needed, just to get away from cancer and do something different.


We spend many hours at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, getting chemo, blood, platelets, spinal taps. But we have time left over to discover magnificent old trees in the Maple Leaf neighborhood and to take pleasure in the rocketing beauty of the Northwest spring. These days are quiet. The patina of chemo covers everything I eat, so I have learned to eat despite my inclination to not bother. But there are also so many good moments here.


I played an old Kate Wolf song the other day. It seemed to sum up what I am feeling. “We’ve only got these times we’re living in.” No one can make their life go exactly according to plan, but we can consciously inhabit our given time. Out the front window, the magnolia tree across the street is bursting with blooms. We had one of these “tulip” trees in my magical backyard when I grew up. This intimate space felt miraculous because it was so alive, pregnant with fruit trees and soaked with birdsong. I want this memory, and feel much gratitude toward this tree for reminding me that much of what was special during that time of my life was my attention to the “poetry of reality” (Richard Dawkins invented the term). It is something I had naturally as a kid, but everything in my adult life is slanted toward a more virtual reality. In a very real way, having leukemia gives me the opportunity to have time enough to be utterly enchanted by flickers and chickadees in the city, and to feel the preciousness of their existence.


Beside SCCA/hospital routine, life continues, even blooms. There are long conversations about all manner of topics with my family members that more often than not, merge tears with laughter. Steve’s stoic efforts to cater to a suddenly picky palate  sometimes hits us hard and sometimes cracks us up. Amazing supportive and loving cards and gifts and notes from friends and community keep finding their way to me, everyday. Each family member has had to learn to give me a nightly shot until finally, inspired by their grit, I had the gumption to do it myself. I greeted my bald reflection in the mirror and impulsively said “hi Dad”. Coming back to meditation, I am reminded every day about what really matters.


Doctor says I am doing “good”. This means hospital, for second round of chemo-Group A. Friday or Saturday–April 12,13. What I experience now will sustain me then.

11 comments on “The Poetry of Reality

  1. Dear Shann —

    I admire your ability to write so beautifully even in the thick of this crisis. Thank you for your words, and for sharing the images of Spring. Spring in Maine, our part of it anyway, feels a long way off. But there are signs, like the first rhubarb crown that appeared in my garden a few days ago. I’m always amazed by the rhubarb’s tenacity, how it shoves its way out of the icy cold soil as soon as a snow-free patch appears. It will be only a few weeks before it is in full bloom and I’ll be wondering how to use it all before it bolts.

    With love and healing prayers,


  2. Dear Shann,

    I love the picture of you standing, gazing up at the cherry tree in full bloom! In the past 7 days the ferries have been broken down almost as much as they have been running. Needless to say, SNAFU is truly the norm. Yesterday, Leyardia called me at 5:30 a.m….headup – our boat is broken down – AGAIN! Rush to the dock to catch an earlier “on time” interisland boat and ride for 1 1/2 hours to get to work. Arrived at the courthouse slightly out of sorts, I confess. Every thought in my brain came to a startling halt when I looked up from my grumbling to see that the wind had blown nearly all of the blossoms off the cherry tree right in front of my car. As a result, my little car was completely covered with pink petals. They adhered to the light misting that the drizzly rain had deposited during the night and they remained stuck in place all day. Riding around like a princess in a flower parade melted my angst and just made me laugh. And think of you. Sending you pink petals of joy in the midst.


  3. Shann, I am overwhelmed by your ability to find the beauty all around you even in this time of darkness. And to use the darkness to appreciate the light. This, to me, is the essence of living fully, completely, and with gratitude – all things that I still aspire to, even after all these years. I am sending you as much healing as you can take for as long as you need it. My thoughts are as strong and smooth as that malachite egg I gave you many years ago and, I hope, as easily held. I wish you a beautiful, strong, healthy spring. – Marnie

  4. Such a great family…I think about all of you so often. Please know good thoughts are on my mind when I think about you. I am dazzled by your strength, support, and tenderness. Hugs to all…..Love, Cathy

  5. Thank you for sharing these deeply personal and illuminating moments with us, Shann. I am so grateful that you have Steve and your daughters to navigate this with you and such good care at the cancer center. Hang in there! I am praying for your vibrant health to be restored. Love to all of you!

  6. I loved the “Hello Dad” comment. told you last year we look alike. It is the ubiquitous Cathro nose, and of course a wonderful smile. I am so glad Spring is arriving in your part of the world. I forget each year how beautiful it is. Howie’s Iris are bursting forth. He goes out each day to see what color has arrived and to photograph it. Love to Steve and the girls. Jean and Howie

  7. You are an inspiration to me and I hooked Joe up to your blog too in the hopes that it will inpire him throughout the rest of his treatment. I love you! You are amazing and strong and so many other wonderous things. Love to the whole family!

  8. Oh mama! Miss you already. I love the photos you posted and as others have already said, your amazing ability to see beauty all around you and your uncompromised connection to the natural world inspires me. Spending last week with you was so special to me and I love you so completely much!!!! Tahoe is celebrating Spring in its own dry way, but I am so happy I was able to experience the apex of lush Seattle spring with you. Lovely lovely.

  9. You are off to CCAA for more chemo – I am paying attention, remembering, and concentrating on helping you rest in God’s love. Blessings to you, Steve, Mariya and Elena from the random priest, Nancy T.

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