First up, a warm thank-you to friends and readers who've sent comments to the blog or messages to my email address. I feel quite sustained, even uplifted, by people's support, wishes, and prayers to a range of deities; and their invocations of friends and relations who precede me in the struggle, and on the road I am about to travel. I have myself always been shy of phoning or visiting the ill or the bereaved; but will try to be less selfish in future. It is LOVELY to be phoned up, and emailed, and perhaps especially from people I've not seen for a long time. I have become conscious, though, that in sending out my cheerfully positive emails to various groups, that I am setting off various sparks and shocks of memory and fear; little electrical charges in those who have been touched by cancer of various kinds. And conversely, I now realise how many people are walking the streets and the shops, sitting at their computers, cooking dinner, and looking after other people, while they themselves are living with the uncertainty of this disease. I'm still searching for the right metaphor for this. It's obviously too soon for me to give this my own shape. All I can see so far is the indisputable force of the usual expressions: a journey, a road, a struggle that will change your life.
It's been a very strange week. For a while I was almost overwhelmed by the job of disentangling myself from various commitments. It's been quite a shocking realisation, to see just how many committees and tasks I had taken on. The generosity of colleagues here, interstate, and in other countries, who have said things like, "that's fine; leave it to me; don't worry about it; just get better" has been extraordinary. At our third meeting, I was telling my surgeon some of the things I was doing to unknot myself from these dozens of threads and commitments (like handing over the spools and coloured silks to the other weavers before stepping away from a loom, perhaps); and she commented that her own policy was now to take on something new only if she could let something go. I wonder if that's a realistic policy in the academic sector. But then, why shouldn't it be? We aren't superhuman, and shouldn't pretend to be so. Later in the meeting, she explained about the various procedures that will precede the surgery on Thursday, and said that there would be a lot of waiting around. That's ok, I said; I'm quite good at lying still and doing nothing. She looked at me a moment, and said drily, "It doesn't sound like it." I love her stillness, and her calm willingness to say what they don't know, yet, about my body and what it's been doing; and her simple clarity and certainty about what they do know.
On Friday, I went to the penultimate sesssion of Headstart. I will miss the final session tomorrow, since I am already finding it hard to concentrate on things, feeling myself withdrawing already a little into something a little less than perfectly social, something a little more inward-looking. Friday was tough, though. I explained to the group in the morning why I was going to miss the last session; and the day went on pretty much as normal (though instead of my usual coffee with the gang at the cafe over the road at lunchtime, I had a bright pink and green frothy juice full of wheatgrass and beetroot and ginger), until the last twenty minutes, when I had to take part in a ritual farewell. I am a self-confessed lover of ritual and am writing about the theories of ritual practice in my work on the Order of the Garter, but this was tough: to be the subject of a ritual of farewell that was unfamiliar, since we had to invent it on the spot, with direction from Antony. It won't surprise the medievalists reading this blog to hear that I had talked earlier in the year about the idea of the questing knight, who leaves the safety of the court to go out on an adventure that will test every aspect of his training and his psyche, and who returns changed, in some way, bringing back a wound, perhaps, or a wife, or largesse, but certainly with a story to tell. The formal farewells were hard, but I just let my instincts carry me through. And at the end, I truly did feel, if not exactly like a knight, certainly like someone leaving a group to go somewhere really interesting and risky, while the group was constituted exactly like a round table, seemingly made stronger as a group in the act of saying good-bye, and in the knowledge that it would similarly come to each of them to leave, as they will do tomorrow. Extraordinary times.