Somewhere in Tolstoy’s War and Peace a young father, probably Prince Andrew, gazes at his newborn and is overcome with emotion, predominantly, as I recall, feelings of vulnerability. Now, he thinks, I have new ways that I can be hurt. This is the same vulnerability I feel as I watch and helplessly try to help Kim go through two rounds radiation therapy following her five surgeries.
But seen another way, it’s not a new vulnerability but an expansion. I remember that when Jeff and Phillip were born I felt that my emotional repertoire had suddenly expanded: I felt things that I had, in my simpler non-parental days, never before experienced. Other people may have similarly expanded feelings through siblings, cousins, or friends, but I had not. It was a broadening and deepening of love.
That’s what I am feeling now, with Kim.
It is difficult to express this in my daily life with Kim. I drive her to the hospital for her treatments. I hold her hand in the parking lot, on the way in and out, whether she needs it or not. She still does all the cooking, except for my occasional salads and morning coffee, but now I occasionally do the dishes solo while she, in response to the fatigue from the radiation, takes a nap.
My expansion is not only in the practical realm. I bought Kim a Wonder Woman bracelet that she wears to her treatments. My Wonder Woman uses it to ward off bad stuff of any kind, especially cancer cells and stray radiation that could damage tissue we don’t want damaged. We think it works, as the mind and spirit can be a force in healing.
I have tried to share in the cancer-fighting diet that Kim has launched after reading Anti-Cancer by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber. We are eating berries, cabbage and vinegar, though not all in one dish. We are eating less sugar – difficult because Kim bakes so well – and no processed food. We are cutting back on our alcohol consumption, and now I can go a whole day at a time – though red wine, a health drink, does not count as alcohol. I’m doing this in part because of my own cancer history (though as I explained previously, I flirt with immortality), but mainly to expand into Kim’s experience. We are drinking lots of green tea – Kim more than me Kim has been encouraging me to substitute green for my after-breakfast coffees (note plural), but so far I can only do that when she is looking.
My expansion includes expanding my domestic duties as Kim is supposed to be resting to aid her recovery. Kim assures me that this expansion has thus far been imperceptible, beyond my going up or down stairs to fetch her cell phone. Or another glass of iced green tea.
In John Donne’s wonderful love poem, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” the speaker advises his beloved not to be sad as he is about to depart on a trip abroad, arguing,
Our two souls therefore, which are one.
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
What Kim and I are experiencing is far from a valediction – there is no saying good-bye. There is “not yet / A breach, but an expansion.”