A diagnosis of breast canceer (or any other potentially life-threatening illness) puts all of us in touch with our mortality. Although we certainly always knew that we would not live forever, usually this diagnosis is the first time that we truly believe it. Certainly, for many of us, it is the first time that our natural human denial has been shattered, and we think a great deal about living and dying and time. In the best outcome, we go on to live long and healthy lives, and this experience has enabled us to contemplate our lives and make any changes that we choose to make.
I have known a few women who made big shifts in their lives. They left unsatisying marriages or relationships or they made a commitment they had been unsure about. They changed professions or homes, perhaps even moved a big distance to a whole new life. I think of one woman, a dentist, who sold her practice and her small sail boat, bought a large cruising sailboat and, with her partner, literally sailed off into the horizon. I have known several others who quit their jobs and moved away from Boston to New Mexico or California or closer to famiily elsewhere in the country. Most of us, however, make smaller internal changes. We think more carefully about how we spend our time and with whom we spend our days. Our perspectives shift away from things and towards relationships. We appreciate what is most important to us, and we conciously choose and cherish it.
I have been thinking about this over the past two weeks that we have spent in Egypt. Yesterday, we went to Saqqara, an awe-inspiring area of pyramids, mastabas, and archaelogocial sites not far from the better known Great Pyramids of Giza. In all honesty, I had never even heard of this area, and am shamed again by my ignorance. If you want to be better educated than I was, look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saqqara
Most astonishing was the Mastaba of Ti; it had already been completed by 2600 BC. Think of it: this tomb is almost 5000 years old! Ti was the husband of a daughter of the current Pharoah, and this is placed very near to his pyramid. The relief engravings on the walls, many of them still brightly colored, are among the most beautiful art I have ever seen. The exquisite delicacy, fluidity, and accuracy overwhelmed me. Most of all, the scenes portrayed were completely familiar and easily translated to 2009 AD. Workers worked; men fished; children played; women danced. Looking carefully, there were story lines, and one could follow several scenes to understand the tale.
I most of all loved two scenes: One was a large wall covered with high relief engravings of several men leading a large group of cattle across an crocodile-filled river. Understandably, the cattle were worried about crossing, but the men solved this problem. At the front of the herd, being led by a rope, was a young, sweet-looking calf. Immediately following him was an equally sweet and very attentive looking cow, clearly staying close to her baby. The cow was followed by perhaps a dozen bulls, all looking rather dazed and raptly at the cow. For her, apparently, they would brave the crocodiles. I loved the tender and realistic way that the animals were drawn and the understanding of animal (and human) nature.
The second most beloved scene was longer, including several sets of engravings that told the story of two sailers falling overboard, their bodies being retrieved by their comrades, their burial, and, finally, the news being shared later with their families. The picture of their families hearing the news brought me to tears. Two women clutched another, obviously holding and supporting her. Another woman had dropped to the floor. Children wailed, and men covered their faces with their hands. You could almost hear and feel and touch the grief.
I am writing about all of this to conclude in this way: I am greatly comforted by this evidence of human constantcy. We have not changed. Our feelings have not changed. I am convinced that these people, 5000 years ago, were our equals in all ways. Life goes on in all its wonder. We are a very small part of something much grander and longer than ourselves, and I am so incedibly grateful to be alive in my small bit of time.