Woman In A Blue Padded Folding Chair

Stop. Breathe. Be.

Inhale. Exhale. Wait.

I’m sitting in a blue padded folding chair in the basement of a church trying to learn how to meditate.

Stop. Breathe. Be.

Inhale. Exhale…

This just isn’t working for me.

It’s the second week of a ten-week course I didn’t want to take in the first place. But, today I especially don’t want to be here.

When I woke up in the morning the first thing I thought was, “How many minutes ‘til one o’clock?” I showered and dressed and looked at the clock. I went into the kitchen, ingested my cereal and orange juice…And, looked at the clock. Then I went into my study, sat down at my desk and looked at the phone. I wanted the phone to ring. I wanted it to be one o’clock.

Waiting for Prognosis

Two weeks earlier I’d been diagnosed with b-cell lymphoma. Today I’ll find out if the PET scan showed that the cancer had spread through my body. Sitting at my desk, looking at the phone, I wanted it to be one o’clock.

But, I had hours to go, so here I am sitting in a blue-padded folding chair in a church basement, trying to learn how to breathe mindfully.

I hear Scott, our teacher say to the group, “You don’t have to believe in this. You just have to do it.”

So, I close my eyes and imagine a speck of sunlight in the middle of my heart. I breathe into that speck. It gets a little bigger. I feel a warmness spreading through my core and down my arms and legs and into my fingers and toes. My muscles soften and release from their bones.

But then my eyes pop open and I look across the circle and see Eduardo. Eduardo was diagnosed with Lymphoma six months earlier. He told me that 80% of the time this kind of caner spreads to the lymph nodes. That’s why it’s called lymphoma. And, in fact, in his case it had spread.

Seeing Eduardo makes my jaw and neck constrict. My shoulders hunch and tighten. Acid surges from the pit of my stomach up the back of my throat. I want to lurch out of my blue-padded folding chair, into my car and go home and sit by the phone.

Breathing in Remission

But I stay in my chair, still staring at Eduardo. His eyes are closed. His breathing looks easy. Eduardo’s in remission. He’s going on vacation with his family next month. And, he told me that meditating got him through the darkest moments of the past six months. Including the day he was sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for the results of his PET Scan.

So, I close my eyes. Again. And I take a deep breath in to the count of: one, two, three, four. And, then I breathe out: one, two, three…

Scott says, “Okay, let’s bring it back to the circle. Last week we practiced breathing. This week we’ll be practicing being in the moment. Whenever we need to anchor ourselves in the moment, we can always focus on our breathing.”

My heart stops. I’ve suffered with depression my whole life. And, now on top of that I have cancer. Why am I learning to be in the moment when one moment after another, every single one of my moments, this morning and every morning, afternoon and evening of my life have been moments that suck?

Self-Compassion is Possible

My hand shoots up. But, before Scott even acknowledges me, I say, “What if it’s a moment you don’t want to be in?”

“Good question. What do you do if you’re in a moment you don’t want to connect with? Well, if you can be in that moment and separate yourself from your thoughts and your feelings; if you can be in that moment and let go of your thoughts and your feelings; if you can let go of your thoughts and your feelings about the past and the future and be only in that moment…Well then you have a chance of opening up some space and possibly letting in some compassion for yourself.”

Compassion for myself? He’s got to be kidding. I know how to do compassion for other people, but if I knew how to do it for myself, I wouldn’t be depressed.

But Scott did say that we don’t have to believe in it, we just have to do what he says.

I take three deep breaths, shut my eyes and step outside of myself. I see a woman in a blue-padded folding chair. A depressed woman. A depressed woman who is counting down the seconds until she can go home and wait by the phone for the doctor to call and say if b-cell lymphoma has spread though her body.

I want to sit down beside this woman and put my arms around her. I want to say to this woman, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry that you have to go through this.”

And, for a moment. Maybe even two. I feel comforted. Comforted by me.

Anne Abel is the author of Mattie, Milo, and Me: A Memoir


Anne Abel

Anne Abel’s story about unwittingly rescuing an aggressive dog, Milo, won a Moth StorySLAM in New York City. She has won two additional Moth StorySLAMs in Chicago. Her credentials include an MFA from The New School for Social Research, an MBA from the University of Chicago, and a BS in chemical engineering from Tufts University. She has freelanced for Lilith; Philadelphia Daily News; The Jewish Exponent; Philadelphia Weekly, Main Line Life and Main Line Today, and formerly wrote a weekly column, “The Homefront,” for Main Line Welcomat. She also taught English and creative writing at the Community College of Philadelphia. Anne lives in New York City with her husband, Andy, and their three rescue dogs, Ryan, Megan, and Chase. She grew up outside Boston, MA. In January, 2016 Anne and Andy, moved from suburban Philadelphia with their three dogs to Chicago, where Andy was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. Anne had no idea what she was going to do in this city where the daytime high was nine degrees. When she met her new dog walker she asked, “What do you do when you aren’t walking dogs?” “I host a storytelling open mic in the back of a bar. You should come sometime and tell a story.” Anne went to the storytelling open mic just to listen. Unexpectedly, she found herself telling a story. For the next two years Anne became part of the storytelling circuit of Chicago, including The Moth. She won two Moth StorySLAMs in Chicago. Then she and her husband moved to New York City where she won a Moth StorySLAM for telling the story about Milo.

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