When I took this shot of the white rose and my shadow, I did not see the larger shadow looming behind me — the shadow of a factory spilling toxic ethylene oxide into the air I breathe. I did not see the loss of Ray to cancer. I did not see a mastectomy in my future.
Instead, I saw a moment, seized: creative play with a single rose and a camera. I saw a blue sky on a clear, crisp day. I saw children running, chasing each other in the playground of the daycare behind my home. I heard their excited shrieks and laughter, as my camera clicked away.
Canary in a coal mine.
For those who don’t know the phrase, miners would carry caged canaries down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases collected in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.
I didn’t see canaries on the day I took that shot but, today, I hear their outcry in this community I love. I feel the panic of those around me who scramble to find the door out of this invisible cage within which we reside. I feel the pressure of broken trust and betrayal while the systems designed to protect us now dismiss us. I feel the heartbreak in the stories shared, all while this factory and some leaders insist there is nothing as wrong as “all that.” After all, who really knows what causes cancer in one and not another. Right?
Tipping points and crapshoots: Who wants to roll the dice after canaries die?
While the debates amp up around me, I see that Ray was a canary, and my heart aches under the pretend breast that I am left with.
Chemists-for-hire, paid by the factory in question, argue that ethylene oxide can also be found in emissions from the automobiles we drive, the lawn mowers we use to cut our grass, and the sauerkraut we eat. I find myself appalled by the logic continuing to be offered as they sidestep accountability to the community in whose bed they sleep. (Digging out my thesaurus here, add incredulous, dismayed, distressed, skeptical, saddened …)
We no longer have a pristine environment. Got it. So, maybe carry that logic a step further and recognize that it’s time to retool the factory — and the system that allows it to continue while people get sick.
Most things in life come with tipping points. Even the good stuff. Two aspirins will cure a headache, a whole bottle will make you sick, if not kill you. If our normal, day-to-day activities are filling the glass, logic could dictate that we stop pouring. Especially when the overflowing pour is an elective, when there are other methods available for sterilizing medical equipment. We can eat less sauerkraut and let our grass grow a little longer before we cut it, but we cannot control valves left open for days, after which those in charge say, “Oops. We had a leak.” (When I leave a faucet on at home, I call it “too much going on in my head,” not a leak.)
My two cents and canary song.
If you’ve read Ray Died. I Got Breast Cancer. Ethylene Oxide, or any of my other posts, you know I am at the word count where I wrap this up with a takeaway. Whether you live here, or on the other side of the world, remember this …
It takes adrenaline to fight. It takes courage to heal.
The reward for the use of courage is wisdom — for adrenaline, burn-out. This is true for an individual as well as a community.
Treating darkened passages in our life with panic or denial leaves no place for courage to take hold. Death doesn’t need courage, life does. The true test of courage is found in continuing to live sustainably. Surviving the period of crisis, completing our healing, is more important than exercising our option to die a martyr in the adrenaline of drama or on the six o’clock news.
Striving for balance is a stretch more days than I like to admit, as I continue to move forward into uncharted territory. Making sustainable choices without a victim mindset, speaking to this issue without enlarging the grief I feel each day, getting involved without adding to stress that could hinder my recovery, healing beyond the cancer removed from my body, is my responsibility — and response-ability.
My pen and presence are my sword. I am not a fighter. I am a lover of life, a life that I now live, with Ray on the other side. I am his voice. I am his song, as well as my own. Everyday, I ask God to order my steps and my thoughts. And, in that, I find growing intimacy with the Divine in the small brave acts that I undertake.
You don’t have to fight, dEAr hEArTs. But you do have to find your small brave acts and show up in your life. And, sometimes, in your community. Much Love coming your way. ❤ XO Bernadette
PS: If you are local, let us see you at the Board of Commissioners and City Council meetings. Let your local and state elected officials know how you feel. Persistence and presence is pressure.
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