I might be in my home state, but I feel more and more like I’m in a foreign country. Yesterday, I flew into the Minneapolis Airport, driven to my sister’s house and given directions to Rochester, where the Mayo Clinic resides along with my Mom, for the time being, as she finishes up treatment for Breast Cancer. I drove those 2 hours while talking to a friend in Los Angeles. I told her of my realizations in Nepal while she filled me in on some of the art drama from our community. I’ve been having many discussions lately on the state of my life and things that used to take up so much thought, energy and care. Being in Nepal has shown me how trivial many things are that I’ve worried about. Like how I feel about others and their impact on my state of being. I feel free, mainly because I haven’t put much thought or energy into those who haven’t wished me well. I don’t think that I need to suffer in order to make a difference, I don’t need to prove my talents or hold my breath in hopes that someone highly respected in the community will compliment my work. I have seen first hand the difference art can make, I have witnessed the power of color in a dusty environment, I have been thanked by people who I will never know their names. These are the matters that enable art to create change. This is why I paint, why I am inspired to continue, not for the masters, or the artists who want to be known in the pages of history, but for the longevity of hope, for the beautiful communities who will never know the intricacies of a gallery or the interior design to a hollywood executive’s mansion. I paint so that I can reflect and ponder on the common lives of ordinary people who have hearts that beat like anyone else and their minds which are extraordinary because they are wonderfully complex and similar.
I have been in and out of different countries, buildings and climates, but nothing compares to the sterile flat lines and lighting of a clinical place. It’s a maze of buildings, all blending together with unlimited shops and cafes along monotone wallpaper, carpet and fluorescent lights. If I actually went outside, it would be cold and grey, snow still frozen in small clumps and a biting breeze finding its way to the one spot on my chest or face that isn’t covered. I look around me while sitting eating a meal heavy with salt and cheap spices, the others surrounding me consist of doctors and medical personnel, families and patients. The only reason a person is here is if they are being treated, are treating another or are family or friends to someone being treated. There isn’t much interaction, there are few smiles and even less laughter. People are hunched, with an unspoken worry crested to their brows. Those who are wearing jackets have travelled to be in this place today, many are staying in adjacent hotels for longer term treatments.
There is art spread everywhere. Each floor has the same layout, waiting rooms and lobbys, one floor has a vase that changes color with the sun and depending on the distance you are, another has a moving triangular sculpture, another has a triptych of an oil painting with a landscape, hidden animals popping as you look deeper. As my mom said, if you have to be in the hospital, this is a calming and comfortable place for it. It’s clear they have a lot of money for research and for the wellbeing of their patients. It’s also clear that people using this hospital have money.
I asked the information guy if he could give me directions to a nice coffee shop, he told me where the closest Caribou was, Minnesota’s known coffee company, akin to Starbucks. Just on the other side was a small mom and pop shop with no line, so I asked the woman for a coffee and she was beyond sweet, taking her time to make the perfect cup, and checking in a few minutes after my first sip, just to make sure it was in fact a good latte. Things like this make me happy to be in Minnesota, experiences like this remind me of Namaste in Nepal. Where eye contact and encouragement are commonplace. At Mayo, it’s easy to feel alone in the sea of confused and scared faces of strangers, where everyone is going through similar moments but is most likely overwhelmed at the decisions and future prospects.
I’m never sure of where I am in this structure of a city and it reminds me of my first days in Thamel, where each corner looked like the next and I wasn’t sure of which turn would take me back in a circle or lead me ever further from my first location. At least I was outside! Here my eyes tire of the dim lights and kitschy window displays, the smell of non descript food wafts through certain halls and sometimes the carpet patterns make my brain wonder if the person who decided it should be used ever walked around on them. It’s clear that the client’s spirit is cared for. Places of worship are scattered throughout the compounds, pianos and music is held in high regard and art tours and exhibits are advertised. It’s not easy to take someone’s mind off of cancer, but they are doing the best they can, and I appreciate it.
My mom led me around today, showing me her favorite pieces and explaining the process of appointments and her scheduled engagements. We walked around the compound multiple times, went to one of her doctor’s appointments and wasted time before radiation. We stopped by a pharmacy to order a compression sleeve for her arm, grabbed a chocolate treat and wandered through an Andy Warhol exhibit.
My mom is trying to make this fun. I’m not sure if anyone else in this giant complex knows that that’s an option. She gets up every morning taking her time to shower, moisturize, do her eyebrows, shade her cheeks and line her eyes. The process of making sure her face reflects the beauty she wants to feel each time someone greets her or looks at her across the room. Cancer takes so much away, it robs you of your health, your hope for a long life and prosperous future. Chemotherapy takes away your humanity, your hair and turns you into a skeleton of your body. Radiation takes your patience, roughens up your skin and forces you into stillness. Disease. Dis-ease. There is an un-ease to this place, like an unseen force of dark energy that is hiding in plain sight. Last night I was walking alone through the sky way, a gerbil tube connecting the buildings on the 2nd level. All of the lights were on, but all of the doors were locked, gates were closed and not a single soul was around. Everyone snuggled into their hotel rooms or had left for their homes. It was a maze of good intentions, with all of the right things placed in the right spots, but it all seems so unnatural. This is a man made city built on the foundation of disease. If you are strong enough to pass each level, well, you are fortunate enough to be able to take a medication for the next ten plus years of your life.
Looking around, I can only wonder at the definition of humanity. Who is it that decides quality of life doesn’t matter so long as one breathes. Diseases can take away ones mind and body, take away choice, privacy and independence. Where is it that we draw a line for humanity, what is our heart beating worth and why do we so desperately cling to our physical form? Normalcy sure, we want to feel like what we are: human, but the consciousness that we carry in our minds, what of that? We can’t know what we don’t know, but in a place like the Mayo Clinic where there are so many doctors and researchers and “smart” people with degrees and years and years of training, what type of consciousness do they hold?
My mom has attempted to explain her radiation process to me. I can only wait for her in the waiting room, and I imagine that she climbs into a space shuttle pod, removes her shirt and sits on a metal table with her arms in the air as a robotic machine shoots radio active protons as if through a ray gun. She laughs and has her own playlist that she shares with me. It makes me realize just how similar we are, our connection to music and our moods.
My relationship with my family hasn’t always been a positive one, my gut reaction most of the time is to cringe and try to get away as fast as possible when I think of the hurt and pain I felt during some of the more intense situations. But I breathe, this is the present and though I haven’t had cancer, I understand what it is like to only have a song to get you through this moment. I understand what it’s like to be a zombie in a sea of dis-ease and structure. These moments are difficult for my mom as her treatment ends and she goes back to a “normal” life, whatever that may be. In a way I’m very suited to be here accompanying her, normal isn’t something I live by, I flow in and out of moments and create a semblance of my unique life that is different than much of humanity can imagine. Hurt and pain still bubbles up, especially when judgements and negative statements are shrugged into existence. My mom has her own set of pain and hurt, sometimes these are stronger than we realize and it clouds our perception. My family will always be my family, I came from them and I will always look like my mom, my dad, my sister; I can’t escape the history or ancestry I was born into.
This journey I’m on has led me to a place opposite to where I was before, alone in a distant foreign place, but I still feel as though I’m in a distant foreign place, alone. I am surrounded by the people who birthed me, brought me up in this world and yet, they seem to know the least about me, I feel less at home, the least myself. But I came prepared. I have a tourmaline stone which I hold to meditate on my root and grounding, hold me in place so that I come authentically forward. I have my Mala bead necklace, which I only use the mantra I am love.. it helps me to keep my perceptions open and remove the clouding of narrow minds and any negative energy. I also have Ganesh.. every time I look down, I have an elephant to remind me that this is life, each day brings a new beginning and the more we can accept and try to understand another human and their feelings, the more connected we will be.