Christine Perera

Christine Perera

 


Cancer
by Christine Perera

Sick eyes take on new perspective—pupils become planets and the whites of eyes transform into empty space in which worlds float free. This shift in perspective makes time visible. Years, months, and days morph into vibrant pigments. Perhaps this is why so many sick people look to the stars in desperation, to grasp in the dark for shreds of color.

Sunday: blue, force, divine protection.

Monday: golden, illumination.

Tuesday: benediction, divine, spiritual love, devotion.

Wednesday: white, purity, resurrection.

Thursday: green, truth can heal.

Friday: pink, healing, modesty, help.

Saturday: violet, meditation.

When sick eyes look into the mirror, they have to search through centuries of color, through the beige seas of an open universe, through everlasting Kohoutek, Casseopeia, Orion, through worlds of ever-dividing cells, to find a single, sick body standing still in one moment of time.

Sometimes, it takes a single mutated sperm of the universe, shooting into the solar system like a comet, to change the attitude of humankind. Sometimes, it takes a single mutated gene to change a person’s attitude. The shock of becoming the universe, of looming sickness dissolving a single identity into the grander human experience, can alter the way the sick body understands itself, the same way a trauma can alter self-understanding.

The Western world has long suffered from the trauma of forbidden knowledge. Pope Innocent III thought the universe would finally stop expanding in 1284. Maybe his prediction was wrong, like the predictions of Botticelli and Stöffler, because such knowledge is forbidden. Maybe people who believe in the promise of everlasting life aren’t supposed to know when it will all end.

The Eastern world has long accepted the suffering of life. To accept life’s suffering, a mind must unbecome. When he let go of all attachments, Buddha unbecame. Maybe letting go of all attachments—allowing the planets and their colors to melt together into a great big mess without scrambling to clean it all up, allowing the cells to divide endlessly, without treatment—is to accept an inherently sick universe. Maybe wanting to know when things will end is a natural want, because knowing would make unbecoming easier.

When I had cancer, I looked into my bathroom mirror and found my reflection somewhere in-between the East and the West. Now I have questions about my place in the human experience:

Should I turn to Mom’s Catholicism?

Or Dad’s Buddhism?

Am I too attached to myself?

Thyroid cancer won’t kill me, so why am I looking to the stars and grasping at the universe?

Is this what it means to realize mortality?

A crisis translated into different religious worldviews can highlight the universe’s unresolved nature. A crisis translated into different religious worldviews turned my own illness into freedom. I inhaled the cosmos and exhaled in acceptance. The scar on my throat, a shred of color over the space my once-lived cancer filled, transforms my body into art. I float free inside the art, like a pupil, like a planet, in a universe of bliss, of cosmic relativeness, of wisdom, truth, and limitless love.

The experience of changing, transforming, transcending left me with changed eyes, a changed throat, a changed body, a changed attitude, a changed me.


Mary Bauermeister, Rainbow, Lithography, 1973