On the matter of Boomerangs.
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There's a joke that goes: What do you call a boomerang that never comes back? A stick.
If you've heard that joke before, sorry. If you've never heard that joke before, I’m also sorry. It's a terrible joke, but it makes a decent point, especially now around Valentine’s Day.
A Boomerang is like a relationship. What you throw into a relationship comes back. Except, of course, when it's not at all like a boomerang, and it's a stick.
So, it seems like every time there's some kind of Seasonal Celebration coming up, I find myself in the Oncologist’s office for a check-up. Last time it was Halloween, this time it's Valentine's. In an effort to be cheerful, the office had an impressive display of pink and red love hearts, which contrasted beautifully with a cluster of unromantic patients waiting to be seen.
But love was in the air, no doubt about it:
Across from me, an elderly Asian man sat next to his adult son. Trying to stop himself fussing, the son fidgeted on his phone. But his concern for his father was obvious. ‘Are you hot?’, ‘Do you need water?’, ‘Do you need the restroom?’. The father, small and crumpled in a tracksuit that optimistically proclaimed ‘go faster’ weakly shook his head.
A thin man in the corner talked too loudly on his phone in a language I couldn't place. His tone was insistent, but I couldn't work out what the conversation was. Not until he slipped into English to say “I love you” before hanging up.
Next to him, a middle-aged woman and man. The man was furious. He wants to leave. He announces he won’t be staying here long. He doesn’t like waiting. He knows an impressive amount of curse words. His wife, looking sad, placates him, even though he clearly would rather be in a bar, or shooting rabbits, or tinkering with the engine of a Dodge Ram.
There’s an unspoken acceptance in the Oncology office - each of us aware that from time to time, we’ve each been less than perfect patients.
The woman reached for her husband’s hand, but he pulled it away, muttering, ‘I didn't sign up for this.’ And all around the waiting room, people nodded amiably, thinking, ‘None of us did, pal, but you'll get over it.’ The woman looking scared, trembled a little. The son with the phone smiled at her. She smiled weakly back.
Love was in the room, no doubt about it. Not pretty romantic love, as depicted by the little display of pink and red paper love hearts. But love nonetheless.
Years ago, early on my cancer journey, I sat in a waiting room, waiting to go in for my mastectomy. I hadn't told many people about what was happening or even the diagnosis because - well because cancer is busy, and there's practical shit you have to deal with, and I wanted to muscle through it without much fuss. But it dawned on me that there were people who maybe ought to have been told - that it wasn’t right of me to assume other people didn’t have feelings. Were it someone else, I would probably want to have been told. Otherwise, I would have thought I wasn’t valued as a friend, or made up a story in my head that I hadn't shown myself to be dependable enough. (Curse fucking relationships where you have to do all that sharing stuff.) Anyway, it had been early in the morning and I'd been nil by mouth for a good 10 hours and I was starving and I didn't have time to faff about with individual e-mails, so I figured a Facebook post to friends would do.
I posted that I didn't want anyone to worry or feel sad for me. I explained that I really didn’t need anything, but if they wanted to do something for me then to do something kind for someone else who was in need, and then to post about it. That way, when I woke up sore and potentially a little out of sorts, I could have stories to remind me how brilliant the world is.
And oh my, I was not disappointed. I might only have thrown a wee boomerang of a story, but what came back was the most incredible tsunami. Each one its own beautiful little tale. (If you sent me one and I haven't placed it here, it's only because I literally chose three at random.)
Made 51 tie-dyed tees for the Veterans for Peace. When my Vietnam vet, George, called with the credit card info yesterday; I told him it was at cost; in honor of my cousin Lynn Ferguson! He said, "I love you Ferguson girls; even the ones I don't know!"
Something good I've done in your name, Lynn. The most perfect pink and white roses delivered to my auntie the day her husband of 70 + years (gulp!) is admitted to hospital when she just couldn't go on looking after him herself...
My 'Lynn Deed'. Got a coffee & a sandwich for a homeless man but spent 20 mins helping him write a letter to the daughter he hasn't seen for 10 years. Emoshe.
There were so many and they just kept coming. Screw Valentine's Day. It was the most incredible demonstration that love exists in the world. At a time when I wasn't sure I could bear to be in my own skin, there I was surfing on the crest of this big fucking magnificent wave of human kindness.
My Auntie Jan, known for her ‘interesting’ approach to karaoke, messaged to say that as an act of kindness, she'd not been singing at anybody.
My friend Shaun messaged about how he bought a sandwich for a homeless guy and explained why. And each time he met the homeless guy, the man would ask how his friend Lynn was doing.
It's one of the things I still like about Facebook to be honest, is that those postings periodically reappear as memories. And I’m reminded all over again that there are magnificent magnificent humans in the world, and love really does exist outside hearts and flowers and cards and cuddly toys.
Anyway, my Valentine visit with the oncologist turns out to be blissfully short and sweet. My bloods are good. It’s all a big thumbs up. We laugh about what possible seasonal decorations will be up when we next meet and arrange for my follow-up.
I have to go back to the waiting room again, while they process the orders for my next round of tests. The ‘go faster’ man and his son have gone, as has the ‘love you’ man from the corner. But the middle-aged couple are still waiting.
The man is very irritated now, loudly impatient with big sighs and huffing, ‘I shouldn’t have to be here’. When his wife reaches to touch him, he shrugs her off angrily. “I fucking shouldn’t.”
She looks embarrassed. I smile companionably across at her. She’s too anxious to smile. So I mind my own business. She doesn’t need my judgment.
Then a nurse appears and calls out the name of the next patient. A woman. I glance up, slightly worried the middle-aged man will blow a gasket that yet again he has to wait, but in fact he says, “Finally!” And his scared-looking wife, who has all the time been trying to placate him, heads off into the surgery.
She is the one with cancer. She is. And when the door closes behind her, he shakes his head, sits down, and mutters “I didn’t sign up for this.” I am speechless. What the actual…?
I want to punch him. And then punch him again. It feels fucking primal. But what good would that do? Would it change him? Would it make anything at all any better for his wife? In a room full of people who are battling a greater enemy and here looking for healing, what positive effect would my little demonstration of fury provide? Yet I feel sick with rage.
The lovely wee admin assistant pops round with a cluster of orders for tests for me, and smilingly says she hopes I keep well. As she chirps away like a little bird, I nod and do my best smile, afraid to open my mouth lest the fury I have for the fucking douchebag, planted just a couple of feet away from me, poisons the air.
So I keep my shit together. And I get to my car. And I get inside. And I lock the door. And I yell.
Mark is worried when I get home because he can see I’ve been crying. I tell him I’m physically fine - you have to get to the facts quickly if you come back from an Oncology visit looking upset. He asks if I want to go for a walk. I do.
We walked. And he listened. And I told him about the lady. And I cried. And I droned on about the outrage of it all. And how lonely she must be. And how scared she looked. And how nobody should have to deal with that crap on their own. And yet all the time she was trying to make it better for him.
And then, because I couldn’t work out what else to do, I came home and I sat down to write this note. And I'm sending it out into the Universe.
I don't know that the lady will ever see it. But the Internet is a crazy place so maybe she will. Or maybe somebody who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows her will. And the tsunami of love that once helped me when I was broken, will somehow find its way to her.
And she will know that she matters. And she will see that she is strong enough to get through this. And know that life really is precious. And that it is better to stand alone, than alongside someone who only serves to make you feel lonely. Just in the same way, it's better to hold nothing, than to carry around something claiming to be a boomerang, when it's really just a stick.
Maybe that’s the message they should print in Valentine's cards.
Till next week,
The Audiobook version is also available on Apple Books and Audible.
Learn more about Lynn’s Story work at YouTellYours.com