Now that I am officially on the double lung and liver transplant lists, (as April 13th), I realize I have to put the final touches on making sure I’m ready for The Call. After months of preparation, list making and attempting to put together a cohesive filing system, I am left with a nagging suspicion that I will never be quite ready for what is ahead.

There are, of course, multiple levels of “ready” for this situation. There is – 

  • logistics – how I will get to the hospital, who will be with me…
  • paperwork – power of attorney, advanced directives, insurance, passwords…
  • family and friends – making sure people have each other’s numbers and know who to call…
  • What I will need at the hospital – rosary beads, headphones, a “do not disturb” sign, Kleenex (with lotion,) lip balm, my tea…?

The list goes on, or so it feels. 

Really, I just want the list to be long. Like, whatever the equivalent is to tying your shoes very slowly when you have somewhere you don’t want to go… that’s how I am with these dang lists. But I keep hoping that if I’m not ready then maybe that can mean this isn’t happening yet…

But it is happening. I am here at the part where I can get The Call at anytime. I have to face that reality. But how? This question implies that there is a rational answer.

For all the preparation I’ve done on the physical level, I don’t feel ready, and there is the rub. I keep looking for the right combination of check lists, reminders and instructions to conjure the feeling of readiness. I want all this to be managed rationally and calmly.

It is the contingencies, the unknowns, and what is beyond the horizon of lists that has me doubting myself.

Bruce Kramer, in his book “We Know How This Ends,” names this tension best:

“How shall we grow into the demands of what is beyond us?”

How indeed.

In our culture of safety and certainties we don’t like mystery. We are suspicious of the unknown, as if it’s a thing waiting to eat us. I feel like I should be able to wrestle the complexity of this moment into a clear sense of focus. That expectation is not uncommon. However, I have learned, time and again, that it is neither realistic or imaginative to expect maturity to be the equivalent of a perfect spreadsheet.

I came across this quote by the poet John Keats, (taken from the book A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit), in which he relates stumbling into a similar revelation…

…”and several things dovetailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature…I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

In other words, facts and reason only get you so far, and represent only part of the picture. Being able to live with mystery and uncertainty, beyond the bounds of what making lists can offer, is also a necessary muscle and skill to hone.

I don’t want to ramp up the tension so tight that I break. I don’t want to live in fear that I’m about to fail. Rather, like a stringed instrument, tuned with tension, I want to learn to play music and change the conversation.

I must accept that the inner work of “readiness,” will not be in solely focusing on the facts and figures of what I’m carrying, rather I need to pay attention to how I’m holding all the realities and mysteries at play.

This knowledge does not change the knot in my chest that won’t seem to ease. I’ve spent the better part of the day trying to coax it loose with painting, a trip to the beach, Facebook and now writing.

As I sit here, mentally grasping for an antidote to the pressure in my heart, my mother’s coaching wisdom rises to the surface of my consciousness  –

“Elizabeth, focus on the fundamentals, stay loose, trust your body.  Now go have fun.”

Once again, I know she is right.