Reclaiming Ground

In this cancer-recovery process, I have sometimes wondered which milestone to keep in sight. 

  • June 5th 2017 = you have cancer.  Mind-altering news.
  • July 18th 2017 = first surgery to remove my thyroid and a handful of lymph nodes.  Life-changing experience.
  • March 19th 2018 = second surgery to remove leftover lymph that was still cancerous.  Will it ever be gone?

It’s March again.  The leaves are changing, the days are cooling, school is out for the week, and I have been resting at home.  Just like a year ago, but not.  This time there is no tube in my neck or anesthesia in my system. It’s been a year since that second surgery and I’m inclined to think it might be the more significant milestone.  After two rounds of check-ups, one in September and one this week, all the doctors seemed optimistic.  No frowns and furrowed eyebrows.  No chats about surgical and/or radiation options.  March 19th = one year clear. 

Beating cancer has me thinking about my garden. The little lawn that I consider my responsibility has been overrun with weeds.  Perhaps I should say A WEED.  One specific kind that sends out runners in all directions and has lovely heart-shaped leaves.  It didn’t used to be everywhere.  Three years ago, dad and I turned the hard soil and planted grass.  I watered.  It grew.  I forgot to water.  The sun scorched it.  I replanted seed and it grew again.  The gardeners cut it too short and the sun scorched it again.  I planted yet again and I watered for a while but then I went on vacation.  The summer sun came again, burning holes in the green.  I did nothing, and this opportunistic little runner filled the bare places. 

Lately I have spent a few hours each day pulling back the weeds.  It’s an intimate, messy, and painstaking process.  First I have to find a runner, get my finger under the middle of it, and gently pull up in both directions to find which way it’s going and loosen the roots from the soil.  Several runners will overlap, forming a complex web.  Some will go under the grass roots or through a tuft, and I try to gently disentangle the two without ripping out the grass.  Some inches take hours.  Once the grass has been relieved of its companion, I wait a day or two for new shoots to show me what I might have missed.  If I didn’t get the root, I didn’t get the weed.  If it stays clear, it’s time to sow new grass: loosen the soil in the bare spots, sprinkle the seed, cover with compost, and give it water.  Which will come back first?  New grass or new weed runners?  How watchful am I prepared to be?  How jealously will I guard the ground that has been claimed? 

All of life is labor – a perpetual watching and weeding, watering and cutting.  As one of my favorite songwriters has said, “All our lives we till the ground until we lay our sorrows down and watch the sky for rain.”  (Andrew Peterson – More) Though some days it is so hard to believe that the ground I till will ever grow something good, there are two things I know:

  1. Reclaiming ground is harder than holding it. 
  2. Hope is watching the sky for the rain you know you cannot make. 

The picture at the top is a piece of my yard. On the right is the sea of weeds. In the middle is the raggedy patch, recently reclaimed. To the left is the brighter green of newly sprouted grass.

2 thoughts on “Reclaiming Ground

Add yours

  1. You find the greatest metaphors, Lillis. I’m sure the gentle weeding is a good time for introspection. I hope you allow yourself to find joy in your 1-year-clear anniversary. Wishing you strength & health.


  2. Beautiful thoughts as always Lillis. Maybe your journey is the book you need to write. Nabeel told his story in videos and you’ve been doing an amazing job of sharing yours in words. I remember, when my first wife died, how powerful I found C.S. Lewis’s own journey of loss in “A Grief Observed”. Words are powerful and you use yours well for good. Keep it up in whatever form as long as you’ll let us keep reading it.


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