“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

Swing low, sweet chariot

…were the words I sung to myself as an eight year old girl, clutching my brown Grizzly bear to my chest in bed. Seattle rain was pelting our penny-flat rooftop at the top of Queen Anne Hill. It was a school night. My sister was two. My ginger and white guinea pig, Princess, was squeaking next to me in her cage. She was anxious, too.

Tonight, I have to say goodbye to my Mama before she goes to the hospital tomorrow to get surgery on her brain. Will this be the last time I talk to her? Is she going to die? Why her? I will go see her after school. I can bring Grizzly bear with me. That is okay with Mr. Randy, Grandma asked him today. Grandma will pick me up after school and we will get Andrea and we will go see Mama in the hospital. She will have a lot of tubes around her. She will look very different. She will be very sleepy. She will seem very confused. She may not remember me. She may not wake up.

At the time of her first surgery she was thirty-nine. Today she is fifty-three.

Four weeks ago was surgery #8, (Or was it 9? 10? Who’s counting?) Thirteen hours in the Operating Room, and her body was tired. So, so tired. Her soul was confused and her spirits were sleeping. But she fought—oh did she fight—like a Warrior. Like a gladiator in a bloody battle. A battle with a brain tumor.
She knew she had to tough it out. To meet her grandchildren one day. To smile with pride at graduations. To walk Oliver 4,000,000 more times. To kiss her groom an innumerable amount more. To stay afloat.

With differences.

My mom has an extremely successful thirty-year career in television anchoring the local news. Her naturally golden, symmetrical features that held her exterior life together were jeopardized by the debilitation of critical nerves in the right side of her brain. By this Crippling. Belligerent. Brain Tumor.

(At first she thought she lost her beauty. What is beauty?)

Dreams of perfection pervaded the nights as she lent her body to sleep
& the morning mirror’s imperfections made the world seem steep.

She is different. Yes. She looks different. Yes. But her eyes are the same. Her dark green eyes burst with Puget Sound’s salty honesty and wisdom. They tell me what I need to know to be alive. To be the woman she wants me to be. I think I found her integrity.

What lies beneath our body is where our virtues build their home
She found this place when nothing safe came from drilling bones.

Now I am twenty-two. A soon-to-be-grad. Accomplished musician. Independent woman. Dedicated daughter. Trying to live my life like my mother—to defy what fatigues all of us deeply. Fear.

What is Beauty? Answer:
To acknowledge Fear, say hello, and let her keep walking.

Alexa Jarvis
March 2012