I was photographing a soccer game. Focusing on the action on the field, conversations from the spectators floated to me as they usually do. One kid asked his mom for a few dollars to use at the concession stand. A dad was pacing up and down the side lines giving advice to his son. A few girls giggled as they held up their cell phones to each other. A woman was sharing a friend’s trials with her neighbor. Side by side, they sat in the standard issue game watcher’s folding chairs. “She lost her husband to cancer last year.” she explained. “Pancreatic cancer.” Then she went on. “She beat breast cancer. Her hair is finally growing back in, but she just found out her mother has breast cancer.”
For the first time in over a year, I was struck with that eerie sense of – I don’t even know what I would call it. Not dejavue, or irony, or coincidence. More the sensation of being connected to something bigger and yet, disconnected from all of the world. I froze behind the lens, playing back my own husband’s death, my breast cancer, my mother’s breast cancer. I almost felt haunted for a split second, and then I was overwhelmed with the urge to introduce myself so I could share our similarities. But sometimes being connected to something bigger while disconnecting from the world sticks me in my head, to be alone with those thoughts. I didn’t want to approach them. That could either lead to them asking who that crazy lady was or all of us chatting away until we felt obligated to exchange phone numbers or worse, friend each other on Facebook.
I wanted my Parallel life to remain anonymous to me. And yet, a million questions bubbled to the surface of my brain. Questions like, when he drew his last breath, did you feel as if you would stop breathing too? Then the days rolled into weeks and months and did you find yourself still moving? Still breathing? Still living despite the heavy weight of grief sitting on your chest?
Did you discover your cancer just as the weight was losing its grip on you? With the diagnoses, did a strange sort of fearlessness fall over you? As if to say that losing him braced you for this. This next round of your trials. Did you somehow know in the depths of your mind that your struggle would be easier than his? You intrinsically knew that you would survive. You knew you had to for his sake so that you could fulfill those promises you whispered to him at his bedside. The promises to live in every moment of every day. Did you promise to carry on without him as if he were still by your side? Surrounded by people who love you, were you finding yourself lifting their spirits along with yours? Because you remembered all to well what it was like to care for someone with cancer. Because you now understood that fighting cancer is sometimes easier than caring for someone with it.
Did you feel like some strange reversal of fate was unravelling before you when you got the news about your mother? As if time had suddenly gone backwards and sideways until you thought you must have fallen down the rabbit hole, only to have your mother follow you. Meanwhile, did your father stand by both of you, despite his fear of losing both wife and daughter?
Those questions will never be answered by that mystery woman. My parallel life. I know I’ve answered them again and again. Those answers seem to morph with each experience I encounter. One answer will always stay the same. It can answer thousands of questions thrown about like confetti. It makes us all a little more human. It connects us to the air we breath and the ground we walk on. All that has gone behind us and will go before us has happened to another human in another time and in another space. With all that we feel, all our joys and all our sorrows, comes one true thing – somewhere, someone out there is experiencing the same thing. We are not alone.