The Heart is an Organ of Fire


I started a tradition 16 years ago now.  Sometimes I explained it by saying, ‘well, I never got my Christmas Cards out so Valentine’s Day became my time’, which is true but not entirely.

The real truth is that 16 years ago there was a human dignity activist that I had worked with for a few years, always enjoying my every interaction with him.  He was a volunteer organizer in the small towns of Forest Grove, Banks, and West Plains where he had lived for the prior 2 decades, building his own cabin in the woods with a family to fill it.  He was passionate about on the ground organizing and had a keen, strategic mind.  He was also terribly cute and kind.  We had fun working together.
Then one day he separated from his wife. We started finding reasons to have one on one meetings to plan a series of economic workshops – we stayed on task but we also never managed to wrap up the project.  After many dinner meetings, Valentine’s Day approached.  Since neither one of us showed tremendous nerve in managing our own desires I came up with a safe way to put my heart out there. It was subtle.
I designed a Valentine’s Day card for all my friends.  I made a linoleum print, carving out the negative space then moving on to the next step of hand printing 200 postcard fronts with a huge heart.  After the days it took for the ink to dry, I then hand addressed all 200 cards.  All so that I could send the one without looking a fool.  I still remember mailing them with a little kiss.  Two days later, Mike and I had our first official date – a winter hike in the coast range that continued past dark.  And, as they say, the rest is history.
After 16 years, you would think I would have a data base and process but each January I re-invent who to mail to after I complete the printing.  This year, I never managed a second run and so only 100 cards went out.  I know how many dear friends are not getting them this year and for no good reason beyond I ran out of steam.  But you are in good company as after that first year Mike never got another card of his own.
Every year I wonder if I will manage to get the cards out.  It takes so much time.  This year the design eluded me.  It has to be simple because of the method.  My design drafts were nice, but the state of my life didn’t match the cuteness factor.  January 18th I got my ct scan results that closed with the dreaded words ‘subtle disease progression noted.’  That night I drew my design, carving it the day after.
“The heart is an organ of fire.”  (A statement I always liked from Michael Ondaatje.)  Barbed wire is all about ominous limitation.  Paper, rock, scissors is a children’s game positing which tool is the strongest in the end.
My love and appreciation to so many as I plod forwards on this journey.  I am still on chemo but drug shifts are around the corner because my body needs a break from ‘the big gun’ of carboplatinum.  This entire cycle has been about delay after delay as my blood counts stay too low for treatment.  It’s a roller-coaster.  A time without chemo is not yet imagined – if the disease gets stable I will stay on some maintenance infusion probably of avistan.
Happy Valentine’s Day because what is the option.
with love, marcy

About marcy westerling

I am a long time community organizer with a passion for justice and founded the Rural Organizing Project in 1992. Derailed by a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis in spring 2010, I have stayed in treatment since then. I am learning how to embrace livingly dying and hope that by starting a Phase One immunology clinical trial at UPenn in spring of 2013 I will have more time to find the sweet spots of thriving while terminally ill.

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