Buildings and Bridges: Ani DiFranco Chanting Eicha

photo amy ariel july

Franconia sculpture park


I’m enamored with skin bridges. I feel a thrill when tissues reach across a paper cut, when skin lines arch over the previously open red. I have a body of quietly dramatic skin scars. In the crease of my left arm is the puffy reminder of the sebaceous cyst that became infected, ruptured, and needed surgery. For weeks, it was a crater of wound that needed frequent and painful cleaning and dressing changing, but now it’s just a subtle mass of scar tissue. On my abdomen are two more, the third going unseen in my belly button. They mark the laparoscopic removal of one ovary, one benign teratoma tumor, and one appendix. These are related to leukemia and transplant only by proximity, at this point are more allusion than plot twist. The blood test and i.v. needle pokes haven’t left any visible marks. My twelve bone marrow biopsy scars along my iliac crest are outside my field of vision most of the time. On the right side of my chest and at the base of my neck are reminders of my Groshong and Hickman ports where a long tube wound its way through my body and settled in above my heart.
Videos of Not Dead Yet from Spamalot entertain me on hard days, but my AML and BMT scars are no joke.
And though each is a remnant of my dramatic, magical healing powers, it’s the unobtrusive bridges that really thrill me. It takes a mass of rebuilding energy and intense teamwork for platelets and white blood cells and red blood cells to do their thing and heal an ordinary and simple gap in the casing of skin that contains me. A gap like a paper cut.
It is a feat so commonplace that it is usually easy to go about one’s day entirely unaware of the efforts of one’s cells. I’m still looking forward to the day when I forget to notice again.
I wonder sometimes when I have a chat with my cells if that’s the same thing as talking to myself.
Ani sings, “Buildings and bridges 
are made to bend in the wind. To withstand the world
 that’s what it takes.”
For 26 months, I’ve been rebuilding myself from the inside out. And that’s not just structure. When I write “core,” don’t imagine something doing a plank would strengthen. I mean that part of me with which I am commanded to love God. I mean the part of me that thinks from my gut, and the part of me that thinks from my heart, and the part of me that thinks from my mind. I mean the parts of me that feel the world and take in the world and reach out to the world. I mean the parts of me that stand and the parts of me that bend when I pray. I mean the parts of me listening for the still, small voice in my own pulse and the very distinct kind of flexibility it takes some days to keep breathing. I mean the deep place from which desire originates. My core is building a bridge both fragile and resilient. When I am brave, I trust that it will bear my weight.
I hold a quiet hope that fasting this year for Tisha B’Av will help strengthen me in taking another step onto it.
I love keeping company with my soul for a day while my body carries us along taking a more obviously supporting role, the balance of body and soul hunger, that first long drink of water when I break my fast, the feel of taking the world back in. I close my eyes for just that moment and imagine my cells patiently waiting to plump back up. I revel in pleasures made for bodies. I love that in Judaism although we will suffer, we are made to delight. I love that we have blessings to draw our attention to flavors and experiences and sights and sounds of which we might otherwise grow inattentive. I love that fasting is not about body punishment, but about seeking to touch the layers of body and soul in a new way, about opening one’s self to experiencing the world and one’s self fresh.
The Tisha B’Av I spent on i.v. supplemental nutrition after losing 65 pounds from treatment and graft vs. host disease I didn’t fast. No good can come from fasting when a body is starving.
Last year sitting on the floor of a sanctuary in candlelight listening to the chanting of Eicha – Lamentations – I was caught up in the perpetuity and intimacy of rebuilding. Our Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and destroyed again. Destructions of Jewish community happened and continue – mostly internal. We are unkind to each other. We dismiss each other. We have been rebuilding for thousands of lifetimes. Inside the body of Israel – both State and People – are constant wrestlings and rebuildings and questions of what is graft and what is host and what will it take not only to build the bridges but also to be brave enough to trust that they will hold our weight.
“All that steel and stone 
is no match for the air, my friend, what doesn’t bend breaks. . . what doesn’t bend . . . breaks.”