Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Waiting Rooms.

Some days I feel dark.I have become intimate with waiting rooms over the past few months.  But none have gotten under my skin so deeply as the one at the Cancer Agency where E had the PET scan.

It was a small crowded room packed with patients waiting to be tested and their respective support groups.  And me, the consummate Groupie.  We got there early so there was ample time for E to fill out the intake form and for me to get restless and bored.  The chairs were stiff and awkwardly close.  The lights were unbearably bright.  Mocking and cruel. The air was weary. This was not a place to linger nor languish.  Here, you waited, got it over with and then got the hell out.

We waited.  And waited.  Waited some more.  At one point, I fell asleep and may have snored, ever so slightly.  E gave me a little love nudge.  I bolted upright and looked around, momentarily confused by my surroundings.  Oh yes, we’re still here I thought.

E’s name was called precisely at the appointed hour.  I gave him a quick peck on the lips, squeezed his hand and watched as he followed the nurse through the heavy metal double doors.  What lay beyond was all a big mystery to me.  I wanted to keep it that way.  Others had gone before him and they all came back okay.  So would he.

I settled in for the 2-hour wait.

I managed to read a few pages from The Color of Water before succumbing to the call of slumber.  My eyelids fluttered and slowly closed.  My head sagged heavily onto my chest like a two hundred pound pumpkin.  Not a pretty sight.  In the end, it was the drool trickling from the corner of my mouth that brought me back to wakefulness.  I wiped my chin with the back of my gloved hand, closed the book and slipped it into the side pocket of my purse.

Then I did what I do best.  Observe.  Witness.  Listen.

There was a painfully thin older woman in her seventies surrounded by her family, who were helping her fill out the daunting intake form.  Her son patiently went through the form question by question. Sometimes answering for her.  And like E and I, sometimes guessing at questions with possible multiple answers or ones that simply didn’t make sense. Close enough was good enough.

There was the young man waiting for his beautiful wife.  She was one who had gone through the double doors before E. When she emerged, he jumped up and was immediately at her side.  “Ah, my beautiful wife,” he declared as he kissed her cheek and took her hand. They sat in the hallway together for a moment, holding hands.  Then he returned to the admitting desk with questions about the “reports to the doctor.”  “Would they get copies as well?” he asked.  Once assured that all was in order, they left. He, with his arm around her waist, and she, with her head snuggled into the sweet spot in his neck.  It took my breath away.

There was the athletic looking woman with the grey hair and backpack slung over here shoulder.  She stood next to the wall with her equally fit friend and made arrangements to meet up afterwards.  There was the heavyset woman who sat quietly knitting.  The middle-aged man in the leather bomber jacket and faded jeans reading the paper.  The teenage boy with the headphones and rapper-style hip-hop jeans, who paced the hallway in step to the music he was listening to.  The young happy bubbly girl barely into her teens, who greeted her anxious parents with a big smile and a reassuring, “It wasn’t that bad.”

And there were others too who came and went during my wait that dreary afternoon in the middle of February.  All there for the same reason.

As I write this, my eyes well with tears at the memory.

The Big C is an equal opportunity invader.  It strikes randomly and carelessly.  Unapologetic and audaciously so.  Old women confused by the questions on forms.  Girlfriends with backpacks and sensible walking shoes.  Beautiful young wives with handsome thoughtful husbands.  People killing time by reading newspapers and books.  Knitters of scarves and baby blankets.  Middle-aged men in denim and leather.  Young teenagers, whose walk on this earth too new to leave footprints.  And yes, even bluegrass musicians who play the upright bass with passion and heart.

The rich.  The poor.  And everything in between.  The happy and optimistic.  The pessimist and naysayer.  The sad and lonely.  The newborn and the ancient one.  There are no precise demographics. No one can pinpoint the target audience.  By touching us all in some way, the whole thing seems so common. Perhaps that’s the divine irony.  There are no favorites here.

The thing that struck me the most while I was waiting.  Hit me in the gut so deeply and profoundly. It was what all these people had in common that I did not possess.

Bravery.

Take that Big C and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: We are the Girl Warriors.

The Girl Warrior on top of the wall at Hillcrest Park.

I’m a warrior.  It’s taken me decades to accept this notion.  But I now know it to be true.  How could I have been otherwise?  I was raised by one of the best warriors God ever created.  Ma, my Warrior Queen.  The courageous one.  The small package containing a fierce and valiant spirit.  My inspiration. Teacher.  Leader.  The one I will follow into the dark.

I have raised two glorious Girl Warriors.  They too inspire me.  Every day and in every way.  They stand tall.  And walk with their own swagger.  Speak their truth. They challenge. Question. Test.  They are noble.  I have a grand daughter who is a young Girl Warrior.  Already fiercely independent.  A mind of her own.  An adventurer off to see the world.  No holding her back. Then there’s my bonus Girl Warrior.  My daughter-in-law. The one who captured my son’s attention and the hearts of his entire family. Another small package containing a wondrous, magical, spunky soul.

These five extraordinary Girl Warriors have taught me much over the years. They’ve helped me unearth my Girl Warrior.  To not be afraid of her magical powers. To celebrate. Honor. Appreciate. And applaud.

There’s no age limit to being a Girl Warrior.  She doesn’t look a particular way.  She comes in all ages, sizes, shapes, colors. She’s out there.  And inside every girl who enters the world.  She’s the face of hope at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.

The 10 Steps to Becoming a Girl Warrior:

My first Girl Warrior fearlessly staring down the camera.

1. Be real.  Authentically you.  Be the girl you are when you’re alone in your room.  The girl who sings into the hairbrush.  Or dances like a wild one.  The girl who jumps on the bed with crazy abandon.  And cries in the mirror so bad the mascara runs like black rivers down her cheeks.  A girl who curses at the ceiling and vows to never speak again. The one who drops to her knees and prays that someone or something is listening. Be the girl who not only hears the music but makes the music.  The girl who doesn’t just march to the beat of her own drum but runs, leaps and flies. She’s the leader of the band.  Not the groupie.  Open the door to your room. Let the rest of the world see this strong Girl Warrior.

2. Stare down your fears.  Look them straight in the eyes.  Laugh at them.  Call their bluff.  Walk right through them.  Don’t go around.  Don’t avoid.  Face them head-on. Take a deep breath.  Or a hundred  breaths.  Make your move.  And keep moving.  Shaky legs, a racing heart, lump in the throat or dry mouth are just the silly antics of fear.  Not real.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Find your brave heart and take it into battle. Give yourself a hug. Then go out and kick some ass.

My second Girl Warrior standing tall in her grad dress and shades.

3. Get a kick out of life.  Have fun.  Find things that amuse and delight you.  Not just once and awhile.  But every day.  Don’t put it off for the weekend. For vacation. Or another time.  Hoot and holler right now.  Find your zippity doo dah.  Make a joyful sound. Cause a ruckus.  Bang on your drum all day.  Laugh your guts out.  Until you cry.  Embrace happiness.  Enjoy the people you’re with right this very second.  Let them see your playful radiant blithe heart.

4. Open your heart wide and let in the love.  Go where your heart leads you. And don’t run from its softness. Let it be tender.  Kind. Compassionate.  Gentle.  Extend your hand to another and grab on tight.  Then let go.  There in lies your strength.  Love again.  Then again.  And again.  You don’t have to get it right. Or perfect.  Just let love come naturally.  Accept that sometimes it will hurt.  Don’t let this frighten you. Don’t push it away.  Or turn your back.  Don’t give up on it. Most importantly, learn to recognize love when it comes your way.  It doesn’t always come gift wrapped. Your power to love is your secret weapon.

The young Girl Warrior has dressed for the part.

5. Find your tribe. Your pack.  Your posse. Your band of sisters and brothers.  Surround yourself with people you trust, respect and enjoy.  You don’t have to always agree. You don’t even have to always get along.  But these are the faithful ones. Loyal. Steadfast. And true.  The ones who will be there for you.  With you. By your side.  The ones who have your back.  And will hold your hair back while you barf.

6. Follow your passions.  Therein lies your love affair with life. Be curious.  Channel your inner Curious George.  Do things that you love to do.  Be enthusiastic. Keen. Overflowing with zeal, zest and gusto.  Embrace new ideas and ways of doing the things you already know. Be creative.  Imaginative. Take the magical mystery tour.  Expand. Grow. Cultivate. Hone. Set your heart on fire.  Grab a handful.  Then another.  And another.  Gush about the things you love. Take risks. Embrace the failures on the way to your successes.  Learn and get on with it.  Dive in with your whole heart.

The bonus Girl Warrior sits on top of the world.

7. Be generous. In every way.  With everything and everybody.  Don’t be stingy.  Don’t withhold. Don’t hang onto things.  Never covet. Give of what you have.  What you know.  Give a little.  Or give a lot.  But give.  And forgive.  For that is the ultimate gift.  To others.  To yourself.  Give it all away without hesitation.  And watch it all come back in miraculous ways.  Go out there and be someone’s blessing. You will be blessed in return.  It’s the way of the Girl Warrior.

8. Be honest. Speak up.  Speak out. Speak your truth. Express yourself.  Whatever that means to you.  However that looks.  Tell it like it is.  Or how you wish it was.  Be bold.  Audacious in your speech. Intrepid with your message. But don’t use your words to slaughter.  Use your words to empower.  Elucidate.  Illuminate. Exalt. Demystify. Take ownership of what comes out of your mouth. Make it good.

The original Girl Warrior. Our queen in her floppy hat and hot pink pants.

9. Defend and stand up for something. That’s what true Girl Warriors do.  Don’t stand on the sidelines.  Believe in something.  If you haven’t got a cause.  Find one. The mission is personal. And it’s critical.  Don’t worry if you’re the only one fighting for it.  That’s not the point. If it’s meaningful to you, then get behind it.  Breathe life into it in a way only you can.  While you’re standing up for something, avoid putting someone else down. No matter how much you disagree. Cheap shots are easy and beneath you.  Defend their right to have their own beliefs.  Don’t kick or trample on the weak. Reach out and extend a helping hand. Invite them to stand with you.

10. Dress the part. Every Girl Warrior should have a costume.  Something that is uniquely her.  At first blush, it might look just like someone else’s.  Don’t be fooled.  No two Girl Warriors wear their costumes in the same way. This is your personal power suit.  Put it on.  Strut your stuff.  Don’t apologize for the cut, color or condition.  Walk.  Run.  Skip to my Lou.  Black leather jacket.  Frilly blouse.  Skinny jeans.  Mini skirt.  Floor length gown.  A sundress blooming with flowers.  Floppy hat.  Or fascinator.  A pinstriped suit. Kick-ass boots. Red stiletto shoes. It’s not about fashion. It’s about expression. Wearing the inside out.  It’s about attitude. Character. Originality. You are a rare bird Girl Warrior.  Know this.  So put on your cape.  And fly.