Part 1: Before the Surgery


“You’re a very pretty girl.  You won’t be after this.”   These were the words my neurosurgeon had for me a few days before performing surgery to remove a tumor from my head – a tumor the size of a baseball that we had just discovered only a week before.

When he told me this, I was lying in a hospital bed, after having just had a procedure that was supposed to minimize the bleeding in my brain during surgery.  I wasn’t allowed to move my legs (they had gone through a major artery in my upper thigh).  I couldn’t run, so my body started shaking instead.

“You’ll never be able to smell again.  We‘re going to have to cut through all your olfactory nerves…and there are, of course, risks to this surgery.”  Of course there are.  “You could wake up blind, paralyzed, get an infection in your brain….”

I was 20.  It was 2 weeks before my 21st birthday.  I didn’t know how to be with this.  I didn’t want any of it.

I appreciated the neurosurgeon’s honesty and directness.  He didn’t coddle me.  I learned later that he had a daughter my age and that his heart ached for me.  At the time, I simply thought he was cold and ruthless in his delivery.

I was released from the hospital the next day and told to come back Sunday night for my surgery that was scheduled for early Monday morning.  I had 2 days to deal with this.  I needed to move quickly.

I had an amazing boyfriend at the time, Tim.  I remember spending one evening that weekend staring at myself in the mirror, trying to imagine what I would look like “after the surgery”.  The neurosurgeon had showed me all the places that they would have to cut – down the center of my forehead, across my eyebrows, down the sides of my nose, across the top of my head…and of course, they would shave my hair.

Tim came over to stand beside me.  He didn’t try to make me feel better.  He just loved me.  Tim was a man who never resisted how Life was moving.  He didn’t pretend that he could control life.  He didn’t argue with life or beg it to be different than it was.  He just showed up and met it as best he could.  He was my teacher, even though I didn’t know this until many years later, well after we had gone our separate ways.

My mother, sister and I went to the hospital on Sunday evening.  It wasn’t until we were settled into my room that it really hit me.  “My world is about to change and there is nothing I can do.  I could die.  I could wake up from the surgery blind or paralyzed.  I could wake up horribly disfigured.”   I didn’t know which was worse.  I started shaking and sobbing.  My mother and sister didn’t know what to do.  They nervously moved around the room, wishing they could do something to help me.

The sobbing continued for a few more moments.  Then…as my being faced the reality that there was nothing I could do to get out of this moment…something surrendered.  It wasn’t anything “I” did.  The surrender happened only in the seeing that I couldn’t escape what was happening.  And something else came in.

That is the only way I can describe it.  One moment there was this unbelievable suffering and then in the next moment, there was just this Love and Presence.  It was me and not me.  And in that moment, I knew that it didn’t matter what happened – I could die, I could be disfigured, paralyzed, blind – it didn’t matter.  This Love was here and it was so much bigger than any of it.  This Love, that was me and more than me at the same time, It could meet whatever the next day was going to bring.

I woke up the next morning ready.  They came early to get me and prepare me for surgery.  My mom was crying.  I was calm.  I tried to tell her it was okay – not that everything would necessarily be “okay”, because the reality was that from the outside, it might end up not working out so well for her daughter – but that at the truest, deepest level, it was really okay.

This was the gift of “before surgery”.  There were many more gifts to come with “after surgery” – when – as my teacher Adyashanti likes to say, “the rubber really hits the road”.