The Edge of the Map


My friend Laura’s husband Ben has Parkinsons and is dying from leukemia. Laura and Ben have a good friend, a medical doctor, who accompanies them to every doctor’s appointment. During their last visit, the oncologist pulled up Ben’s chart on his computer, and then made steady eye contact with the couple. He said he didn’t advise further treatment. Best to wait and see if Ben shows any signs of improvement from the last round of chemo.

The three friends secured their seat belts for the seven hour ride back to Vermont from Manhattan. What do you think he was he saying? Ben asked his doctor friend.

Well, he replied, remember those old maps of the world, where you’d get to the edge, the precipice, and there would be a sign pointing over the cliff into the realm of the dragons? Into the Great Unknown?

You’ve crossed over into the land of the dragon, he told Ben.

I have been thinking about this, what it means to stand at the edge of the unknown. How uncomfortable that makes me. I want to know what comes next, where I’ll be in a year, in five, in ten. Will my husband still be alive? Will I?

I do all kinds of things to deal with the anxiety this not knowing produces. I cook, putter with my plants, organize my closet by color, barely manage my abject craving for sugar. I’m currently reading Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life, and have made a list of emergency supplies: the obvious, like waterproof matches, flashlight, batteries and protein bars. But then there’s duct tape, bolt cutters, a tactical spy pen with a sharp pointy end, and of course, American dollars. Why am I doing this? Because I don’t feel safe. Because I want to flee. Because the edge of the map is a frightening place to be right now. Our children are killing other children with semi-automatic rifles. Nature is up at bat and swinging: biblical floods and tornadoes, blizzards and record heat waves. And our leaders have ripped off their masks and we are staring at the hideous, deformed faces of Greed, Corruption and Cruelty.

So. Once a week I go to a 90 minutes yin yoga class. It’s mostly done on the floor with stretches that open rusty gates deep inside my lower back and hips, and long slow breaths into muscles that have tightened in fear. My anxiety is immediately apparent to me once I’m lying on the mat. I check my watch, clandestinely, every 15 minutes. But by the end of the class I don’t give a rat about what time it is because I have finally let go of my fierce toe hold at the edge of the map. And in this place of openness I know that whatever information I need about how to stay safe won’t come from my spy book (too much Nancy Drew during formative years), but from the still small voice within.

I practice. I set aside 20 minutes every morning, light a candle, and sit in the silence. Most days, all I hear is my own monkey mind rolling out the endless fretting over who I might have harmed and who has harmed me, the endless list of endless chores. But sometimes I hear it. A murmur. An intuition, whispering that the connections we nurture with each other are what give us the courage and strength to face the unknown.  And in the alchemical future that we are dreaming into reality together, I know beyond logic that if I step over the edge, love is the only safety net I need.

Every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”
(Walter Brueggemann, b. 1933)

10 thoughts on “The Edge of the Map

  1. Sweetheart, What a beautiful, clear, open vulnerability and truthfulness, so exquisitely and courageously expressed. There is so much strength in this openness and vulnerability. Presenting this tender face seems to me like connecting again to the Great and Good Cosmic Mother whose heart effortlessly springs open with compassionate, attentive Love and makes room inside Herself for us and all our needs . Thanks for showing the way.


  2. I feel an odd sense of safety tinged within anxiety on the edge of the abyss, and, usually, I lean into my fear.


  3. Nancy, When I went through cancer treatment, it felt like I was channeling a message that all we need is love, on this side of the abyss. And when I looked over the edge, I wasn’t afraid. The Beatles, sages after all.


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