See the Cripple Dance | Post-surgery & post-break-up introspection with the Page of Cups

There are times when I know the message (warning? reminder?) a card is trying to give me, but I won’t allow myself to admit it.

Because it’s painful, because I’m afraid of the significance of change, because it’s just a piece of cardstock and I can trick myself into making it mean whatever I want it to mean.

But the figure on the card keeps nudging me. First gently, then more forcefully.

Within fourteen days, from mid- to late-June, I drew the Page of Cups as my daily card seven times. Seven times! When a card is that persistent, I know it’s trying to tell me something I cannot disregard, something I ignore at my own peril. When the Pages come up in my readings, I imagine them as postal workers, diligently carrying the day’s mail in a classic messenger bag, whistling as they wander, and handing me an unexpected letter.

The Spolia Tarot, the NEXT WORLD TAROT, the Radiant Waite Tarot.

In the Spolia Tarot, the Page of Cups is a long-haired mermaid carrying two red tulips. One in her hand, one in her cup, arms raised above her head, face turned to the side. She’s swimming under the sea, introspective and alone. She could be writing poetry or choreographing a one-creature performance.

The tulips represent falling in love and, as Jessa Crispin notes, “We used an underground cave, where water (feeling) has eroded away rock (stability) to create its own space.”

That’s the space I’ve been residing in these days.

Initially, after drawing this card multiple times, I joked that I must have a secret crush who’s getting ready to confide their feelings to me. But as it continued appearing, I knew it wasn’t a message about someone else falling in love with me, nor me falling in love with someone else, but myself falling in love with myself. Again. I knew it was about the body, the heart, and caring for myself. I knew it was about the potential joys of being alone.

I’ve been re-visiting See the Cripple Dance, re-reading my own columns to see what I’ve forgotten, what I’ve let go of, what I’ve learned.

Last Summer, I wrote about the Seven of Cups and the pleasure of sadness. I wrote about developing a crush on myself, and the desire to live multiple lives at once. My long-term relationship had ended, and I was dating somebody new. I made myself a mix-tape (later, I found a stereo on the sidewalk, the fanciest I’ve ever had in my possession, brought it home, and it destroyed the tape, a lesson in impermanence). I courted myself.

During that time, I also fell in love. With somebody else. I fell in love with somebody who was very unlike me in many ways, and very unlike somebody I’d expect myself to fall in love with. Though I thought we’d only have a summer together, we held one another close (though often long-distance) for thirteen months.

This June, I had a hysterectomy. Beforehand, I’d written about the Nine of Swords, subtitling the column “Tears, fears, & being both the caring and the cared for.” I wrote, as I often do, about fears coming true. I was worried about being abandoned during the surgery and recuperation process. I’d done a lot of work toward allowing people the opportunity to show up, rather than assuming they’ll let me down.

That language is intentional. I’ve been trying to replace the word ‘abandonment’ with words like ‘let down’ or ‘disappointed’ when they feel more accurate. Because they contain less baggage, aren’t as deeply associated with trauma and chronic illness, and aren’t used in diagnostic criteria. They leave the door open to be returned to. Being let down or disappointed isn’t trivial, but it doesn’t need to be disastrous.

In the Next World Tarot, the Page of Cups lingers on the sidewalk, with ivy, morning glories, and love notes scattered at their feet. They hold a pink notebook in one hand, and their cane in the other. Cristy Road writes, “They ask you to take your gut reaction and your infatuations seriously.” Like the mermaid, this figure looks to the side, thoughtful and solitary. They’re living poetry, inhabiting their own internal landscapes.

When I kept drawing this card, including on the day of my hysterectomy and the day after, I knew it meant I’d be going through this on my own. In many ways, of course I would be – it’s an individual process that I could only experience alone, the scars are on my body alone, and the feelings about my gender and my pain and my body that I haven’t found words for are contained within my psyche alone – but I knew the card meant I’d be physically alone, too. I didn’t want to admit it because it felt annoyingly cynical to do so. It felt like giving up too soon.

Long before the incisions on my stomach could heal, long before I was fully capable of taking care of my temporarily wounded body, we broke up.

As I look back at each of these columns, I see the heartache that was lurking, the grief that was hiding around the corner. But I see a kind of optimism, too: a refusal to hide from or avoid pain, a refusal to give up or lose hope, and a refusal to believe that I am not worthy of the forms of care and affection I wish to possess (and to give). Not only that, but I recognize now that I made a concentrated effort to refuse to protect myself from joy, which is to say, I refused to protect myself from the despair and disillusionment that would inevitably follow. Those refusals, those choices, are significant risks – emotionally and creatively – and I am changed for having made them.

In What is the Season of Your Life? Preparing for Chiron Retrograde, author, poet, and Tarot reader Liz Worth writes about a turning point that occurs after the Summer Solstice, making space for special projects, and reflecting on changes in her personal life. She writes about goodbyes, new friendships, and noticing what?s in bloom:

It doesn’t have to be a creative vision, or a major overhaul. It can take any form, really, from how you move your body to what kind of food you cook, or a new list of books you’d like to read? Changes on a personal scale will continue to take priority this season. Especially when it comes to slowing down and finding ways to do less.”

On July 5th, shortly after my surgery, Chiron, oft-referred to as the Wounded Healer, began a retrograde phase that’ll last til December 9th. Chiron is a minor planet, an entity I like to claim as a friend, that can teach us not only about our own healing capacities, but our abilities to feel compassion with others, too. Liz Worth continues, “Chiron is in Aries right now, highlighting the ways in which we feel we can’t be our true selves.? Allow yourself to look at the times when you felt you had to change for someone else. Or when you were made to feel unwelcome, or discouraged to come as you are.”

Toward the end of the relationship, I had to admit that that was how I’d felt. That I’d tried to deny it for a long time, wanting to hold onto the good – and there was so much fucking good – but I recognized there were parts of me I felt a need to hide, to disavow, and I couldn’t do that anymore. It’s a lesson I’ve learned many times, and it was taught to me again.

The Page, of course, is a perpetual student, clumsy but enthusiastic.

After the break-up, some friends sent me poetry. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall by Kim Addonizio. Each poem – and the knowledge that somebody would make the effort to bring them to my attention – has brought a sense of comfort and a feeling of artfulness and constructive-introspection to my recovery-days.

The flower shown in the more traditional Rider-Waite-Smith deck, printed on the fabric of the figure’s outfit, is a lotus. I’m reminded of a Buddhist perspective on the significance of the lotus, distilled into the title of a book by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh: No Mud, No Lotus. This exquisite floating flower, with its soft pink petals and delicate, cup-like shape, can’t bloom, can’t survive, without the mud, the muck, the sludge, the slime. When the flowers with and die, which they will always do, they’ll become the compost, the mud, that makes it possible for the next flower to grow, to flourish.

The Next World Tarot labels the Page of Cups as The Home of Expression. And Liz Worth dares us to ask ourselves: “Who am I ready to be?”

As I use this card to cope not only with a break-up, but with a process of recuperation from a much-desired surgical procedure (and the embodiment of a changed body!), it’s important for me to note that there’s no destruction here. No damage, no harm, no ruin. Thoughts and urges of a destructive or self-destructive nature do occur when I’m experiencing loss, and yes, I’ve been crying, but because I’ve got so much good going on, and because I”ve spent immeasurable time and energy developing new skills, habits, thoughts, and dreams that make me wanna live, the impulse to hurt myself, or to retaliate, passes through me quicker than it used to, and feels less necessary or inevitable than it used to.

Right now, I’m ready to be the Page of Cups, to study emotion and sensitivity, loss and creativity. I’m ready to inhabit the ocean portrayed in one card, and the city streets littered with poems portrayed in the other. I’m emerging from the mud and blossoming anew.

2 comments

  1. Angharad says:

    This is so beautiful. And there’s a unique kind of beauty in heartbreak – the kind that breaks us open into a new way of life and being. The times I’ve felt most in tune with that self-love you describe so well have mostly been poised on the edge of heartbreak. But that’s not to deny the pain.

    I remember crying my eyes out the day before an ex broke up with me, for no discernable logical reason, except that my body knew what was coming before my poor, deluded heart did.

    Thank you for this piece. It’s a gift.

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