The other day I had a lengthy scan at the B.C. Cancer Agency, part of a strange series of tests and diagnostics I’ve been engaged in for the past four and a half months. For this one, I was injected with radioactive glucose. I sat in a chair with a warmed flannel blanket over me, listening to Bach — the nursing team are kindness incarnate — while the glucose was distributed through my body. I wasn’t allowed to read. So I thought instead. Having heard this morning’s Quirks and Quarks show on meditation, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t meditating. I thought of the Venus of Laussel, a limestone bas-relief sculpture I saw a few years ago in Bordeaux. She dates from 29000-22000 B.C.E. and has traces of red ochre on her breasts and abdomen. When I saw her, I knew her. There’s nothing pop about her body. She’s full and abundant. She’s one of a group of female figures from the Paleolithic period and although there’s some debate about what she’s holding — a horn of plenty? A symbol of a woman’s lunar cycles (there are 13 lines inscribed in the shape)? — I think it’s clear that she’s a fertility symbol. A woman who has likely born children and has known good meals, who has probably even provided them, from her own body and her own ingenuity.
She was a good companion for me during that part of the procedure. And when I had to lie on the narrow plank and enter the long cylinder for the scan itself — it took 20 minutes — I closed my eyes and thought of her again. It helped immensely to have her present. I brought to my mind’s eye my husband and my children, their partners, my 3 grandchildren. Then I visualized each of my books, counting them by genre — 3 collections of poetry, 3 novellas, 3 novels, 2 collections of essays, and 1 memoir. I concentrated on their covers. Each image. Could I remember the fonts used for the titles? My eyelids fluttered with effort and I almost cried. I was afraid if I opened my eyes, I would be nothing. I would be someone with radioactive glucose in her body and possibly something worse. But the goddess, her face absent of features but her body so complex and whole, stayed with me the whole time.
And when I came ouf of the cylinder, it was like being reborn. Sort of. I thought of John Berger’s observations about the Chauvet Cave:
Step outside the cave and re-enter the wind-rush of time passing. Reassume names. Inside the cave everything is present and nameless. Inside the cave there is fear, but the fear is in perfect balance with a sense of protection.