The Sky Begins at Your Feet

carynbookcoverThe Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community and Coming Home to the Body, is the title of a recently published book by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, poet laureate of Kansas.

Caryn, as many of us decide to do during treatment, kept a journal of her experiences (out of which this memoir was born), but unlike many of us I suspect, she would hand her oncologist pages of the journal to put in with her chart.  It was she says “how he came to know me”.  I love this idea that Caryn connected with her doctor in this way and that he could see her as a whole person, not just another patient.

I have read many cancer memoirs since the day I was diagnosed, and the majority of these are, well let’s be honest, quite prosaic.  At this stage of my journey with cancer, I am looking for something a bit deeper in my reading, something that speaks to my soul. In Caryn’s writings, I have found this.

The subtitle of this book, A Memoir on Cancer, Community and Coming Home to the Body, promises that this book is more than a mere recounting of surgical and chemotherapeutic interventions. Caryn also writes of how her community, friends, family and the beauty of the earth and sky helped her negotiate her journey with cancer.

As befits her calling as a poet, Caryn paints scenes with her words, which evoke sense memories of my own experiences. Her transcendent retelling of these scenes make me almost want to go back to those experiences and live them more deeply. I identify strongly with Caryn’s connection to nature as a source of healing,  but Caryn takes this connection to an even deeper level of meaning. In one memorable scene in the book. Caryn returns home with shorn hair clippings, having decided to shave her head following her first round of chemotherapy. She tells her young son that they are going to give it to the birds so they can make nests out of it. Taking “soft, weightless handfuls” of her hair in their open palms, mother and child scatter the hair in the yard, “both of us imagining baby birds sleeping in my hair, high up in trees.” The book is filled with many such poignantly beautiful rituals, making a sacred art of her experiences.

Caryn is quite clear on her belief that reaching out, not just to family and friends, but to the wider community is a vital step on the healing journey. She is an advocate of the “it takes a village” notion that the care and healing of a person is a community effort, benefitting not just the individual, but the community as a whole.

Finally, and perhaps most fittingly for me at this stage of my journey with cancer, the author’s belief that our bodies are  “the most local earth we inhabit”, was a call to compassion for my own body. While I sometimes struggle with an altered body image, Caryn teaches me to see my body as a part of the earth, “to forgive my imperfections and learn to love being in this flawed but still amazing body (as all our bodies are flawed and still amazing)”.  She reminds me to love my body for what it is right now, to return again to this body as my home, something which ties in seemlessly with my practise of mindful meditation. Just as I can see beauty in nature ravaged by winds and rains, I can surely learn to see that same beauty in the myriad scars of my own body, which bear testimony to my battle with cancer.

I read this delightful book in one sitting, and after finishing the last page, I took a long, slow, mindful breath, and inspired and strengthened by its message, I examined the road-map of scars which criss-cross my body, my home, my earth.  I worked my way up from those faintly visible scars from childhood falls and scrapes, the tomboy climbing gates and trees, running headlong and heedlessly at life; the child learning to ride a bicycle on her first bid for independence and freedom; the raised appendix scar on my tummy; the scar on my arm, gained from a brush with childhood cancer, until I finish at my most recent scar from breast surgery. I looked at that scar and marveled at the skill of the surgeon who performed his life-saving work, cutting away the cancer from my body. Writer, Dana Jennings describes scars as “primal tattoos, marks of distinction that showed you had been tried and had survived the test.”

Each of my scars tells its own story. I haven’t always loved my scars, and society certainly doesn’t encourage us to celebrate them, but Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg in her memoir has taught me to love them as the signs that show the world that like the author, I have indeed been tested and survived the test, stronger, wiser, and more compassionate than before.


I am delighted to have had this opportunity to host Caryn on her blog tour.

Visit Caryn’s website and her blog to learn more about the author and her transformational work. You can also purchase a copy of The Sky Begins from her website.