In the Rockies

In the Rockies
Butler Gulch

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Time We Have

                   School children and a parent admiring the poinsettia tree in the Cheekwood mansion.

When the life of a friend sixteen years younger is shortened, depending on whether or not the friend tries another treatment, it forces me to think of my time on this planet. My friend is sixty-two. I am seventy-eight. She has two kinds of cancer. I am, as far as I know, in excellent health. I realize that I don't have as much energy as I once did when the simple tasks of waiting on her and driving to see doctors on streets, some of which I once knew, but which after almost twenty years, seemed barely familiar, made me feel like a nap would be a good idea. Then I realized that the fatigue might be accentuated by my avoidance of what my friend is facing. There is much unknown. I intended to wait to write until after tomorrow's two doctors appointments. However, writing about the unknown feels fitting. The doctors will only have projections and maybe only vague ones. After two stints in the hospital in a month, many treatments and transfusions, my friend is considering a decision not to undergo more treatment.

Last December 21st, another friend walked out of her bathroom about 10:30 pm and fell to the floor, suffering what a week later would be a fatal stroke. She had no stroke risks, no family history. She ate healthy foods and exercised regularly. Her weight was perfect for her tall frame, her blood pressure normal, and so forth. She did not regain consciousness, left without a chance for us to say goodbye.

Wednesday, before I leave Chattanooga to drive back to Nashville, I intend to have coffee with another friend from my years in this community. She is eighty-six, in reasonable health and will drive about thirty minutes from a congested suburban area to meet me in the heart of the city.  She is eleven years older than my friend who had the stroke and twenty four years older than my friend with whom I am visiting. She is eight years older than me.

There is no guarantee that I will live to be eighty six, no guarantee that I will live longer than the moments I am experiencing now. Do I think of life that way? No. I plan to drive two other women to a weekend retreat at the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse three hours northeast of Nashville on Friday. I expect to make my volunteer shift at Holiday Lights at Cheekwood Wednesday evening and lead a tour of blind middle schoolers at Cheekwood's Japanese Gardens on Thursday. If I thought this was the last week I had on this planet, are those the things I would do? Are there other friends in this city that I'd make sure I would see? Likely not.

Would I want to interrupt my son and daughter-in-law's lives and insist on time with them. I might. I would want to see my grandsons again, but with them in four different states, I would need to know I was dying and yet be alert. Even then not all would come. I would want to see my two long-time hiking friends, those who accompanied me on my spiritual journey, and my daughter. None live near my current home.  And if I were able, I would still want to lead the tour for the blind students.

That fact is reassuring. As uplifting as Loretto is, I wouldn't make that trip. Others in the group are very connected to the Sister who will speak with us and with each other. I went for the first time last year after joining the centering prayer group from which this retreat emanates three months earlier. I will meet one of the women who is riding with me in our building's parking lot on Friday. I am hopeful that the weekend will be peaceful, perhaps enlightening. Other than occasional shifts at Thistle Farms, the business developed for the women in recovery at Magdalene House, leading groups of school children through Cheekwood's gardens is my volunteer mission. With winter coming, tours will be on hiatus until March.

That gives me two months to write the novel, get the story down, and time, if I'm willing, to send out dozens more query letters promoting my memoir to literary agents. Will I do that? It's a question that I can't positively answer. Is shining light on the particular evils that marred my childhood important to others? I've thought that it was, but most days now I feel that bringing joy to others is more important. At times I am haunted by a comment a women acquaintance said in passing several years ago. "I your book helps one person, it will be worth publishing it."

I spend as much time as possible in our county's wooded parks, walking and hiking the trails. Our fall has been long and the last colors just now fading. I've driven to Radnor Lake many afternoons as the light fades to find joy on those trails. The next three months will be different, but I will go when the weather permits, not only for healthy exercise, but for the peace and joy those woods bring. That, I know, is one of the blessings of my childhood--finding peace and joy in the woods.

I believe my memoir describes that peace, but perhaps not as fully as it could. That task, reading through the sections that describe my time outside, my pleasure with the flowers and fields, that I'm willing to re-read, edit and bring into sharper focus. Then perhaps I'll once again be motivated to send out those letters that feel as if they are dropping into a black internet hole.

Maybe the Loretto retreat will bring clarity. This slice of life doesn't seem as meaningful as those last years in Colorado. It's living into the unknown that is one of life's challenges. There is much to enjoy. Perhaps the joy is just in being--not as easy as in doing. Maybe there will be some of both in the days ahead. Relish each moment for each is a gift.