It was a year ago that the presence of a silently growing mass called cancer was revealed to us by Karen’s OB in the sterile little hospital room in which she lie in recovery. This was the same man who presided over the birth of our two children 18 and 15 years prior and introduced us to the little boy and little girl that grew inside the same space that now housed the tumor. Life and death are ironically and intimately connected.
But now a year later, I sit at home writing about these memories as Karen is inside, getting ready to go into the restaurant, which now for her includes the added routine of washing and styling her hair. It has come back in such new found glory, it makes the months of baldness seem like a distant past.. Black and thick, seasoned with a sprinkling of gray around the temples, it has a vibrancy now that makes her look better than ever. The chemo brought death to the old, but made way for life of the new.
I can’t help but think of our good fortune in this story and not consider those whose story has not brought the same kind of relief. Not only cancer, but other suffering brought on by earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters. The stories from the recent Joplin tornado show how some were spared and others were not. The twister passes over one house and destroys another. A child is pulled away from a mother’s arms. One survives, another does not.
Even today, this holiday we call Memorial Day, calls us who enjoy life to remember those who lost theirs in our nation’s many conflicts. Life and death are inseparable.
The older I get, the less answers it seems I have to the more difficult questions that our human condition provokes us to ask. The biggest and most daunting ones begin with the three letter word, why?
Sometimes the why can be answered. Why was I careless? Why didn’t I take more precaution? Why didn’t I take better care of myself? But at other times, why can seem like a futile exercise, like explaining the importance of math to a 7th grader. In his mind, it feels like nothing more than a boring waste of time.
In my quest for living a more sustainable life, the one ingredient I have discovered that rises above all others is gratitude. Being grateful for what I have, as well as for what I don’t. Gratitude for what is right now trumps over the fear of what might be.
I don’t know what I will have tomorrow, but I know that today, I have a wife that is healthy, beautiful and able to enjoy life with me at this stage. Cancer, or any other malady or catastrophe could show up tomorrow. It is beyond my control.
Last year, as Karen’s OB was allowing the aftershock of the news he had just announced to us to settle in, he offered this advice; Even though it was normal for us to want to think in terms of odds and treatment percentages and chances of survival, he instead directed us to focus on all the positive things that we know right now. He reminded us that the cancer was detected early, and it is a treatable disease, and that we have a great network of support around us. These three were in our favor and we can be grateful for such.