Longfellow’s classic poem warns, “Into each life some rain must fall.” But how are we supposed to cope when life seems to be a never-ending series of gully-washers?
A couple of months ago I took a trip to Washington state with two of my sisters, Carolyn and Libby. A branch of our extended family migrated there 35 years ago and we were excited to see our cousins, their families, and the Seattle area. Mother Nature was on her best behavior and it only rained once, despite the area’s well-earned reputation for drizzle. Seattleites have had to master the art of dashing between the raindrops.
That sounds like a game plan for life.
Our trip to Seattle was both extra special and challenging to orchestrate because we had to plan around my sisters’ medical appointments. They both have cancer.
That disease has brought more torrential storms to our family than anyone could have dreamt:
21 years ago my nephew Michael was diagnosed at birth with cancer of the eyes.
19 years ago my brother Pat, Michael’s father, was diagnosed with brain cancer.
9 years ago my husband Bill was diagnosed with melanoma.
7 years ago my sister Mary Kay was diagnosed with breast cancer.
6 years ago my sister Libby was diagnosed with brain cancer.
3 years ago my brother Bill was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue.
1 year ago my sister Carolyn was diagnosed with breast cancer.
This list doesn’t even include dear cousins, aunts and uncles who have also had cancer. The big C is the big rainmaker in our family, but the bad weather doesn’t stop there. 2016 was also a banner year for non-cancerous deluges like my husband’s several trips to the hospital, my dad’s failing strength, my niece Faith’s recurring health challenges, and my sister Terry’s house burning to the ground.
We need an ark.
For God’s sake, sometimes I think we should build an ark, march the people we love into it two-by-two, batten down the hatches and ride out the storms. We could hide until the sun shines again and a white dove sent out as emissary returns with an olive branch in its beak. Then we’ll know that dry land is near, and it will never rain again. Except it will.
There will always be rain. Life needs rain as much as it needs sun, and we don’t get to choose the weather; all we can control is how we handle it. We can trudge through the rain in weary acceptance, head down, concentrating on the puddles at our feet. We can dash through, blind to our surroundings and focused on a distant point where we hope to be safe and dry. Or we can dance.
I want to dance.
I want to dance full out, arms a-twirling, holding nothing back. I want to dance, not just between the showers, but right into the heart of the storm. Life can’t be put on hold until we get the weather we want in some faraway future. It happens whether we’re feelin’ it or not. If we’re looking down or running blindly forward, we’ll miss the silver lining edging the clouds. We’ll miss the sun peaking out at last, as it always does, turning the raindrops to sparkling diamonds. We’ll miss the arcing promise of a rainbow.
We don’t want to miss any of it because, as I constantly have to remind myself, every moment of life is a gift worthy of celebration.
Libby, me and Carolyn. Up, up and away!
That’s why we boogied over to Seattle. The scenery was spectacular, our cousins were fabulous, and we treasured every moment together. That’s why Carolyn and I put on our dancing shoes again last month when she had a few weeks between surgery and radiation, beating the crowds down to New Orleans for a pre-Mardi Gras weekend tango. We had a blast.
My family has had its share of sorrow, but we’ve also been blessed with silver linings enough to replate every tea service in Buckingham Palace.
We lost Pat when he was 35, but his wife and children are thriving, loving credits to him. Michael will graduate from college this year.
Mary Kay, Bill and my husband are out of the woods and cancer free.
Carolyn had every possible nasty side effect from chemo and surgery, a track record we hope won’t continue during radiation, but her prognosis is good.
Terry and her husband lost almost everything they owned in the fire, but recently moved into a brand new house which is the envy of the neighborhood.
Faith, who was born with multiple health problems, continues to learn and grow. At 6-years-old she has made developmental strides that many never thought possible.
Carolyn & I preparing to grab mint juleps and don hoop skirts at a New Orleans plantation.
Libby’s long-term prognosis is not great, but she responded miraculously to a new chemo last year and is still living her life. She’s not giving up despite the challenges that have come along with cancer and radiation to the brain. Libby makes every day count by helping others and seeking the Lord, and her determination inspires me no end.
Our family has drawn even closer through these storms. The in-town siblings and our parents have gone above and beyond to help one another, while the out-of-towners have stepped up their visits and calls, pitching in wherever they can. Witnessing this goodness is the brilliant silver shining through dark clouds, as are our children and now grandchildren who grow and flourish. Life goes on.
None of us knows how many days we’ll get. The weatherman is a notoriously lousy forecaster. Life, with its ever-shifting patterns of joy and despair, is here – right here, and right now. Whether we have thousands of tomorrows, or only today, whether in sunshine or in rain, let us vow to make every one of those days count.
Come on! Let’s dance.
I got a little present in the mail the day before our trip to Seattle. It was a book I had been anticipating; “Beauty and the Breast” by Merrill Joan Gerber.
Merrill’s editor, Catherine, reached out to me last year to ask if they could use an illustration I’d crafted in Merrill’s upcoming memoir. It was from a post, “Playing The Cancer Card,” I was delighted to be included and not just because of the very kind plug she gave me in the book. Merrill’s description of her journey through the strange, new world of cancer is warm and wise. It’s by turn funny and despairing, but always heartrendingly personal.
Here’s an excerpt that showcases Merrill’s powerful writing. She describes the moments right after her doctor said the word that changed her life forever:
“A nurse arrives with my husband. “I have cancer,” I say. He takes my hand. He’s not the Joe he used to be either. We are sliding on black ice straight down a steep mountain; we are about to crash and burn.”
Her story was all the more gripping because, as it turns out, Merrill had the same type of breast cancer as my sister, Carolyn.
This is a great read for anyone, especially those going through cancer treatment. Don’t take my word for it. Here are just a couple of the glowing reviews “Beauty and the Breast” has garnered from authors who certainly know more than I about good writing:
“An intimate, touching, moving portrait of the self in peril and in pain…” – Joyce Carol Oates
“I LOVE IT!! I could not put it down.” – Judy Blume
Click on the link to learn more about, “Beauty and the Breast” , buy it on Amazon, and travel with Merrill on her journey through the storm. You won’t be sorry.