Once a doctor says, definitively, "you have cancer," your world is never the same. It - the realization that you have this insidious disease - never really leaves. Even in the best of worlds, which is how I often view my life, cancer is always somewhere nearby - one aisle over at the grocery, three rows back at the concert, just stepping off the elevator as I get on. Inevitably, it sometimes slips a little closer and colors my outlook for a time until I brush it back to the side yet again.
Last Thursday evening, Warren and I attended an open house for a new senior housing community in Delaware. Many of the speeches were about community: the community of seniors living there, the greater community of Delaware. While the speakers talked, I looked around the atrium seeing who I knew. I saw my friend Donna, who works with our local seniors agency, across the room.
When I was younger, I used to imagine an "ideal" old age. Assuming that most of my women friends and I would outlive our husbands or significant others, I imagined us all coming together in a community setting, perhaps living in closely linked cottages, not unlike this new senior community that just opened. We would share tea and great-grandchildren's pictures, swap books back and forth, attend movies and concerts together, and admire one another's gardens. It was a vision not unlike the new senior community that was being opened, and hearing the speakers brought my old dream to mind.
So when I saw Donna, who is funny and feisty and bright, I automatically thought "Donna would be a good friend to add to that village."
And right on the heels of that thought, which had made me smile, was this one: "I'm probably not going to live long enough to put together my ladies' community."
Warren was standing right next to me and I half-turned away from him, not wanting to alarm him in case that bleak thought was on my face. But the thought clung tenaciously to me, and this morning, in the truck as we drove out of town, I told him what had gone through my mind, adding, "it makes me sad sometimes. Especially when I think of leaving you…"
I didn't finish that sentence because it is hard to talk when your throat suddenly closes up with emotion.
Warren had to swallow hard himself as he replied "I think about that sometimes too."
We drove on in silence for a little while. Thoughts of all kinds kept chasing around in my mind, refusing to slow long enough for me to grab and articulate. Finally, one lit on my tongue.
October started off with a frost - not a hard one, but brisk enough to lay waste to most of my garden. Improbably, some of the pumpkin vines not only survived but have continued to produce blossoms. Warren had pointed that fact out a few days ago and this morning I walked down to the sod garden and took a photo of them.
Those blossoms will never turn into pumpkins. Their season is over; the sun is growing ever distant and cooler. The next frost may be a killing one. They are bedraggled and surrounded by dead and dying vines, but they still open up every day to greet the morning light.
Now, in the silent car, I mentioned them, adding "if that's not a sign of hope, I don't know what is."
I don't know what my future holds. None of us do. I know what I hope it holds: many years yet of family and community and friends and, most precious of all, Warren. But I don't know for sure and as my oncologist once said, in a different context, "you have one bad card in that hand you've been dealt."
Knowing that just strengthens my resolve to live all the more deliberately and purposefully.
Although my season may be much shorter than I hope, I will take my cue from the pumpkin blossoms. Let me open to the morning sun - no matter how distant and cool it may become - and celebrate the day.