Yesterday a friend died. I had not seen her in years. The crispness is hard to cling to, to keep and maintain. Life gets busy and in the way. The edges blur. I am overwhelmingly sad. And it reminded me of something I wrote that I have never shared. It might be time.
Twenty six months ago yesterday I woke up thinking my dog had a cold she couldn’t kick. I went to bed (but not to sleep) while she fought for her life in the ICU. She had emergency surgery to remove a rapidly growing cancer that was closing off her airway. She almost died on the table. I’d gotten a call asking if they could give her blood, she’d lost so much it was her only hope. “I want my kid back”, I said. “Whatever it takes, I want my kid back.”
I wrote this while she slept in my arms on a couch in the ICU visiting area the next day. My whole world had come crisply into focus, stark clarity. I was hyper aware of each moment. I was grateful for each moment. I was wishing my whole life could be that sharp.
Life can change in an instant. I know we all know it. But we always forget it. And we shouldn’t.
We all know we could be hit by the proverbial bus, our plane could fall from the sky, a drunk driver or overtired trucker could come careening into us head first in the fast lane. But these things happen to “other people”. Until they happen to you.
You might wake up one day thinking your dog has a cold and go to bed being told she might die. I know. It happened to me.
This is how I find myself in a fabric covered, movable wall cubicle at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center with my kid laying on the seat next to me, head in my lap as I watch her sleep. Her chest rises and falls and I am overwhelmed by the miracle of this small action. This super charged moment is one that last night I was not guaranteed I would have. I cannot believe the gratitude I feel for this moment now. We forget the so simple things.
As she sleeps I watch a diagonal patch of sunlight on the wall. It is two bricks wide, at the bottom, two solid bricks. At the top it is ½ brick, 1 brick, ½ brick. I stare at the sunlight and am surprised how bright and intense it glows when I focus in on it. How sharp and defined the edges are. Then moments later that clarity fades as the cones in my eyes fatigue and the edges blur. This is so like life. We have moments of clarity. But in the living that is life, the edges blur, become less distinct, fuzzy. It really does require that we be intentional in our thoughts and efforts to keep those things that matter most in focus, shining brightly.
I watch more and can see the sun moving, or more appropriately, my little patch of sunlight moving. At first I thought it was a delusion brought on by the bleariness of my brain, the burning in my eyes, the exhaustion of a sleepless night and endless hours of worry. But it really was moving and fast enough that I could see. I watched it move to left until it was 2 full bricks on top, ½ brick, 1 brick, ½ brick on the bottom. I watched as it started to sink into the floor and felt panic as my small patch of sunlight started to give way.
The sunlight has come to represent all the Good in the world against the huge and endless wall of Bad, Unknown, Scary. I ponder the significance of the fact that in the big, big sky the sun moves so slowly that we do not take heed. Time passes, the earth moves, life goes on and we don’t really notice the minute passages of time. Here, in this cubicle, in this moment, everything is heightened. The passage of time, Jezzie’s small chest moving rhythmically up and down with each breath, each miraculous breath that I am so grateful for in this moment, it is all so big, bright, in sharpened focus.
Yes, these are the things my mind focuses on to avoid thinking about whether Jezebel has pappiloma or carcinoma and what the future holds. The only thing I know for certain is that at this moment, this is far from over.
Epilogue: It is now two years and two months since that day. I still have Jezebel here with me. After her diagnosis of pappilary squamous cell carcinoma, she was given three months to live. I do not know if the monster will rise and take my kid or whether we have beat this thing. We live in the shadow of the spector. We make the most of each day. Even with a constant reminder of the fragility and suddenness of life the edges sometimes blur. I am working on it though, I am working.
Do yourself a favor, make every effort to bring life into sharp focus. Remember to live intensely and intently. Tonight Jameson and Junie arrive. A week ago I did not know if we would be allowed to bring them here and find them an excellent life. Their homecoming will shine brightly. It will be made of Technicolor and fireworks. I am grateful that as I mourn a friend, I have this miracle to marvel. Rest easy Sue. You were a mentor, a leader, a comrade, a co-conspirator and a friend.