For me - and the woman I used to be - cancer became The Scariest Thing in my life. Like every scary thing that comes to fruition, it had never previously crossed my mind. No. My mind was too consumed with all the things that most likely will never happen. All that worrying. Why? It is such a waste. But the cancer did happen, and I wanted everyone to feel as sorry for me as I did for myself and howl about the unfairness of it all. I wanted sympathy. I even wanted the kind you get from an Irish mammy over endless cups of tea with reminders that there's always someone worse off. Always.
I remember my mother cursing the cancer for the thief that it is, but she'd temper her remarks with reminders that I was so lucky to be married to the best man in the world. “You could set your watch by him!” she’d say, and then she’d jokingly ask him how in the name of God he had put up with me for over twenty years. Not known for my punctuality or having a place for everything and everything in its place, she regularly wondered aloud how I would ever manage without him since he waited on me hand and foot. Without him. In our house. Now that would be a scary thing. Me? A widow?
But in the wee hours of 2013 on a magical New Year’s Eve, I was still Ken’s wife, one half of an “us,” and I was looking ahead and happy. Like mischievous kids, we set off fireworks at the end of our street. My parents’ faces illuminated by sparklers bought one July 4th in San Luis Obispo, my daughter toasting us with cider that shone in one of the good Waterford crystal glasses, it was a magic time, and I remember thinking, “all is well.”
When everyone went to bed on January 1, 2013, I stayed up, savoring the silence of our slumbering house and the opportunity to consider Ted Kooser's bang-on assessment of life, that it is “. . . a long walk forward through the crowded cars of a passenger train, the bright world racing past beyond the windows, people on either side of the aisle, strangers whose stories we never learn, dear friends whose names we long remember and passing acquaintances whose names and faces we take in like a breath and soon breathe away …”
It is just like that. And on this shortest day when the sun stops for a moment, I find myself in between two cars, aware that I still have some distance to travel. Forward. Ready or not. A slow turning. From the inside out.
But there are still so many cars ahead, and the next and the next and the next clatter to clatter to clatter. And we close the door against the wind and find a new year, a club car brightly lit, fresh flowers in vases on the tables, green meadows beyond the windows and lots of people who together — stranger, acquaintance and friend — turn toward you and, smiling broadly, lift their glasses.