Sunrise over Lake Pepin. Frontenac State Park
Two things happened Saturday morning:
- I saw a post on Facebook about the migrating swans on the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota and decided that on Sunday I was going to head out to see my river again. My plan was to leave early enough so I could watch the sun rise over the river and then go for a ride on the Great River Trail by Trempealeau, Wisconsin. I would get out the Fat Tad trike for the first time since April 1st when I last rode this same trail. The trail goes through mostly wetlands so I thought I might see some of the migrating birds there. Since I was going to ride the Fat Tad, I got it cleaned up and lubed, got out my red cycling gear instead of blue, packed up my snacks, and was excited for the next day. The anticipation of a ride is almost as much fun as the ride itself; I feel so alive in those moments. Adventures await!
- I showed up at shul just before kiddish so that I could meet up with a friend. I’d never arrived so late before, but it was kind of fun. I’ve decided to go back to shul more often, but I don’t want to go every week so this was my compromise, I went but not really. As I was chatting with people in the hallway waiting for the service to end, I got the news that a man from our shul had just died that morning of cancer. I didn’t know him well but our oldest sons were the same age so we had conversed from time to time. I could picture him sitting at shul with his kids, the kids he had now left behind. I felt so sad for them all. Cancer. Man it sucks. It is not right that his kids will likely have to live so much of their lives without him. His oldest is only twenty-five. I hurt for them all.
When I get news that someone else died of cancer I feel defeated. Why do I think my outcome will be any different than theirs? Am I so special I can avoid the same fate just by hoping? They probably thought they would beat their cancer, too. When they got their diagnosis they probably heard all the “Oh you’re so strong, you’ve got this!” bull shit I hear all the time, too, from people who seem uncomfortable with acknowledging to themselves or to me that I might freaking die, that cancer can mow down the best of them. I’m not even close to the best so what’s the point in trying? My turn will come sooner rather than later. And then I’ll have to say good-bye to my kids.
When I get news that someone else died of cancer I feel determined. I have to go out and live my life right now, because the next person to go could be me. I have to do what I enjoy doing to honor the memory of the one who had to leave behind the the people they loved and the things they loved doing. I cannot waste so much of the time I was privileged to have when time for others has ceased. I have to share more with others so that when I do go away something of me will remain.
And then I live somewhere between the two.
I cannot do all the things I would love to do, but I can do some of them. I cannot make every minute count for some greater purpose because no one can live like that for long, we all need downtime. It is OK to take time for the frivolous, to spend hours watching mindless Netflix series, to sleep long hours when I’m tired. I have to accept that when I do go, life will go on without me and most will never know I even existed. My mark on this world will be small and fleeting, and that’s OK. Maybe one person I do not know will ride a trail for the first time because of me, or take enjoyment looking at one of my pictures. Maybe someone I know will remember some crazy story I told and laugh when they’re having a bad day. My place has always been with regular people living regular lives so it would truly be the greatest honor if any echo of my life remained with them. At one time I thought I might leave behind words, that words would be my legacy. I loved thinking, questioning, writing – sharing my stories of life. We are now constantly bombarded with people trying to convince us to think their way, to believe their way, however, and I’ve grown tired of words. I’ve come to realize that I would rather leave behind my eyes through pictures and let the viewer form their own thoughts, their own words.
Sunday morning I got up at 4:30 am and took off on my swan sighting trip. I watched the sun come up over Lake Pepin from Frontenac State Park and it was beautiful, so freaking cold, but beautiful. I was thinking there is no way I was going to go out for a ride, it was too cold, but I knew I would still go out for a ride no matter. It is what I do, how I live my life. Life is fickle and I cannot take for granted that there will be another time for me so I’d better enjoy the day I was given. My compromise was I left the trike ride for later and walked three miles along Lake Pepin in the cold soaking up as much of the beautiful scenes as possible while my body adjusted to the temperature.
Lake Pepin at Lake City.
After my walk I drove further down the river and finally saw large numbers of swans. I stood by the shore watching for awhile and just when I was ready to leave, the sky filled with birds. It was an incredible sight, wave after wave of birds, flying this way and that. What a fantastic thing to have been allowed to live and experience that moment! I can still hear the sounds.
Fall migration along the Mississippi by Weaver, MN.
Eventually I made it to the trail and got in my ride. I could hear swans in the distance at times but I could not see them from the trail. I saw bluejays, cardinals, and squirrels, beaver dams, streams, and many ponds. I crossed bridges and watched trains go by. I did not see even one other person. It was just me, my thoughts, my memories, and peace. I was honored to have such a day and I enjoyed it from sunrise until sunset before returning home.
Great River Trail, Lytles Landing, Wisconsin
Sunday was a good day. Monday was not. Back to the world of living with cancer. A lymph node on the right side of my neck decided to let me know it exists and is not happy! All I could think of was that stupid joke we used to tell as a kid, “Does your face hurt? Well, it’s sure killing me!” Yes, my face hurts! My whole freaking head hurts. I was working from home yesterday and decided to take a nap over lunch so maybe I’d feel better after. I set my alarm and I was out…for hours. Well, never mind then. Today I was smarter and just took a sick day. I hate this cancer. I want to be strong, I want to feel like I’m doing my part at work to help us be ready for the long weekend. Instead I’m sitting at home with a heat pad on my neck, hoping the damn swelling will go down and I’ll get some relief. So far, not so good, but I’m learning that my co-workers will pick up for me just as I have done for them and it will be fine. I’ll sit here in my chair enjoying my coffee and my memories of one beautiful Sunday out in nature. Life is wonderful, life sucks. I am so sorry my fellow congregant cancer sufferer was not allowed to have that day.
Lake Pepin getting ready for sunset.