Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Thanksgiving . . . and Living in Interesting Times (11/16/05)

I like Dunkin Donuts coffee a lot. It’s always nice and strong and rarely bitter. And sometimes, not too often, you get a perfect cup—just the right amount of cream to bring out the flavor, absolutely fresh, and just so smooth I can’t put words to it. I got one of those cups this morning.

Then I saw a flock of wild turkeys by the brook I pass on the way to school. When I was a kid you just didn’t see wild turkeys in Connecticut so even though you see them a lot more frequently now, it still always seems like a special thing to me when I do see them.

I have to got get the Thanksgiving turkey tonight. I’m cooking the meal for our family this year. Last year I took over the cooking from my mom. Last Thanksgiving was Interesting Times. There’s an ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” It had been maybe a week since we had found out about Mom’s gall bladder cancer and things were pretty black; she was still exhausted from the surgery that had caused the discovery when she got the news from her surgeon, and he was very grim about the prognosis, so though we didn’t have details yet we had the basic idea that Mom was going to die soon.

So we decided to have Thanksgiving anyway, and not to tell our extended relatives until after the holiday so they could all enjoy it, so maybe we could all enjoy it. And I decided to cook because there was just no way Mom could handle it. It was all very strange. We were all a little lost inside our own heads, wrapping ourselves around the idea that this may be our last Thanksgiving as a complete family, trying to figure out how each of us would survive without her, and all the while trying to hold it together so she could enjoy the day. And somehow I think she really did enjoy it. It was the first time probably ever that she was able to lounge in the living room, sipping wine and talking with her family while someone else took care of everything in the kitchen.

And every little moment was precious to each of us. When you are looking through the eyes of someone who knows this is the end, every tiny thing is important and lovely in its own way.

It’s a year later now. Mom’s a walking miracle. The cancer had spread throughout her abdominal cavity and she was supposed to be either dead or almost dead now. Instead, she experienced a brief remission this spring and though the cancer has returned, she takes every chemotherapy, every radiation treatment, every surgery, like an absolute champion. She has been so incredibly lucky—we all have. She suffers very few side effects and only occasional pain. She has all her hair and to look at her you would not know she’s been fighting cancer for a year.

As for me, I took it hard for awhile. We all did. But I have to say it is amazing how easily you eventually learn to live your life as if this hugely tragic thing isn’t permeating you, as if each doctor’s appointment couldn’t just crush your world all over again with another turn for the worse. It becomes, after some time, just another fact of your life. You get up every day and do what you have to do that day, and it’s there. But so are so many other things. Everything’s just there, everything’s still there.

It was also my mom’s birthday this past Monday, along with having another doctor’s appointment. As we were sitting there in the doctor’s office and waiting, it all hit me again, the pain. It does that sometimes, though it’s been a long time since the last time it happened to me. I was just looking at her and fighting back the tears, looking at her and wondering if a new tumor was starting to grow yet, looking at her and wondering if this birthday, this Thanksgiving would be the last.

And that’s how it is. Everything’s okay, and then suddenly it isn’t. And then it’s okay again.

Interesting Times. I understand why the Chinese would have thought of it as a curse, but I don’t know that it really is. Interesting Times make you find the beauty in everything.

Today I got a perfect cup of coffee. And I saw a flock of wild Turkeys. And that makes me happy. Things are okay.

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