The storms we're experiencing are figurative, not literal. In the span of 12 1/2 months, my previously-healthy husband has endured 4 unrelated illnesses; 3 surgeries at 3 hospitals and 2 sirens-blaring ambulance rides. Yet just as in a memorable childhood book The Little Engine that Could, the train's still steaming down the track.
How does one absorb each body blow, the latest diagnosis the most threatening of all? Soon there will be more surgery in Amsterdam, to remove a tumor-riddled kidney and try to halt the advance of an aggressive, fast-growing cancer. Just three months ago, there was no sign of an invader. Now this brutal occupying force demands our attention.
Steam train on a rainy day, Watercress Line, Aylesford, England. Click photo to view detail.
As if that weren't enough with which to cope, my dad in the US has been very ill and still is recovering after major surgery. (Update Jan. 30th: Once again, he is in the hospital and having more surgery). Earlier this month, David and I were discussing me getting on a plane to visit, when the doctor phoned to say a routine blood test suggested kidney damage. A brief hospital stay for more tests followed. Then late Friday, the unwelcome news - just when we'd almost managed to convince ourselves that David's health woes had vanished with the horrid 2013.
"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength." - Leo Buscaglia
Throughout these long days and nights, there have many whispered prayers; occasional tears and far too many fears. I've been grateful for the love and support of family and friends. And through it all, hope has remained by my side. It is a constant presence, like a slow-burning flame illuminating the way through darkness. Yes, sometimes the flame flickers and seems in danger of going out...but then it seems to catch itself and once again burns brightly.
Things I've noticed in this chaotic year of sands shifting beneath our feet:
Optimism is a gift. And language is never a barrier to kindness.
When health is an issue, everything else simply falls by the wayside. Our world becomes smaller and more focused, with clear priorities. We have so little control over what happens. But we can control how we react to unexpected challenges. And we're always stronger than we think.
The wonders of modern medicine and techological advances are astonishing. We are fortunate to have brilliant doctors and excellent health insurance (despite the bureaucratic challenges in dealing with Dutch medical care and French insurance).
We have some amazing true friends that I am proud to know. It seems we also have quite a few fair- weather friends: friends who have been guests in our home in both France and the Netherlands; friends we helped when in dire straits or facing serious illness; friends whose business ventures we supported wholeheartedly; the same "friends" who haven't bothered to send so much as an email or Twitter message. (Suddenly my address book feels a lot lighter)!
We are lucky to have possibly the world's best neighbours, who collect the English patient upon his release from hospitals and shovel snow from our front doorstep and sidewalk.
Time is finite; don't take a single moment for granted. This is not a dress rehearsal; live now. Travel. Try something new. Dance. Sing. Ride a bicycle. Read good books. Tend a garden. Do the things that make you happiest. Don't worry about the small stuff, which really doesn't matter.
The beautiful things that grace our homes or the stylish clothes we wear are of little consequence. Icing on the cake, yes, but not the cake. Cynical marketing and advertising-based ploys such as "likes" on Facebook or gaining more followers on Twitter are artificial measures that sap our time and energy. Truly. (Tell me what you think, after seeing the film Her).
Embrace what's real, here and now. Hold your loved ones close. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and bring out the best in you. And take care of yourself; nothing trumps good health! (And that's enough platitudes for one day).