Richard and I began 2010 apart: I on magical Isla Espirtu Santo in Baja California’s turquoise-blue Sea of Cortez working with a small group of writers; he living temporarily in Aurora, east of Denver, where he could walk to the UC Cancer Center for his daily dose of gamma rays to treat his brain cancer.
Since that difficult beginning, the year has been a wild ride, including travel around the West and beyond; our first collaborative art exhibit in a show sponsored by Colorado Art Ranch and seen by thousands of travelers at Denver International Airport; a family gathering to celebrate Richard’s 60th birthday in July; followed a month later by his second and much more risky brain surgery in which much of his right temporal lobe was removed along with its glioblastoma tumors (in brain cancer tumor taxonomy, Grade 4 gloiblastomas like his are the baddest of the bad); and then this fall, my mom’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease and subsequent physical decline culminating in her being in-home hospice care. No wonder I often feel like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, running as fast as I can to barely keep my place.
When I look back over the year though, what comes to mind is not so much the particular personal joys or travails, but an outpouring of kindness, beginning with our daughter Molly’s arrival in Aurora to stay with her dad, allowing me to go to Baja. (That’s Richard and Molly in the photo above, celebrating her birthday.) Aurora, Colorado is not anyone’s idea of a vacation destination, yet there Molly was from Christmas to past New Year’s, and that just of several trips she shoehorned into her busy advertising exec schedule in order to support her dad in his journey with brain cancer.
Random acts of kindness have continued to grace our year, from gifts of hand-knit socks and other cozy and comforting hand-made creations (colorful sweaters, vests, caps, scarves, earrings and a feather-light shawl), to boxes of food and checks to pay our tab at Ploughboy, the local-foods grocery store in our neighborhood. The small gifts that appear at random hung on our door with ribbon or tucked into the base of the sculptural mailbox Richard finished just before his brain surgery in August. (That’s the mailbox in the photo below, after one of our rare summer rains, which came just in time to perk up our restored dryland wildflower meadow yard for the North American Rock Garden Society’s Annual Meeting when 120 or so garden professionals toured our yard, kitchen garden, and the pocket park next door. What an honor!)
There was the gift of a weekend at the St. Francis Hotel in Santa Fe for my birthday; the night out with girlfriends and the handmade book they created; the stay at The Springs in Pagosa Springs; the award of a working residency at The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch, along with a stipend from Terra Foundation to help out as we “re-story” a part of the yard of the historic ranch house as an outdoor interpretive landscape. (The first photo below is the lovely front loggia of the St. Francis Hotel; the second is part of the ranch yard at Carpenter, with the cottonwood trees and shrubs along the Yampa River in their vivid fall colors.) And then the surprise of the “honeymoon fund”; thanks to generous friends, we’ll be taking a vacation to celebrate our nearly 28 years of marriage–and also, we hope, Richard’s recovery from brain cancer.
In this year of too many “life-learning opportunities,” the outpouring of kindnesses large and small has been a real blessing. When things have seemed overwhelmingly difficult, those kindnesses have warmed our hearts and given us hope we’ve needed to walk on. They’ve also taught me lessons I clearly needed to learn. I’ve always been better at taking care of than being cared for, and at giving help rather than asking for it. Now I’m practicing humility and receiving help graciously. I’m not good at either yet, but I can see that it’s a gift in its own right to let go of pride and appreciate others’ assistance and generosity.
So as this wild and challenging year comes to a close, I offer up my deepest thanks to all who have extended love and kindness to Richard and me. A bow of gratitude to you all! We’ll do our best to pay your kindness forward, passing it along as we walk on in this life with whatever comes our way–brain cancer, hospice care and all. (That’s Richard in the photo above, going for a swim in the icy waters of the Arkansas River on his 60th birthday.)
Here’s my wish for you: May 2011 bring you joy and blessings you could never have expected, the benediction of neon sunrises and blooming wildflowers, the comfort of kindness, the warmth of love. Whatever good comes your way, whether a smile and a hug, or a lifeline, pay it forward. You’ll be increasing the Ocean of Light, something this world can sorely use.