Today was one of the winter days we live for here in the sunny high-desert climate of the southern Rocky Mountains: Although it dawned crisply clear and cold as heck at 5 degrees, once the sun came up, the thermometer climbed steadily to twenty degrees and then thirty, and by mid-morning it was past forty and climbing still. Sunlight poured in our south-facing windows, toasting us as we sat drinking our morning hot chocolate (me) and coffee (Richard), and heating the house as well. The snow that fell Wednesday night, blanketing the yard in five inches of fluffy white melted from the sidewalks and roads, and slid off the roof in soft thuds. The sky was clear blue, the air still, and the peaks stood out crisply white under their fresh blanket.
It was the kind of day, in fact, when Richard and I would once have thrown our cross-country skis, boots and poles in the back of the Forester and headed out to schuss in the powder. Or crossed the river and hiked up one of the arroyos that slice into the Arkansas Hills. Or just taken a ramble on the paved walking/biking trail that follows the former mainline railroad on the far side of the creek from our house.
But now, not so much. Since Wednesday’s lovely dump of powder snow, I’ve asked Richard several times very casually, not wanting to exert any pressure at all, if he thought he might feel like going out for a short ski, just an hour perhaps. Each day the answer has been a regretful, “No. I don’t think I’m up for that now.” And this morning when I headed out to walk to the Post Office five blocks away–a walk we always take together, often laughing and holding hands–Richard said he thought he’d stay home and “rest his eyes” after he hung out the first load of laundry. Oh.
He’s feeling good, he’s eating well, and he’s up and doing things. He plans to be back to robust good health as soon as he can. But right now we’re both perhaps too conscious that he doesn’t have the energy he once had, and that his formidably powerful brain stumbles a bit now and then: sometimes he doesn’t recognize people, sometimes he’s slow to grasp complex information. (He’s so blinking smart, such a deep thinker, and also such a thoughtful kind of guy that no one else notices, I’m sure.) And of course we both wonder what these things portend. If anything.
So on this gorgeous day when the world around us sparkled in sunshine and the snow melted off the roof and sang in the gutters, I’ve felt more like the dark dawn in the photo above than the breathtakingly blue-sky-beautiful shot at the beginning of this post. We’ve spent the day quietly, mostly sitting next each other in the sunny living room, working, talking, reading, and just being together. In the warmest part of the day, we did get out for a leisurely walk together to do some errands downtown. It’s a small town, and we ran into lots of people, each of whom was delighted to see Richard, and exclaimed about how great he looks and how wonderful it is to have him home. Each outpouring of love and delight was balm to his spirits, I know. I did my best to join in wholeheartedly, without allowing the trickle of worry I feel to show.
Not every day is beautiful, and not every story ends happily. I know that. I also know from decades of living with a chronic, debilitating autoimmune condition that healing isn’t simple and it rarely proceeds in a linear fashion. Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from the daily experience of adapting to my particular health has been that life requires courage. Every day. Courage to me does not mean gritting your teeth and pushing through, nor tensing up and fighting, nor forcing things to happen your way. It means facing what comes with as much love and honesty as possible. Courage, says the dictionary, is “the ability to do something that frightens one; strength in the face of pain and grief.” The word comes to us from the Old French corage, from the Latin cor, “heart.” That’s key, I think. Courage is strength that comes from the heart: the power of faith and love.
So I will screw up my courage, dig deep in my heart and have faith that whatever comes for Richard and me, we’ll be all right. Whatever that means. Courage, I tell myself, take heart.
And I do. Just a few minutes ago, Richard beckoned me outside in the darkness to watch the Wolf Moon, one night past full, rise over the jagged black silhouette of the Arkansas Hills. I jumped up onto the edge of one of the raised beds in the kitchen garden and he held my hand to steady me as we both turned our faces to the heavens to look at the stars. We spotted Mars, the red planet shining bright and close, the moon round and silver, the Pleiades sparkling almost directly overhead and the W-shape of Cassiopeia’s chair to the north, and the huge figure of Orion–my personal symbol of courage–striding across the southern sky, with his dog, Canis Major, at his heels. Our breath formed twin clouds, ghostly white in the light of the moon, and Richard’s hand was warm in mine as he helped me jump down and step inside to our cozy house.
Courage is what we give each other; it wells up from each of our hearts. It’ll carry us through–whatever.
(I didn’t take a photo of tonight’s one-night-past full moon, but the shot above is the full moon from another January, rising at sunset; it’s also the image used for the cover of my memoir, Walking Nature Home.)
This is not the blog post I intended to write, but then again, I didn’t imagine I’d live this long with Lupus and Richard didn’t intend to get brain cancer either, so I guess I should be used to flexing with the winds of life. I had planned to write about the trip we’re headed off on Monday morning, driving across the Southern Gr
eat Plains to Arkansas, where we’ll visit Richard’s 93-year-old mom, Miss Alice, and his sister, Letitia, and her daughter Carolyn and husband, Doug, as well as our toddler great-nephew, Oliver. From there we’ll head south to Austin, Texas, where I’ll teach a workshop and speak on a panel at Story Circle Network’s National Womens’ Memoir Conference, Stories from the Heart V. (That title is apropos, no?) So if you don’t hear from me next week, not to worry, I’ll be back online after we get home from our circuitous journey.
Stay warm and be well!