Richard and I call this journey with his brain cancer a collaboration, by which we mean we’re working together to walk this grueling path gracefully and graciously, with what he calls “an attitude of celebration and gratitude.” Calling our efforts a collaboration recognizes that it takes two of us to manage the project of living with the devastating illness: he couldn’t do it without my love and care, and I wouldn’t have the energy to deliver love and care without his bright spirit, brilliant mind, and willingness to do what he can.
Collaboration means we each do our best to work in a way that honors our differences. And we are different: I’m quick, impulsive, tidy (perhaps to a fault), and intuitive. He’s methodical, a visual thinker (by which I mean he thrives on, well… clutter), creative to his bones, and possesses an extraordinarily rich and deep intellect.
For us, collaboration rests on honoring and respecting the differing qualities we bring to our relationship, plus good communication. We talk frequently, checking in with each other and listening attentively.
“How does the day feel to you?” I ask over lunch. He tells me that while his energy is still frustratingly absent, making a fire in the woodstove to heat the house on this chilly, more-like-early-April-than-mid-May day went smoothly and quickly. I nod, because I know that while making a fire is something that he once did without a thought, now that his right brain is challenged, it’s a sequencing test: cleaning the window, raking the ashes into the pan, carrying them out to the ash bucket, selecting and chopping wood, and laying and lighting the fire.”It felt like it would be a stretch,” he says, “but it was easier than I thought.”
“That’s excellent,” I say, “Seems to me you just did it, without a struggle. A week ago, that would have been impossible.”
Collaborating doesn’t erase his frustration at all he can’t do right now–like resume his practice of sculpture–but it does make it possible for him to live with that frustration without it eating away at his spirit. It doesn’t make the journey lighter, but it does make it easier to walk it well.
We’re collaborating in other ways too, including this entry in Haiku: Finding the Essence, an art show at Salida Regional Library. The invitation asked visual artists and writers to work together on illuminating a haiku (or series of haiku). Richard and I decided we’d work with one of my favorite of his small sculptures, “Prosthesis.”
Prosthesis began as a chunk of basalt column he picked up on the roadside in the nearby Cochetopa Hills. The rock had broken away from the outcrop, perhaps knocked down by the freeze-thaw action of snowmelt water trickling down the cracks between columns, and then freezing again and wedging the cracks wider until pieces of the basalt broke off.
Richard picked up the “orphan,” brought it home, and fashioned a steel prosthesis to reconnect the broken colulmn of rock to the earth. So I wrote a haiku series imagining the rock’s journey. It took quite a few iterations to get the span of time, geology, erosion, and art into the traditional 17 syllables (multiplied by three for three haiku):
Journey to Prosthesis
Ooze red-hot from Earth’s belly
creep blindly across land
Cool, fracture into columns
wait while mountains rise, settle
detached by frost and time
Stay while hands cradle, reconnect
And we got in the show, along with more than a dozen other collaborating teams, including artist/printmaker (and neighbor) Sherrie York, who collaborated with writer Eduardo Rey Brummel. It’s not a big show, or a big deal, but it feels good to work together, and to participate in our local art community.
This collaboration–in brain cancer and life–has been helped immensely by generous friends near and far. We’ve been gifted with massages, gift cards, meals, travel money, books, and other kindnesses like the gorgeous (and delicious) plates of merangue dessert hand-delivered by caterer Kathie Stucko of Fresh Zoes and Salida Bread Company, and the beautiful and whimsical apron from fabric artist Nancy Roncketti of Peppersauce Stitchin’ Company. (How can you not smile wearing an apron like that?)
Thanks to you all for the many helping hands along the way. We’re fortunate to have you join us in this difficult but essential collaboration.