Today I learned that an old friend of mine is suffering from cancer. She is an entrepreneur, who has built up a thriving business in the past twenty-five years. She has traveled the world, met fascinating people, been married to a wonderful man, and raised beautiful children. She has battled cancer before; the last time was at least a decade ago, more, perhaps.
When she came home from the hospital after surgery, the last time, I decided my job was to get her out of the house for walks. We would bundle up, as it was still blustery and cold, and drive over to Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park. It's a wonderful park, especially off season when it isn't crowded; there is a long, crescent-shaped concrete promenade with arcades. The paving is smooth, and easy to navigate. In other words, there is nothing natural about it, except for Long Island Sound. Still, it was, for us, a deeply soothing place. We would walk very slowly, my arm crooked in hers; she would lean on me, every few steps, to rest, and then we would proceed. With every walk, we covered more of the promenade. From time to time, we would stop and lean against a hot concrete wall, and I would make jokes about how we were like those Russians in old photographs, starved for sunshine in the middle of winter. During those walks I would catch a glimmer of the future, beckoning us. This is what it will be like, I would think, this is what it will be like to grow old with friends; we will walk slowly, and lean on one another, and wait for each other to catch up, knowing that there is no longer a rush to get anywhere....And then I would brush that vision aside. Because we were always in a rush, a rush to get better, a rush to get somewhere--somewhere else, wherever we were not. Now of course I see that we would be lucky just to get back to that place, right where we were, contemplating our future old age together.
In the course of this afternoon's long talk, she said, "You know, people say that when something like this disease strikes you, you're supposed to think about what you are going to do with the time you have left--where do you want to go? Well, I've been to all kinds of amazing places. I've eaten at the finest restaurants. I've seen so much. None of that interests me now. I don't want to go anywhere. I just want to be at home. Do you know what I mean?"
Yes, I do. Many of us have spent our lives working hard, and mothering intensely, and loving deeply. And then something happens, some crack in the floor opens up, and we realize, suddenly, that there is one important thing we haven't done, and that has to do with a simple feeling of enjoyment. We haven't given ourselves the time to appreciate what we've accomplished; we haven't allowed ourselves a rest, and a chance to absorb all that we've exposed ourselves to; we haven't given ourselves permission to be happy.
"Now I know what I want to do with the rest of my days," my friend said. "I just want to be at home." To be, with all the quiet, meditative activity such a verb implies, in the place where we feel safest, most secure, and most free--if only we let ourselves go there. In honor of my friend, I'm going to spend tomorrow at home, not making myself crazy with chores and housekeeping, not leaving to run errands, not sitting at my desk trying to meet deadlines, not worrying about everything or anything. I'm going to let the rosy glow of the sunrise reach me in my bed, feel its warmth across my face at midday, feel the moist heat of the soil as I dig around in the garden, feel the shadows lengthen across the meadow, and think about how, when we feel lost, we can find ourselves...at home.