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FACE DOWN, CAPE OFF


FACE DOWN, CAPE OFF

“Let’s go for a walk,” I said chirpy and wide eyed.

“Yes, great idea,” Michael replied. “I won’t go to the gym. Cliff Walk?”

This past Sunday was a beautiful crisp almost winter day. The use of the word crisp is questionable here. Some of my peers would say freezing cold, but there was no wind on this sunny electric New England day and this makes all the difference in the decision to walk outside by the ocean or not. Michael and I are a robust couple. We like a brisk chilled walk and as long as we are both able to move our legs, we march forth whenever we get the chance. We know that soon enough will be hibernation time around these parts so when nature calls, we listen.

A walk with my seventy one year old partner is no chump change. He moves at a quick fire pace with his super long legs and I find myself with my much shorter legs taking take two steps to his one. It is a workout I love because a walk in nature is more than exercise for my physical self; it is often a spiritual reconnection. The deep breaths of fresh clean ocean air, the sounds of birds and waves create a calm peaceful serenity that a one hour workout at the gym will never be able to compete with, (sorry Kathy Martin). Besides the pace, which is at an invigorating clip, the mileage is also not for the faint hearted. Cliff Walk is 5.6 miles start to end, but that is only half of it because one must return unless Uber is waiting at the end for you. Of course anyone can walk just a portion of this beautiful gem right here in our little state (among so many other gems), but for us we just keep going, right past Rosecliff and Salve and the Chinese Tea House, right past Doris Duke’s house and almost to Bailey’s Beach but we take that pretty right turn instead on to Ledge Rd. past houses I can’t even imagine having to take care of.

The total walk for us this past Sunday was 8.5 miles. Air in our lungs? I’d say. There is nothing like the feeling of this walk. We chat, we walk in silence, we laugh, we negotiate real estate with few other walkers who we notice barely move to the right forcing us to step aside to let them pass on more than a few occasions. This drives Michael bananas, I don’t really notice; I just move, it is easier than getting myself worked up because of someone else’s behavior on a walking path. But I get it too, as we also noticed that the walkers on this day were not making eye contact, not looking at us, not engaging with even a brief smile or hello and this made us both sad. But we marched on as we discussed the political landscape and the ripple effect it may be having on humanity in general. Right along with the physical effects of cell phone use and the perpetual state of looking down for our actual heads, we wondered why people were not chirping back to our Hellos!

These conversations and thoughts all come up on a walk. There is no distraction of cell phone or the radio blaring music or bad news into our ear space giving us plenty of open brain space to converse or be silent amidst the beauty. Silence between two loving people is a gift that I don’t take for granted. I have been on the opposite end of the world of silence in relationships where silence was so loud, it made my heart hurt. I can’t ever have that feeling again. And I don’t with Michael or actually anyone in my life. Those relationships have left the building gradually and mostly gracefully and I march on. Shedding more layers of unnecessary burdens and drama that serves nothing other than making me feel bad. And my choice these days is to feel good whenever possible. Walking makes me feel good.

I recall the walks to school my son and I used to take on occasion. We didn’t really live a traditional walking distance from his elementary school, but I insisted on walking sometimes just to shake things up and teach him on our walks safe walking. How to look both ways, how to make sure that on a busy street that didn’t normally have walkers to always look to your right and left to make sure cars and trucks didn’t pull out without noticing you. Then there were the unintended lessons of conversations that would come up that no car ride could pull out of my son. Like cooking in the kitchen with your child, a walk to school creates an environment that just simply encourages communication because there is space to allow the flow. A walk reminds us how lucky we are we can. That we are not stuck in a hospital bed wishing for one more day in the fresh air like my brother did on his last leg of his young journey, or that we have the ability to actually choose. Do we want to take the bus? One of our two cars? Our bikes? Or a walk? Lucky to have options and this multitude of choices was yet another unintended lesson because I made the time to make it happen. If not then, when? My son is going to be 21 this month and time did fly by. Those walks are like my favorite jewels in my chest that I get to pull out and remember that I have them. Luckily for me, I have lots of these little golden nuggets. I know that losing my brother at such a young age to cancer taught me an intrinsic value of seizing the moment in a way that my son got to benefit from. I don’t know if his memories of his childhood are the same memories I have of his childhood. My mother sometimes used to bring up her memories to me that I had completely different takes on. This is history, perception is reality especially the further way we get from the time we reflect back on.

As we made our way back on the Bellevue Ave side for a change of scenery, in front of all of the mansions instead of the flip side, we felt so happy and cleaned out in a way that walks outside on cold days stir the pot. Down Memorial towards First Beach with a stunning view and finally that last leg down Gibbs headed home. We are lucky because of his house proximity to all things Newport, cars get to stay where they should live, in the driveway as often as possible. Looking at the Christmas decorations and the homes as we peppered our final walking conversations with our health commentary.

“How does your body feel?” Michael asks me. “Are you tired?” “My hips feel a little tight- I’ll roll when we get home.” “I may take a nap,” I say. “I think I’ll finish the paper,” he says back. We relish in our good fortune of simple choice, grateful for the ability to make the observation. Then we continue in comfortable quiet. I look down for a brief moment and my eyes land on a red white and blue and yellow object. What? Are my eyes seeing things? Is that….. Wonder Woman? Holy coincidence. Yes. It was a small plastic toy that perhaps a little one dropped on her or his walk that day, maybe it fell out of the stroller or her hands as she was going on her little journey out into the cold with her parents, but there Wonder Woman was, waiting, face down, prostrate, cape off. Not defeated, but rather waiting patiently for me to scoop her up and give her a new home. She didn’t need her cape, she had me. I couldn’t believe that after that 8. 5 mile walk with the man I love, I would at the end of my walk find a cape-free Wonder Woman. There are no coincidences and perhaps she was there to remind me that yes, Alayne, nature always serves you. The cape is not the power, you are your power. Of course it could have also been just a plastic toy dropped randomly, but I get to choose what my own perception of reality is here. So I marched forth with my new friend reminding me of all I know but sometimes forget along the path.


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ANOTHER CANCER GIFT

ANOTHER CANCER GIFT

A dear friend gave me a necklace last night that said ‘SURVIVOR’ on it. Normally this type of gift with this type of word on it would cause me eye rolling and embarrassment as I would chalk up yet another cliché word to the world of cancer gifts.

I had already seen on her sister, but her sister’s said LOVE LOVE LOVE and I had commented on how much I liked it. My friend, who had bought this gift for me as a Christmas gift decided not to wait and instead give it to me last night. She offered it to me with such love and prayer in her eyes. I knew this gift was thoughtful and filled with grace as she eagerly commanded, “Put it on!” I awkwardly followed her direction and placed it over my head where the tag planted itself right between my new fake breasts. Solid. Strong. Hearty. I love a long necklace. I love a long metal necklace like this one. But this word… I wasn’t sure I could have it be a part of my future adornments, but I love my friend and I love her light, her kindness, her intention. I was humbled by her caring eyes and her expression of love in this gift so I kept it on as I walked home last night thinking that I would take it off and hang it somewhere in my house as an ornament rather than a piece of jewelry.

I woke up this morning and I went downstairs to get some coffee and sit on the porch as I do every single morning, my partner with the paper, me with my laptop getting ready to type away my thoughts. As I went to reach for my glasses, my eye caught the necklace. SURVIVOR. It occurred to me that this word is so much more than cancer. So much more than a silly pink ribbon. So much more than “You look great” and “How are you feeling?” and the awkward silence that lies after those two common phrases that often linger between two people sharing space in two totally different worlds. Not knowing what to say because cancer and survivorship seem to be the only topic now replacing, “How’s your son? How’s your hot, (yes this word is occasionally part of the question) boyfriend? How’s business? How’s your garden?” and the curiosities about life normally part of the equation BC, (before cancer).

As my fingers graced the pendant, I realized that Yes. I am a survivor. Aren’t all of us? When you are married to someone you deeply love, but you also know in your core that it is not the right fit, but you try to fit it because that is just what you do when you make the marriage commitment, you are a survivor. When you are a parent because it is hard work trying to turn out a balanced and responsible human being, you are a survivor. When you lose a sibling who is only twenty five to a rare form of cancer and when you have a mother who emails you, “I prefer you never contact me again,” and defriends you on Facebook, (that feels so juvenile to even say that aloud), you are a survivor. You are a survivor when you own a business and you get a rejection notice from a bank for a loan you know will help growth and as you are freaking out, a dear friend and mentor, Neil Ducoff says in an emotional phone conversation, “Wallow in self pity today, but tomorrow pull up your bootstraps hit the pavement and find another bank who believes in your story.” BAM. Yes. I did that. You are a survivor when you finally summon the courage after a twenty year marriage to leave it along with your house, moving three times in four years after each condo owner decides they want to sell and you don’t want to buy and in the middle of this, your business has a flood temporarily shutting down one of your operations. Then to add insult to injury, you discover in the midst of this chaos an employee has been stealing from you, not only you, but tips from your employees. Like with so many business lessons, you consider your own past mistakes returning to teach the Ghost of Christmas Past lesson you thought you had already learned from a dysfunctional family life and idiotic drug use in your early teen years.

You are a survivor when you find the house of your dreams or rather it finds you, (thank you Morgan) that will house both you, your son and your ten year old business. Its seemingly easy purchase turns into a nine month short sale of twists and turns giving you a feeling of sheer terror in one moment to sheer power the next confirming your lovely bad ass strength when the sale finally goes through. And so on and so on and so on. This is all way before a two time cancer diagnosis and way before the word as it is implied, SURVIVOR, hits my personal radar.

I am not alone in my survivorship. Everyone I know has tales and stories of their own versions of SURVIVOR. Being human is SURVIVOR. My problem is my constant minimizing of the word and its implications because of my comparisons to the “real” survivors I know and have read about. My friend, Lili who is a refugee from the Congo who had to flee her homeland with her family and somehow landed in my lovely life that pales in comparison to her traumatic events. My friends, Cathy and Lou who lost their adolescent and very healthy daughter to the flu which still seems unbelievable in our modern world of medicine. My friend and business mentor, Neil (the one who told me to pull up my bootstraps) who out riding his bike like he does almost everyday for both physical and mental strength, gets hit and thrown and lives and gets back on his bike. My employee’s friend, who has a healthy five year old one moment and then a funeral for her the next because of a random sickness the hospital couldn’t help her with. My dear friend and doctor who tragically lost her young and stunning husband and the love of her life leaving her with a tribe of young children to care for in all of their suffering. The McKenna family who lives in our quiet and easy community and lost not one but both of their sons, one in a tragic motorcycle accident when he was twenty one and then ten years later, their Green Beret son, Andrew in an attack in Kabul. No words except SURVIVOR. A resounding HELL YES.

My internal comparison list of qualifiers for identifying with the word and accepting it as my own is a hard sell. These are not my experiences, they seem so much worse than my own. A friend of mine said to me just the other day, “Alayne, you make breast cancer look easy.” WHAT? Speechless in one breath, I don’t know what to say to that. Part of “SURVIVING” for me is that life coming at you is what life is and when it does as it has, I pull up my proverbial bootstraps and hit the pavement sometimes running, sometimes walking but often crawling as we all do. What choice do we have? If you are not dead, you are alive and being alive is what the word survivor means. What we do with the trauma is how we navigate through it in our own time and we all do “it” each in our own way for no one to judge. Until we have walked in those boots, we simply do not and cannot identify with those experiences.

So today and every time I get dressed and reach for a necklace to wear, I will reach for this new bauble because I am, like all of us, a SURVIVOR and I will wear this necklace with the pride and care that surrounded its instinctual and knowing intention. Perhaps its word engraved on its metal plate will finally embed itself in my soul reminding me of the power that this experience has given me. I know I don’t really need the external symbols of power to affirm my SURVIVOR status. I have two very upright and very firm magic crystal balls permanently attached to my upper body as my personal 24/7 reminder, but there is something about owning a word as my own that gives me a deep sense of super power strength that I am finally beginning to allow. My friend must have recognized this strength in me before I did.

And I must admit, I like this new found power.