In the few years I've lived on my mountain, I didn't know this neighbor at all; she was always working, and other than the casual wave as we passed each other driving up or down the road, I'd never actually met her until a few months ago.
One evening in May, walking to the mailbox with the boys, I ran into a woman walking in the opposite direction, a woman I might have recognized. We stopped, introduced ourselves, and in that fifteen minute chat I found out why, for the very first time, I was actually meeting her in person, not just waving at a vague figure in a car.
The reason? She had left her job, because with just 6 weeks to go before she took early retirement and started a new adventurous life with her husband--plans already in place to head first for Hawaii, then round the world--she finds out she has breast cancer. A very advanced, very bad kind--not that every kind isn't bad, but hers was the worst of the bad. She gets the news on a Friday, and has a double mastectomy on Monday. On this day we met on the road, she was three weeks past the surgery and one week from starting chemo.
I honestly didn't know what to say, because what can you say: Good luck? Hope you get well soon? Hang in there? Life is really fucked up? Instead of platitudes, I asked her if she reads. She said yes, though she'd been working so hard for so long, she hadn't been reading much. I asked her what kind of stuff she liked; she didn't care, just anything to keep her mind off her illness.
That night I went through my bookshelves. I filled a large canvas bag with a variety of books. The next evening, on my way to the mailbox, I dropped the bag off at her house.
Then I didn't see her again for nearly two months. I was actually afraid she had...well...you know. But last night, coming back from the mailbox, I heard a voice call my name. I turned and wow, here she comes, striding along, pink-cheeked, healthy-looking and smiling widely. Chemo was over, and though she ended up in the hospital for two weeks, near death because she had no immunity, she bounced back against all odds and is now making an amazing recovery. With only the reconstruction part left, she and her husband are back on track for Hawaii in October. Her courage and bravery and resilience are mind-boggling.
As we walked along the road together, we eventually came around to my books. We talked about which ones she'd liked, which were her favorites, why she didn't like others. Then she said would it be okay if she came by tonight to return them? Of course, I said yes, though in the back of my mind I hear the evil twin laughing with wicked glee that now I'll have to vacuum and dust. I asked her if she wanted more books. She stopped on the road and faced me. "I want to thank you so much for what you've done for me." God. I really didn't do anything for her. I try to say that, but she shakes her head. "You helped me get away."
Because I'm embarrassed and I always get flippant when I'm uncomfortable, I grin and waggle my eyebrows. "Want to keep going?" She burst out laughing and said "Oh yes, please."
When I got home, I went through my books again and found another nice stack to give her tonight, stories filled with adventure and promise and worlds beyond our own bubbles.
So, I guess in the whole scheme of things, I really don't mind that I'm vacuuming and dusting in the scorching heat of a summer's day. There are far worse things a person has to do in life, for sure.
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BTW: Yesterday, after two days of struggling with Blogger and the Shot of the Week fiasco, I deleted the whole blasted page and started a photo blog instead. Clicking on the camera photo in the right margin will take you to the new photo site.