It’s 7 in the morning and I just texted someone I know in California: Please tell me how you feel, who will probably not get the message till later unless she wakes up early because of pain.
She’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known, and she has Stage 4 cancer. She keeps her boundaries close, especially at this time of her life. She won’t get on the phone but will do texts, and I gladly accept the terms she sets because of the messages she sends back to me.
It’s as if this Stage 4 of cancer, or Stage 4 of life, has become a new playground for her, one she’s designing as consciously as possible: Instead of The swings go there, it’s That’s where I sit to look out at the ocean. Instead of The sandbox goes there, it’s That’s my favorite garden, and instead of Hours Open, it’s That’s when I rest, when I see the children, when I read. And instead of No pets and no rollerskating, it’s No phone conversations, no visits from nonfamily members, and no social events .
This is Stage 4 play, and she’s playing it like a child going to the park. It’s so liberating to live for the short term, was the last message she texted me.
We’re spending the afternoon in the park.
Remember what happened then? When we imagined the friends we’d meet there, who would get on the swings first, the new slide we’d be able to use on our own because we were big enough? How we anticipated the feeling of kicking off our shoes and getting into the sandbox, settling king-like on that soft, warm throne, billions of grains of sand falling away on both sides of our legs and doing our royal bidding, more tender and fluid than Lego?
With all this to look forward to in an afternoon in the park, did we ever think to ask: And then what?
This is the gift she is giving me. It’s play, she tells me. There is nothing scary about a blank, white computer screen in the early morning, it’s play. Not because you don’t really have to blog, but because you have to. Not because you don’t really have to write, but because you have to.
Feeding Stanley as you’ve done twice a day each day for over 12 years—it’s play because you have to feed Stanley. Because now he’s less inclined to eat than before, because he sniffs the food instead of inhaling it as he did years ago.
Brushing him, as you’ve done more than 4,380 times, is getting to be more fun and intricate for he, too, has finally entered the brushing playground after years of resistance, and he plays it now, wiggling around your legs and pushing his head in between so that you could get to his back easier, wagging his tail while baring his black-and-white chest to the turquoise brush, trusting you not to forget the area around the base of his earflaps, not to mention the most important of all, the very back where his tail begins, because that’s the place he can’t reach.
Out in California, on a sunny mesa overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a woman will open her eyes, be grateful that there’s less pain than there could have been, and plan her day in the park till the sun goes down and she goes home. Here in New England it’s a cool and rainy morning, but already the small vase of mums on my altar hiccuped and fell over—how did it do that?—and the computer keys are clicking a melody that sounds like the ice cream truck.Make A Donation