Grandma Murray (Lydia Ann Hooley) and Kathleen at the park – Akron, NY
When I was growing up, my Hooley-Murray grandparents lived near Lockport, New York, just beyond Lake Erie and Buffalo, 550 miles away. And, my Troyer-Stauffer grandparents lived near Milford, Nebraska, 650 miles away. The trip to New York took us across the Indiana and Ohio Tollroads and the New York Thruway. We flew quickly along the south end of the Great Lakes with no stoplights and plenty of full-service rest plazas. An early morning departure put us at Grandpa and Grandma’s house in New York in time for supper.
The trip to Nebraska before Interstate 80 was built was a different story. It was a convoluted maze of mainly two-lane roads peppered with small towns and stoplights across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and eastern Nebraska. Instead of eight or nine hours, it took 14 to 16 hours to make the trip. Even now, “interminable” and “endless” are the words that immediately come to my mind. And the question, “Are we there yet?,” constantly echoed from the back seat. The answer echoed back with a sigh, “No. Just enjoy the trip.”
“Are we there yet?,” continues to echo. Many people , knowing that I changed drug combinations in July, ask, “How are you doing? Is it working? When will you be finished with chemo?” The answers: I’m doing well enough on any given day, which translated means: after two complete cycles of the new treatment I know what to expect and have found ways of managing the side effects. Yes it’s working; the cancer marker has been stable or declining, indicating that stable disease continues. No, chemo doesn’t have an end date and will likely never be finished. As long as this treatment combination is effective, treatment will continue.
Like the trips to Nebraska, this can feel interminable and endless to me. Unlike the trips to Nebraska, this does not have an end point. Along the way, I experience despair and joy, tears and laughter, anger and peace. While these are powerful, overwhelming emotions in the moment, they are like clouds that come and go with the wind. I continue to learn that they each have their own beauty and purpose.
For me, the more important question, recently asked by a good friend, is “Just how do you really ‘live with what is‘?” Living with what is requires knowing that there isn’t a “there” ahead. I do the best I can each day. I ‘live with what is’ by beginning each day reminding myself of those who I love and offering a blessing to each one. I ask myself what I will choose. Will I do what I love? Yes. I will walk, visit with family and friends, paint a mandala, take a photograph of a moment in time, write an essay or magazine column, play with my Murray kitty. Will I accept what is? Yes, I will try.
“Are we there yet?” I’m not “there yet.” And along the way I will continue to ask, “How will I discover beauty and purpose in each season? What do I love to do and will I act to do it? Who do I love and how will I offer a blessing?” Perhaps, the best “there” is the simple, moment-to-moment awareness of the love that surrounds us.