How Things Look

I have this uncle. His name is Joe. Many years ago, Uncle Joe’s health took a startling turn, and he wound up in ICU in a coma. It was a somber time for his kids, as the doctors pulled them aside to talk about options. There was a point, the medical people said, where the kids would have to decide when to take him off life support.

Time crawled by; there was little change. Things did not look good, and finally, if I remember this correctly, my cousins made the tough call. It was time to disconnect the life support.

So the medical people did that.

And Uncle Joe woke up.

He recovered and went home from the hospital, and ever since then, he told me once, he celebrates a new birthday: the day he woke up from that coma, not the day he was born.

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I have this friend. She’s one of the bravest, strongest, giving-est people I know. We all met up for our annual Christmas dinner last month, this year in a wonderful restaurant in Columbus: amazing food, wonderful friends, rich, funny talk that swirled and hugged us. We had the best time.

What we didn’t know until a few weeks later, when she texted us, was that our wonderful friend had, just days before, been diagnosed with cancer. She hadn’t wanted to spoil our celebration; she didn’t want to darken our holidays. So she waited until after to tell us that jarring news.

There was hopeful news, too; that surgery might well get it all, and that only radiation might be needed as follow up therapy. We are, all of us, connected in a web of prayer and hope, groping to figure out the best way to be a friend to a strong, proud woman who has mighty supporters by her side.

I just keep thinking about that day at the restaurant, about the real joy on her face at seeing everyone.

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Connie, my fit-bit, continues to push. I will steal an hour for reading time, and she’ll nudge me after thirty minutes. ‘Want to stroll?’ she’ll ask. Or, ‘Only fifty more steps to 250 this hour!’ she’ll remind me.

Yesterday, I had a work-at-the-computer, go-to-meeting kind of day. I found myself walking around the block last night at 9:15, getting my final steps in so I’d reach my daily goal. I am not sure what Connie would say to me if I let her down on that.

Today, I decided to forestall her by getting a lot of steps in early. So I laced up my sneakers, pulled on my tomato-red coat, and wrapped my hand-knit, scrappy scarf tightly around my neck. It’s COLD outside.

And I set out for a walk.

The sun was shining in a sky only lightly scudded with puffy white clouds, and barely a dust of snow remained. The day was open and clear and free. I stepped around frozen puddles and navigated by manic squirrels. I laughed when unwieldy crows decided they really would have to flap themselves away: apparently, I wasn’t thinking about yielding the sidewalk to them.

There were some runners out, and a few other walkers, and nice people in cars stopped and waved me across the streets I have to cross.

A bright day, crisp and cold and champagne-clear air. It felt good to swing my arms and stretch my legs.

But there in the back of my mind was this nagging thought: it may LOOK nice out, but weather is brewing. Storm is coming. Tomorrow, I thought, I probably won’t be able to stride along happily. Tomorrow the snow will fall, despite today’s cheerful weather.

Things aren’t always the way they look.

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I have this other friend. She is also brave and true, and she has been in my life for a long, long time. We were girls together, sweet, silly girls who didn’t know how that life-tumbler arranges to sand down our sharp edges, to polish our facets, to mold us into the people we need to be to meet the challenges we never expected to face.

One of the joys of my life is that, although our paths diverged, we reconnected several years ago, and have grown closer now than we ever were as girls.

This other friend went in for a kind of routine check-up yesterday and got news she never expected to hear. Devastating news, although all the reports are not yet in.

That news rides with me, lodges in the back of my neck, aches like a nasty infection. So how must that news bear down on my very dear friend and the people who love her best?

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My younger brother Sean texted this week. Uncle Joe was in ICU, he said. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but it didn’t look too good. In fact, it looked damned serious.

That message came when it was approaching ten o’clock one night.

The next day, Sean texted a photo. Uncle Joe was sitting in bed, grinning. He was holding the hand of a pretty young nurse, and she was grinning, too.

Once again, despite all appearances, he’d rallied.

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I needed two thousand more steps to satisfy my hungry fit-bit, so later this afternoon, before I drove James to his book club, I went out, again, for a walk. The sky was milky now, thick with clouds. Six deer were in the street; they stared me down for a minute, and then flicked their tails at me and bounded for the woods.

I wondered why they were out in force in the middle of the day, and I wondered if they sensed, somehow, the storm to come.

And I thought of my valiant friends, and my indomitable uncle, and I thought that all I know is that I DON’T know. Things might look great, but there are no guarantees. Things might look bad, but they won’t necessarily stay that way.

What I need to do, I decided, is to stop taking things for granted. I need to cherish this time, and the people put here to share it with me.

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