My beloved, Pearl, and I were still in our pyjamas, eating breakfast, when Eli tapped on the window. Luna, his Malamute, stood beside him on the deck.
Our northern summer was drawing to a close, but the sun was still warm. Eli and I sat side by side in the old, wooden Adirondack chairs, facing the trees. Dew turned to vapour above the strawberry patch. The spruce trees stood motionless, undisturbed by the light breeze. A raven called from the top of tallest one. Luna lay down, planting her chin on my moccasin.
Eli is a dear friend. He is also my doctor. “I’ve got my doctor hat on this morning,” he clarified.
“Okay,” I said.
“The other night, I was looking at that lump on your head,” he told me. “I don’t like the look of it.”
We were all at Sandra and Glen’s wedding at the legion that Saturday. Everyone at our table told uproarious stories about their respective weddings — about how we met our wives and husbands, and about the hijinks of our youth. We drank wine, danced and laughed our faces red. And, evidently, Eli was troubled by the lump on my forehead — above my left eye and to the right of my temple — already disfigured by a previous surgery.
“Me either,” I said, “but they said it’s just scarring or a nerve bundle, or something. The MRIs all come back clear.”
“I don’t believe the MRI,” Eli countered.
I pressed on the lump above my eye with the heel of my hand. “The last two MRIs, I asked the technician, ‘this thing is in the target range, right?’ They said ‘yes.’ Those both came back clear.”
“Yep. I just don’t believe the reports.”
Between Eli’s judgement and that of a million-dollar magnetic resonance imaging machine, I chose his. Hands down. Besides, his doubts confirmed my own misgivings. I pressed on the knob with my thumb. It felt like a budding horn. My annual technological reassurances that I am cancer-free had been illusory.
Usually, stoicism is my first response — my default and go-to in fearful times. Denial and bargaining aren’t my way. Instead, surrender. That’s life. What’re you gonna do? I do not offer this observation as prescriptive. It is just where I go first.
I sighed. “What should we do?”
“I’d like you to go back down to Princess Margaret. See the oncologist and the surgeon again. Check it out. Just to be sure.” Just to be sure, but he knows already. And in my heart, so do I.
“But the MRIs all came back good.” Even to me, my voice sounded unconvinced.
We sat on my deck silently, breathing in the scent of strawberries, cedar and spruce trees. The pungent smell of compost lifted on a warm huff of air. In the distance, a lawn mower barked to life.
“Here we go again.”
Eli then rested his hand on my forearm. “I’d just feel better if we checked it out.”
“Well, okay,” I said, “if it’ll make you feel better.” We laughed.
I don’t recall whether Eli and Luna left on the path into the woods out back or up the sidewalk out front. My head was elsewhere. I took a deep lung-full of air, blew it out and went inside to tell my Pearl.
That’s how it begins. One moment, it’s all breakfast, sunshine and strawberries, and the next, The Way of the Downward Path comes knocking. No need to go looking for it; it always finds us.
So we tie up our boots and strap on a light backpack containing the bare essentials. We can’t bring all of the puny concerns that weigh down our normal day. We have to leave behind the shame of weakness, fear and disability in a world that idolizes strength, certainty and independence. Our voice might break, but we need to share the bad news with those who we trust to walk beside us. Break open to grace and blessing. Break open to all of the beauty we’ve been overlooking. Cry joy over being alive — the way we would everyday if we were paying attention.