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Friday, February 12, 2010

Letters, memories, and the power of both for Valentine's Day

I am not even sure where this post will lead, but I felt absolutely compelled to write something right now. As a cancer survivor and as someone who works with and meets a lot of other cancer survivors, I have become very involved in other people's stories. Many of the people I meet I know extremely well, and feel lucky enough to call them friends. Some of them I have never met, yet I still feel like I know them well and hold them in a special place in my heart. We meet through phone calls, emails, message board postings, and on a place called Caring Bridge. For those of you who aren't familiar, Caring Bridge is a free website for people to set up their own webpage when they are facing some sort of illness. It is a wonderful way to keep family, friends and others informed about your welfare, updated on your health care plan, and to keep in touch without having to make a million phone calls. For people who decry the death of the written word because of technology, I am telling you it lives on Caring Bridge. (And on blogs too, for that matter.) I treasure the Caring Bridge postings of a friend who is no longer alive. They were intimate letters that allowed us into her heart, mind and soul. Her posts were sad, frightened, uplifting, funny, hopeful, and more. They were a gift to everyone who read them, and there was more to learn from them besides the details of her day to day life.

I guess I survive on the belief that life really is all about stories and what we learn from them. Maybe that makes me a true romantic. But I believe I've seen enough to know it's true. We all live similar lives, many of the things we do are mundane, but if we look deeper, there is magic there. And moments of insight that need to be examined reverently to make sure we are truly living. Perhaps this comes easier to people who face something life-threatening. There's nothing like cancer when it comes to receiving a giant wake-up call. Everyone's heard people say things like, "it makes me treasure every moment I'm alive." But is that really possible? Sometimes life needs to stew a bit for the truth, the meaning, the message to bubble to the surface.

My point of writing was really to share the following Caring Bridge journal update I read today. This is from someone I have never met. But I am touched so deeply by it. I hope that you will be touched in some way too. This is my Valentine's gift to all of you. FYI: I am changing the names in this post to protect this person's privacy. But the moment, the learning, the life lesson included is just too valuable not to share. Here it is:

A few years back my sister had a convertible. Elizabeth, Mary and I had lunch at Pizza Luce in Duluth on some sunny spring day while Joe stayed at my parents house. After a pizza, salad and a few bloody marys Elizabeth and Mary went to some boutique store to look at scarfs and I wandered across the street to The Electric Fetus to look for a disc. A few minutes into the store after thumbing through a few stacks of CD's, I found it, Duluth Does Dylan Revisited. I needed this CD. I bought the CD. Also a dress for Elizabeth. Slightly buzzed from the vodka, eyes squinting from the sun, and elated about my find, I met up with Elizabeth and Mary at the car. Now lets remember this is Duluth in the spring so it is not all that warm but we put the top down on Mary's car and with Mary driving we took off. Elizabeth put in the disc and I told her put on song two. Soon a hauntingly beautiful sound rose from the speakers. It was Cloud Cult singing Mr. Tambourine Man. The song was so perfect for that day. Driving the long way back to my parents house, up the steep hills, down the winding roads through the trees past a place that made Elizabeth and I laugh (only we know why), and eventually after about 6 times of listening to the song, back to my parents house. We all were smiling. Elizabeth looked beautiful in the front seat with her sunglasses on, goosebumps on her arms and cheeks red form the wind. She looked at me so many times on that ride with such passion in her eyes. After the first time we listened the song she turned around, gave me a kiss and said I love you. It was a great Sunday afternoon.

Two days ago while driving Katie home from school, I put in a unmarked cd and a few songs into it, the song came on. Just me and Katie in the car listening to this song. We as a family have listened to it a hundred times together dancing in our dinning room. But this time, like the first time was different. Katie stopped talking and listened to the song. It ended and she said "Daddy? Isn't that a pretty song? I love you." It was a great Wednesday evening ride home.

I love both of you too!


I became acquainted with this family who lives in the Twin Cities a few years ago. Obviously they have ties to Duluth. But the wife, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with a particularly nasty kind of breast cancer. Since then, she has had to go through far more than one person should. Her cancer is Stage IV which means it has spread, and she fights now to stay alive as long as possible.

I thought this letter was one of the most beautiful love letters I've ever read. I posted a message to the author letting him know how deeply touched I am by the story. I also wanted to let him know about the following: coincidentally, the Young Survival Coalition Duluth office is now located above the Electric Fetus in downtown Duluth. When I sit at my desk, I look at Pizza Luce across the street. Cory absolutely loves to come to the office with me since it means he can lose himself in the CD stacks of the Electric Fetus. I will never be able to look at that building again without thinking of them. And a gift I am giving myself for Valentine's Day is to go in and purchse that CD, put on that song, and dance with my family.

Have a wonderful day. Tell your family you love them. And stop every now and then and pay attention to life. Happy Valentine's Day!!!

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