I am trying to learn from the cat. We’re outside, on the second-floor porch. It’s a late summer morning. I’m reading, book in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. I look up and see Lula watching the birds in the neighbors’ yard below.
When we got to the top of the mountain, I didn’t take my phone out of my knapsack. But my hiking companion did. To document our being there, at the modest summit, on a late August afternoon.
She asked me to sit on a rock ledge; I complied; she took my photo. I complied again when she turned the phone’s camera inwards and photographed us with our heads together. I politely offered to take her picture, then centered my friend in her phone’s video display with the surrounding valley as background. I tried to keep the four radio towers out of the frame.
Karen, one of my best friends, was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer in September 2019. At the time, she was working as a consultant in a small town in Utah. In early March 2020, before COVID took over the world, we talked at her house in New Hampshire about how getting a difficult diagnosis has changed the way she views the present moment.
Martha Henry: How did you end up in a hospital in Salt Lake City on Labor Day weekend?
Karen: I’d been experiencing some physical discomfort for several months and then had a bowel blockage. Joe, my husband, took me to the emergency room on a Saturday night.
How did you know you had a bowel blockage?
I didn’t until they told me. It was very different from food poisoning. The vomit had different smells.
The emergency room doctor gave me a CT scan. They pumped my stomach and got me stabilized. The doctor was looking at the scans with a flummoxed face. We heard him say something about, There’s more going on here than just the bowel blockage. He was consulting with doctors from Salt Lake who said, Get her up here.
They put me in an ambulance. I had nothing with me. We didn’t pack a bag. It was the middle of the night, driving miles and miles and miles. We didn’t know what was happening. Everything was surreal, like we knew we were in an alternate universe. Continue reading The Diagnosis and the Present Moment
Morning. Coast of Maine. Clear after three days of fog. The horizon visible for the first time since we’ve been here. Blue water, blue sky.
I drink coffee on the shale ledge, watch the tide go out, and wait for the heron to come and catch minnows in the shallows. The milk snake that slithers across the rocks on hot mornings is nowhere to be seen. Offshore, the lobsterman pulls traps from the back of his white boat.
When I think of a perfect morning, this is what I imagine. Here is where I’ve been wanting to be for weeks. Now here, the coffee half gone, the sound of breaking waves, the smell of beach roses and seaweed. The lone gull floating in the inlet takes flight, circles, and with a gentle splash returns to the water.
I’d been meaning to get to the Arboretum to enjoy the trees. To watch the leaves fall and swirl and drift their way down to the ground. And here it was, November, and somehow, though I’d left my job in June, I wasn’t finding the hours of free time I’d imagined. There were still so many tasks to accomplish, appointments to keep, new jobs to consider.
On election night I stayed up late with friends and slept late the next day. I slept past the time I usually meditate, which threw off my morning. It was a warm sunny day—likely one of the last of the season. I meant to get outside by 11:00, then noon, but wasted hours doing chores.
At 1:30, I finally made it out the door. The 281-acre Arnold Arboretum may be the best place in Boston to get a nourishing dose of nature. The park is a 20-minute drive from my house when there’s no traffic, over an hour when there is. My intention was to spend a lazy afternoon in the park, but I had to rush to get there so I could rush to get home so I wouldn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic. By the time I reached the Arboretum, my shadow was long on the ground.