There are moments – increasing in frequency and intensity – when I am amazed at the depth of my happiness. The happiness I know now is richer, more substantial, than anything I knew before cancer. This weekend, not unexpectedly, was a relentless love barrage. The only things missing were my husband and pets. (And to be perfectly honest, it was kind of nice not being the victim of feline nocturnal terror for a few nights.)
What was it? At its essence, it was my first, long-anticipated opportunity to spend a whole weekend taking care of my nephew. I had imagined this moment for years – an opportunity to do the Aunt Thing full-on. OK, so we didn’t end up flying kites or dancing on rooftops with chimney sweeps, but it was a gorgeous weekend filled with precious moments that only my amazing nephew knows now to conjure. Ours has been a special bond since his first days, and the time we spent together this weekend just served to solidify and magnify the overwhelming love I have for him.
Whether baking cookies together, playing duck-duck-goose in the park with friends, having a bath, or reading bedtime stories, we just rocked that special love that exists between aunt and nephew. It warmed my heart, and best of all, didn’t leave me with that sad, empty feeling that I would sometimes get, in the immediate aftermath of treatment, thinking about the children I will never bear. As I told one of my new friends from Moab during camp last month, I try each day, now that my heart has had a chance to heal, to think about the things that I do have, rather than the things I don’t.
What I do have, in this moment, is a life that is filled to bursting with love. As if the magic of so much uninterrupted time with Oscar wasn’t enough, my happiness this weekend was compounded not once, but twice. This morning, my dear friend Eve and her partner brought their adorable four-month old, Charlotte, over for bagels and coffee. Eve is one of my oldest and most beloved friends, and she has proven a patient and devoted friend, most recently demonstrating tremendous compassion and understanding as I fumbled through my long-winded explanation about why I couldn’t come to her baby shower over the winter. I have said it before and I will say it again, Eve is a once in a lifetime kind of friend, the kind of soul I just feel so fortunate to have as part of my life.
So Eve and I sat in the sunshine on my sister’s balcony on this brilliant early afternoon, and has always been the case in our friendship, honesty and forthrightness guided our conversation. We talked freely about work, life, houses, her new challenges as a mother, the mysteries of children. When the subject of adoption came up, I found myself uttering words that hadn’t really occurred to me before, but which felt completely true: “Right now, I am so happy, my life feels so full, that I am patient. I no longer feel like there is this huge gaping whole in my life where the child I was meant to bear should be. I just want to increase the happy, and I would really like to do that by bringing a child into our family.” Sometimes, all it takes is the right audience to help you get to the essence of things.
In saying those words, in having that realization, I was able to tap directly into the life force that is coursing through me, through the people who I love, who enrich my life and bring me joy. And so, the sky became a little bluer, the sunshine a bit warmer on my skin. Love will do that. There has been theoretical talk of 2010 being the year that we start the adoption process, but it wasn’t until I unearthed that insight while talking with Eve that I realized I might truly be ready to try and give this a go – wherever the process may take us.
That would have been enough, really. After all, there has to be a limit to the good vibes. At some point, at this rate, won’t I just end up walking around with a deranged smile on my face, eyes glazed over, stumbling like a drunken fool?
But there was more. Once my sister and her husband returned home, I stepped out for a meet-up with two of my fellow Moab campers, Ceasar and Phoenix. We met at a bustling Mexican restaurant on the Upper West Side, and later migrated, after grabbing some Starbucks, to a bench on the median at 93rd and Broadway. There we sat for over an hour, as slightly deranged homeless, disheveled folks rotated through on the bench next to us. We laughed like lunatics, sharing memories from camp, talking about treatment and support groups and traveling, our homes, our pets, our lives. Surrounded by speeding buses and taxicabs and tall buildings rather than red rocks and canyons, the energy and magic generated in Moab were undiminished.
Ceasar, with her blunt, frank demeanor and her enormous heart, is possibly one of the funniest people I have ever met. The belly laughs we shared in Utah continued this afternoon in New York, as I hope they will for many, many years to come. And Phoenix, facing a stem-cell transplant eight years after her initial diagnosis with CML, is a fearless warrior who answers the frustrations of her treatment with a determination and unstoppable spirit that leaves me truly astounded. She climbed the rocks in Utah like a woman possessed, and has recently taken up running with an equivalent zeal. “Inspiration” is a word I try to use sparingly, but I freely offer it up to describe Phoenix.
After this weekend, it seems appropriate to once again recognize the ways in which my cancer journey has led me to a place of such exponentially increasing joy. Are my psychic surroundings really that much sharper, in that much greater focus, than they were before my illness? Do I love people that much more? Has cancer made me prettier? Am I nicer? Funnier? Are my friends that much warmer, more supportive, more giving?
I can’t quite explain it. But as I said to Oscar and his friend Noah in an effort to mediate a playtime dispute, “Life’s too short to have a saggy diaper.”
So let’s keep increasing the happy.