on cancer, canoes and connectedness

About a year ago, when I was on an adventure in Boston, I met up with my friend Sara. Or rather, she met up with me--waiting eagerly at the train station at 6am-ish as I arrived not-so-freshly from a cross-country red-eye flight.

We spent a magical day together, filled with good strong coffee & bundt cake, napping on the couch with the rascally Sam-kitty, visiting Author's Ridge, and then the very best part: we spontaneously decided to go canoeing down the Concord River. Let me just say why this was kind of an odd idea. Me, I'd been seriously ill for the previous six months and had just had surgery three weeks earlier. Sara had also had a rough year herself(!), including surgery for a brain tumor and metastasized cancer in various places around her body. Oh, and we both happened to be missing our right legs, too (that damn cancer, taking both of our legs many years ago). But we did it anyways. It was a gorgeous autumn day on the river, straight out of a postcard. We paddled for an hour out and about as long back in. We talked and she joked about my awful steering (ha! the irony!). I hadn't been canoeing in years and it meant so much to me to be out on the water with Sara, in that very special place.

Fast forward a few months...when I learned that Sara had died. Within hours of hearing the news, I was out on the water paddling with my outrigger canoe team. I wanted to tell my new teammates about how sad and empty I was feeling, but I knew I couldn't hold it together to even speak the words. I just paddled and felt my gut wrench with every stroke. At one point we paused in the mouth to the harbor and I looked out over the waves and the rolling sea and connected with Sara one last time and said good-bye.

There's something special about the space between the open sea and the calmer channel waters. The boat floats differently there, as if it's eager to get out on the ocean. The anticipation picks up, along with the current and the cresting waves on the rocks. While there I find myself gazing out to the ocean, feeling its pulse and sensing my place in all of it.

I don't pray anymore and I don't believe in divine intervention in my life. But if there was a place where wishes could come true, where I could believe for a moment that I really was connected to something cosmically bigger than myself and my hopes could be made manifest, it would be right there in the harbor mouth. And that's how I felt again tonite, too.


Elise J said...

That was beautiful, Jana. Ryan has similar "divine-like" feelings when he is in the water surfing, like he is in a place where he can connect with something larger than himself.

I think one of the special parts of what you described feeling at the mouth of the harbor is that you are with other people when you feel it - I can only imagine that at least sometimes, they are feeling the same sense of awe.

I feel what you described at the tops of high places - I've felt it a handful of times after a very difficult hike, where I've reached the top of a mountain or cliff and can see where I've just come from with a "from-above" perspective.

jana said...

I wish I could hike--I think I would feel that same way, too! But for me, being buoyed by the current and the waves is really what does it. It's like I can move beyond thinking and just "be" at one with everything around me. It makes sense to me that Ryan feels that way about surfing--I can't imagine why else he'd get up at such awful-early hours to hit the water!

I am only just beginning to learn what it means to be a part of a team. I fear that sometimes I haven't been as supportive of my teammates as I could be, simply because I'm someone who enjoys solitude and I've always been a solo sport person (swimming, weightlifting, etc). But I am learning and reveling in what it means to be so close to my teammates and seeing the beauty and strength that comes from supporting each other.

gs said...

Wonderfully observed, wonderfully expressed. Thank you.