I am drinking coffee, reading the paper and fielding interruptions from the kids in a parody of my own routine morning ordinariness when my phone rings. It is my friend Stephanie, whom I’ve known since we were in our mid 20s with nothing more complicated to care for than a handful of animals.
She made our wedding cake 12 years ago – zucchini with thick, chocolate frosting. I took a walk with her less than a week ago. She has learned that her daughter, Chloe, has leukemia. “I can’t believe I’m speaking that word,” she says. “This is a game-changer.”
If there are six degrees of separation between everyone on this planet, there is one degree of separation between everyone in Durango. Grocery shopping is like old home week; I make half my social plans in the produce aisle. I’ve run into people I know miles out in the backcountry, and I’ve yet to take a plane into or out of Durango where I didn’t know someone aboard. Even the dogs are in: Rose scored a new dog-walking client when a jogger recognized the dog she was currently walking and wanted to sign her dogs up.
Although Chloe’s cancer is completely treatable, Stephanie’s family will experience some very hard things in the next year. When they can’t hold themselves up anymore, the net of this community will catch them, relieving their ordinary burdens, so they can focus on the extraordinary.
There have been some devastating losses in our town in the past few months. Parents and children, their deaths rippling out across our collective hearts. In the following weeks we greet each other with extra long hugs and the shaking of heads because we are all affected, and often, there are no words. We show up with food, donations, child care, any comfort we can spare. These losses pull our world tighter, closer.
I keep wondering: how do you prepare for these game-changers? How do you go about drinking coffee, reading the paper, fielding interruptions from your children, knowing that in the shadows of this ordinary moment, unpredictability lurks like a predator?
When I was pregnant with Col, after experiencing an unusual second trimester miscarriage a year before, I was buoyant. I loved the indoor tickles of baby feet and the feeling that if this life I was growing had a brand name, it would be: world’s luckiest secret.
And yet, I was nervous that my happiness was distracting me from being prepared for all the other possibilities. Eugene Cash, a wise teacher in the Buddhist tradition, said to me: “If you are joyful, then be joyful! We don’t prepare for disappointments or tragedy by worrying. We also know that experiencing joy doesn’t bring down the wrath of tragedy, nor does it equate to being immune to disappointment. In fact, nothing will make you entirely immune to disappointment, so you might as well enjoy being joyful.”
Wait, was this the Ben and Jerry’s school of Buddhism? Just enjoy being joyful? No nifty Zen tricks or mind-bending efforts, which lead, like a lighted runway, directly to the prize of enlightenment? No need to imbibe happiness in careful moderation as if it were something on which one could dangerously overdose?
Two days later, I was emergency air-lifted to Denver, my joyous pregnancy a medical crisis. Everything Cash had said was true. It’s still true. Scouting around the corner, bracing oneself for tragedy in the distance does not equate to protection. There is no protection, no way around heartache but through the hot, sticky center.
And so we go on being grateful, recognizing that this life is ridiculously precious, and equally out of our control. Maybe remembering this helps us love better, letting the small grievances fall away. We nurture our tight-weave communities, which will spring into action on our behalf if needed. We practice gratitude like it’s our Ph.D. dissertation, knowing it will pry that crazy heart muscle open, letting in more light than we ever thought possible.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.