One of the things my husband’s terminal cancer taught us was to sit up and pay attention. To this moment. This day. These simple pleasures that make up this good life. While we still had hours and days and breath.
As I write this, I’m tucked away in a beautiful, remote cabin on two thousand acres. My days are spent writing. But I’m also walking the high green hills. Counting wildflowers. Counting the deer and elk across the meadow. Making friends with the wild turkeys who gobble their wake-up call each morning at break of light. And hosting the occasional human visitor.
I brought a handful of books with me—this impractical thing I do, stuffing books into my backpack because I love the feel and heft of a real book when of course it makes much more sense to pack a single e-reader.
One of the books is Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist. The author shares thought-provoking stories that mostly center around her table and her love for cooking, around family and life with her husband and two young boys in the Chicago area.
In one of the essay-style chapters, Niequist reminisces about their wedding day when she and her new husband sipped champagne with wedding food and wedding cake spread out between them on a window seat high in a hotel overlooking Chicago.
Ten years later, while celebrating their anniversary, the couple considers the window seat and the cold leftovers to be one of the sweetest moments of their wedding day:
“You never know while it’s happening what will burn in your memory, sacred and profound. … When we want something to be momentous, it rarely is. Life is disobedient in that way, insisting on surprising us with its magic.”
After working through the initial shock and self-pity and anxiety over my husband’s cancer diagnosis, he and I set out to create memories, and speak hope and encouragement to others.
We established a non-profit and, working around our day jobs, shared what we were doing to live well with metastatic disease. And on our own dime, we explored the landscape after each speaking engagement.
Which means there are movie pictures in living color flickering on the screen of my memory bank. Sitting side-by-side on a Cascade mountain top. Driving through Vermont during leaf-changing season. The rather large bull elk that crossed our trail in the Rockies. Navigating the NYC subway system to meet up with kids and grands for buffalo burgers. Running from Pacific waves. Cheering on our son at the Boston Marathon. And exploring Utah’s orange canyons.
Wholly in each moment. And wholly given over to each moment.
Ironically, those last years of our marriage—the cancer years—were the best. Because we planned more fun and created more adventure. We took more risks, daring to believe there were audiences of people who would care to listen to our message of hope. We paid closer attention to the moments that make up a good life, even with cancer in the picture.
Now as a widow, settled into this sturdy log cabin on far-flung acreage, I am still paying attention and noticing the sacred and the profound – the wild colors and wildlife and wild sounds. These moments are also being burned into my movie collection.
Our unofficial mantra for the last years and months of Gary’s life is what I’m still living today:
Relish this moment. Drink in this simple joy. Whisper gratitude.
This thought from an author unknown:
“Count your blessings and your problems. If your problems outnumber your blessings, count again. Chances are the things you take for granted were not added.”
Which begs the question: What do you enjoy about the moment you’re living right now?
Marlys Johnson is a cancer widow, author, speaker & blogger. We first met her through her work coordinating St. Charles Medical Center’s Survivorship Program and her beloved husband, Gary – a CHN Support Volunteer for many years. Her passion for helping others navigate life’s challenges inspires us every day and we are delighted to share her insights.
To read more of Marlys’ work – and discover her love of all things outdoors – visit her blog Cancer Adventures.