A couple days ago, in the local garage waiting room, getting the brakes fixed on the truck, I ran into a friend waiting for new brakes too. We did a double take: I was wearing a baseball cap, he was bald, we both had to look hard to recognize each other. I haven’t seen him all winter, although he lives on a lake nearby. Time slips by….
It turns out that my friend and his wife were both recently diagnosed with different forms of cancer. With a twinkle in his eye, he told me they’ve been married for 52 years, and began their chemo treatment on the same day, in adjacent easy chairs, with tandem IV drips. My heart did a little clenching thing. I have been particularly drawn to him because he reminds me of my Uncle Dan, and I’m really fond of Uncle Dan. And this guy has always been a friend to Tuscarora, long before we came along.
He has been my personal towboat trainer, for canoe shuttles across Saganaga. It is a little complicated to navigate that big lake from above, but ever so much trickier to know the rock piles just below the surface…..I believe Saganaga means “lake with many islands”. Many many islands lie below the water, waiting to sabotage the prop.
The deal is, on some calm spring day, I make the sandwiches, and he patiently shows me more rock piles. He’s trained many of our staff boat drivers too…. identifying Red Tank Island, Munker’s Narrows, giving little navigational tricks, naming “Your Friend” the small island with the cradle knoll deadfall on it. He identifies the wind route, and the mnemonic tricks for Red Rock Bay…truly, he’s the master. I still have more to learn, because I can’t actually plug in a cord and download his years of quiet knowledge into my head. So, I try to go out with him every year. It’s very pleasant.
I read somewhere, that the view from the edge of life is much clearer. So, as I sat next to this good guy, I tried to download some some of his insight, and some sort of hope in his prognosis. There is always calmness surrounding him, but if I look directly into his eyes, sometimes his emotions are subtly revealed. During the Ham Lake fire, we were eating the evacuation meals at the church, he was composed, but his eyes were really worried. At an unexpected funeral of a dear friend of theirs, in his eyes I could feel his deep sorrow.
In the shop the other day, I think I was reading clear optimism in his eyes. And kindness, and always interest in us. No awkwardness. Honest straight up replies. Every so often, his eyes would shine a little, as I wondered how he and his wife pulled all that off at once…physically, emotionally. He looked really healthy and happy. He admitted with humor, that he had been told that “bald is hot” when I complemented him on his nicely shaped head. He tenderly said his wife’s bald head was even more attractively symmetrical. Then we were quiet for a minute, at the irony of the conversation.
He clearly has a solid faith, not often revealed in his reserved Lutheran style, but radiating through his serene self.
As I drove away in my car with the new brakes, I remembered my farmer grandpa saying “it just feels funny that I won’t be around for another harvest.” And I wondered how my daily choices would be different, if I thought I my spring seasons were numbered? It made me resolve to take more time for people that I wish I knew a little better…and to live a little like there’s no tomorrow.
It made me grateful for people who are my teachers. People who model ways to approach the rock piles under the surface of life with grace and kindness, and wide open optimism. I realized that my friend had shared really sad news with me, but after the time hanging with him, I was driving away happier. And that was a great navigational trick!
April 6, 2009