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It’s March 20th. The first day of spring. A time that for most of us marks a beginning. A sense of relief (phew, we made it!) and excitement for all that’s to come (it is coming, you know). New growth, lengthening days, all the signs of life returning.
It is not so for the Meyer family. This day, one year ago, marked the beginning of the end. There was new growth alright, but not the kind that anyone wanted. The discovery of a new tumor in Rebecca’s brain and the stark reality — that her parents already knew but had hoped they’d never have to truly experience — that there were no more options. There was nothing to be done.
It wasn’t the end of hope. The family kept fighting, kept searching, kept grasping desperately for any possible way to extend her life. But they knew. One year ago today, on the first day of spring, they knew what was coming. And they knew they couldn’t stop it.
I still have hope. I hope that they Meyers will heal. That each day, they’ll feel a little more joy and a little more peace. That one day, they’ll laugh til tears run down their cheeks and they forget, even if just for a moment, that they’re sad.
And I hope that this is the beginning of the end of childhood cancers that kill. I’m not convinced that we can actually end childhood cancer, though that certainly is the goal. But I do truly believe that we can end childhood cancers that kill. I think with the right combination of funding and technology, brilliant minds and steadfast determination, doctors can achieve that much.
And I also truly believe that we took one step in that direction on Sunday. That the brave acts of the youngest among us will, in a real tangible way, move us closer to that goal.
I’ll repeat some of the things I said on Sunday, variations of which I shared twice, once with the Feldman family in the beginning of the event and again with the Meyer family in the middle.
The children of Fernway School and those of Fairfax School have had to learn some hard lessons in the past week and in the past year. They’ve had to see, up close and personal, how sad and cruel and deeply unfair the world can be. But they’ve also had the opportunity to see how good the world can be. How much kindness and selflessness there is out there. How many people are willing to come to your side in a time of need, to stand by you, hold your hand and bolster you up. How many are willing to do what’s right even when it’s terrifying.
They’ve seen that there is a time for laughter and lightness, a time to honor and celebrate what we’ve lost while still looking forward. They know what it means to sacrifice, to give when you know that you won’t get anything back from it. Every person in that room could have shaved their heads on Sunday and it wouldn’t bring Dan or Rebecca back. But they were still willing to do it. Because they embody hope.
Because they still believe in new beginnings.
I feel like I’ve spent the better part of 2011 complaining about the weather. First, it was the endless snow, waking up every Friday morning to an additional twelve inches of white stuff covering our world. Then it was the endless rain, day upon day of spring spent running from one destination to another, head down and umbrella up, puddles of mud blocking your way. And now, inevitably, it’s July in Cleveland, with its requisite 90 degrees and humidity so thick you start sweating the second you get out of the shower.
I’ve wondered if maybe I’m just getting old, like now I’m grumpy and can’t tolerate what we once thought normal. But then I listen to the local meteorologists and am strangely comforted by the fact that we do indeed keep breaking new records. We all know this past winter was an extreme case, as evidenced by the five snow days. I think I had five snow days in my entire young life. They were so rare I can remember them still: One in second or third grade spent in the yard of our Swiss neighbors, the Zuberbeulers (could that really have been their name?) building snow forts and having epic snowball fights. Another (which might have been a cold day, not an actual snow day) in eleventh grade the day before winter vacation that surely wrecked havoc on the teachers’ gradebooks since many papers were due and many tests were scheduled that could hardly be repeated two weeks later. And this year … five. The state legislature actually changed the law in January to increase the allotted days from three to five. So you don’t need me to tell you that this winter was unusually awful.
And then on the first day of May, all the news contained the delightful little fact that we had accumulated more inches of rain in April than in any previous month on record. And then yesterday was the hottest day in sixteen years, since another 98-degree day in July of 1995 (which I spent in the even hotter city of Houston, Texas).
I’m relieved when I hear these reports because I feel vindicated, like at least it’s not me. At least the weather really is as bad as it feels. And I’m not the guy climbing up ladders to install windows or paint the exterior of houses, working six or seven days a week to make up for the lost jobs of springtime. Nor am I the child (i.e. Braedan) off at camp with the distinct privilege of horseback riding for an hour each day, which requires wearing jeans and a helmet. So I really shouldn’t complain. But I still do.
But now the storm has come through and cooled things down a good twenty degrees, so it’s out to sit on the front porch swings with my sweetie(s) to enjoy a cool summer evening.
I went for a run today, which wasn’t terribly productive. The sidewalks were nonexistant and the roads had several inches of hard-packed snow making me feel like I was running in place. Which is how cancer treatment in general feels sometimes. Like we put forth enormous effort and get all tired out, but don’t get much of anywhere.
That’s not true, of course. We should be “getting somewhere;” it’s just not a place we can see. And the marbles are indeed moving, one jar almost equal to the other (although I think it’s time for me to sneak some extras into the “Days Left” jar). But I do feel like we’re just bidding our time, waiting for it all to be over.
We all start to feel like that at this point in the year (especially this year, when the whole country is buried under snow) — wondering when spring will come, counting the days until the warm weather hits. It’s especially so when you’ve got a kid with cancer: Let’s just get through this, let the dark days end, let the sun shine again.
Funny thing, though, is that Austin isn’t bidding his time. He isn’t just waiting for it all to be over. He’s still living each day to the fullest. Today we tried to build a snowman (but it wasn’t good packing snow), he went sledding with Braedan and Daddy, and in between he jumped on the bed and the couch and down the stairs. No waiting for this kid, no running in place.
There is still joy, even with gray skies.