“Be thankful for what you’ve got” We all know the phrase, we’ve all said it before in some form to ourselves, to others, to our kids. Thing is, we don’t get it. We don’t really get it until something punches us in the gut. Sometimes it’s something that happens to us, sometimes something that almost happens, other times it’s what happened to family or close friends and every once in a while you get a glimpse of it’s true meaning through the words of a stranger: “We’re all terminal” she said to me.
I met her a few weeks ago. She had won an award and was visiting Baton Rouge from across the country to receive it and be celebrated. Within two minutes of meeting her I could see why. Her openness, her laughter, her light impressed both my makeup artist and I. I was there to help celebrate her but she made us feel special. She’s a single mom to a 3 year old beautiful baby girl. She had been separated for a while but her husband filed for divorce papers 2 weeks after she received the worst news of her life. She was diagnosed with a stage four brain tumor and given 6 to 12 months to live. This was her 8th month.
I didn’t know the details as I was driving to the hotel for her photoshoot. And I confess that one of the things occupying my thoughts was did she have hair? If not was she wearing a wig? I had brought scarves just in case. Would I know how to tie them? Would she even want them? Truly incredible people make you realize just how little you really know and just how insignificant your perceived problems really are.
And she was incredible. I don’t know what I expected to see. You get an image in your head of cancer patients and it’s one of despair and sadness and heaviness. She was the absolute opposite. She was beautiful and cheerful and light. She was open with us and made us feel at ease about referencing the big bad elephant in the room. She gushed about her daughter and how incredible the people on the trip had been and she was excited about life and what it had in store for her. And yes, she had all her hair but it didn’t matter. The beauty was in her eyes and in her laugh.
I didn’t understand at first. I really didn’t. How could she? How could she bear the knowledge that she might not get to see her daughter grow up, graduate high school, be at her wedding, be there for all the milestones and the not milestones, the everyday moments that can bring so much joy. How could she stand the thought that her laughs and cuddles with her daughter were numbered?! I would be furious, I would be desperate, I would be desolate… and in that I suppose I would be dead before I was dead. But not her. She was truly living.
So when she said to me “We are all terminal after all” well, that was my gut punch. We’re all terminal but most of us don’t know the time frame. She just has more of an idea about hers. And so she lives like she was dying. And so she lives more fully and more beautifully than many of us live in a lifetime.
As she blew in and out of my life in mere moments she left behind a world of emotions and some deep realizations. I sat in my car in the parking lot of the hotel after the photoshoot talking to my husband on the phone. I had called him to tell him I was on my way back and I could hear my son laughing in the background. His laughter was sweeter and more musical than I had ever heard it. Apparently he’d been giggling all evening at his dad’s silly antics. The world slowed down for a minute and I experienced glimpses of deep, clear gratitude and love. I felt so thankful for my son and his amazing father who was always there for him and for me and I was thankful for this woman’s beautiful spirit even in the face of such a difficult trial. I also felt a deep, sad love for all of us who walk through life in a fog thinking we have all the time in the world and ignoring the fact that all our days are numbered.
Take a breath this thanksgiving season and stop for a second to really look and really see the love and beauty surrounding you. Listen to the laughter and join in it, really feel the warmth in those hugs and kisses, take a moment to really touch a face you love or squeeze a hand a little tighter. Step out of the fog of dissatisfaction, step away from the constant chase for something more and really let yourself be in the beauty of your life, however long or however brief it might turn out to be.