We are all pleasantly collapsing into the soft places of our house, tired from the sun and the surf, full of gratitude for a family vacation that felt too short–the surest sign of a great time. We enjoyed each other’s company, good books, excellent food, gorgeous sunsets, and giant, dripping ice cream cones. We are so thankful to Michael’s amazing mama for treating us to such a delightful and sorely needed getaway.
This morning, we visited Captiva Beach one last time before heading home. The shell mandala we created on Friday is still nearly perfectly in tact. Banyan and I had intended to record our messages for his camp counselor before our vacation, but time felt too rushed for such a task. This morning was perfect. We walked up near the dunes and called the number we were given. The voice of another camp friend was on the other end of the line with instructions. Banyan recorded his message first. It was so kind, so thoughtful, so genuine, so innocent that by the time he handed the phone to me, I was having a hard time speaking around the lump in my throat. I fumbled with my words and ended our recording with several seconds of the sounds of the ocean. I was wishing for saltwater healing for our friend. We hung up the phone and wrote our friend’s name in the sand, with the insignia for Camp Highlands next to it. As we were doing so, Michael shouted, “Dolphin!” and sure enough, our closest encounter of the weekend took place, with the gorgeous creature’s smooth round head and dorsal fin just a handful of yards from the shore.
The book I brought with me for this vacation is so good. It spoke to me loudly from the nonfiction shelf, with its linoleum cut cover design of a gorgeous bird of prey. I have felt a strong connection with hawks since I was a young girl, and the art of creative nonfiction is of special interest to me right now as I consider a book for other mothers with newly diagnosed children. H is for Hawk is gorgeously written. During our weekend in Captiva I walked down the beach several times, into the patches where there were no people. I watched the ospreys, hawks of the sea, catch fish in their talons and land on the dunes for a break before carrying their prey to their nests atop the Norfolk Island Pines. The book, and the osprey, and the dolphin, and our camp counselor friend, and Benji–got me thinking. Does cancer happen in the wild? Is this a domesticated disease? Why does it affect healthy people? Why children?
I did a little research, and found that animals in the wild are affected by cancer at roughly the same rates as we are. I come back to my analogy from early in Benjamin’s treatment: cancer is simply an invasive species. It was not born nor invited to the body it inhabits, but it takes residence and thrives there. Trying to discern why it chooses certain bodies is like trying to figure out why kudzu grows in one forest and not another. There may be clues buried there, beneath the thick layer of stubborn plants. Unearthing them is important, but must remain secondary to the mighty task of eradicating the kudzu in the first place.
Then, I look at Benjamin, and marvel at his strength, and his capacity for healing. I think of our friend who is grappling with a much harsher diagnosis. I think of the children whose mothers I have met online, who are marked as “terminal” and whose blinks and grunts are cause for celebration. It is natural to question this as well. Why is my son healing so beautifully when others cannot? I push these questions way down deep.
Gratitude comes easy tonight. For a sweet beachy weekend. For the kindness of my mother-in-law. For a family that values experiences and memories. For osprey. For dolphin. For healing, in all of its mysterious forms.