My friend Josie and I have known each other since we were 15. We were friends in high school, roommates in college, and have visited one another across the United States over the tenure of our friendship. When undergraduate graduation was upon me, she and I went out to dinner at a Thai restaurant in St. Louis that is still there 19 years later, and talked about our future and the precipice we stood on. We were young, naïve, full of hopes, dreams, and what ifs.
The six-month inception
That night over Thai food, we made a date, six months from the day of our
dinner, to check in with each other. Long before smart phones and google
calendars, Josie remembers that I wrote the date on my hand to mark the
occasion. I can imagine heading home, opening my paper calendar and writing the
six-month reminder. We knew then that our lives would be totally different in
six months, unrecognizable even. We would no longer be living together,
splitting bills, sharing laughs, tears, and clothes. We would probably both
have different jobs, live in different states, and be on a path we couldn’t predict.
We didn’t know anything, and the crazy thing is that we weren’t just OK with
that, we were excited.
There was acceptance in the unknown and uncertainty. There was expectation
in new experiences and people, as well as the giddy, bubbly fuel of anticipation.
Friendship as witness
Josie and I have traveled together from London to Puerto Rico, Portugal to Morocco. No matter what state we live in or country we are visiting together, when things are tough, we remind each other of that dinner in Missouri almost 20 years ago. We remind each other that the only constant is change; that when things are bad, they won’t be forever and goodness, serendipity, and divine intervention are all at play. Anything can happen in six months. We’ve watched for almost three decades as one another’s lives have grown, changed and turned upside down and inside out.
There is something truly exceptional about a friendship that has born witness to so much of a person’s life. Josie and I are similar in ways and polar opposites in others. But the fact remains that one of us will bring up the six month rule, always.
Where did the acceptance go?
Somewhere between growing older, adulting, moves, bills, chronic illness and a divorce, I thought I had life figured out. I thought I was a good person who was owed good things. I thought I could over plan, predict, and impact what life threw at me. With planning, preparation, and a healthy dose of anxiety, I was in control. I know that I didn’t deserve the impossible hand I was dealt last year, but it’s the life I was given and the life I made through choices.
But now, I want wonder, awe, unpredictability, and failure back.
Our lives are not supposed to be perfectly curated. Songs, tv shows, books, friends, dates, all neatly slotted into an algorithm. Everything is automated — maps, calendars, reminders. Where is the mental stimulation and engagement? Where is the new and unexpected? Where is the disappointment and learning opportunity?
So often I revert to travel stories in my explanations and this is no different. I’ve wandered upon a sidewalk café in Granada, Spain and dined al fresco with the smell of hookah smoke wafting my way because I didn’t have a plan. And I still remember that dinner. I’ve gotten lost in Budapest where I couldn’t even fake speaking Hungarian, and managed through gestures and the kindness of strangers to find my way back. I was given an Air BnB address in the middle of a medieval street in a small town in Southern France that google maps wouldn’t and couldn’t pin point. That apartment is one of the best locations I’ve rented in the entire world. What at first glance seemed scary or could have easily put me in a bad situation, became a favorite experience, a memory that I treasure.
I was boring!
On a recent vacation I was afraid I would be a burden, that airplanes and airports would be hard, that I would slow my traveling companions down. I was sad at the chasm of what I wanted to do and what my body was able to do but, at the end of the day, I still did it. I noted on a particularly hard travel day the absence of anxiety. I had no clue what to expect from travel in my current state therefor I couldn’t even begin to be nervous. There was freedom and joy in the not knowing. And, newsflash, between multiple unexpected medical emergencies from my travel companions, I was the least interesting medical issue of the trip.
I returned from one international venture and promptly booked another. I can do hard things.
I’ve received copious feedback from loved ones (and strangers) on the impact of my writing. They’ve told me that my posts evoke a strong emotional response. When I was writing it, I was experiencing it but not always feeling and reliving. Now, on the other side, I reread and I am overwhelmed. I have a visceral reaction with sense memory. I lived through it and yet, it’s hard to believe what I did last year. I started reading a few posts, my catheter insertion, Maggie’s post on my first day of chemo, and my subsequent 911 call. Where did the year go? Where was I then and where am I now? There are of course constants like my job and my family, but so much is different from one year ago, from six months ago.
So much is harder but so much is more wonderful than I could have imagined.
At the start of 2022, I had never heard of HSCT. A year post transplant, I’m ever so curious to see where I will be six months from now. I hope it’s unexpected. I hope I’m surprised. I hope I am able to savor the not knowing. I hope I try new things. I hope I try and fail 1,000 times. I hope I savor the simple and am continually surprised at the wonderfulness of people. It’s trying, it’s effort, it’s reflection that matters to me.
In six months, I look forward to catching up with Josie and reflecting on all the surprises this life provided.