Friday, December 16, 2011

Your Wild and Precious Life

By Susan

As some of you may know, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with brain cancer about a year ago. I blogged about him here. This spring, after the surgery to remove his astrocytoma, I went to Austin, Texas. I stayed with him for a few days while he--unable to drive, work, or run--walked and talked his way into recovery.

We walked together--this marathoner and me--for miles and miles each day. And he talked. About his cancer, about his brain. About his daughter and wife. About the differences between how his brain worked now as opposed to before. Pre-brain-cancer and post-brain-cancer, for some people, is never the same place. My friend was unbelievably blessed with a skilled surgeon and the prayers of many to come out of the operating room as the same man he'd been going in. As we walked, he found that words appeared differently, or sometimes, didn't show up at all--when he summoned them. He realized that one side of his body wasn't as strong as it had been before.

But otherwise? He was miraculously and beautifully well.

When I prepared to leave his home, I noticed that the refrigerator was covered in word magnets. I left my mark by piecing together, word by word, a simple Mary Oliver quote from her poem The Summer Day:

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?"

I thought I was leaving the message for him, yet perhaps I left it for me. He'd been adamant that he'd lived his life the way he wanted, and had no regrets--either before or after the brain cancer. Could I say the same?

Since his surgery, the Mary Oliver line has reappeared in my own brain often. I became a stay-at-home mom, completed my manuscript, The Angels' Share, and got my health back in order--including the addition of running to my routine. I didn't want to wait on a scary diagnosis before getting my diet and body in shape. I didn't want something like cancer to shake me up enough to finally force me to finish my manuscript. And I didn't need a crisis to tell me that I needed to be home with my children, probably more than anything else in the world. When I thought about what I needed to do with my one wild and precious life? That was easy. I needed to live it deliberately.

Overall, my friend made a miraculous recovery. Last weekend, he shattered his personal record for the half marathon at one hour and twenty-three minutes (That's a 6:19 mile pace.) He already qualified for the Boston Marathon and will run on Team Livestrong this spring with other cancer survivors.
At the same time, his story reminds me that life is strange with its twists and turns, and is sometimes less believable than fiction. His wife of almost a decade left him soon after his cancer surgery. She filed for divorce and gave him primary custody of their four-year-old daughter. Which goes to show you that life--even when it is its most miraculous and spectacular--can still kick you in the pants. Even when you think you've beaten cancer.

Hopefully, we don't need our lives flip-flopped in order for us to make better choices. Hopefully we can find our dreams, love our families, and finish the damn book--right, writers? without cancer and a divorce to scare us to death.

Tell me, what is it that you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?

I went into 2011 with big plans. Somehow, I accomplished most of them, but it wasn't on accident. What does 2012 hold for me, for you, and for my friend? We don't know. We can only live as deliberately as possible.

And keep running.


  1. Wow, beautiful post.

    My cousin was just diagnosed with brain cancer. She's young (24) and her surgeon says she'll make a full recovery from the surgery.

    Gives you a totally different perspective on life. How brief it can be and how we need to hold on and run with it.

  2. Susan was too humble to tell you guys that she paid for a tattoo for me that represents my daughter and I. I've had brain surgery and ran a marathon, that hurt worse, took longer and meant more.

  3. Hi, Kelley, thanks for stopping by. I'm so sorry about your cousin and pray she will have a full recovery! Iram- don't talk about the tattoo yet--that could be a whole other blog post :-) How's the arm feeling, by the way? That was a painful afternoon!

  4. So happy that Iram is fine and has managed to live life to the fullest!

    This poem means a lot to me, too, and inspired me to get it done. Here's an old blog post from July 2008 with the full text--right about when I completed the first draft of the manuscript that came before Calling Me Home. (And before I was smart enough not to post the full text of a poem. Ha.)

  5. Excellent writing. Brain cancer blessed me in many ways. Meeting Iram is one of them.

  6. Wonderful post, Susan, and so uplifting. I'll keep Iram in my prayers.

  7. Hey, Matt- thanks for stopping by the blog (and for reposting the link on FB!) Iram has told me about you and I know he feels the same way about you! Good luck to you in your recovery. Julie- yup. Mary Oliver is simply brilliant. And P- thanks:-)

  8. Thank you Susan, Friends like you are kisses blown to us by angels, God bless you and keep you.
    Iram's mother
    Martha Leon

  9. Shannon Marie24 December, 2011

    Actually, he didn't get primary custody; we have at my request joint custody so that he was given the opportunity as much as possible to spend some time in his daughter's life. It's a beautiful piece, actually something that resonates very strongly at the place that I have been the last year, the last 4 years. But truth should not be sacrificed for the sake of beauty. Sometimes its only loosing so much that make some people really sit up and think about what they have taken for granted right in front of them; I am glad that you and Iram have begun to look at that. I hope that everyone who hears the story will be able to be inspired to take the time to find out what's really important in their life to them and embrace it fully. I know I have. Happy Holidays to you and yours.

    Shannon Marie


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...