Long before cancer threatened me, I fretted, worried and plucked at life. What was my purpose? Was I on the right path? My to-do list stared me down like a stern parent, hands-on-hips. While I stewed and roiled, others, it appeared, went smoothly through their days. My friend Gail listened kindly to my rants and cautioned, “Don’t judge your interiors by others’ exteriors.”
And then, in May, I received my diagnosis. Now I did have something to worry about. Fear and uncertainty shadowed my soul while all around was soft light, windows open, leaves pale green. More than ever, I felt alone as everyone else joyfully welcomed spring.
One Friday, Dave and I drove south on I-95 having left the hospital where I’d had an IV anti-biotic to combat an infection. Dave’s phone buzzed with a text message from our friend Sharon. He was driving, so I checked the small screen.
“A group from school is meeting at Ash Creek and she wants to know if we’d like to join them.” Mentally I leaned toward a knee-jerk no.
“What do you think?” said Dave.
To my surprise, I responded, “Might be fun. Let’s do it.”
We swung off the ramp and drove to the saloon. Our friends were gathered, as usual, at a long table toward the back of the restaurant beneath a punched tin ceiling, swooping long horns and a pair of mounted chaps.
As Dave and I pulled up our stools, we were greeted with broad smiles. Hallie was well into her cosmo, Sharon was sipping a margarita, Deb had a lemon drop martini and the boys – Matt, Steve and John – were polishing off a pitcher of PBR’s – Pabst Blue Ribbon beers.
The room was crowded with bald paunchy guys in tee-shirts and jeans, muscled young men in tee-shirts and jeans, and shapely women in tee-shirts and jeans. The air buzzed with good-natured chatter, anchored by laughter from our table at the end of the bar.
I gazed at my friends – happy, laughing, seemingly carefree - and thought that if I were anyone else in the restaurant, ours was the table I’d envy. But I know the stories behind each bright-eyed smile: Hallie and Deb have both lost sisters, Sharon’s best friend passed away last summer, Matt’s girlfriend is scheduled for heart surgery, and Steve has prostate cancer.
Of course, I had no way of knowing what worry the guy in the Grateful Dead tee-shirt tucked to the back of his mind while meeting his girl for a beer at Ash Creek. And the sassy woman with the full red lips chatting with the bartender? What might her silent sorrow be? Exteriors. Hm. They tell so little.
With my hands cupped around my margarita, I took in the scene: Hallie’s head thrown back in laughter, Sharon grinning, Steve and Dave touching mugs in a toast, Deb calling the club on her cell to sign up for spinning class. A warmth of understanding suffused me as I realized that we’re all in this together. We are each other’s comfort and company during the hard times that are, as much as love, part of life.