On top of the Mount

On top of the Mount
Mount Maunganui, NZ

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Whipped and Chained

Whipped and Chained


“When are we gonna be there?” asks Fiona. “Can we get out?” asks Finley. I don’t know, and yes. We’re driving from a lodge in New Zealand’s central North Island – in Ohakune – to the ski field at Mt Ruapehu called Turoa. It’s early in the season, but there’s enough snow (81 cm) to ski. First, we must get there. We navigate three kilometers of the 17 kilometer (about 10 mile) road without a hitch. I snap photos of snow-covered pine and fern trees. We never see snow at sea level, where we live.

The road gets icy, and a line of cars forms. The Ohakune Mountain road becomes a parking lot. It’s a barely-moving conveyor of cars and minivans unequipped for these conditions. The road requires either four-wheel drive or tires (tyres) with chains. We have neither. Actually, we have a four-wheel drive sitting in the garage. It’s part of Pete’s collection of possibly useful items which mostly sit in our garage.

We’re in Pete’s work car – a Toyota Camry hybrid, which must wait like all other unsnow-worthy vehicles – for chains. Pete doesn’t know anyone who uses snow tires (tyres) on the North Island, because aside from mountain areas, there’s no snow.

The kids and I leave the car to stretch while Pete sits in the line-up. Finley power lifts a chunk of snow and ice the size of his head, heaving it over the side of a cliff. Fiona scoops small pieces of snow and later accompanies Finley so he can urgently wee on a tree. We finally reach the front of the line. Pete pays $30 for chain rental and installation, and two young people (one of whom is eating a sandwich), spend five minutes wrapping chains around the car’s two front tires (tyres). Pete suggests I reach into the glove box and grab two treat-sized chocolate bars I bought for him to give the chain gang. Fiona and Finley excitedly hand them out.

Somewhere between the start of the line-up and the chain installation, I get a text message. It’s from a woman I respect and admire and wish I knew better. She tells me, after I call, she needs to stop doing the thing she’s been doing for us (which I’m not mentioning because I don’t know how public she is about her illness) because her cancer is back. It has spread to her liver and lungs. I tell her how sorry and sad I am and ask the standard questions, ‘what next?’ and ‘what can I do?’ while feeling helpless, hopeless and shitty. I’m still annoyed at the parking line up and devour a bag of homemade trail mix while thinking about the evil ways in which our bodies are whipped and chained.

Why does everyone get cancer?

They don’t. It’s just so in our face, like crumbs in a toaster; confusion at the checkout counter, or the maniac riding the rear bumper. But cancer is more than omnipresent annoyance. It’s omnipresent killer. It robbed the planet of my Aunt Cheryl (aged 64); it threatened my mom (at age 55); and seems to constantly re-jigger its regimen seeking younger prey: who doesn’t know someone who has died before hitting 40, or even 30? Cancer has invaded the beautiful mind of my sister-in-law, who just turned 49. Our generation should be renamed - those of us born in the 60’s and 70’s aren’t Generation X, we’re Generation C – the cancer generation.

I feel weird writing about cancer because I don’t (yet) have it. Part of why I feel so helpless and hopeless and yes – relieved it’s not yet me – is because cancer may be the ticking time bomb that crouches in the closet of our colons, hides beneath the pillows of our breasts and nestles in the neurons of our brains. Sun causes cancer. Inactivity causes cancer. Too much food causes cancer. Every frickin’ thing we do (or don’t do) causes cancer. It makes me want to drown my sorrows in a fish bowl of red wine. But that causes cancer, too.

Here’s the thing: despite the viciousness of disease, despite its perspective-enhancing efficiency, small things still get to me. Like waiting in a line-up for two hours for tire (tyre) chains.

Try making sense of the senseless: when’s the last time hearing someone had a life-threatening illness made you think, “He’s an asshole, anyway. Probably had it coming…”

I’m waiting…

I popped over to a friend’s Facebook wall before sending her a message. My friend recently lost a friend to breast cancer, someone I didn’t know. The woman wrote this post before she died:

"I didn’t nearly get my “snow fix” this year, but I feel fortunate that I have been able to enjoy the warmer temperatures and spring light. Spring reminds me that life is juicy and resilient, but also fragile. It has been wonderful for me to have my family around so much these past few weeks, although it has been difficult and sometimes tearful. Don’t wait until the conditions are perfect, but rather try to make space in your life for things and experiences that really matter to you. Appreciate your health and all the other blessings that we often take for granted."I didn’t nearly get my “snow fix” this year, but I feel fortunate that I have been able to enjoy the warmer temperatures and spring light. Spring reminds me that life is juicy and resilient, but also fragile. It has been wonderful for me to have my family around so much these past few weeks, although it has been difficult and sometimes tearful. Don’t wait until the conditions are perfect, but rather try to make space in your life for things and experiences that really matter to you. Appreciate your health and all the other blessings that we often take for granted.I didn’t nearly get my “snow fix” this year, but I feel fortunate that I have been able to enjoy the warmer temperatures and spring light. Spring reminds me that life is juicy and resilient, but also fragile…Don’t wait until the conditions are perfect, but rather try to make space in your life for things and experiences that really matter to you. Appreciate your health and all the other blessings that we often take for granted” (with gratitude to the late Maria Rabb).

Conditions at the Turoa ski field were far from perfect (icy, rocky…), but I found pockets of powder. Moments of joy when my ski-shod legs did as my helmeted head instructed. So far from perfect, this messy life. It's too brief not to fixate on Finley’s freckle spatter; Fiona’s fringe of lashes; the tiny scar our puppy left on Pete’s cheek. Too brief not to run, cycle, ski – and write. Just for fun. Just for me. And if you related to any of this, just for you, too.

What are you making space for in your brief life?