My mother proves that the saying “people don’t change” is hooey.
Over a decade ago, a diagnosis of breast cancer changed my mom’s life in every way. It also changed mine. It changed my life because I saw the strength that could emerge in a person when their physical body was down and out. I saw the courage of a woman who looked her cancer, and most importantly her life, straight in the eye and said I will change for the better. I am inspired by her every day, and grateful she is still here to tell her story.
This week’s blog is hers.
The Chalet sits on a small hill overlooking the lake. From the upper deck the view is simple — spiritual — a soft and gentle landscape painted in a rugged hand. I will likely never stand in that exact spot again, but my heart remains.
It was not love at first sight. Spring was ugly with mud and bare brush, and the drive had been longer than expected… AND there were motor boats. “Is there a lot of lake traffic?” I asked the Englishwoman. She turned to her partner. “No” they agreed, “the boats are primarily for transporting locals to homes with no road access”. I was hesitant. I had been hoping for a gasoline-free lake, but experience taught me I needed to make a quick decision here; good rental places got snapped up in a flash…and I had been looking. So I signed and paid the deposit.
We were only there for two weeks that first summer. Our daughter was turning nineteen and we celebrated by hosting ten of her friends. The days were filled with conversation and laughter and music; the comforting aromas of vegetarian stir-fries and wood-smoke wafted throughout the house as they chatted and happily shared the housework. I was impressed with these young people. I felt hopeful for the future and confident all was well in the world…
Unbeknownst to me a transformation lay in hiding, ripe and fertile, awaiting my attention.
To be rewarded with the view, one must prove oneself first and battle the steep drive, carrying goods on foot to the house. (I am convinced that these small tests of endurance filter out all but the most hardy and serious of visitors). Although it is called a “chalet”, it is more of a “country home”… and not one of those counterfeit places where the log cabin facade flips to an interior of city luxury. No, this house is honest, has self-respect, an earned history.
The Chalet had introduced me to the Englishwoman — and believe you me — she understood better than most. Her own immortal cells now beaten or extracted, she was full of been-there done-that information and insight. I turned to her when I needed perspective, and wrote to her when I was tired of being positive and desperately needed to be angry. I exposed my emotional underbelly to her when all those around me needed protection and comfort. Although an ocean physically separated us, together we tore off our rose coloured glasses and stared directly into the volcano.
One enters via the recently-built screened in porch, a breathable transparent wall between the visitor and flying biters…Black flies. Horse flies. Mosquitoes. A shelter from the rain, a tent at the ready for sleeping outdoors on a hot summer night.
The house consoled me and healed me, as it had the Englishwoman before me. We each in turn, and alone, challenged the madness of our erratic human biology. We consumed the space. We filled it with beauty. Visions both pure and imagined. A canoe. An eagle overhead. The wind. Perfect silence.
The front door leads immediately into the kitchen. Single sink, no dishwasher, and a microwave that only pretends to do its job (and no one seems to notice). A kitchen from the fifties with a few irrelevant upgrades.
The weekend was the Englishwoman’s gift to me. I was bald and weak and my body was raging, but I was a formidable opponent. I would die with my boots on, I would. My beautiful fearless daughter came along — ready to slay the dragon at my side. It had been hardly nine months since we were here last together, but it might as well have been nine lifetimes.
The Chalet is awash with essence of India. Daylight filters through translucent, multi-coloured gold-tipped fabrics; embroidered spreads hang on walls and adorn beds. Photographs of exotic merchants peddling sandals and mountains of burnt orange spice fill in spaces; one can almost smell the hot earth and pungent aromas. In bright sunbeams, overstuffed chairs appear slightly dusty. One is drawn to sit down and curl up, book in hand, and disappear into the next reality of choice. Yes — there is a peace here.
We arrived close to midnight. It had been snowing furiously for days, but magically stopped hours before we pulled into the parking space. The moon was full and glittered white light around us. Somebody’s husband and son had cut a winding snake of a path through the snow — carved just wide enough for one person to pass, and in places the white walls were as high as my chest. We made many trips up and down that night, from the car to the house, carrying our supplies in the moonlight… laughing and marvelling.
My princess daughter was my perfect companion, the embodiment of toughness and love. She forced me out of my cocoon for walks, my hairless scalp and bloated form protected beneath layers of wool and fleece. Placing her hands firmly against my lower back, she pushed my radiated and battered body up the brilliant hills, shouting encouragement: “You can do it Mom!” and “Come on, we’re almost there…”
That first night we sat in front of the roaring fire, our bellies full and bodies heavy, vibrating from the physicality of the day. Softly worded conversation — intermittent — rallied gently back and forth, as we watched and listened to the crackling flames. It was SO quiet. And then we heard it, the howl of a lone wolf — a mournful, solitary cry, sliding on wind through the frozen trees. What privilege.
I am still profoundly moved when I think of that weekend. The spectacular beauty and the love I felt — my heart doesn’t seem big enough to hold it all. I have no photographs to show, but in my mind’s eye I will joyously live, again and again, each moment of grace.
Through rain-stained glass panes the outdoors is brought in — a constantly moving canvas. Birch boughs sway and aqueous bodies beckon, it is a provocative dance. Framing the backdrop of forest and lake, tamed blooms in flowerboxes spill all around the railing. Perhaps there is a visitor at the birdfeeder today, nursing on crimson sweet water.
Old friends from high school — the three of us. As happens in life we had moved on, living in different corners of the country, but stubbornly remaining in touch. A reunion is planned at the chalet — to celebrate our lives and to mark this year in which we all turn fifty. They have also come to give thanks with me, as I have conquered the beast and they are glad. Our visit overflows with laughter and tears, mostly happy. The copious servings of red wine and melted brie are delicious, and we tell stories together and to each other — both real and imagined. It is springtime again, the air is brusque and the landscape messy. We sit on the frigid porch and toast ourselves with smoky breath. We are SO old. We are SO young. We are victorious.
I am well now. My body slightly battle weary, but recovered; my life force stretched and strengthened. Sweet princess has moved on to her own slice of life a great distance away; and despite our earnest promises, my now-60-year-old friends and I have not reunited. Life continues.
I have bathed in lake medicine and meditated on silent dirt paths. This place has become part of my anatomy — my life blood — my breath — my heart.
Alas, the house has sold. Replacing the Englishwoman is a new caretaker — one hopes a worthy custodian but identity unknown. The gate has closed. I am no longer allowed physical entry, but my spirit vapours remain, fused with love and wood smoke and lake water and hot forest earth — to be preserved by tears, released by wind, and shared by all, pulsing and thriving secretly in the space between truth and imagination.
© Cory Horowitz 2018
Who inspires change in you? Would love to hear about it, leave me a comment.
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