Today I received a very special letter from someone I knew a long, long time ago. She knew me during my knocked kneed cheerleading days; during my one too many drinks at a party days; and during my days of Farrah Fawcett hair, football player crushes, and invincible narcissism. Today, after years of having lost touch, she took time out of her Thanksgiving weekend to tell me that she has truly been moved by my courage, strength, and ability to always see the “sunny side.” While I am appreciative of her words, the simple truth is that whatever attributes I possess have nothing to do with me...and everything to do with you.
While my words and my sentiment might come from my heart, my heart is nothing more than a reflection of the unrelenting love and support I have received from all of you. The real lesson for me over this past year was in finding just how giving and selfless and to what end those of you were willing to rally around me for my well being; and in your support I was humbled. Real friends and real family are not fair weather, no they are not. In fact, not only were all of you cheering me on, praying for me, sending packages and cards and love, calling me even when I didn’t return calls, wanting to visit even when I didn’t want company, you empowered me every single moment of every single day. You didn't abandon me while I cried and cussed and sweated and puked. You didn't abandon me when I became bitter and angry. You didn't even abandon me after my treatments were over and my personality took a turn for the worse. In fact, even more so, you nourished my spirit with your unconditional love and friendship beyond ever my greatest expectations. How do I say "thank you"?
In the very beginning when I quickly learned that friends and family were going to come out of every corner of my universe to offer support, I happened to come across a watercolor painting on the Internet. This piece of art was screaming at me, simultaneous to the news of my diagnosis and so many of you jumping into the fire to rescue me from the potential ruins of my physical and emotional being. Although I have no real appreciation for art, probably less than none, the metaphor I value behind this very piece of art is too great not to share and too important not to own.
This water color was created by my Aunt Vicki Rearick. She is a gifted Alaskan artist. She is also a wonderful aunt. Coincidentally it was my Aunt Vicki’s lap I well remember sitting on at the tender age of six when I was first diagnosed with tuberculosis; the day she wrapped her warm arms around me while I sobbed into her chest. Now, after being diagnosed with cancer, I stumble upon her artwork, some 3000 miles away, yet again, finding comfort.
I was sitting in front of my laptop doing random family searches which I do often just to see if I can find any family gossip or "unclaimed money." I do this often when I am bored. In fact, I have found most everyone money but myself, and I often get calls from random people to thank me for the $180 or the $26 they received in the mail. If you think you might have "unclaimed funds" just go to the State (of Alaska or California or whatever) website (make sure it's a .gov site) and type in "unclaimed funds." It's typically under the controller's link...you too could have “unclaimed funds!” Anywhoooo....no this is not a gimmick. They could have YOUR money!
But there I was Googling whatever family members came to mind and up pops this piece of art called Blanket Toss. I wanted it. I needed it. I had to have it. The message was too loud, too important, too great not to have it in my life. Luckily, my aunt having only one original, had never sold it. She generously gifted it to me after my incessant nagging to her son (my cousin Richard) and a few phone calls to Aunt Vicki. It now hangs proudly in my living room, with a rich brown custom made frame, golden double matting, under museum glass. This piece was too important not give it the best home possible.
But here's the real story. I was falling apart. I couldn't see my future. I saw darkness and fear, pain and the possibility of death. And you, in all of your greatness, and unconditional caring, and unselfish love....you held me up so I could see in front of me. You rallied around me. You cheered me on. You were there to catch me as I fell.
The origins of the blanket toss go beyond celebration, but to a place of survival. The native people of Northern and Western Alaska would use a blanket made from the hide of a walrus to toss a member of their hunting party high into the air to spot game such as walrus, seal, whale, and polar bear. This practice was a means of survival in their often harsh environment.
I am the girl high in the air. You are the ones holding me up.
This painting is an important reminder of what really matters. Beyond this being one of my aunt’s creations and a reflection of life in Alaska, it is a reflection of the importance of family, friends, and our need for one another for mere survival. It is a priceless reminder of the absolute unselfish love and generosity that the human spirit is capable of. I see, in this, each and every one of you from friends, to family, to coworkers, holding me up high so I could see beyond the harshness of my moments, the chemo, the radiation, the surgery, the emotional devastation, and into my future. I see the trust I knew I could count on, knowing you would catch me when I came falling down, and fall I did, many, many times. At times, just from the fallout of life, I am still falling, but now I see beyond survival. I see the celebration of life, which is what most of us know about the good old Alaskan blanket toss.
What you have gifted me with cannot be summed up in words, but it can be depicted in the true and many meanings of the Native American blanket toss. Survival takes a village.
I often write about what's really important and how during the most difficult of times, we should hold on to that as the core of our existence. My stories are repetitive, I know, but they are true.
It is because of you that I could see my future. It is because of you that I held my head high. It is because of you that I found my courage, my strength, and my ability to see the “sunny side.” In all of this, I was merely reflecting the gift that you so generously gave to me.
And so, not just on Thanksgiving but each and every day, I am beyond grateful for every single one of you. Thank you.
Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,