The Winter of My Contentment

Winter cloud formation

Four nights ago, winds buffeted the house.  Chimes, hanging from the eaves, rang like instruments in a Balinese Gamelan and disturbed my sleep.

At first light I ventured outside. There, I retrieved our empty garbage can, which the wind had blown westward like a piece of tumbleweed. Then I proceeded to feed the quail and juncos that inhabit the thickets on our property. As I scattered chick scratch on the ground, a frigid tongue of air licked at the collar of my sweatshirt. Dead leaves, dried to a crisp by the cold, levitated and whirled with dervish unpredictability about my legs.

The east wind that scoured the valley ended any pretensions autumn held with the weather. Technically, it still claims territory on the calendar, but a dusting of snow lays like sugar on my resting flowerbeds. Winter has asserted itself; today, at 5 am, it is 1 degree Fahrenheit with highs of 15-20 optimistically forecast for the coming week. In Oregon, fall is over.

Noah studying during last year's power outage.

Our family will be together for the holidays. Isaac, my youngest son, lives just a few miles away. He and his wife own a piece of property that abuts the Hood River. Noah, our oldest son, flies home just before Christmas. He lives in Berkeley, CA and attends Law School at Boalt Hall. It is a family joke that when he arrives the weather turns bad. Last year, while I recuperated from my stem cell transplant, his visit coincided with one of the worst stretches of winter storms we’ve experienced in three decades. On consecutive nights, the power failed from dusk until early morning. By the third night, everyone, including our cat, was crotchety.

That pattern reprised itself this week. After three days of bitter cold, the power failed and my wife and I awoke with the insecurity of losing what was taken for granted. We lay under our quilts hoping the problem would find a solution. Eventually, the day beckoned, cold floors notwithstanding, and we exited the house without breakfast or coffee.

It’s always instructive to do without, or, so I rationalized while on my way to work with a growling stomach. A cancer diagnosis triggers similar reactions in the gut. During the term of my illness, nearly two years now, my desire for things to be stable and predictable has confronted the ever-altering reality of life. I’m getting better at absorbing the shocks.

Our house on a bitter cold morning

As I proceeded to drive away from the power failure at home to the one awaiting me at the Post Office, my mood improved. I noticed one darkened house after another on the country highway leading to town. This was not a case of misery loving company. Instead, it was the realization that others shared my problem and were coping with it as best they could.

I immediately thought of my multiple myeloma support group. Our shared dilemma diminishes with each artifact of our lives that we impart to oneanother. My physical health is one thing. For that, I rely on modern medicine. My emotional and spiritual health are something else altogether. For that, I depend on you, the readers and writers and talkers who cope with the same problem and its unique presentation. The lesson of doing without, whether it’s electricity or good health,  rests with finding perspective amidst the disorder. I cannot attain that perspective alone. Gratitude for life in all its permutations, good and bad, comes easier when we commune with others.

My Post Office

Many of my friends with MM, both online and through my support group, live with this cancer’s serious complications. For some, each day is a trial. I recognize it’s easy to be an armchair philosopher when all goes well. So, forgive my Pollyanna parable. Yet, I’m also living evidence that treatments can slow myeloma’s advance. Hope is not an illusion.

I’m not concerned with jinxing my good fortune by talking about it. I accept that it is subject to change. All life has death concealed within it. I need only look at the barren state of my gardens for confirmation. Accordingly, I want people to know I am grateful for everything that life offers, from the frigid wind of winter to the warmth of family.  I’m also pleased that the electricity, tenuous as it is, works again.

Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward All.

8 thoughts on “The Winter of My Contentment

  1. Most beautiful post. In all things we need to allow hope in to our hearts, mind and soul. Only then can we be set free from the trappings of this world where cancer exists. Good stuff! -Phil


  2. Came across this post in a weird, random way, via google. Just wanted to say that your son, Noah, is one of the finest, most respect-worhty young men at Boalt. I am proud to call myself his classmate.


  3. Hello John, I simply had no idea. You write about your situation with an ease and elegance that at once moves and inspires. Please give warm regards to your family. I of course remember all with fondness and admiration. You all, in your own ways, indeed touch the soul. Best to all, Mike


  4. Thanks for another beautiful post. After having a large part of my life pretty much ruined by agoraphobia
    brought on by a misdiagnosed medical problem, I stand in these
    long shopping lines at Christmas time listening to everyone grumble while I quietly give thanks that I am now capable of being in the store alone and getting my shopping done. I take nothing for granted. Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season and 2010!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s