We’ll be lovers once again, on the bright side of the road. – Van Morrison, Bright Side Of The Road.
The last time I walked up this hill in the deep woods – Crystal Hill – was the last week of June, 2014 we walked with Lenore and Frieda and Red, Maria stooped down here and there and looked for crystals in the dirt. Red and Lenore chased each other through the woods, Lenore loved to tear through the water and the mud, Frieda sat by Maria while she dug in the dirt, looked for tiny sparkles in the sun.
I remember it was a warm day, the mosquitoes were out, the forest canopy was thick, the path was mostly in shadow, the sun sparkled through the forest in bursts of light and motion. I was having trouble breathing, it was hard getting up this gentle hill, I had walked it a hundred times, I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it. Something is wrong with me, I told myself, I know it. It was the dark side of the road for me.
Something was wrong with me, I understood that. I was exhausted, my feet felt like they had concrete blocks attached, I was sweating and wheezing. I have always loved to walk, I thought my heart would break if I can’t walk anymore. And it was breaking in a different way. I had betrayed my heart, and it was trying to warn me, to get me to pay attention. A few days later, thanks to a dedicated nurse, I did pay attention, and I had open heart surgery on July 1.
Today was the first time I have returned to the path since that day in June. I was in recovery for months, and then the awful winter made a trek there unthinkable. And I think I was afraid to go back. Painful memories, and what if things were no better?
And the walk did bring back my memories of the life before the surgery, and of Lenore and Frieda, who were so much a part of our walks, along with Red. Would it still be hard to get up that hill? But I knew I had to go, I needed to go.
Today was a beautiful Spring day. There was still ice and snow down in the swamp, buds appearing in the trees. I came to the very spot where I struggled and stopped to breathe last June. The image was frozen in my mind, like a still life painting. Maria was crouching in almost the same position, Red had paused to wait for me, as he always does, as he learned to do when my heart was failing. And so after that walk, I crossed over to the other side of life, to a different place, I brushed against death and onto the joyous and difficult work of recovery.
That image will never leave me, it was the time before.
I felt like crying today on this path, so much life has swept around me and by me since that walk. I felt so lucky, to have Maria by my side, the Red dog, always a wonderful companion. But there was loss too, and a sense of mourning. I lost something in July, and I gained something. I can walk all over the place again, it feels so sweet. But what if it happens again? I have always had so many fixed ideas about how I would live, how I would age, what I would do, what I wouldn’t do, how I felt about doctors, about health care, about medicine, about my choices in life.
Life, the great teacher, has it’s own ideas, and many of them run head long into mine. We try and negotiate, we try to compromise with one another, treat each other with respect and dignity. But I am the student, life is the master.
I have held onto many of my ideas – I do not live a life of security, I do not live for retirement, I do not have any money in the bank, or valuable property to sell or IRA’s or bonds. I have a life I love, a partner I love, work I love. That is, I think my security, a compact Maria and I have sworn to keep with one another. I have given up on many of my ideas and conceits – I see doctors all the time, I take pills every day, I walk and walk and walk. But I have not surrendered my identity, I am still me. My heart and I are on good terms, we now take care of one another.
I will perhaps never know how hard it was for Maria to see me brush so close to death, to watch while I underwent that surgery and to care for me so lovingly and faithfully for so long and so well. it’s still hard for her to talk about it. I know what it was like for me, I can only imagine what it was like for her. And I didn’t have to look at me in the ICU, tubes and lines and masks and beeping machines everywhere.
Today was a peaceful walk, I was grateful for every step. I sailed over that hill, I didn’t even think about it, my heart didn’t waver.
I was sad for some reason, I had a sense of loss I could not quite identify, a feeling of melancholy and loneliness, I listened to the wind whistling softly through the trees. I stood for a moment, Red watching me, Maria pick carefully through the leaves and dirt. The frogs were out, grumbling and peeping. Just a few mosquitoes. I remembered listening to a Van Morrison song the morning of my surgery, Bright Side Of The Road, one of my favorites – I attached my earbuds to my Iphone and I was wheeled down a long corridor, many twists and turns, the nurses trying to get me to laugh, every person I met asking me what my birthdate was, spell your name, spell your name.
Maria and I did not speak, we did not say goodbye or make speeches to one another, it would have been too fraught, we did not need words, we each knew what the other was feeling. I could not make any promises to her.
As I pulled away from her, she let go of my hand, blew me a kiss, and I waved back, I turned on Van Morrison, I sang softly to her, although she could no longer hear me:
From the dark end of the road, to the bright side of the street. We’ll be lovers once again.
And that is what I sang again, this morning, to myself, on our path in the deep woods. It was the only truth that really mattered, deep upon this path to Divine recovery.