Well-being

Miles To Go

I am always in search of a starting point.  A place to begin.  A moment, an hour, a day in which my story takes its shape and form.  When I am in front of a writing class wearing my professor persona, I tell my students that in stories, as in life, there are often no formal beginnings or endings, just a series of events that intermingle and that it’s the character who generally weaves in the meaning, creates the drama of his or her own life.

My mother was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2006, but I suppose that my story started 18 months prior to that when my now ex-husband, who I had met at a friend’s yoga studio during a full-moon ceremony, decided that we were leaving our native New York City and moving to Key West, Florida, where we had married one another at the Hemingway House on New Year’s Day years prior. Key West was a place where my family and friends were not; it was a place where his teenage children were not. It was a place where he insisted we could work and live and love and enjoy paradise. My relationship with New York City was nothing short of a love affair; I left my beloved city kicking and screaming the whole way to Key West.

Six months into what was supposed to be our dream existence and often was—sunsets at Mallory Square, dancing to live music under the stars at Schooner Wharf Bar, movie marathons at The Tropic Cinema— my ex-husband decided Los Angeles was where he needed to be. It was in Los Angeles that he could pursue his dream and write screenplays, be a music manager. I cried, attempted reasoning with him, tried to understand his logic and finally, after weeks of confusion, frustration and ultimately acceptance, I helped him to pack his bags and even went as far as to frame photographs of the two of us and packed those along with plane treats in his carry-on bag. He promised me that it was temporary; he told me he would be back; he assured me that he loved me, insisted that our bond was stronger than time and place and he preached to me as he always did about detachment being the key to our happiness, to our health, to our everlasting love.

My ex-husband, ten years older than me and previously divorced, was the self-proclaimed “Dr. Destiny”; he believed that the day in which one was born effected everything in one’s life from one’s relationships with family and friends to one’s ultimate destiny and fate. He created intricate matrices that detailed a person’s parent’s traits, their sibling’s traits and so on. He believed he could help people and instruct them on how to live their lives based on his destiny readings. He had his own story to tell, too, and seemed to have his own plan on how to live his life, although that plan always seemed to shift depending on what he believed in at any given time. He had started gambling as a teenager, a privileged, wealthy New York City upper east side kid, and by the time I met him in his 40’s, he had been through years of Gamblers Anonymous, a divorce, bankruptcy, a decade of yoga and meditation, and was making his comeback. Early on, he told me about his past, but assured me that he had it all under control. It wasn’t until a few months after our wedding that he confided in me that he had started gambling again and went as far as to say he supposed it was the feeling of confinement, of marriage, that led him back; he admitted that he had started to go to GA meetings again a few nights a week while I was off teaching writing and English at a local college.

Alone in Key West, I did what I had to do: I prayed for the best and adapted. I spoke to him each day via phone, email, text messages. I visited him every two weeks. We sat on Venice Beach and had circular conversations. “What are we doing? When are you coming home? Is this normal?” I asked. People on roller blades, on bikes, passed us by. To me, they were happy people, out walking dogs, laughing; normal people who didn’t have to question their mates when they were returning home to the house they had moved to together in South Florida. I lived in the sea of his confirmations: “We are living our lives,” he said. “We are enjoying our lives, doing what is right for us.” He told me that we created the rules, that we didn’t have to fall prey to convention.

After six months of my commuter marriage, I decided that I needed to hear myself think, feel whatever it was that was going on inside of me, and I told him that I was taking a month off. As in no phone calls, no emails, no text messages. A month of not hearing his stuff. I had been an independent girl, a person who my friends considered together and confident, a girl who didn’t define her life by relationships, who never cared about getting married, but after his continual brainwashing: “it doesn’t matter if we live in different states or homes,” I felt myself coming unhinged. I craved a month of detachment – from him. Sitting on my balcony in Key West each of those detached nights, the stars abounding, I felt myself coming back to myself. It was such a big world. There were so many possibilities. Endless possibilities. I laughed at the insanity of it all—my residing in Key West, being on my own after finally accepting the fate of marriage, the $1.7 million town house I was living in. I talked to my friends about things other than my predicament. In the hours of silence, I asked myself what I wanted, what I needed, without longing for any answers. I prayed for a peaceful mind and heart, well-being.

My month of silence led to my journey to India to meet a girlfriend who had spent the past few months working there. It was 2005; there was a terrible monsoon and most flights to India were grounded, but I was determined to go, and I did just that. When I landed in Mumbai at 2 am, after endless hours of travel, I felt farther away from everything in my life than I had ever felt. It was a delicious sense of floating. After a week acclimating to the 24-hour bustling sounds and charcoal aroma of Mumbai, my girlfriend and I journeyed to Bangalore and then made the five-hour trip in a buggy on dirt roads to Mysore to practice our beloved astanga yoga. Once in Mysore, the rickshaws beeping at all hours of the day and night, the mud- floor chai stalls, the cows lining the road, the university students parading the streets, transported me to another dimension.  I was reading Michael Cunningham’s Strange Days at the time and I remember thinking how fitting that was.

A few days into our Mysore adventure, there was a message from him, my husband, on my cell phone. “I miss you. I want to be with you—I’m coming back to Florida. Please call me.”  If I had been in Florida, I would have quickly erased the message and gone on with my day—his sentimental mood swings had grown old to me. But in India, so far away, his message made me waiver. Maybe we were meant to be after all. I was going to call him, tell him I was in India, that I missed him. “Wait,” my girlfriend advised. “Give yourself 24 hours. Wait and see how you feel tomorrow.” Sure enough, the next day, I was glad I had waited; the momentary spell his longing placed on me was over.

A week into our Mysore adventure, we had a routine: we awoke before daybreak and drank masala chai (regularly, we bickered with the hotel staff when they got our masala chai orders wrong and brought it at 4 am or 5 am vs. our 4:30 am sharp directions). When first light began to peep through on our balcony, we ventured to the university track, which was packed with men, women, children of all ages, to walk a few laps prior to venturing to the yoga shala, where we practiced astanga yoga each day with Sheshedri as our guide.  Afterward, we meditated and rested before we socialized with the other yogis—some from the US, some from Europe, a few from Australia—and then made our way back to our hotel for our breakfast of papaya and chai and a medley of Indian treats, during which time we devoured the India Times.

In India I had time and space—I no longer felt rushed to make decisions. I began to unwind, slowly, surely. There were hours when there was nothing to do but sit on our balcony and read, write, stare into space. Afternoons we got oil massages and visited Ayurvedic clinics where we tried out an array of services—massages and rubs, potions, facial, and some days we visited with the Sisters of Charity, and helped with feeding the destitute women at the missionary or just walked through their bunks to spread cheer. One day at the missionary my friend and I were in charge of giving out the weekly peas and rice rations to the hundreds of local women who relied on the sisters for their survival. The missionary workmen piled mountainous stacks of peas and rice beside us and gave us shovels. As we scooped the peas and rice into their sacs, one by one, the women fought us, motioning for us to give them larger servings, or trying to put three bags in front of us to fill instead of the two they were allowed. There were tall women, short women, sturdy women, frail women; children dressed in ragged, holey clothes ran around the missionary grounds while their mothers waited in line, swatting away flies. I didn’t know at the time that day would permeate in my brain, become a point of reference to me, a reminder that we take so much for granted in our abundant American lives. A reminder that we are all here to help one another. A reminder that there is a bottoming out of life that doesn’t mean we are any less valuable and deserving.

Evenings we sat in Café Day—Mysore’s version of Starbucks—and nibbled on chocolate chip cookies and lattes, and laughed about whatever topic gripped us—new friends from the yoga shala in India, friends at home, our lives, relationships. Within a few weeks, I grew whole; I was freer, happier, calmer, than I had ever remembered being. There was a rhythm to India that nurtured me, a timelessness that made me feel unrushed, so that I was able let go; truly let go and not wish or want. For the first time in a long time, I was not clinging to my marriage, to my idea of how my life should be, I was not praying for things to be other than how or what they were. India in many respects initiated me into reality, and reality, I realized, was okay. Better than okay: reality was perfect. I could see, know, that everything was exactly as it should be. Over the course of a month, I was filled with an abundance of love and joy that didn’t relate to any one thing, but everything.

When I returned to Florida, hurricanes—Katrina, Rita, Wilma—ravaged Florida, making Key West unreachable and so I became a permanent guest at my parent’s house, on the mainland of Palm Beach, Florida. I set up an office in their home to work out of and joined a yoga studio for my daily practice. I made new friends and spent time with my lifelong friend who had moved up to Boca Raton with her family. Time passed and I still didn’t return any calls to my husband.  There comes a point in a relationship when there seems to be no turning back. I had grown, changed, and I was okay. More than that: I was happy, giddy often. And yet, there was still unfinished business—I was married, whether I wanted to face up to it or not. Typically, I am not a person who does well in limbo—I have always needed to know if I was in something or out of it, and yet this time around, I seemed to be creating the limbo. “Is this what you want for your life?” my mother finally asked me one day. “To live this way?” No. It wasn’t what I wanted.

It wasn’t until Hurricane Wilma caused a power outage in Palm Beach that lasted well over a week, that I headed back to Key West —my neighbors there indicated that the power was back on in the Keys. Once back, it was easy to resume to island way of life, to start teaching writing workshops again, rely on my bike for transportation, and whistle at the rowdy roosters lining the roads by the Hemingway House each morning on my way to the local yoga studio. Strangely enough, although I associated Key West with the downfall of my marriage, I had developed an affection for the island. It was simple there—easy to just be, and I coasted by for a few weeks, although I knew that it was time to move on—pack up, leave, start over. And divorce him. I felt clear that the next phase of my life was ahead of me and that it wasn’t until I closed the door on that phase of my life that I could open another. Within weeks, I packed up his stuff and shipped it off to Los Angeles. I wasn’t sad. In fact, I could no longer even imagine anything between us; I had moved on, formed my separate peace. When I went to court to finalize my divorce, the judge, in a good-humored tone, advised me not to get remarried soon, to take my time. I was with a girlfriend and I remember crying, but it wasn’t because I was relieved or distraught so much as it was that I was living the change. I was making the change.

The logical next step would have been for me to return to New York City to my apartment, which I had sublet, but I wasn’t ready to be back in NYC just yet; my intuition told me to stay in Florida a bit longer. Perhaps it was the lure of the warm weather, or the slower pace that appealed to me at the time. I found an apartment on a small strip on Ocean Boulevard situated between Delray Beach and Boca Raton. It was 30 minutes away from my parents’ house and it was a two-minute walk from the Atlantic Ocean. It was here, on Ocean Boulevard, that I reunited with one of my loves: running. I had started running 15 years back but had taken a year off while living in Key West to recover my body from all its aches and pains and focused on cycling and yoga.

Less than a month into my South Florida adventure, my mother was diagnosed with Leukemia; it was clear to me why I was still in Florida. Her internist made the initial discovery based on her white blood cell count and then referred us to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Our first day there, when the doctor confirmed that she had Leukemia and spoke to us about her blast count (66—high) and provided us with her options for treatment, we were all in shock. It didn’t seem possible. My older brother’s best friend had died of Leukemia when he was 19 years old. Later that afternoon, when my parents were up in their hotel room discussing next steps, I sat on the couch in the hotel lobby and wept; I understood at once that life as I knew it was forever changed. A few days later, she checked into MD Anderson to spend 30 days in a Protective Environment in which she would be given chemotherapy daily and we were to interact with her through a glass wall and an intercom. Her toilet was a bucket in her room. Each day, my father and I watched her through the glass as if she were on exhibit. Sometimes she would talk to us through the intercom and not look at us, but stare straight ahead. I came and went back to Florida; I was taking care of my parents’ house, their mail, working, tending to my affairs. Day after day, my father sat in a two by four room and looked in on my mother. I understood then that I wouldn’t settle, that one day I was going to be in a relationship with a man who would stand by me the way my father tended to my mother. Because he wanted to. Because that was all that mattered: to watch after her, to be her support.

Over the years, there were many ups and downs with my mother—months filled with the hope that she was getting better, that remission was coming, all of which cascaded into a place of non-hope: the cancer invasion persisted. She endured countless chemotherapy trials, some more taxing on her heart than others. There were milestones in her illness: when she lost her hair and got her first wig and later when her hair grew back; when they discovered a chemotherapy program that outshone the rest in keeping her stable, when she graduated from monthly trips to MD Anderson to quarterly visits, allowing the hospital in Florida to treat her. In retrospect, over time, it all became normal, mundane. The monthly chemo week, the weekly blood and platelet transfusions, the infectious diseases every ten months or so which required two- week hospitalization periods. There were the steady flow of aches and pains—the severe sciatica and the torn rotator cuff whose pain persisted over the years. And yet, where there was darkness, there was also light: my mother counseled countless nurses on everything from their hair styles to their nail polish choices; she bought them bracelets and scarves and perfume; she listened to their stories about their relationships. “Dump him,” she was famous for saying. Or “that color hair doesn’t work for you.” She was, in my father’s words, both a pain in the ass, and an Oprah figure of sorts. When I accompanied her to the hospital, the nurses told me that my mother was “the movie star.” For all her antics, the nurses and PA’s and doctors kept her alive beyond the life expectancy of her disease. In life and now in death, I believe that the people she touched will remember my mother. That thought comforts me. Her laugher, her honesty, her perseverance to keep going, to keep living was—is—an inspiration.

Over the years, I was hot and cold about her sickness. There were days in which it affected me on such an intense level that a deep-rooted sorrow overcame me. Survival was my modus operundi and I had to find ways to distance myself from the gloom and doom of her sickness. Sometimes my antidote was a run, or meditation, or an errand—something that I could cross off my to-do list; other times, it was lying on the floor and experiencing the ground beneath me, supporting me. And other days, it just was, and I functioned as I always had, plowing through all that needed to get done, trying to steal moments, hours, away from responsibilities to accomplish all that I wanted to do. I was in a perpetual state of trying to get it all in—my responsibilities and my guilty pleasures—and once I did, the next thing entered my life. These years have gone by, and often, I have felt confident, directed, clear. These years have gone by, and often I have felt directionless, unsure and ambiguous of what it is next, what I want. Over the years, I beat myself up for not having a future plan, or of having one and not being able to commit to it and yet when I saw my mother lying on a hospital bed, her once vibrant and perfectly tanned skin flaked and bruised with leukemia’s black and blues, her teeth bloodied because she needed platelets, tubes going in and out of her arms like highway routes, the scars of her various ports, I wondered what does it matter—any of it. I wondered what knowing what I wanted to do in life had to do with this here and now. With this reality.

In retrospect, I was adventurous, followed through on many of my dreams: spent summers in Greece—Mykonos, Paros, Santari; lived abroad for a year in London studying Shakespeare, theater, and art history; resided with Benedictine Monks in monasteries across the US and Canada for three months when I turned 30 on a research excavation for a novel I was writing; went on countless yoga retreats—Omega, Kripala, Croatia, Mexico, Himalayan Institute, where I got in trouble for wearing sleeveless shirts in the dead of summer; completed an 18-month yoga teacher training program in NYC in the midst of 9/11; traveled extensively throughout Europe; went on rescue missions to Haiti and helped build homes in post Katrina New Orleans. I was often so caught up in life, living, that I didn’t worry or wonder about what came next. There were many nights that I walked home from my office in Soho to the Upper East Side in Manhattan and I looked up at all the windows of the endless apartment buildings, some dark, some filled with light, and wondered about all those people living in between the brick walls; the concept that I never knew who I would interact with next excited my soul; so much possibility in this world. At 32 when I felt off track from following my dreams of teaching college and writing, I resigned from my Editorial Director position and let go of a decade of publishing, securing adjunct teaching positions and book deals with my exit. I was always up for adventure, ready to go, and then my mother got cancer and slowly, surely, I began to ground in a way that I had never experienced. It was odd for me, but true: there was nowhere I wanted to go anymore. I went from wanting to lose myself in this great big world and explore, to wanting to be present, available, accessible 24/7.

Life sometimes does not let us rest. As haphazard as the world around me was, I had found a sustainable rhythm, until my brother, who is a few years older than me and resides in Paris for the past 20+ years, was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome or GBS. The morning of October 8, 2009—it was a Thursday— my brother’s partner in Paris called to tell me that she had taken him via ambulance to the hospital; she believed he was weak and frail due to his excessive cycling. “He needs a rest,” she told me. “He needs to eat more. He needs to take better care of himself for the sake of his two children.” Later that afternoon she told me he was diagnosed with GBS, and he was now in ICU on a respirator. I did all I could via online research to become an expert in GBS, to explain it to my parents, but the full depth of the disease, the reality of it, was still in a process of sinking in.  I was set to fly out the next morning to head to Chicago where that Sunday I was to run the Chicago Marathon. My mind was not right and yet my parents insisted that I go—it was only for the weekend. Early the next morning, en route on I-95, heading to Miami International Airport, a truck slammed into my father’s car. Literally, there was a crash, a sound track that still plays over in my mind.  I felt the car spin and weave from the left lane into the middle and for a moment, my world stopped. My father! I looked over and saw he was alert. He was asking me if I was okay and I didn’t know; we were in the middle of the interstate stopped still amidst 80mph traffic and I had hit my head on the headrest. Within moments police cars and a fire truck with paramedics showed up and they were setting up barriers to keep other cars from hitting us. After checking our vital signs, I told the paramedics I was going to run a marathon and they didn’t think it was a good idea—they told me I may have a concussion, whiplash, body aches and pains. They advised me to see a doctor, and wait and see how I felt the next day. I had to act quickly—call my friends in NYC and tell them not to get on the plane headed to Chicago. After dealing with the tow truck and getting a rental car, I went home to my parents’ house to sleep it all off and it was later, when I woke up, that the reality that I wasn’t up for a marathon after the crash and the impact of my brother’s illness hit me all at once.

Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where my brother resided, was a forty-five-minute commute from his apartment in Montorgueil, and the journey required that I switch metro lines a few times. As I wandered through the dreary hospital courtyard in search of the Neurological Intensive Care unit, the brisk November wind whipped at me, the frigid temperatures chilling me to the bone. There was a desperate, isolated, clinical feel to the Neurological ICU, like I had walked into an institution from a Jane Austen novel. Antiseptic was the word that came to mind. In the waiting room, the scent of alcohol and bleach was potent and the linoleum floors reminded me of my elementary school. After a few days, I got to know the other people who sat beside me in the waiting room—a group of daughters from Morocco whose father had been flown in to the hospital with a yet-to-be diagnosed degenerative neurological disease; a man in his 70’s whose wife was in the room across from my brother. We waited in the no frills room until one of the ICU nurses came for us, helped us to suit up in plastic robes and gloves, and escorted us to our rooms. My brother was usually finished with his daily testing around 3 pm each day.

I wept when I saw him that first time; his eyes filled with tears, too and the way he twitched overwhelmed me. The tubes of the respirator took over his mouth and there was a mass of beeping, pumping machines on the wall behind him, which he was hooked up to via various tubes connected to his veins. His face was bloated and slick with cream and his lips were sore and swollen beyond recognition; his yellow-green eyes were all that I recognized clearly. He was completely paralyzed, although his eyes were expressive and he could blink and every so often he would move his left wrist in a floppy motion before it fell down onto the bed. There was a suctioning device beside his bed and after a few days with him, when he would choke and cough, he no longer called for the nurses but motioned me with his eyes to suction the saliva from the corners of his lips, his tongue. There was an alphabet board along with a dry erase board on the counter and I learned how to work with him to spell out words by pointing to one letter at a time and waiting for him to blink if I was at the right letter or let me know with his eyes to move on. The alphabet board required extreme patience; it could take up to 20 minutes for him to spell out one word and most of the time, when I looked at all the letters there beside one another on the dry erase, they didn’t form any intelligible word. I couldn’t tell if he was going in and out of French and English or if he were just incoherent. Leaving the hospital that first night, I got lost. I couldn’t find my way out of the hospital courtyard and when I did, I realized I was on the opposite side of the gates that I had come in by earlier that day, on a different road. I couldn’t find the metro station and I ended up going to another metro station and getting lost and had to change metros three times. I wasn’t afraid, just lost, overwhelmed, exhausted, numb.

When I arrived back at his apartment that first night, well after 9 pm, I climbed the three stories of steep spiral stairs to his apartment. It was so still in there, so quiet. A place someone had once lived. Going on over 24 hours without sleep, I began to wash all his clothes in hot water, reorganize his draws, change all the bedding and fumigated the apartment with Clorox and disinfectants in an attempt to get rid of germs. I tried to fall asleep in his bed, but the sound of the respirator—shhhh shhh shhhh—filled my being so that breathing became complicated for me. I wondered if his days felt as if they went on forever or if they meshed into one another. He took two shots of morphine into his veins each day, taking his evening shot about an hour before I was to leave, so that I would be there while he fell asleep. Each time he opened his eyes he would ask me to stay, not to leave and I would nod, yes. One night, after leaving the hospital, I got off at Hotel Del Ville, a short walk from his home, and watched the ice skaters gliding round and round. The city was lit up Christmas and I marveled over the concept that there were so many happy people, joyful people, celebrating this time of year. It didn’t seem possible that such happiness could co-exist with the misery and dread and fear I felt. I wanted so badly for my brother to live, to get better, to heal.

When I returned to Paris on Christmas Day, my brother, who was taken off the respirator after 65 days, had been moved to the rehabilitation center across the hospital courtyard just a few days earlier. The rehabilitation center reminded me of an old elementary school cafeteria; it smelled of food and disinfectant and linoleum polish. The inhabitants congregated in the hallways in wheelchairs, some talking, some just sitting, either staring off into space or with their eyes closed. At the center of the hall, adjacent to the elevators, there was a small, makeshift Christmas tree with glass ball ornaments strung on it. My brother liked to go in his wheelchair down to the vending machine on the first floor to buy an espresso. Each day I brought him coins and made the trip with him to buy the espresso. Within a week, he felt strong enough to lift himself from the wheelchair from time to time and walk with me through the hall using braces. I would catch him and steady him when his legs began to wobble and give out. A few days later he progressed to canes and he would take the elevator down with me for his espresso, clutching tightly to his canes. I would rub his feet with Vaseline in the rehab center and cover them up with thin socks so that he could get his swollen and achy feet into his sneakers. I brought him Amish pretzels that we would eat in small pieces and we nibbled on French chocolates that his partner had bought him by the pound. Some days we would bring the baby with us to visit and have a little food party in his room. For New Years Eve, we had a small get together on the basement floor of the rehabilitation unit, during which some of his former colleagues and I played soccer through the hallways, and we drank champagne and ate treats on paper plates. When I was back home in Florida, I worried where he would get the coins to buy his espresso on the days no one visited him. He liked it in rehab. I understood what he meant when he said that. The safety of it. The freedom from life, responsibilities. There, his only focus was to get better. To heal.

During it all, I turned 40 and then 41. Despite the turmoil in my life, I remember thinking that 40 was the best year of my life. 41 didn’t start out as well: my mother, the love of my life, passed from this earth two weeks after my 41st birthday. There was grief, shock, pain, and more grief. Hours, days, weeks that turned to months of wondering what the point of it all was: why should I care about living if death was the inevitable and final stop. And yet as humans, we are so much stronger than grief and pain and somehow, some way, we resurface. We find our way. We realize, accept, and honor the fact that life is precious. That life is a gift and more than that, a journey that provides us with the tools we need to grow into ourselves. I believe that we live through events that change us, cause us to re-evaluate our lives, determine what matters, what doesn’t. There are things we see with our own eyes—the bruises of disease, the glaze of impending death—that change our realities. We learn to ask ourselves: will this matter to me when I am in my coffin? What is it that I want in this life? Time passes. Things change. My mother is never coming back. Sometimes that astounds me. My brother is growing stronger—years later, he is 98% recovered and yet there is still sometimes pain in his feet, his hands. He is better, but changed, as we all are.

I am both a realist and a spiritualist. The realist in me forces me to see the big picture—it reminds me that cleaning my home and food shopping are, in the scope of my life, just as necessary and important as answering work emails and paying my bills. The realist in me reminds me that if I don’t run, yoga, I will feel lethargic; the realist in me reminds me that death is inevitable, and that worrying about it before it comes is pointless. In my childish moments, I wish for my parents to live forever, but reality has taught me a different lesson: they will pass. The realist in me says we go on—that’s the way of the world. The spiritualist in me asks questions: why do you worry so? It tells me that vacuuming can wait, that it’s okay to sit and just be. It reminds me daily, hourly, that there’s nowhere to be other than where I’m at. It promises me that death is not dark, that it is a part of life, a threshold we will all pass through. It instills in me that our bodies are our shells, and when it’s time, we will find our next home. The spiritualist in me lifts me to the finish lines in my life repeatedly—it ignites my being with my heart and soul and helps me to know things instinctually before I know them in reality. The more I learn of life, the clearer it comes to me that joy, peace of mind and heart, love are part of our ingredients always waiting to be tapped into. Our sheer existence is a declaration of love—by the universe. There are miles to go in my life. Each day I strive to be more accepting of myself, for I’ve learned that if I cannot accept me, then I will never be able to accept anyone else. I cannot be all things to all people, but I can love with all my heart and pray and laugh. I am in it, this life, for the long run and the more I live, the clearer I am that there are no shortcuts. Pain and love and fear and hope are all ours, to be with and to be without. I have miles to go—both literally and figuratively. I’ve learned to never think, never say it can’t be any worse than this. I have discovered a compassion that helps me to quell my hurt and anger and pain and to see a situation from another’s point of view. I have learned to believe in the invisible hands which are guiding us always, helping us to find our way, both when we believe that we know where we are going and when we do not. I have learned to believe in the impossible, embrace miracles, and to accept what is allotted to me in this journey of life. I am grateful for all that this great big universe sends my way.

There was a morning in Paris, late December, that first year when my brother battled GBS, when the snow was plummeting and the streets were still dark. I debated leaving the warmth of my brother’s apartment for my morning run. And then I was outside, and the snow changed to rain over time and I was moving slowly, trudging along on the gravel path of the Tuileries Garden and then across the street by Concorde, onto the slippery pavement of Avenue des Champs-Élysées that led to the Arc de Triomphe. People were rushing down the street, entering and exiting the metro stations, stopping for an espresso, a croissant, on their way to work. Underneath the layers I wore, my skin was damp with sweat and with each inhale of frigid cold air, my chest grew heavy. I checked in my pockets repeatedly for the key to my brother’s flat; without that key, without that way in, I was stranded, all alone in a foreign country. People watched me as I moved along; I was the only runner out on the streets amidst all the people hurrying to get to work and the Arc was there in the distance. I thought of the Tour de France that ended there and all the times in the past I had run down Champs-Élysées. There were many times, years back, that I had eaten in restaurants along that strip with my mother, and other times I had gone for dessert and coffee with my girlfriends and many times that I wandered along that street alone, during summer months when I visited Paris for weeks at a time. I had tears in my eyes as I kept moving forward and with the rain coming down, I felt safe to cry, to let go. I knew that there were so many miles I needed to cover to get back home, to his flat, from which I had to shower and head to the hospital, but I kept going. I kept running towards all that was, that magnificent arc, running away from all that was, moving, one foot in front of the other, knowing that I was going to arrive at some point.

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