It is a strange thing to admit, but I think I only fully woke up when diagnosed with cancer at the age of thirty-nine. I was in my final year of seminary. Happily married, I had two school-aged sons. We were all looking forward to my graduation so we could get on with the big move to wherever we were called to go. Cancer monkey-wrenched everything. I managed to graduate, but traded in ordination for mastectomy and chemotherapy. As the months went by, everyone I knew went back to some sense of the routine of their lives. I was home alone for the first time in my life. An acute awareness of the possibility of death kept me company. It was deeply disconcerting, but somehow made me notice everything. I never realized how morning light fell on toast crumbs. Chemo-brain meant I could stare at it for hours without feeling the impulse to clean. Living in “the now” created a sense of gratitude for, well, just about everything. Because I began to notice shapes and colours, I took up drawing and painting. My sense of spirituality expanded. I wrote. I also became unafraid to try just about anything.
I was eventually ordained and began to serve several small churches in the rural Musquodoboit Valley. Three years later I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I had walked with several women who had died of cancer so I knew what to expect. Death, a thing that had always been “out there,” had pulled up alongside. As a family, we lived into this tumultuous valley of the shadow. After three years of treatment during which I grew no worse, it was suggested I undergo a new slate of tests. I was told the metastatic cancer diagnosis was a mistake! It is difficult to describe the experience of preparing for death only to have the future suddenly fan out in front of you again. That appreciation for the gift of each day has never left me.
I obtained a Doctorate of Ministry at the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia where my research involved understanding how people’s view of their own deaths is affected by their religious worldview and vice versa. Subconscious fear of death is probably the root of just about every bad behavior. I have become convinced that death acceptance leads to living a fuller life situated in the “now.” This can lead to a principled, ethical living which unfolds a future of possibilities. I do workshops on death acceptance. In ministry, I walk with people as they are dying and I have presided at more funerals than I can count. I assure you that the people who live the fullest of lives, choose to love. It is as simple as that. Anyone who loves, suffers. They choose it nonetheless and it is the making of their lives, and the lives of those whom they touch. Undergirding any full life of loving are two essential characteristics: curiosity and humour.
The journey from here
Carl and I have been lovingly married for thirty-four years. After I was diagnosed with cancer, we realized that nothing is guaranteed in life. We resolved to be grateful, curious and loving. We don’t always succeed at this and we are each very different in our own ways of relating to one another and the world. However, it seems to work for us and for those whose lives are entangled in ours (and ours in theirs). In the general quest to be grateful, curious and loving we realize we are at a time in our lives when we are ready to embark on a really big questing journey. We feel, as always, that we should have a goal that scares us. We are physically active and deeply appreciate natural spaces. In particular, we love our National Parks. These are deeply spiritual spaces of and for all Canadian people. They are to be appreciated and used with respect for the natural world. We are also acutely aware that in an era of climate change and global political fragility, the future of natural spaces is precarious. We want to experience and record the “now,” with the twin goals of loving life and advocacy of these spaces. We decided to visit all the ones we can drive to and blog the experience so as to share these precious places with others. You may not think that is scary, but consider that we will be cooped up with two crazy Jack Russell Terriers in a truck camper.
In the years we work, we will get to as many parks as we can. When we retire, we will finish up the rest of the 42!