My Turn: Icy days

  • mactrunk mactrunk

Published: 4/18/2021 9:51:03 AM

“It might be slippery,” he warns. “I think it’s icy,” he warns. “Watch your step.”

“Get over. Way over. Further. The cars can’t see you,” he warns, as we round a bend in the road.

“Cross over – people are coming,” he warns. He warns. He warns.

We walk hand in hand these days with our un-pocketed worries and warning systems. It’s a new companion. It crept in somehow when no one was looking. It started for him, I’d guess, with a stage 4 diagnosis, a diagnosis that shocked; it didn’t seem possible. He was the one who was never sick, never took antibiotics, never felt the need to consult a doctor about anything. Then a small swollen lymph node appeared, noted one fateful Christmas morning by his visiting daughter. “Dad, you have to get this checked out,” she insisted. What followed was a month of tests, visits to Dana Farber, treatment decisions. And finally quiet. That word — “quiet.” Cancer becoming quiet but not, in this case, cured. So, we live with quiet. Regular check-ups, annual tests, a doctor we trust and quiet. Except for the noise. The internal clamor of worries and warnings. How unexpectedly slippery things can become. The black ice just under the snow. Unsuspected.

He was always the person who had carried the load, the one who previously added our uneasy weight to his own pack; he plotted out the next adventures, pushing our boundaries and stretching our limits, walking his daughters all the way to Canada from Greenfield. Imagine that!

Now he uses antiseptics to wipe down the counters, orders new masks, double masks in fact. The one who once took the children (they all remember) into a stormy ocean when the waves rushed in from all directions, when the currents were unpredictable, when there was a darkening sky and grumbles of thunder. Into the ocean, they raced, full of their own bravado. And he — stood as Neptune amid the waves — eyes on each child, teaching them to hail and, taunt the sea. Wrapped afterwards in towels and sweat shirts, the conquering heroes, tossing a football before they stormed back up the dunes. Urged ahead by the confidence of the father, overcoming the trepidations of the mothers.

I called my own father when I was terrified during the Cuban missile crises. Afraid then of nuclear war. “They’ll see reason and back down,” he had said, a man who believed deeply in reason and the ultimate winning hand of reasonableness.

I called my father again when Kennedy was shot.

I called my father shortly after I was arrested during a demonstration against the Vietnam war. “You don’t want to go to jail,” he offered, sensible if not the advice I most wanted to hear. Still, I called him to hear his voice and inhale his reassurance as an antidote to my own anxieties. And then finally, his body failed him, several heart attacks, diabetes, failing organs. “Watch your step,” he’d say. A person who never watched his own steps, who lived outside the boundaries in the name of his ideals. We may not call it by its name – mortality. But it’s there.

After this year, we know how vulnerable we are. Even as the ice has melted and the walks hold no hidden perils (save a new pothole or two). Emerging from this pandemic, its terrors receding, we have resilience in tow. Our newly acquired vaccine antibodies giving us a permission to hug again. We can stop counting the cars in the parking lot when we go shopping. Soon we will no longer flinch when encountering another body in a tight aisle as we squeeze by to negotiate the avocados. Hopefully, we will again sit next to strangers and delight in their company and over-heard conversations. Hopefully, we will trust our footsteps rounding the curves in the days ahead. Despite the inevitable warnings:

“Watch out for slippery rocks,” he says.

“Watch out for the low branches,” I say.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.


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