This is a blog that has been in the writing for probably almost three weeks. It always takes me longer to write about feelings than it does to recount an awesome weekend, or a day at uni.
This is a blog about three remarkable, inspirational people.
Over two weeks ago now, I had a conversation with Alanna, who was Elspeth’s best friend when she was here. She was at the McGill cancer society table on campus that was making luminaries. You write the name of someone who’s a cancer survivor, or someone who’s going through it now, or someone who has died from cancer on a paper bag, and then they fill it with sand and put a candle in it and when it gets dark they light them all and spell something out.
I made one for Ella, because I think she’s inspirational. She has been fighting cancer for over a year, and every time I’ve seen or spoken to her throughout the entire treatment she was the same amazing, upbeat, funny, clever smiley Ella that she is. I know that, obviously, she isn’t like this all day every day, but it’s made me think how I’d be under the same circumstances. I don’t think you can know how you’d react until you’re there, and then you’re just getting on with “day to day living, and then some” (Ella’s blog, which is beautifully written; frank and honest, but also the same Ella that it’s always been). I would hope that should I ever have to deal with similar circumstances, I take it on with as much grace as Ella has and continues to. Even with the horrible diagnosis she received almost two weeks ago, Ella has been not only looking out for herself and her family, but also giving us all a helping hand. She has made a set of rules (you can see them on her blog – scroll back a few) for how we should all behave, and just by writing the blog is giving those who don’t want to ask, or don’t know what to say, a way to know what’s going on.
The topic of cancer got me thinking about other people I know who have had cancer, and I thought about Edna, who died on Christmas day two years ago.
Edna was unlike anyone I have ever known. She was a shiner, relentlessly upbeat and enthusiastic, thoughtful and loud and sassy as hell. She had the most amazing accent, I can’t even begin to describe it. According to Nigel she’d go to meetings where she had to look smart, so she’d wear something formal, and underneath her smart skirt she’d be wearing bright red tights. Or purple shoes. She gave Judith the poem “When I am old I shall wear purple” and upon re-reading it, it’s a fairly good description! She was curious, about everything and everyone. She wanted to know everyone’s story; mine, Cora’s, people she’d met in passing, friends of ours she’d meet at family parties. I think she quite enjoyed gently questioning authority, and pushing the boundaries of social norms. She defined living in the moment – no, appreciating the moment, but with an insight and thoughtfulness that I can only hope to achieve. She was so full of love and light and life and laughter and I miss her.
And then, this morning, I woke up and found out via facebook that Brandon Lacy Campos, who is a close friend of my god-family in Minneapolis, and who I stayed with a few times in New York, died last night. I cannot claim to have known him well, but his blog, My Feet Only Walk Forward, is amazing. His facebook page is awash with people who loved him, it’s overwhelming. It’s also beautiful to see how many lives he touched, the number of people for whom he made a difference; the love on that page is palpable and fierce.
It feels incredibly unfair. Elspeth pointed out to me that this gives us a chance to step back from our day to day lives for a minute and really appreciate what we have. I’m trying to be better at this, at noticing that it’s a beautiful day out, or smiling at people when I walk past them in the street, remembering that there is a huge network of people out there that I love, appreciating the feel of the earth through my feet, noticing the kid making faces to himself in the window of the metro. And also telling people about the difference they make to your life. Sarah from the MOC and I had a conversation on the bike ride two weeks ago, before any of this, about how she tries to tell people when they’re awesome, because often times we don’t. And amongst this, also remembering that this is a chance to learn and grow and grieve, and not to forget that we are loved.
So much love to you all.
Here is Ella’s blog: http://daytodaylivingandthensome.blogspot.ca/
Brandon’s blog: http://myfeetonlywalkforward.blogspot.ca/
And Edna’s poem about wearing purple:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.