It’s been tough to find time to escape to Walden lately. I long to go, just to stand on the beach…is it still under a crisp white cloak of snow?… I picture myself staring out over the smooth flat field of ice. What color is it? White, grey, some combination of the two tinged with blue? To feel Walden’s peace osmose into my skin, into each of my cells, to run rivers through my blood.
Often I have seen life bouncing me between my home in East Arlington and my former spouses home in Lexington, traveling up and down Massachusetts Avenue delivering twin fifteen year old girls from home to school, to after school activities…voice lessons, work, piano, appointments. You know how it is.
But last week an unwelcome visitor returned to shake up the patterns we had made in our days.
Last time it was July. Summer, shifting gears from school to sunshine and swimming. The pond reeking of the laughter of happy kids. I remember escaping the hospital where one of my then twelve year old twins had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, to steal in a swim at Walden, exhausted, angry, distraught. I remember how I took that anger and transformed it into power, first in my stroke and ultimately, into finding a way to come to terms with what i thought were the injustices in the world. Why were the kids around me, laughing and splashing in the cool clear water healthy and my kid sick?
Last Saturday, it may have been warm (to us in Boston that means over 32 degrees fahrenheit these days) or wet, or windy. It may have been snowing. I cannot remember. We arrived at the Emergency Room of Childrens Hospital at the request of our pediatric oncologist, who now, after some three and a half years in remission we see every three or four months. It all looked so familiar despite the constant reconstructions, yet it all felt the same.
She had not been feeling ill. Not worn out with fever and infection like the first time. Not lethargic and sleeping all the time. There had been some worrisome symptoms which we had had checked a number of times over the last month, but nothing to give us cause to think this. She had been studying and working and working out and doing all the things that a teenager wants to do, that she wanted to do. But it was back. It is back. The doctor broke the news of the lymphoblasts in her blood as we sat there mother, daughter, father huddled, crying, trying to think and not to think about what it might mean.
The following morning, waking, staring into the eggshell ceiling of the hospital room, I wanted to go to Walden. Somehow I knew the ricocheting thoughts inside my head would for a moment cease if I could just stand on her beach. This was all too unreal, this being here. The familiar hospital bed and the monitors and equipment that surround it. My now fifteen year old daughter, lost under the snowy white bed clothes.
So many times I have thrust arm over arm, heaving, blowing and panting to propel myself into the middle of the pond. In her heart I have found my own strength. A quarter mile from shore, a hundred feet above the pond floor, suspended in her energy. I have touched my own insignificance. Faced the fear of losing, the exhaustion of feeling I cannot carry on, not one more step, not one more breath. I have felt her hold me. Hold me until I know there is nothing more I can do than make that first stroke, take that next breath and find the rhythm to go on. Life. Living.
That first day, late, after the parking had closed, before the setting sun, I did go to Walden. For ten minutes I stood on the beach dusted with its soft white snow. I looked out at the great white expanse, the snowy white sky before it turned grey and mauve and black for the night. It was cold. Bitter. The chilling air stinging my fingers and face, freezing my legs as if they were not wrapped in jeans. I could not think. Or cry. I did not feel anger. There were no kids laughing and playing in the water. I felt fear. And then peace. And I asked that great white expanding sky that we get through this. That we can get her back to the shore, safely once more.
And I looked up.