Of Grit, Hope, and the Journey

Just 2 days after his surgery, Ken was literally sitting pretty.

I’m pretty meticulous when it comes to recording events—either in my diary or in my calendar. I like to remember things—good or bad. But maybe that’s the wrong way to frame it. I like to remember important things. When I glanced at my calendar yesterday, it told me it was the anniversary of Ken’s hemipelvectomy (the complete removal of his left leg and corresponding pelvis) in 2010. It made me a little sad it hadn’t just occurred to me as it did in the few years following the momentous, life-altering event; one we hoped would buy us way more time than a year and a half.

But it also served as a reminder that life has moved forward for me; that—probably for the better—Ken’s and my life together isn’t foremost on my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always within reach. I’ve just gotten skilled at choosing not to reach for it.

I thought about Ken’s decision to proceed with the surgery, and how he prepared himself as best he could for living a life with only one leg. He’d had his left leg amputated below his knee when he was a teen, and mastered that so fully, owning every nuance of his movements. But only having one leg was a game changer of the most drastic kind. Of course, I supported him completely, and we hoped removing the cancerous leg would buy us time–as his first amputation had done some thirty years before.

It didn’t actually buy much time at all. In spite of his herculean recovery that spring and a futuristic, computer-power prosthetic he was learning to use, the cancer returned before the leaves started to fall. And we both careened down a path–holding on to each other–with little control of anything else. From where I sit now, I sometimes marvel at the energy expelled in what seemed like such a futile battle. What were we fighting for, knowing what was coming?

But I know the answer–even before I finish the thought. And it’s not the romantic one that may come to mind. It’s bigger than that. Way bigger. It was because Ken knew a secret he schooled me on over and over in our ten years together: life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. In fact, the destination, he’d say, is the journey. No matter how bumpy or short a trip might seem, there are lessons and value to be found in it.

It’s a lesson he keeps reminding me of when I meet at challenge in my personal or professional life, a confident whisper in my ear. And though I struggle with how much I should write about him in this blog (there really is a book in the works), it’s a topic I can’t avoid, and it’s one that drips from my fingertips easier than water from a tap.

A great reminder.

In the brief moments when Ken struggled after his surgery (and I do mean only a handful of times), I’d remind him, “it won’t always be like this.” It became my mantra. Not just for him, but for me too. I had the ability to look at our situation from from the outside. It’s a skill that I still employ and one that helps to give me perspective when I’m drowning. These simple words–that apply to everything–remind me of how temporary everything is: especially our problems; and that there are more important things to focus on when we are able.

When I think about that extraordinary time in my life–the time spent with Ken and how we weathered so much, I think of these lessons and reminders. And when I think of the good times we had together–so many–I can’t help but know that even then, things wouldn’t always be like this. For good reason, though. How can you truly appreciate something you have in abundant and unending supply? I’m not sure it’s possible.

If you’re happy, enjoy now while it’s here. And if you’re not, just wait. Things will change.

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