It’s 7:47 am and the weather app on my phone says it’s minus 2F outside. I suspect it’s actually a few degrees warmer, but certainly in the single digits.
There are no clouds in the sky, portending a gorgeous morning once the sun rises high enough to spill her bright and warming light through the tall pines and firs, turning the winter landscape into a visual marvel of tiny diamonds sparkling on the snow.
This weather – these conditions – is why February has always been one of my favorite months of the year.
The valley fog is making its usual morning creep up the surrounding hillsides. “Lets get moving, boys,” I say. I don’t get an argument.
I quickly dress, layers upon layers, with some extras in my pack. The boys already have their natural layers. I simply add their visibility vests.
Up into the forest we go. Our happy place. Distant snow-covered peaks shine bright white against the deep-blue sky. We enjoy ninety minutes of pure bliss, together, the only sounds our breathing, the crunch of our footsteps on the cold snow, and the occasional caw of a raven flying overhead.
I need this time in nature, more than usual today.
A friend is dying. Like so many of my friends of a certain age before her, within a year of reaching her goal of retiring she learned she has cancer. After an initial round of treatment, it has returned and spread. Her prognosis is poor. Pain is her hobgoblin. Putting my retired attorney hat on top of my friend hat, I’m doing my best to help her be her own best advocate, helping her navigate her state’s Dying with Dignity Act from afar. Her family wants her to keep fighting. They love her, of course, don’t want to lose her. She’s lucky in that respect. But she’s ready to accept reality. That tension adds to her challenge, exhausting her. She feels I’m the only one who understands.
To process all this, I need to move. I need to feel the frigid cold air sear my lungs as I work to follow the boys up the steep incline of the snowmobile road as it winds higher through the forest. I need to feel my quads and calves work to push against the snow under my boots as we gain elevation. I need to feel alive. I need for the people I love to be okay, even as they’re negotiating their death.
I need to believe that I won’t be next, because I don’t know if anyone will advocate for me.
I don’t enjoy being the person people turn to when the shit hits their fan, but that has been my fate. As a divorce/family law attorney, strangers who became clients paid me to be their advocate, listen to their woes, be there for them, encourage them to start fresh. That was the bargain we struck. It wore me down, burned me out, until I finally had to stop because in the end, the money doesn’t matter.
What I can’t stop, though, is feeling empathy for friends facing life challenges. My instinct is to step up, offer to be their advocate as they navigate unexpected, troubling and turbulent waters. So I do.
But it takes its toll.
Being in and moving through nature gives me the emotional energy to continue helping others. As I ponder the natural beauty through which I traverse – this morning, the sparkling diamonds on the snow – endorphins flood my brain and I feel both stronger and calmer. I’m not only grateful for my own health and well-being, but fortified to continue helping those in less fortunate circumstances. My empathy tank is refilled.
Being in nature constantly reminds me of life’s ebbs and flows, that there’s little we control, that often life is harsh and death unexpected. Watching a beautiful bald eagle defend his food from hungry ravens – my best guess is he’s standing atop a coyote shot by a local rancher – as I drove through my valley this morning was the perfect reminder of the harsh realities all creatures face.
Being with dogs teaches me to be in the moment, to revel in what’s right in front of me at any given time. Dogs are amazing teachers of how to live. Right now is the best! No room for regrets, no putting something off until tomorrow; each day is a gift and we’re fools if we don’t take full advantage.
I’m learning that when a loved one’s life is about to end, all we can do is offer support, compassion and comfort, hoping that when our own time comes, we’ll receive the same.
In the meantime, there are takeaways. Like, live for today. Sounds cliche, but really, no tomorrow is guaranteed so what else do we have?
Don’t put important things off. Don’t put all your eggs in that mythical “retirement” basket, assuming you’ll be healthy enough to tick off items on your bucket list, items you’ve deferred. Chances are good you won’t be.
Attack that bucket list now.
Be dog-like: embrace living in the now. Be grateful for each day. Don’t waste any time on the trivial. Seek the beautiful, the diamonds on the snow. Do what makes you happy. Every. Single. Day.