I live with several chronic health conditions, including long-term survival of kidney and breast cancers. Yet I remain an optimist who relishes the beauty of my life, even in its altered form. I don’t have an easy answer for how I do this, but I do know that I am enriched and sustained by my current relationships and the memories of earlier relationships that fill my heart with love and hope.
Every Saturday evening when I was a child, we went to visit my cousins, bumping down the red dirt country road named after the money General Lee was said to have buried there. Beginning to smell Tante Lucille’s biscuits even before the turn for her house, and eager to be hugged and kissed silly by her nine kids, my sister and I chorused, “Are we there yet?”
We always ate crusty baguettes at home. But at Tante Lucille’s, we were treated to hot, soft biscuits as big as plates and as light as cotton balls. When our stomachs were full of flaky biscuits drenched in freshly churned butter, we’d sit out back under the stars, drink sweet tea from Mason jars, and listen to Henri and Beau pick their guitars and sing about love gone wrong. We didn’t know we were building memories. We were just kids passing time while Mama and Tante Lucille visited.
My nunc, Pierre, was a good-hearted trickster, a trapper completely at home in the swamps of south Louisiana. Following his prey, he moved his family around the wetlands. I remember their house near Slidell. We had to drive around a bayou on a road that was more imaginative use of ruts than road. At the end were stacks of cages holding various sizes of alligators. Racks of muskrat pelts leaned against the house. My cousins poured helter-skelter out the door and ran alongside the car as we arrived. They greeted us by whirling us around and tumbling with us on the dirt driveway, all of us laughing with the pure joy of being alive and together. Exhausted by delight, we laid sprawled all over each other in the dirt. Then we laughed some more, just because.
Inside, standing at the stove, was sweet Tante Lucille, unruffled by all of life’s demands and surprises. Her calm wrapped itself around her rambunctious children and restless husband in a cloud of love.
I believe the commune in community is what gives meaning and depth to my life. It is the people who I love and who love me who give me reason to continue when life seems too overwhelming, or I can’t imagine having to face one more surgery or treatment. Then, I remember or am touched by someone I love, and it is all not only worthwhile, but it is also a gift.
As a little girl, I would sometimes go to work with my daddy. I’d stand rubbing my sleepy eyes while Mama dressed me in a starched pinafore and plaited my long blond hair. Then Daddy and I would cross Lake Pontchartrain in the pitch-dark predawn to memorable adventure. Once in New Orleans, Daddy strolled while I skipped and danced down Decatur Street to the Morning Call coffee stand for café au lait and beignets before he would start work. Small communings like these with my father or with Tante Lucille’s family fill my heart with life-sustaining memories.
Each moment of life is a gift of unique beauty. Sometimes the gift is evident. Sometimes it is wrapped in weird paper, such as my cancer diagnoses. But it is always a gift.
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