Get on the Damn Boat!

by Mary Helen Darah

sunny side up CMYK

My cherished friend is struggling and my heart hurts. Anne is “my person.” She is my constant variable, my “North Star” beyond the 45th parallel at my home in northern Ontario. She is a hiker, colostomy wound care nurse, quinzee camper (think igloo with industrial sleeping bags), mother, wife and hearty token female that keeps pace with her adventure-seeking all-male clan. We have shared a kayak, starry nights, a freakish love and need to collect rocks, hours by sparkling water on the “convo and coffee” dock, a little wine and a disease wrapped in a pretty pink ribbon called breast cancer. This past year, after Anne spent 14 years of being cancer free, the beast has returned with a vengeance.

Anne was diagnosed four years before I was given the same news. I will always remember her paddling across the lake toward our cabin in her canoe when she found out that I was about to begin the same journey she had endured. Once docked, she walked toward me holding a beautiful little bag. Inside were rocks of varying shapes and sizes with words she had handwritten including, “hope,” “faith,” “strength” and “love.” As she handed them to me she said, “You are going to have to be David. Now rest up and go kick Goliath’s a$$.”

I have to admit, at times I vacillate between thinking, “Why not me?” “That could be me,” and the hefty guilt that accompanies the thankfully rare, “Thank God it’s not me.” It saddens me when people ask Anne when her treatment will end, to which she replies, “When I do.” Yet, here’s the miraculous part. Through failed treatments, new treatments, “targeted welding” (her name for radiation) and fear, the woman still is capable of motivating me to get off my behind and LIVE.

Anne Voll-Reitzel reminds us all to live fully and cherish every moment ‘inside the dash’… even while ‘quinzee’ camping.

During our last visit, I shared my “bucket list” with her. I can honestly say that I have never judged anyone’s “bucket list.” How could I when my own children have had “pet a cow in the wild,” “make a mime talk” and “do something inappropriate with the drummer from the band U2” on theirs? Thankfully, Anne didn’t judge mine. Although, I’m happy to report that since my life was temporarily turned upside down, especially my priorities, I have knocked a few items off my list. So have my children. Maria, my youngest, has parachuted out of a plane and camped with dingoes lurking around her “chilly bin” (aka cooler) in Australia. However, I’m happy to report, that to my knowledge she did not swim in anything other than a pool. Side note: Statistically Americans are eaten by gators/crocs more than any other nation. Apparently, not because we taste better but due to our refusal to read signs. My middle daughter has lived in a hut, sans running water and toilet, as she taught and helped build a school in Kenya. My oldest, although not one to jump out of planes, jumped into a career in the medical field and followed her dreams.

I shared with Anne that I haven’t scratched anything off my list in some time. I told her my top three; cruise Alaska, explore Paris and the third (sorry it would take 1.5 margaritas for me to release that information). Her response? “Get on the damn boat.” I then told her that I have absolutely no business going to Alaska considering the time away and the EXPENSE. Again, she said, “Get on the damn boat.” So, after some serious contemplation and apologies to my worn out Visa card, I’m doing just that. She reminded me that it was less than a year ago that we were on the dock, relaxing after a long walk. She was strong, with a full head of hair and a body that wasn’t betraying her. Alaska here I come. Oh and Paris? It will have to wait. The way I see it, if James Taylor can go to Carolina in his mind, I can do the same with France. All I need is some music, twinkly lights in my backyard, wine from the Bordeaux region, cheese, crusty bread, and a few dear friends with an imagination.

I highly recommend dusting off your “bucket list” and doing what you think you will do “later” even if you have you to do a modified version of your dream. Unfortunately, we are not guaranteed a “someday.” I heard a wonderful message during a funeral that has always stuck with me. The Pastor informed us that on our grave marker there is the year of birth and the year of our death. They are insignificant. What matters is the dash … the life lived in between those two dates, no matter how long or short. Fill it up with LIVING.

Get on the damn boat.

5 thoughts on “Get on the Damn Boat!

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  2. I always enjoy your stories, they continue to inspire me and make me giggle to myself at the same time!! After the boat…think about Paris (and the Visa is “rested”)! Our mutual friend, Margaret B., would make a great travel buddy!!!

  3. I love your friend just from your description. And as always I love your writing and your spirit. Thank you.

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