By Catherine Daligga
December 14, 2015
A week ago yesterday, I was still in Jamaica, following the fundraising run in which my daughter and I (and about 40 other people) participated on behalf of our local Cancer Support Community.
The run itself happened on Saturday December 5th. I should put “run” in quotes, because we walked the 10K, my daughter and I. Other folks did run, and some in our group even ran a half-marathon. But we were content to walk and enjoy the opportunity to see new people and places along the way.
I won’t deny a smidgen of competitiveness that motivated me to run a little bit at the very end, in order to improve our overall time (and to pass a few stragglers 😉 We weren’t the last to finish the 10K, but we weren’t far from it. I must have been 2 or 3 up from the last finisher in my age group.
Of course, for me the goal was not to run the entire distance, but to savor the opportunity to be taking part at all. Five years ago, I was in no shape to have traveled like this, let alone take part in an endurance contest. I was on the verge of my diagnosis and suffering from serious, scary, and debilitating symptoms.
But that was then, this is now, and I am still here.
I had a marvelous trip, this first (and I hope not my last) time in Jamaica. The highlight of the whole visit, even more memorable than the run itself, was the day of birding that I arranged for my daughter and me with a wonderfully talented and informed birder I was lucky enough to identify from travelers’ tips online. A native Jamaican who runs this business on the side, in addition to his work with the Jamaican government in conservation, he is very well informed about birds and other Jamaican wildlife and very savvy generally. I’d be delighted to recommend his agency to anyone who asks. (In fact, he’s expanding his scope to cover Cuba and Costa Rica; the entire Caribbean will be within his purview soon.) We saw a chestnut-bellied cuckoo in flight! A potoo sleeping on a branch! And many endearing and beautiful doctor birds (swallow-tailed hummingbirds), the national bird. I could watch those all day.
The memory that may stick with me the longest, however, is one that I captured imperfectly with that photo above. A week ago, in the late afternoon, I was standing in water just offshore in the little cove near our lodging. The water was warm, the sun was bright but not intense, and for some minutes I simply stood on the seabed and watched schools of small gray fish swim past my legs. That’s all there was in my consciousness at the time, and all there needed to be. Me, the water, the sun, the sand, and the fish, swimming and swimming in their element.
I didn’t quite realize that would become a capstone moment till after my return home. The evening following our return, I had the opportunity to take part in a brief meditation session led by the woman through whom I had my first prolonged exposure to meditation. It was held at the same Cancer Support Community for which I had raised funds; the same center, of course, where I had already benefited from hours and hours of programs and interactions with people who were seeking to help each other along. As part of the meditation exercise, she suggested that we visualize a location or an experience that was peaceful for us. Immediately, my near encounter with the fish came to my mind, and I flitted in and out of the recollection of peace and wholeness I had experienced at the seashore just two days before.
At the end of the session, I realized that my sense of tranquility also emerged from the fulfillment of a kind of circuit connected to my recovery. I came to this place, in the company of these people, nearly five years ago in deep distress. I was seriously ill; I feared dying, and leaving so much undone. And now, I am much better. Not the same as I was before, in some ways stronger and in some ways not. All the same, for me to have been standing in shallow water simply delighting in the sensual pleasures of watching fish swim past would have been an impossible scene to imagine five years ago.
I’m not and still don’t expect to be one to express gratitude for having gone through cancer. But I will express gratitude for being alive and still capable of deriving pleasure from experiences I never thought possible. Moment to moment, day to day, fish to fish.