Monday, November 29, 2021

Looking Back to Move Forward

 Look Back to Move Forward

By EC Stilson

Over a decade ago . . .

Something drew me to the little fabric shop tucked away on Main Street.  I trudged toward the door, gripped the handle, and paused.  Why was I there? 


“Belinda's" had become the most expensive fabric store in town—and their selection wasn't great—yet there I stood, with some stupid feeling that I needed to be there.


After going inside, and being blasted by the air conditioner, I sidled up to some watermelon-print fabric near the register.  


I couldn't concentrate on that fabric though, too distracted from my dreams the night before.


“What's wrong?" the elderly lady at the register asked, pulling down her glasses and studying how I'd literally been petting the watermelon fabric.


“Oh!"  I set the cotton down.  "Just a long night."  I sighed again and then shook my head—seriously what was I doing there?!  I started to walk toward the exit, when the woman cleared her throat.


“I'm bored.  And I love a good story.  Would you mind telling me what's going on?"


That woman—who didn't know me AT ALL—pulled up two stools across from each other at the register and selflessly listened to how I’d been wondering if I should’ve made different choices in the past.


“Listen,” she finally said. “I'm eighty-five years old.  And what you're going through is completely normal!  Do you have time to hear my story?"


I nodded, pretty enthralled.


“My husband died five years ago.  We were happily married for nearly fifty years, but like you, every time we had problems, I started thinking about—or even dreaming about—my old beau from high school."


“Even after fifty years?" I balked.


She looked down and nodded.  "Yeah.  So last year, I contacted my old beau.  Things seemed great at first, but guess what happened? I ended up remembering why I broke up with him in high school.  AND he'd never changed.  We broke up for the same reason a lifetime later.  We were still the same core people."


I felt utterly stunned.


“My point is: I spent all that time looking back on a man who wasn't worth my time.  I remembered the good and forgot the bad, just to realize I broke up with him in the first place for a reason.  All that time I wasted . . . wondering what if."


We hugged each other before I left.  And that woman gave me a red sucker, even though I'm a grown woman and everything. 


Anyway, years have passed, and I’ve been able to share this story with a lot of different people for various reasons. 

If you're struggling, looking back to a possibly deluded past, I'd like to leave you with one quote:

The past is never where you think you left it.

-Katherine Anne Porter

There are so many things to be grateful for this holiday season. Plus, the happiest people seem to be those who are the most thankful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A Collaboration of Moments

 I don’t know if I’m brave enough to post this, but here goes….

I’ve relived certain moments from my life dozen of times….

Do you have experiences that you go to sleep thinking about because they were so wonderful? Or memories so nightmarish they wake you from the deepest sleep?

Sometimes I fall asleep remembering what it was like when my mom rocked me in the rocking chair. I would snuggle in so close, and she’d hold me in one of those fuzzy blankets. I just remember the love.

Other times I remember watching fish in a huge tank we owned. My black and white cat—Bootsie—would curl up on top of me. He loved watching the fish just as much as I did. And if I turned away for too long, sometimes he’d go fishin’. I could hear the TV and music blaring from another part of the house. All four of my closest family members were there—happy and healthy.

Some of my memories are less kind….

She was four years older than me, and I remember she hated raisins. The girl told me we could do strange things at night, under the covers. I wanted it to stop, but she said we’d already gone too far. I think I’d just started school the first time it happened. “I’ll tell your mom,” she said one time. “Then she’ll know how dirty you are.” I offered to give her anything: my allowance…my favorite toys…my decorations. I didn’t want my mom knowing how gross I’d become. 

When I finally got brave enough to talk about it, an adult told me “it doesn’t count as molestation.”

“Why?” I balked.

“She was a girl. And she was just a child too.”

“But she was twelve the last time it happened—and four years older than me….”

The woman just shook her head, solidifying the fact that some adults will never see reason. “She was a girl”? That was like saying a declawed lion isn’t dangerous. Men aren’t the only sex that can be nefarious!

Other memories haunt my dreams, like a terrifying “prayer session” at church, or when my son died… Or the moment that led to the divorce in my first marriage. But you’ve heard too much about all of that. I’ve written as a way to cope.

Luckily, as I’ve aged, more recent memories have begun to stand out the most, like Antelope Island. Legend has it that someone brought a convict there over a hundred years ago. He couldn’t get off the island, so they thought he’d died there, but no one ever found the bones. I’d tell my four kids that story—as we hunted for brine shrimp and spent our days exploring the island when I was a single mom.

Then I met Mike, and everything bloomed. I remember every day of falling in love and discovering more about that wonderful man. We got married on Antelope Island because it had become a place of magic for me and the kids. Just like Mike—our miracle.

As my dad walked me down that aisle I could hardly wait to stand next to Mike, to gaze into his eyes, and tell him I’ll love him…forever.

And so when I think of the key memories that make up my life, I realized what a strange mishmash they are. Each one has molded me and taught something. 

The moments I’ve re-experienced through imaginings or dreams, are intriguing because they have collectively made up a human life. 

Sometimes I find it so fascinating that I’m here at all, breathing…thinking. It really does make you wonder: Where did we all come from? Did God really always exist? If not, who in the hell made God? And what key experiences make up His existence? Now THAT would be an interesting read!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Appreciating What We Have

 “We’ll go dancing and clubbing!” one lady said. “We’ll drink all night long!”

“And we can run together each morning. And maybe even get in a little rock climbing.”

I could tell that the two ladies were just a little older than me, yet they could do so much more. I finally arrived at the front of the line. My back and legs ached so much that my knees had begun shaking, but something completely unseen hurt much more. “I requested a wheelchair,” I told the woman behind the ticket counter. “There’s just no way I can walk through the airport anymore.” Why did I feel the need to justify myself to this woman?

As she printed my boarding pass I thought of the two ladies who’d been in front of me and how they can run and dance and rock climb. Tears began filling my eyes because I missed all of that so much. I just wish that the last time I’d done everything I would’ve appreciated it with due credit. But now all of it is just a memory.

“Do you see that man sitting in a wheelchair over there?” the lady asked after a while.

I looked and spotted a man who slightly resembled Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He sat grumpily, next to all of the other wheelchairs. 

“Just go sit in a wheelchair by him, and someone will be with both of you shortly.” Then, after I gave her my luggage, she paged someone and motioned for me to go to “Mr. Potter.”

Mr. Potter looked like his namesake for a reason. I tried being social, but his drab countenance could’ve killed even the most chipper angel’s spirit. “Why are you in a wheelchair?” he asked accusatorially. “And why do you walk all hunched over?”

“I’ve actually been walking much better. I guess it gets worse when I’m tired. Dragging my luggage from the parking was rough.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t pack so god-d*mn much,” he said.

“Fine,” I replied. “I have stage four cancer. Why are YOU in a wheelchair.”

“I have cancer too. It’s d*mn near eaten all of me now.” I spied scabs on his arms and legs, something I’ve come to see a lot of at the cancer center. I’ve even had some myself after itching from treatments or medications.

“I used to be able to do so many things. I looked years younger….” After saying the words, he glanced around almost hungrily at all of the healthy people who scurried around us. “Bet someone else deserves this more than I do.”

We stayed quiet for a couple of minutes. “Has anyone helped you?” a woman came and asked. She spoke so slowly and loudly, as if we were mentally handicapped.

“A woman at the ticket counter paged someone, but that was quite a while ago,” I said so fast that I’d hoped she’d realize we were mentally capable. “Can you call someone just in case?”

So she did. And when she walked away, Mr. Potter couldn’t say enough bad about her. “You know people are just nice because we have cancer. That’s the only reason. We make them feel better about themselves.”

My mouth dropped. “Sir, I find your outlook on life…not to be my favorite. I’ve ALWAYS expected the best from people. Now I get to see it almost every day. People find out I have cancer, and they rise to the occasion. I’ve seen the kind of generosity that’s written about in books.”

“Oh! You’re a Pollyanna.”

“Maybe I am. But I’d rather be that…than a Mr. Potter.”

I couldn’t believe I’d said it. And unfortunately, the man—who was quite a bit older than me—got the reference. “You’re in need of a wheelchair. What can you find to be ‘glad’ about that?”

“Because it reminds me…” I paused. “Even though there’s a lot I can’t do, being in a wheelchair reminds me of the things I can be grateful for!”

“Such as?”

“I just started painting. I never would’ve done that if I didn’t have cancer. And now my kids have been catapulted from being cranky teenagers to being grateful young adults.”

Two workers walked up together at that point. Just before they could wheel us to our separate destinations, the man turned to me. “Did I really…remind you of Mr. Potter?”

“Yes,” I said. And as the young man wheeled me away I thought of how important it is to focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t. I hope I gave Mr. Potter the wake-up call he needed—that’s what he inadvertently did for me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Herculean Task

I want to be the “cool” mom, and apparently—with Halloween barely in the rear view mirror—my youngest kids think that awesome moms watch scary shows and are a little “edgy.”

“I can be edgy!” I told my teenage boy. 

“Ummm…no,” he said. “You can’t. Even Abby is edgier than you.” Side note: The kids think Abby—our dog—is God’s gift to humanity. She gets credit for everything. I can make brownies, and she somehow gets thanked for it. I’ll do laundry—and she gets praised! I’ll vacuum—and SHE gets a treat. Yet, she doesn’t even have hands!

So, vowing to upstage the dog, I decided to paint something VERY edgy. “My painting will be terrifying—and awesome,” I told my kids.

Trey laughed. “Yeah, right.” 

“So, what do I get if I succeed?

“I’ll play the drums for you,” he said.

“You play the drums for me—and practically the entire neighborhood {they’re so loud} every day!”

He smirked. “All right, if it’s ACTUALLY scary, I’ll tell everyone that you’re…the toughest,” he whispered, “coolest mom around. I’ll even say that…you’re better…than Abby.”

I gasped. Coming from Trey THAT is the ultimate compliment. 

This weekend I took on the incredible, unsurpassable Herculean task of impressing my children. I had so many great ideas: scary man in the moon; a creepy tree with a face; a girl with pink eyes (because if you’ve had children pink eye IS not fun); the list went on.

Anyway, in the end, I used several of the ideas and painted a circus girl with pink eyes. She looked terrified in a hot air balloon as she ran from a band of killer cats. I put cats on the girl’s hot air balloon and in the water chasing her. I even made the moon look like a cat. 

Anyway, the big reveal was this morning, and I could hardly wait to show my children the terrifying painting.

After their breakfast, I clutched my creation facing away from them. “Are you ready? This is the MOST terrifying, the MOST thrilling, the most terrible thing you have ever seen!” And I slowly turned it toward them with so much anticipation!

“That…is not scary—at all!” My boy said in a monotone. And then both Trey and Indy broke out laughing so hard I worried for their health. Then they started saying how I will never be edgy no matter how hard I try. 

“What?! But this IS awesome,” I blurted. Yet, they didn’t listen—too busy telling our traitorous dog that she’s amazing and she’s the edgiest and the coolest. And how she can probably paint really well!

After the kids left for school, I sat on the couch and giggled. I started painting after being diagnosed with cancer, and now it’s given me so much to look forward to. I have a mermaid painting that I alter once a week; my kids never know what might change (one week she went from having closed eyes to opening them; another week she grew fins!) We’re also putting a poster-board on the wall that each of us have to add something to every time we leave the house—it’ll be epic!

So, I stared at my “scary painting,” the latest addition to this painting adventure. It has 22 cats hidden in it. Maybe I’ll ask my kids if they can find all of the cats. If they can’t, then they better tell me I’m cooler than the dog. This’ll be awesome! I just know they won’t find them all!

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Living Painting

 I put this picture on the wall, but I keep painting over it—‘cause it’s not quite right. Anyway, I didn’t realize my kids watched all of the changes until Ruby said something today: 🤣 “Oh, she changed again!”

Then Sky said, “Does she have a different face?!”

This IS actually hilarious. 😅

P.S. She looks WAY better with her eyes closed! My kids will NEVER forget this one—the “living” painting.

Monday, November 1, 2021


 “I give you two years to live.”

Time shifted, moving like molasses, and a darkness threatened to overtake me right there in the d*mn hospital room. 

No one else heard the news with me because COVID limited visiting hours. Nope, I needed to be strong and digest this alone.

Two years. My thoughts reeled. 24 months. 104 weeks. 730 days. That would make Ruby 20, Sky 18, Trey 14, and Indy 12. I have four kids. To not see all of them reach adulthood, start their careers, get married… To not grow old with Mike…

“I’m only in my 30s. You can fix this. Can’t you?” The words slipped out slowly, as if uttered by someone else.

“No. I’m sorry, Elisa. We can’t.”

A doctor told me this during my month-long hospitalization that started on Oct. 30, 2020.

This past weekend—the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis and my hospitalization in Utah— felt surreal.

As if trapped in an hour-glass, the sands of time cascade around me, and I’m stuck up to my waist. Sand continues dumping, getting caught in my hair, and occasionally my mouth and eyes…but it’s not falling as quickly now. “You might even have up to ten years!” A doctor recently told me. And although I’m exceedingly grateful, I can’t help thinking of the initial two-year diagnosis—and the fact that death still circles like a vulture in the wind.

If half my time were really over, what have I done with it? What do I have to show for the past year?

I scanned through pictures. Memories poured over me, just like the sand in that hour-glass. I remembered: fiddling for cancer patients; losing my hair; being selected as the angel family; enduring debilitating surgeries, infusions, and radiation; fighting liver failure and sepsis; and losing several friends who died too soon (suicide, overdose, cancer, car accident…). And then I found pictures of Mike and the kids. I remembered when family and friends came to visit. I couldn’t help grinning over road trips and time fishing, card games and movie nights.

Then it hit me: how much I’ve bonded with those who matter most. Like a bag cinched before a long journey, this has just brought all of us closer. And although I’m still scared, and we are “living scan to scan” (as the doctor says), I am PROUD. We’ve made it through so much. 

Hardship littered every bit of this past year’s pathway, but there have been so many breadcrumbs from God all along too—signs that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. Cancer diagnosis—death sentence—or not, I am the luckiest. To still be making memories, that might be the greatest gift of all.

Anyway, hopefully I have more than a single year left now (maybe even 10 as the doctor says). It really does put things in perspective though. What would you do, if you only had one year to live?