Monday, February 26, 2024

An Opportunity All of Us Should Have


"Of course you're strong," the woman at the party persisted. "But HOW do you do it, Elisa? We ALL want to know?" Several people clustered around, and I wished we could leave. The woman asking the question, Lynn, doesn't really like me. Quite a while ago, we applied for the same job, and I ended up getting it. After I took the role, she treated me with distain. But maybe she meant well this time? I couldn't fathom someone being so unkind to someone who’s fighting terminal cancer. That would be amoral and unconscionable. 


"I don't feel particularly strong," I replied, then glanced from the fireplace to Mike. "But Mike and the kids... They're my reason to keep fighting. Other than that, I think it's the Godwinks. They're like breadcrumbs from G-d, miracles along the way... I even had one happen last week. It seemed like the neatest—" I paused, suddenly wishing I hadn't said anything. In hindsight, that particular story would sound ridiculous to someone like Lynn.


Jessica, the host, smiled with pure joy, her luminous eyes lighting. “I love your Godwink stories, Elisa.”


“Well,” I felt my face flushing, “it's gonna sound stupid, but this Godwink... is about my eyebrows. I got my eyebrows tattooed on last week."


In that instant, a few women in the room admitted to having their eyebrows tattooed on as well, and this confession astonished me and Mike.


"I hate spending money on myself," I went on when it had grown quiet. “What cash we have should be used for the kids, car repairs, Mike, or our house. But an esthetician gave me a really great deal since brain radiation messed up my left eyebrow.” Part of that brow still refuses to grow in; I've tried to fix it every morning, but this is not a skill I boast. Mike never knows if I'll look perpetually surprised, or angry, like Bert or Ernie. 


Everyone shared stories about their own eyebrows, and I remembered what the appointment had felt like. I drove to Precision Line Beauty in Idaho Fall, and before starting, the esthetician said it would probably hurt. 

It really didn't at all though.


"Well, I guess you HAVE been through a lot. It makes sense that you're not in pain. You know, I had cancer too."


Her words shocked me. She knew how tough treatments can be. She'd given me a good deal because she'd been there too. We shared stories from both of our journeys, and I found hope that maybe someday I'll be in remission like she is. After her diagnosis years ago, she decided to travel and live to the fullest. "How about you?" she asked at one point.


"I've done the same. We went skydiving together and then to Italy as a family. I can hardly believe I've played my violin all over the world now."


"Do you ever play around here?"


I smiled. "Well, I played at a big doctors' party over the holidays." I suddenly thought about that party. I'd charged them $94, but they never paid. It's strange how things like that can happen. People you expect to pay sometimes don’t, and those you don’t think would tip, do.


Anyway, it took about two hours, and after she finished, I paid her a little bit of cash, and then put the rest of my card. $185. 

I glanced at Lynn and our friends at the party. “It was an amazing deal for brows, but that still felt like a fortune!"


Mike broke out laughing at this point. "Once, Elisa bought a coat for $30 and nearly had a breakdown. So, you can imagine... She called me on her way home from Idaho Falls, just so worried."


“Yeah, the guilt seemed to eat me alive, and I even told Indy—our youngest daughter—all about it when I got home.”


"You know, Mama, it's good to see you actually doing something nice for yourself because you never do. It helps me know that sometimes I should do nice things for myself too. We're all so happy you're still alive. I think you should enjoy life while you’re here." She handed me the mail, and then gave me a hug.


I rifled through letter after letter. “But you've gotta admit... I put $185 on the card. That's a lot of money."


I suddenly stopped speaking and stared at a letter in disbelief. The return address boasted the name of a fancy medical organization in town. I pulled a check from the envelope and gaped at it. "Indiana, you aren't gonna believe this!"


"Woah." She pointed to the numbers. “$186. Just a dollar more than what you put on your card."


"I'd only charged the doctors $94. Why would they pay so much? This is the weirdest thing." 


"It's one of your Godwinks, Mama. See! You shouldn't feel bad. Just enjoy."


After setting the check on the counter, I read a note from the woman who'd paid the invoice. “You never realize how precious time is until something is threatening to take it away. We decided to pay you a higher amount because you were amazing, and you deserve it. Thanks again for playing at our holiday party."


Once I’d finished relaying this story, Jessica beamed, Mike winked at me, and Lynn appeared irate. I didn’t understand the latter’s reaction until later that night, when I went to the bathroom. 

Not long after closing the door, I overheard Lynn’s voice as she waited for the bathroom. "That story Elisa told was so shallow and stupid. She spent all that money on eyebrows when doctors have told her she's dying. And she thinks it's some big sign from G-d. It's just idiotic.”


"Lynn! She has terminal cancer. If that's what she needs to hold onto to keep fighting for her family, then let her hold onto it.” I held my breath, hoping they'd get tired of waiting for the bathroom and leave, but they didn't. And I had to walk past them.


Although it's not worth harboring rejection, I thought about this a lot the following days, until Temple Emanuel's service. Rabbi Sara gave the timeliest speech. "You can light a candle, but it can quickly go out. At the hardest times, when we feel like it's too much, those are the times that we must go find the light and keep it alive. Even if it's a tiny, tiny thing. If you go outside and see a flower in the snow—even if it's a small thing—we must strive to find goodness in the world AND each other."


As I rested in those words, it suddenly didn't matter that I'd splurged for once. Priorities became sparklingly clear, and I no longer cared that some woman had said cruel words outside of a bathroom door. Instead, I closed my eyes and decided to cultivate the light that dwells inside of me. I thanked G-d for breadcrumbs, expressed gratitude that I have family members who want me to have a good quality of life, and then I said a very long prayer for Lynn. 

I desperately hope her eyes will be opened to the miracles around her. It's like seeing colors for the first time; it’s an opportunity all of us should have.


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  2. Sending lots of love and prayers your way. ❤️🙏