Staying busy has never been a problem for me. And any chance to take a road trip – especially one that doesn’t involve doctors or work – is like a gift. That was Saturday, which turned out to be a mixed bag in a very circular kind of way. I mean, as mixed bags go, it had a completeness to it that was… inspiring? It definitely made me set aside some time to go, hmmm…
The day started with a phone call from a beloved niece, to tell me that she was going to have a baby. The happiness I heard in the voices of both she and her husband was deeply affecting. It set the tone for the day. The afternoon of which was spent in the Sacramento Mountains, in and around the sleepy little town of Cloudcroft.
We had driven there to photograph the daughter of a good friend and her boyfriend, for their high school graduation pictures. And to spend the day communing with nature. The temperature was a crisp 34 degrees and snow lay thick on the shaded side of every hillock and arroyo. For we desert rats, it was a glorious change of pace.
In truth, to say the day was magical is to understate the true majesty of high pines swathed in light dustings of snow, which gleam in the sunlight like crystal shards. Or breathtaking vistas, stretching out from said glistening pines miles into the distance, where White Sands National Monument glitters brightly in response beneath the rugged blue jawline of the Organ Mountains.
The smiles were genuine and the poses playful, which delighted both my model and her mother, so all told a very worthwhile day. On the drive home, I felt hopeful and strangely at peace. Driving into the smoldering remains of the day, where the western horizon was ablaze with oranges and reds so luminescent they glowed like nuclear Armageddon, I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of harmony. All was as it should be.
As we crested the Organs and exited the San Andreas Pass to begin our descent into the Mesilla Valley, I checked my phone messages. I had missed a call from my mother. I listened to her message and my heart sank into my stomach. One of my cousins had been found dead earlier in the day. He was only three years older than I am now. As children we had been close, but after high school graduation, our paths diverged and we rarely saw one another. The last time had to have been a little over a decade ago.
And now I was being told he was gone, and suddenly I was left with a sense of loss. A day that had dawned with so much hope and promise, instilling me with a feeling of completeness, was instantly sullied by tragedy. Yet, despite that, I was calm and contemplative. It all seemed to make some sort of sense, even as I listened to the message and thought about it afterwards. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was an example of what Native Americans refer to as “the sacred hoop.” The circle of life.
Birth and death always go hand in hand. There cannot be one without the other. What one does with the time between is all that really matters. Staying connected to the world around us, through community and communing, gives meaning to the only thing we have control over: our lives. Try as hard as they might, no person, no corporation, no political party, no disease can take our choices away from us. Unless we let them.
And so, the circle continues. Yes, I have cancer and, yes, it’s a pain in the ass – sometimes literally – but I will not let it determine my future. Whether or not it proves fatal remains to be seen, but until that time comes, I’ve got things to do and places to be. I’ve got family and friends to appreciate. I’ve got projects demanding my attention. I’ve got a world around me to experience. I’ve got choices and I plan on utilizing them. Go ahead, just try to stop me…