X. We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us
Before embarking on the trip that I planned to thank my hero, my oncologist unexpectedly held out her hand at the end of a routine visit, and in mid shake she blurted, “Congratulations its been one year!” I may have been in shock for the first minute, but it was she who was shocked in the next as I changed into my running clothes and ran out of the hospital back home. If you caught a glimpse of a woman running full force across Key Bridge sweating and smiling and crying all at the same time, you witnessed life in its purest form. With whatever life I have left, I’m going to spend it showing the person who saved me what it truly means to live deliberately. We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us. The following is The Doctor’s splendid adventure from Turkey to Greece to Ireland. While our heads always remain in the clouds, our feet first land in Istanbul.
As I sit with my toes pressed against the cool ceiling to floor window, a coffee cup on the table next to me, and my person wrapped in a heap of blankets sleeping off the early morning sunrise behind me, it’s almost impossible to imagine that this very week last year, I had no hair, not a single eyelash and signs of my body’s war were beginning to appear. As I sit here writing in a room high enough to scrape the heavens, watching the white gulls fly high over Istanbul’s ruby red rooftops creating a contrast vivid enough to make hearts flutter, I can’t remember the details of the tingling that the chemo made in my nose as it bubbled through my veins. As I peer out my window into the morning haze, I catch a glimpse of the Bospherous blues outlining the city, which immediately stirs memories from the night before where I found myself walking out onto a veranda of an Ottoman palace edging those striking waters. My heels clinked as I walked across the smooth white marble stretching out into the sapphire blues, until I reached the edge where I stood with my back toward the palace and the sea air drifting through my new blonde locks. My eyes found their very own Turkish delight as vessels drifted past filling the air of Turkish melodies and dancing tourists. Suddenly my ears caught a hushed hurry of excitement and the tapping of heels approaching from behind. My mouth curled towards the early evening’s sultry sky as my mind realized that the most beautiful souls in this world would be sharing drinks in the shadow of Sulthanahmet’s palace on the edge of the magnificent straight connecting the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. I drained the night and my glass of merlot alongside my Croatian beauty who gave me courage on Dublin’s rooftops and my American hero who softened my fall. The world is as vast and as small as you make it.
I found myself in the state of shock as The Doctor and I climbed the silver hills of the Acropolis filled of scattered ruins as far as the eye could see. I couldn’t keep my hands off each piece of ancient stone. As my hands caressed the smooth marble of unidentifiable ruins, my history books were coming to life and I wanted to dwell in the presence of heroic ghosts, such as Alexander the Great, for as long as possible. My heart wavered as we came to an ancient amphitheater. I sat down upon the enduring rows of marble seats overlooking the Athenian city imagining the resonating applause that followed the tales of old. As I stood captivated by the art of ancient storytelling, The Doctor began to rush me through the amphitheater sparing only a second for a single photograph while assuring me that greater things lie ahead. I began to choke back tears as he quickly ushered me up the ancient steps. I was sure that I was rushing through countless chapters of history. We walked in piercing silence up the Acropolis hill until we came to a clearing in which The Doctor turned around reveling a grin that could outdo the devil himself. As anger overtook my soul, I peered into the clearing and to my surprise the grandest amphitheater greeted my eyes. The Doctor must have read his history books more carefully than I and knew that up ahead my heart would encounter the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Laughter from deep within my soul ensued as he comically kissed my cheek as I realized that trivial matters still rouse deep emotions. My battle with cancer did not transform me into the ice princess, who is stone cold to the frivolous worries of life. There is nothing shameful in expressing all the sensations of life for smiles, tears, and grimacing eyebrows simply show that you are truly alive. My love for The Doctor is arguably a socially acceptable form of insanity for in a matter of minutes he can transform the steam rolling out of my ears into uncontrollable, stomach knotting laughter and with each bellow of laughter I felt more and more alive.
Fairytales exist with the caveat that the perfect tale doesn’t simply just create itself. Fables need a writer, someone to control the tale’s destiny. Picture this: a beautiful French Canadian woman marrying a charming Irishman in an exquisite castle draped in lush green and deep purple ivy so remote that a ferry is needed to reach the castle. She didn’t wait around for any rainbow to lead her to her pot of gold. She packed up her entire life and moved to Ireland to chase after her MBA. The Trinity MBA will forever go down in history as Ireland’s most expensive dating service. In the midst of all the stress, there was something else floating in the air of Trinity College where my Canadian beauty met the man of her fairytale. The castle hall still echoes of animated French Canadian women squealing, “Oiii weee Rory!” And I will forever feel the emotion as the groom’s Irish father gave an impeccable speech in French, pausing at all the right moments to the vivacious hoots and applause from the Canadians. Love has no boundaries.
Cliffs of Insanity, Ireland
As we walked up the narrowest of dirt paths along the steepest of cliffs surrounded by endless emerald greens that plunged into the chilly rough Atlantic waves, I was taken back to one of the first nights I spent with The Doctor. We watched The Princess Bride as he helped me move into a new apartment after my big move home from Ireland. My cabinets were void of any movie snacks except for a few of my beloved packs of Haribo Starmix that I managed to swindle back from Europe. The absurd amount of Starmix that I consumed during my MBA is the probable cause for my cancer. And to my horror, he downed every last chewy egg and heart. My eyes could hardly believe the sight. I managed to place the Doctor in one of the most memorable scenes in his favorite movie. The erratic Irish sun lit up the very cliffs of insanity that the man in black climbed valiantly in search of his princess. We hastily but ever so carefully walked further out along the edge of the daunting cliffs when he spotted the oncoming storm. As we began to turn back for safety the storm overtook us there on the ledge, drenching us down to our knickers. Amongst all the tourists gleefully snapping pictures, the cliffs echoed of The Doctor’s cursing. I couldn’t contain my high-pitched giggling as he cursed and yelled back towards me to hurry up. The little voice in my head replied, “As you wish.”
I’ve sat in this pub a million times before and something in its familiarity allowed me to forget the painful parts of my tragedy. I’ve not only suffered physically, but I’ve also missed special moments with the closest of friends. One event in particular pulls heavily on my heartstrings. In the midst of my first chemotherapy, I received an invitation to a wedding of a friend who saved my sanity countless times spent studying business into the wee hours of the Irish night. I gleefully accepted the invite with the belief that I could power through any amount of pain. The families of the bride and groom responded with a kind gesture that to this day still makes my eyes well up with happiness. These families donated five hundred dollars in the midst of planning a wedding to the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society. Their generosity powered my spirit as each chemotherapy built upon one another and slowly broke down my health. Their big day fell on the week following my last chemo, and I was spending time with my porcelain throne instead of dancing the night away in my flashy pink wig celebrating two compassionate souls. As I sat in my pub filled of rich sounds of music, I realize that every detail matches my memories right down to the simplest of elements, including the musty reek of Guinness and the sound of tapping heels on its wooden floors keeping in rhythm to the live Irish music. I gradually recognize that every inch of this dingy watering hole is etched into my heart because of the blissful memories it provides. The formidable human mind allows one to gradually forget the most potent of memories while retaining the pleasurable in order to preserve one’s health. With this thought, I consciously replace the raw memories, including the table cards marking empty seats at my friend’s wedding, with new ones of spending time in my Irish pub with The Doctor who loved the whiskey but couldn’t recognize Wagon Wheel through the singer’s thick accent. Pointing towards his soul, I asked, “How can you not recognize the song that is engraved right there?” To which he responded without flinching whatsoever, “I’m sorry, is there a tiny Irishman singing Wagon Wheel in my heart?” Right there in my Irish pub, I found myself drowning in love, laughter and Irish coffee.
As our plane throttles down the runway, my mind reflects on The Doctor’s splendid adventure and finds an observation from a dear friend. At the very mention of my past year, he playfully exclaimed, “Your story is depressing!” I responded with my usual smile, but his comment left a divot in my heart. I do not wish to create a story of a twenty-six year old dancing with death. I seek to carve a bewildering tale where hope and love is found just as the plot thickens with danger. Here is where my tale comes full circle, back to the beginning if you will. Until this point The Doctor knew every aspect of my tale and together we overcame tremendous feats. After our plane landed in Istanbul, we walked the cobbled streets full of twinkling lights from the street lamps peeking through the leaves. We took a seat in an outdoor café, with roses and candles and wine adorning each table. We chatted endlessly for hours and our elation seeped out of every pore, capturing the attention of our waiter, who couldn’t resist insisting upon shots of Raki on the house. At our café sharing curry and goulash, The Doctor for the very first time finally caught a glimpse of my past, the woman I was before all the illness. I finally sat in front of him as the endless traveler, the lover of novel places, the believer in curiosity and not as the woman with cancer.
Lovely to read about your journey (in both senses) Lisa. Isn’t Waterford Castle a great venue? We were at a wedding there a couple of years ago when the ferry broke down. Bride and groom stuck on the island, most of the guests stuck other side. Utter chaos. Priest who was also stuck on the island found he couldn’t marry them there as papers stated church it was to be held in and legally had to take place in stated location. A boat to tow the ferry finally found and all was well if delayed by a few hours. As it happened the rain stopped and the sun came out just as the delayed wedding started. I got myself to Athens to see the Acropolis a few years back but have yet to make it to Istanbul. It’s on my list. I’m glad you had such a great trip. Best wishes, Gráinne