I have one child, a daughter, Katherine Alexandra. I thought I would have more children. I kept waiting for the magic to wear off to proceed, but it never did. I just didn’t want my attention diverted by other children as I basked in her magic, and basking I am still.
Watching her grow up and being a part of her journey made me more than a mother. I got to see the world through the eyes of a child, my mind full once again of awe and creativity. Katie, the sole object of my attention as a single parent, made life sparkle with newness. When she was born, I fell hopelessly in love. And as time moved on, I learned what love is and what it isn’t, how to love, how to let go, and how to live.
In the spring of 2010, at age 26, Katie was diagnosed with stage III cervical cancer. This is her story, not mine, though anyone who has traveled this journey with a loved one knows the journey changes you as well as the patient, and changes you forever.
And so within days Katie was in chemotherapy and when finished, went straight to eight grueling weeks of internal and external radiation. While the mother in me watched in horror while this was happening, the fellow traveler on life’s unpredictable road watched in admiration as a young woman fought the odds with intention, courage, dignity and deep compassion for other women, like herself, fighting to live. Being the youngest in the chemotherapy room full of women battling for their lives, it was she who cheered them up . . . she who shouldn’t have been there. But maybe you are always supposed to be where you find yourself. And having found yourself there, to find your purpose.
Those who have not been tested by life are not lucky, their day of reckoning has simply not yet arrived. May your faith embolden you when that day comes, and if you have no faith, may you find it when you need it. For me, that day came with the words my daughter said to me as we drove to her first radiation appointment.
“Mom, don’t feel sorry for me. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” I gripped the steering wheel, feeling myself held in some supernatural void. “I have learned the meaning of life,” she continued, laying her head against the back seat and turning to look at the passing cars. “And it is so simple, it means only this: to enjoy every minute, to listen, really listen, and to pay attention to what others are saying. Because everything can all change in an instant.”
Suddenly I remembered standing at the stove cooking dinner while Katie drew pictures, sitting on the floor near me. She must have been just a little over one year old. Suddenly she said, “Mommy, look at what I drew!” I glanced at her drawing and replied absently, “That’s pretty, Honey,” my mind occupied with the chores that faced me after I put her to bed that night.
Pushing her highchair close to my legs and climbing on it, she reached up and cupped my face with her tiny hands. “Listen with your eyes, Mommy.”
That was yesterday, or so it feels. Today, whenever we are together, I notice she makes eye contact with everyone when she talks to them. She sees them, she hears them, she pays attention. Isn’t that what love does, it pays attention?
You hear mothers say it all the time, “It seems like yesterday they were babies.” Maybe it was yesterday. Time isn’t really linear, it happens all at once. Like holding your infant daughter’s hands and suddennly time races forward and you see a wedding ring on on that third, fragile finger. Life is something you never catch up to. The best you can do is to live it every moment, in the moment.
Today Katie is in remission. And she is busy creating a make up line to help women feel better about themselves, especially in those times when feeling better is a challenge. Born with a port wine stain covering a fourth of her face, she acutely felt the wound of being different. She taught herself make up at an early age to feel normal, to fit it, to be pretty. Fighting cancer and the devastating collapse of spirit that accompanies loss of vitality and womanliness that treatment entails sealed her deepest desire to help other girls and women feel pretty. We women are creatures of beauty. We crave feeling beautiful, we yearn for it as a symbol of our femininity. And we create it in all we do, our homes, the meals we serve, the gifts we give, the cards we send. It is our greatest calling, giving beauty to those we love. In life’s strange offerings, Katie learned her purpose.
Though my daughter will not have children, she is teaching others, by her exuberance for life, that we give birth in so many other ways, the greatest of all, to our dreams.