Sunday, March 4, 2012

Christmas in London

Four years ago to the day, I wrote in my journal about a day in Madrid when my colleague Sofia and I took a walk with our friend Luz Martin. Sofia was some four years cancer-free and Luz had recently been diagnosed and was in the middle of treatment. Since that day in 2008, it has been a hard up-and-down road for Luz. Yesterday, Sofia called and said that Luz is back in the hospital for what looks to be her last days. And so I include this old journal entry as a bedside hand-holding memory from afar, the story I would tell Luz if I could be at her side now.

“March 4, 2008: I met Sofia and Luz in 1990, that marvelous summer when I first went to the Orff Institut in Salzburg and it pointed my life to where it had been secretly heading, into this international music teaching. They were both young Spanish students in their late 20’s studying at the Institut and they both seemed to enjoy my workshops. I said “Hola” to them one day and when they found out I spoke Spanish (which I really didn’t beyond my high school classes), they set to work to get me invited to teach in Spain. And there hasn’t been a year that has passed between 1991 and now when I haven’t taught at least one course in Spain and often many.

Sofia and Luz have remained dear friends all these years later, but their careers have branched widely. Sofia has become a world-renowned Orff-Schulwerk teacher and author, is a voracious investigator, hungry to learn everything she can and always needing to keep working with her big love, children.
Luz continues to teach music education at a University, but stopped working with kids and generally drifted away from the Orff world, finding another place for herself as a performer on castanets. As a result, our paths didn't cross as often as before, though we always had at least one visit whenever I was in Spain. I always thought it a bit of a shame that she seemed to lose interest in the Orff approach because I had always enjoyed her lively and engaging classes. So it goes.

But here I am in Spain again and this will be my first visit with Luz since she found out she had cancer. Diagnosed in September, she is in her second round of chemotherapy. I had seen enough of that monster disease to expect the worse, so when she comes out of her house with a metal cane, bloated face and recently-re-grown hair, I am not shocked. We greet each other with a warm hug and take off in the car for a trip to a park and an afternoon walk.

The weather could not have been more perfect. Warm, but not hot, no wind, a day that appears like an unexpected gift from the gods. Not the take-for-granted-perfect-temperature of a summer day in a mild climate or Hawaii all year round, but an unmistakable smell of Spring after a hard winter, all renewal and freshness. It is a day made for Luz to be out walking with her old friends.

And so we stroll through the rows of blooming cherries and Luz talks and talks (perhaps a little hyper from sucking on morphine lollipops). She starts talking about how today’s kids are not like we were—don’t know many folk songs, can’t recite poetry, can’t think well, don’t have respect for elders. And though some of that is true and I’ve certainly done more than my share of head-shaking about a generation raised by appliances, I can’t help but smile. Ahead of us are two old couples, each with their own metal cane and I thought, ‘Here we are. Three old friends who used to be full of fire when we first met in our late youth in Salzburg, probably impatient with elderly people, walking peacefully down the lane in the Spanish countryside behind some fellow elders complaining about the next generation. How wonderful is that?’

The conversation ambles at the same pace as our walking and eventually turns into the memory of Luz and Sofia flying somewhere together and Luz reading the airline magazine about Christmas in London. In the way of young people, the two of them spun a dream about going there someday and spending Christmas in London. Isn’t that one of the greatest joys of youth? That capacity to dream a future? And so here they are again, two friends who had grown apart, re-united in an unexpected way, fellow sufferers of the same disease bonded through the joint chemotherapy initiation. They speak the language of arimidex and swollen feet and changed appetites and that is enough to erase all the little hurts and betrayals and disappointments friends will always have between them. And now they stroll along arm-in-arm dreaming again, Sofia telling Luz how they will go spend Christmas in London and both of them smiling at the thought, once again dreaming a little piece of a future together, though now both of them knowing it will never come to pass.

We turn back to the car and as we approach the overlook of the parking lot, I stop and say: “Listen!” Usually, the “quiet” of the countryside anywhere these days is punctuated by machines mowing grass or cutting trees or planes flying over. But in this moment, there was just one sound—the orchestra of birds singing amongst the flowering cherry trees below. We stop, the three of us arm and arm, and just listen. Three aging friends wrapped together in the full glory of a Spring day in the Spanish countryside while the birds announce their clear message: ‘This life is meant for singing. Our bodies will grow stooped, terrible diseases may take root in us, but still the cherries bloom and send out their sweet fragrance. As you walk through the groves of olive trees, time will slow to a standstill and so will you stand still and listen to us sing. And your hearts will be glad.’

And so ended that little story. In the four years since I wrote that. Luz has continued to battle, sometimes up, sometimes down, mostly holding steady—until recently. Always hope in the air when we visited and both of us eagerly awaiting the day when she would be free from disease. But it doesn't look like that will come to pass— at least on this earth. 

Luz, you have suffered so much in your cancer body. Now is the time for you to be released, to fly into the light that is your name having left your imprint on so many hearts. We send you off with love and birds singing on a Spring day in Madrid and will meet again someday to finally spend Christmas in London. 

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