I stood next to my mom in the Costco meat aisle, looking down at three pairs of huge chicken breasts in my hands. They were labeled organic but they looked anything but. Sighing, I put them in our cart next to the ham I’d just picked up for Joe’s lunches this week.
There was a time when Joe and I first got married, when we were still hopeful that the right food could starve out my dad’s cancer, when I worked so hard to prepare all the food Joe and I ate. I would boil whole, grass fed chickens from the farmer’s market, shred the meat and mix it with homemade BBQ sauce. These days his lunches have been looking more like deli meat and chips.
I still believe that food is medicine and that we need to nourish our bodies well, but somewhere in the last year other priorities had crept back into my life. As I explained to my mom, if I had any hope of sending Joe with lunches this week, it would need to be something quick. That’s all I had the time for. She nodded.
“Convenience really is killing us,” she remarked and I nodded as we made our way over to the avocados. And then, as if the universe was in on our conversation, my mom got a call. Her life long friend was being airlifted to the LaCrosse hospital because she was suffering a major heart attack.
We would later learn that because her brain went so long without oxygen during the flight and during the surgery, she was now unresponsive, hooked up to a breathing tube, and the doctors had given her a 50% chance of making it through the night.
That was a hard place for us to be, back in the the place of waiting, praying, and hoping that we wouldn’t lose someone else we so dearly loved.
I spent the night visualizing Rita’s brain telling her lungs to breath and her lips to speak and her arms to lift and legs to walk. I laid awake trying to believe that amazing surprises and good things happen in this life. And that it wasn’t only about managing inevitable pain. After all we'd been though, my heart was still open to a miracle. My heart was open to the possibility that amazing things can happen.
Late the next morning I got a text, things are looking up.
Rita was awake, she was breathing and talking. When we went to visit her in the hospital, all of the nurses and staff who had seen Rita the night before couldn’t believe she was doing so well. Many of them had thought she wouldn’t make it. One of the staff members said something that I hope to never forget. She smiled at us and said, “sometimes you get a win”.
Sometimes you get a win.
On my drive home from the hospital I realized two things. First, life is not only about managing pain and disappointments, something I’d been learning to do so well. It’s also about keeping your heart open for the moments when the universe lifts you up and says, I’m listening to you, this is for you. Because those moments, those big wins, they happen.
The second thing I realized is this: although these wins can come to us when we least expect it, often times we can create the capacity to receive them by putting in the hard work first.
As Rita transitions back into life, she’ll have to make a lot of hard changes. Her diet will have to change, her stress levels, her sleep schedule. And as I drove through the winding country roads back to my home, I couldn’t help but smile as my thoughts drifted to my dad and the changes we made after we got the diagnosis of terminal cancer. Because not only did my family manage the pain and the uncertainty of cancer, we put in the hard work and opened our hearts for a win. We are living proof that sometimes you don’t get the wins you desperately want, but we are also proof that sometimes you do.
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