Cancer & Kindness
Life works in mysterious ways. The people we meet, the connections we form, the experiences we have are all wildly intertwined in hindsight and yet, as they unfold we can often feel removed from where they're leading us.
As many of you know, my husband quit his corporate job to pursue his work in Escapod full-time in December 2017. His mission to enable people to have comfortable, unrestricted outdoor adventure experiences has been central to his work. The customers served leave with smiles on their faces and Chris' work leads to quality time within families, immersion in the outdoors, and memories that will last a lifetime. It is meaningful.
Back in February, we had a customer reach out about starting a build. Business as usual, it seemed. A family of adventurers looking to simplify the process of getting out on the road, while keeping everyone comfortable. But there was more.
Ruth had been undergoing treatment for bone cancer. The Escapod was a celebration of whatever amount of time she had left and that their family would have together.
These sentiments were all too familiar. I recall similar moments in my father's 4.5 year-long battle with Leukemia. He bought himself a "Go" by Sylvan Sport (before Chris was building teardrops). My father wanted to continue to be able to camp, to spend time in nature and not be restricted by small tents and sleeping on the ground.
One of our final trips together was in the Go. Chris, my dad and I all went to Brian Head. We had meaningful conversations at the campfire, we slept under the stars, we hiked in miraculous red rock, smelt trees that wafted of vanilla bean. I spent 45 minutes bandaging his feet so that he could get shoes on for our hike. We laughed and we cried.
Occasionally, I try to imagine my life without that trip and it makes ever so grateful that we experienced it. It was one of the only moments that Chris got to see my dad as I knew him. Though he was still physically limited, his grit, determination and passion for the outdoors was absolutely prevalent.
It was a gift to be there together.
As the details of Ruth's story began to unfold, I felt the hairs on my arms begin to rise. Apparently we were both in physical therapy at the same facility in Park City. She knew of me, I knew of her, yet we hadn't met. I knew Ruth didn't know about my father's story. And wasn't sure how it would ever come up in conversation.
Until we met.
I walked out of the bathroom after getting my swim suit on for an underwater treadmill session. (A great way to get back to running after knee surgery). A petite woman, with short-brown hair and defined features, stepped in front of me.
"Jen?" she asked. "I'm Ruth."
She told me she had been looking at a photo of me on the wall across from the treadmill. "RISE" it says. It was an Olympic Campaign for Liberty Mutual. The entire campaign was inspired by my story and in the end, I was the only athlete featured in the campaign that didn't make the games. RISE. It was a source of inspiration for her to keep her head up during her sessions. She didn't realize it was me until her daughter came in and pointed it out.
"Isn't that the teardrop trailer maker's wife?"
As we began talking she shared about her treatment. She's had multiple autologous stem cell transplants. And while things seem to be going well, she has been deeply moved by her diagnosis - one that would have been a death sentence less than a decade ago. Now there are options, there is hope. But hope can easily turn into time wasted if you don't capitalize on what time you have.
I was scared to share the story about my dad because of how it ends. In no way did I want to say something that would make her think of that as her fate. But the parallels were too much. He also had a stem cell transplant and he shared an energy that was so similar Ruth's - extremely grounded. I was so moved by Ruth's mindset and the way that she was approaching this disease - not just for herself, but for her family. For her three little girls. I needed her to know that I understood and why.
We shared in the paradoxical experience that such a heavy and seemingly negative circumstance could be an enormous gift. The gift of the present moment. The gift of the precious time that we have. Any of us. All of us.
The sense of the fleeting nature of time is one of the most immediate ways to tap into the power of the present.
Ruth began to live by a motto, one that is now plastered on the back of her Escapod: "This. Here. Now." This moment, right here, right now - it's all we ever have and it can be gone in the blink of an eye. We are blessed to realize how precious time is and the choice to pack as much into as you can is always up for grabs.
When Ruth came to pick up her teardrop she shared about one other small detail: Bubele. That's what she named it. Bubele means kindness in isiXhosa (one of South Africa's official languages). She and her family are from South Africa. Ruth was overwhelmed by the kindness of others as she began her treatment. Interestingly it seemed, that it wasn't exclusively a change in how others were acting, but as if a cavity expanded inside of her that allowed her to feel kindness more fully.
She shared a poem with me, that I am now compelled to share with you.
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Whatever you're going through right now, remember this - the deeper, the darker the sorrow, the greater your capacity for love becomes. Stay grounded, feel your roots stretching into the earth beneath your feet, recognize that you are a part of a greater whole. You will return to that which has left you.