Cambrian: Opinion

It's OK not to know all the time

The columnist's cousin, Jack Burlake, and his wife, Addie, share a tender moment. She has been diagnosed with cancer.
The columnist's cousin, Jack Burlake, and his wife, Addie, share a tender moment. She has been diagnosed with cancer. Special to The Cambrian

I  write this from the comfort of my older son’s apartment up in the great wildlands of Portland, Ore. I have not arrived here without many hours of driving but also as many hours to contemplate life. I’m traveling by myself.

Heading to Crescent City, just below the California border, right on the lonely coast, I was anxious to visit my aging, ailing cousin and his wife who live there en route north. I had called the week before to inform them of my arrival date and discovered she was in hospital with a fractured hip and other issues. Would I come and help them settle the house they’d no longer be able to stay in? 

Mind you, they have been asking me over the past several years to move up there and help take care of them. My younger son was a senior in high school the first time they did, which provided a good excuse not to. After that, it was and still is that I have too much of a wonderful life right where I am. Don’t I?

I’ve worked when I need it; I’m incredibly blessed with many friends; my home, while rented, has all the amenities I desire (mainly a garage that is a well-equipped art studio); and I’m just … used to it. Is that wrong? Is that selfish? What is it we are supposed to want in life?

Having only spoken briefly on the phone with my cousin, who cannot hear and I have now come to find out has some dementia, my mind was reeling — “I’ve loved the Redwoods since I was a child. I’ve always wondered how I could make it. He’s offering me a good deal. What do their sons think? What am I going to do to support myself when they’re gone?” 

Then I arrived.

Certainly portions of the trip were exquisite: the Pacific Coast Highway, Avenue of the Giants … and then I hit Eureka. Once a beautiful Victorian town, there were more homeless people on the street than I could count, and it was considerably more rundown than even three years ago when I’d last driven through. The economy in these parts is more difficult than in our neck of the woods. Crescent City, the same. 

Upon evaluating the situation, I realize there was much I didn’t know and was worked up over that I couldn’t possibly have control over. Isn’t that often the case? While indeed their situation is serious, in fact, it may be the last time I see my cousin’s wife (who has also always been a good friend): As they discovered widespread cancer while attending her hip, there was simply much I couldn’t do.

Perhaps that is what put me into such an emotional state. (Note: Don’t cry too hard while driving winding roads through big trees. Pull over. Done.) 

Was it my ego that didn’t want to come up for them earlier or just that, this-is-what-I’ve-worked-for-all-these-years? How could I be so lame as to not even be able to sort out that mountain of paperwork on their desk? Was I being selfish by continuing north to see my sons as planned and not staying with my cousin? And do what? 

Struggling with change, facing mortality, examining the voices inside my head, honestly, are not easy for me to do when surrounded by the day-to-day doings of answering phones, working, socializing in the usual fashion. I am grateful for this time alone in the car, a driving mediation, as it were … with the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow of my sons’ welcome embraces, of course. 

The point of all this? I don’t know. Perhaps that is the point: It’s OK not to know all the time. I’ve got to remember to let go of that control, actually listen to the universe, make the changes it’s told me to make for some time, allow the life to happen that will happen anyway and get on with making the most of every day. 

I believe I shall go do that right now.