As I headed south last week for my second round of chemo, a strange brew of love and sorrow flowed within me. Love for the rural lifestyle I live and sorrow for the losses left in Atlas’s aftermath. The sunflower fields where I stopped and took photos in early September were absolutely decimated, fields of corn with thousands of dollars of crop sitting in them can’t be combined, yards and shelter belts looked like a tornado hit them; and then I got south of Hoover, SD and my heart truly broke open, tears rolled down my cheeks as I saw dead cows six to seven deep in the ditch, more dead cows than I could count in an icy grave of a stock dam, and then a dump truck pulled out on the highway in front of me full of dead stock and I had to pull over.
We were fortunate and lost only a few head, and were out of power for 11 days, but thankfully had generators to weather the storm, so the true impact on South Dakota ranchers hadn’t really hit me until I saw it with my own eyes.
I pulled into Rapid City, SD feeling emotionally raw like one of the down power lines snapped during the storm, lying exposed on the ground. In town I set out to run some errands. My first stop was the fabric store. I choose several fabrics to make scarves for my now bald head. While at the counter having my fabric cut, I began visiting with the woman cutting my fabric and another customer and her daughter. We talked about what I had seen on my drive down as I tried not to burst into tears in the store and then our conversation turned to the topic of cancer. The woman cutting my fabric shared with me and the other customer that her husband had cancer and he was losing his battle against it and that very soon they would be making a final trip to visit loved ones and say goodbye. The other customer who was there shopping for material to make herself a Wonder Woman Halloween costume, then shared with us the scar across her neck from her battle with thyroid cancer that is non-curable. She truly is a Wonder Woman.
I was immediately touched by their stories and the courage it took them to be vulnerable enough with a complete stranger to share a part of themselves with me. I was also painfully aware of the meagerness of my own perceptions of most people, how little of others souls I normally allow to touch my own, how important it is to see each other as human beings first, and how often I make judgments or assumptions about others that diminish their humanity. I have been asleep to the truth of who others really are, sleepwalking through life in the smug complacency of daily living, dumb to the better dreams and goodwill of each person.
A lot of people are often in pain. When you are healthy, you think cancer is so far away. But when you get sick, you realize that it’s all around, you just have to open your eyes. I think one of the lessons of tragedy is to feel compassion for one another. Tragedy also brings to the forefront what is truly important – how precious your life is, how lucky you are to be alive and how important it is to love one another, because in the end what matters most is how much we loved.
Tragedy also calls each of us to meet the bad in the world with the good in our own hearts. One of the great things about being a part of a ranching community is that helping our neighbor is a way of life. The out pour of support from other ranchers is phenomenal, with ranchers in other states donating heifers and large donations to the Ranchers Relief Fund. It makes me proud to be a part of such an amazing community and I personally hope to be able to find a way to do the same for other cancer patients, because cancer isn’t about a diagnosis; it’s about what you do with it.
Photo of sunflower fields taken in September.