My daughter likes to play with photography and wanted to go to the beach to watch the sunset. All of our beaches are about an hour away from us (we live near San Francisco) so I headed towards one of them. As I was driving, my daughter suggested a beach north of San Francisco, so we decided to go there instead.
We arrived at the parking lot for Muir Beach mid-to-late afternoon and decided to hike to Pirates Cove, a smaller beach further up the coast. Only two miles, what's the big deal with that?
1. My daughter was only wearing flip-flops. Not the best of hiking shoes.
2. In order to get to Pirates Cove, one has to hike up, up, up and down, down, down, through hills and ravines. It was hard work and we averaged one mile per hour. Sigh. The total elevation change with all the ups and downs was close to 1200 feet.
Note to self and daughter: When an afternoon adventure pops up, make sure you throw your hiking poles into the car and that you throw tennis shoes into the car!
I had to rest several times. I would look ahead and set intermediate goals for myself. I would count to ten over and over again as I marched along. At times, I felt like I was going to throw up, but I kept pressing on.
Finally, we reached the cove, only to discover that it included a serious scramble down to the beach. Hmmmm, if we were going to watch the sunset, that scramble back UP could be a challenge. We decided to keep going and hiked to a point above the cove.
And above meant lots and lots of wooden stairs cut into the hillside. And then, even more uphill climbing. Finally, I reached my limit.
"Rachel, I'm done! I can't go any further."
"Mom, it's just a little bit more. Come on, you can do this!" She was about 100 feet above me.
One step at a time ... I made that 100 feet. She then went down a bit to a ledge, but nothing she could say, could convince me to go down to that ledge with her. I knew that whatever went down had to come back up in order to get back on the trail! Nothing doing ... I enjoyed the sunset from my perch above her.
The sunset was stunning, gorgeous and breathtaking. Both Rachel and I were in awe of the beauty of our world and we both voiced the concept of insignificance. "When I look at the skies and the world around me, what are humans that you are mindful of us?"
My daughter got all the shots she wanted and then came up to join me to watch the sun descend into the ocean ... or watch the appearance of the sun sinking.
As I watched the sunset, I couldn't help but think of how it applied to my life with cancer. It was hard work to reach this cliff with literal ups and downs. I reached a point in the journey where, for me, the benefit of a slightly better view couldn't outweigh the side effect of having to walk back up to a view that was just as good.
As Rachel and I made our way back the two miles to the parking lot, we made better time because we were more familiar with the path and knew where we were going and how to measure distance to goal. It was still hard and I still had to rest, but knowing what was coming was helpful.
We lost all light with about a half mile to go. We used the dim light of our phone's flashlight to illuminate the path. It didn't matter if we couldn't see clearly ... the small amount of light was good enough as the path was familiar.
And so it goes with treatments. They have lots of hard ups and downs, and sometimes I feel like throwing up, but as long as the benefits outweigh the side effects, they are worth it. However, at some point, I'm going to reach that pinnacle and decide, "This is it. This is as good as it gets for me and another treatment that gives me slightly more time won't be worth it." Then, I'll start the descent back to where I came from, the security of God's arms.
The sunset of my life is stunning, gorgeous and breathtaking. While I am at peace with the idea of dying, this doesn't mean I don't have a voracious appetite for life. It doesn't mean that I don't have a passion for living and a desire to walk on life's path for as long as possible, even when it's dimly lit. It doesn't mean I don't hold out cautious optimism that the next treatment will be the one to make a major difference in extending my life without horrible side effects. It doesn't mean I can't hold your hand and walk with you, back into familiar territory. This doesn't mean that you can't hold up a small light for me to drive out the total darkness ... and that you can't help guide me towards the end. It doesn't mean that I don't have more sunrises.
What it does mean is that I am alive now, pursuing after God with every fiber of my heart, finding my peace both from and with God. As I greet each sunrise with a breath of gratitude for waking up, one day, I'll wake up in God's physical presence and have the same breath of gratitude and have the most exhilarating sunrise of all. Until then, I'm going to continue to enjoy the sunsets and the sunrises here, one day at a time.