"Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths."
~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
In reflecting on how few I have memorized, I realize there are three reasons a quote makes the cut - it conveys something I already believe but with fewer and more impactful words, it evokes a feeling or belief I wasn't aware I have, or most importantly, it challenges and impacts the way I am thinking. This quote falls into the third category.
Prior to coming upon the quote, I was most influenced in the way I think about life and its challenges by a transaction with a friend in December l999. We had just moved to Vegas with my mother, who was grieving the sudden death of my dad that October. Determined to give her a decent Christmas and reassure her that this was now her home, exhausted and grieving myself, I nonetheless pulled out all the stops and decorated the house (with many boxes still unpacked in the garage) and invited friends for a holiday party.
The evening hadn't progressed very long when my friend pulled me aside to paraphrase the Breda O'Connor quote and remind me that my future as my mother's caregiver was a marathon and not a sprint - a simple, immediate, and effective image for me. So effective that I clung to that image for the next 18 years, through caregiving for mom, my battle with breast cancer and John's stem cell treatment for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. And it served me well.
But today, soon to be 77, once again a caregiver, the metaphor or image of running a race, even if a marathon and not a sprint, is no longer helpful. Not that I would have recognized this were it not for stumbling on this quote. Somehow the image of walking a winding path feels more congruent with my experiences these past 18 months since John was diagnosed with a currently incurable form of MDS. Plugging uphill, with unpredictable switchbacks, dips in the road, obstacles to be cleared or avoided, moments when I can barely breathe, the path ahead poorly marked - yes, a winding path up a mountainside. The more I have reflected on this quote, the more validating it has become. The more helpful it looms for the months ahead.
I don't know the shape of the mountain ahead of us or how far up the path we will make it together, but I do know, without a doubt, that it will be winding and circuitous, in spots even treacherous. I do know that we can and will take it one step at a time.
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