Our family has a rhythm these days. We fit. The twists and turns of Jordan’s Journey don’t stop us from behaving like an ordinary family with ordinary highs and lows. Only once in awhile do I stop to reflect on gravity and uncertainty and cancer.
The Vincents Know How to Party
A few nights ago I stood outside my house in the backyard between the two windows of my children. I looked to the right to see Luc, squatting in his room over a textbook, fiddling with a rope in one hand and a pencil in the other. He scribbled the solution to a math problem between the non sequiturs of sailor’s knots and cat’s game. His wild platinum hair flashed brilliant in the fading light of the day.
To my left, Jordan gazed trancedly at her television, propped against a pillow on her bed. Her face was relaxed in leisure, lips curling up slightly to the side, her alabaster skin flickering bluish in the glow of the program. She is so content these days, so calm, so at peace and yet full of zest.
I have these two children – these wondrous specimens of life. I love them with all my heart. It is different for each, but no less or more in either case. And I sometimes get lost imagining what might be, what is random, what I cannot predict but often dread.
That evening was a story in itself. It was a memento and a promise.
When I walked through the doors, tired and ready to sit back with a book and a glass of good red wine, Jordan bounded from the hall and cheered my arrival. There was no time for reclining.
– You’re home! Let’s go for a walk.
– Jordan, I just walked through the door. I need a few minutes.
– Okay, Dad. But then we walk up the hill … and eat trail mix.
– I need a few minutes.
– I’ll go get my shoes, Dad.
Such is the life in the girl. As I slunk into the kitchen to set my bag down, I heard her heavy steps plunging across the living room floor. I looked over to see her standing in the arch of the kitchen with her leg splints and a pair of socks in hand.
– I’ve got my shoes, Dad
– But, sweetheart, Daddy needs a few minutes to wind down.
– I’ll go into the family room where we can put my shoes on.
I appealed to Jeanette. She just smirked and shook her head. I was clearly on my own. Despite my pleadings and lame excuses, I found myself tying on my sneakers and fixing trail mix with a blonde temptress. Minutes later we were hiking up the sidewalk outside our house. This is the spirit that keeps her alive. This is the essence of Jordan.
The evening was cool, and as we walked up the street, she mused about the ordinary and the spectacular. She munched on hazelnuts and dried cherries and spoke of grey cats in the neighborhood and orange trees in the passing yards. The hill was steep, but she forced me to break a sweat to keep up with her. She wanted to take the steeper hill in front of us, but I insisted that we turn and level off. I worried about her healing legs, and the fact that she’d endured chemo the day before. I wanted to protect her and walk casually in the twilight at a pace that didn’t nag me to reach out and keep her from tripping.
– Okay, Dad. We can skip this hill, but then we’ll do two when we get to the bottom.
She meant this. And when we’d rounded the block and climbed the lower hill she remarked that her knees were sore, so as our house neared I suggested that we turn in for the evening. She was instantly cross.
– No. Let’s climb the bigger hill.
I cheated and put the blame on me.
– Daddy’s old and tired, I exclaimed.
She dug in with her will and pride.
– Okay, Dad. But you’re not old. You’re just tired. We’ll climb the bigger one the next time.
And with that, she reluctantly escorted me back into the house and retreated to her room. It was less that an hour later that she interrupted my glass of wine and good book to insist that I read to her from _Nancy Drew_. Again, I tried to deflect the request, but she would not be ignored and within a few minutes we were deep into River Creek. She lingered on my every word. Occasionally, I would stop to ask if she understood what happened, expecting her to make something up. But she’d recount the story’s events with remarkable clarity. She’d speak with her dilated eyes staring away from me, as if the impartation required singular effort. Still, she got it, and I continued.
When the chapter had ended, she asked me to carry her to her room. I bundled her up in a blanket and lifted her “like a bride”. As I lay her down, I requested a hug, and she grasped me tight around the waist with such a force that I grunted. It was a hug of determination – a statement to show how strong she was. And she is strong. And I am humbled by her strength. She has no concept of surrender – of frailty. She is a prairie girl. Midwest flows from her veins. I cannot help but think of my grandmother – a woman full of gritty strength but overflowing with love and kindness.
When the evening was coming to an end and Jordan was tucked into her bed, I reflected on what, if anything, it all means, where it is all headed, what will happen next. And the answer to each question is “unknown.” She is a thing of beauty. My family is a thing of beauty. Life is beautiful – in all it’s deranged, tragic, unfair possibilities, it exudes through the gifts and virtues of my daughter. When everything seems bleak, and I worry about how long she’s got (knowing full well that it could be 80 years more), I revel in the simple moments: the walks with her, the stories, the munching trail mix together at sunset. And I realize, it’s so worth the price of admission.