Two weeks ago we flew to Denver for the weekend, staying in a small writer’s cabin on the top of a hill near Estes Park. Driving there in the dark that first night we saw fields full of deer staring at us as we meandered around curving unpaved roadways. All night long we could hear the yapping of coyotes in the hills around the house.
As is typical for me, I don’t sleep in well in the mornings. I’m up with the sun and looking forward to those first quiet moments over a cup of hot coffee. The sun cast beautiful shadows across the landscape as it rose, and we had a large deck with a view to enjoy it all.
My feelings about this part of the world are complicated, so much so that I feel like I’m in the middle of a vortex of memories each time I visit. It was in Denver that I was diagnosed with bone cancer and had my leg amputated. It was in Denver where my father wanted our family to settle (instead, we only lived there for three years). And it was in Denver four years ago that my leg infection landed me once again in the emergency room.
That trip four years ago kept surfacing in my mind as we drove around the environs of Denver. In particular, I remembered an afternoon in my hotel room after I’d been several days alone there and was in terrible pain from my infection. It was a dodgy Residence Inn–cheap enough for a traveling graduate student and smelling of curry and dirty socks. The only sunlight that entered the room was a bright beam from a high window in the bathroom. I remember sitting in that patch of light and singing “Sunshine on my Shoulders” to myself as a distraction from my circumstances. I felt very alone that week, but I also realized how strong I was becoming and dealing with things that were beyond my control. I had offers from friends and family to come and rescue me from Denver, but instead I dealt with the medical issues myself knowing that it was something I needed to do alone. And as a result I returned from that experience knowing that I was far stronger than I’d been before, which was an important lesson for where my life was headed.
So just a few weeks ago as I sat in the deck in that high dry Colorado air and enjoyed the sunshine on my shoulders once again, I felt that all the pain and trauma of that place was long gone. What remained were the lessons learned. And the in-the-moment joy of warm breezes on bare skin, making me feel alive and strong and even a little teary-eyed at just how beautiful life can be.