Tonight, I plan to step outside and once again, make a wish on the first bright star I see. Tonight it’s likely to be Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, the lion. Today we have company coming. This is a much-anticipated visit. In fact, we’ve been working on this for a couple of years now. Juanita and Chris and their five-year old, Alexis are coming for the week. They are, in many ways, family to us.
Juanita was born on a reservation in Northern Michigan and her single mom struggled with many of the issues of reservation life. She and her siblings were eventually split up and put into foster care; she came to live with her aunt and uncle and they had the good sense to get some help for Juana and that’s how she came into my life. At some point our relationship transcended a purely therapist/patient one and when there was a period during her adolescence when things got understandably tangled and tough, she came and lived with our family for a couple of years. During that period she was in high school and she met Chris. Although I had to toss him out after sneaking in the bedroom window, they became classic high school sweethearts and have been together ever since. They married but Alexis was more than a few years in coming and she has always been the apple of everyone’s eye. She was born the day after Rich’s father died and we viewed her arrival as one of those great gifts in the cycle of life. She has had a crush on Daniel since day one; at one point she had plans on marrying him despite the 25 year age difference.
During her first year, Juanita was diagnosed with breast cancer. I won’t go on at length here but she has been through all of the possible miserable treatments, done every 3-mile Relay for Life, supported other cancer patients endlessly and always, she and Chris have had great adventures and made wonderful memories for Alexis, sandwiched in between. Because they are the sort of people who give so generously of their own energy and time and spirit they have a wonderful community of family and friends and more than once I have thought how amazingly successful a life Juanita has made, coming so far from life in a car on a reservation. They have been able to travel to see our mutual friends in Napa Valley, they go to Red Wings games, they take annual family reunion vacations in upper Michigan.
We thought that Juanita was in remission but this year her cancer has come back with a vengeance and it has now metastasized to her bones, her spine. Now she is fighting to be in that very tiny percentage of women who survive. Chris is an arborist and with the Michigan economy, work has been tenuous. That’s also a job that has some seasonal aspects; this winter he has been plowing, plowing, plowing. While he works tirelessly, Juanita has been getting constant heavy doses of infused chemotherapy. Alexis spends her mornings with mom and afternoons in kindergarten.
One of the things that they have very much wanted to do as a family is to take Alexis to Disney World. While Disney is not my current idea of the perfect destination, I do remember clearly the excitement of taking Dan and Abby and seeing the magic through their eyes. It’s a Small World After All is still burned into my brain, along with Daniel pulling out half my hair as he screamed in the car behind me on Space Mountain. Disney is a magical place for small children and five is the perfect age and now, for Juanita and Chris, it’s the time. This is a trip that couldn’t be postponed.
In addition to wondering at the quality of the lives they live, I have also wondered more than once why life should be so hard for such good people. Because I am not so sturdy in my faith, it is extremely hard for me to turn it all over and stop raging against their circumstances. Juanita has a very strong faith and it sustains her now. She is supported by an amazing network in their friendships and in their church family. When we put our heads together with our California friends and reached out with just a simple request the response was overwhelming. Between us all, we’ve gotten the airline tickets, resort, unlimited Disney passes and all of their expenses for a great weeks vacation. It’s been no small feat coordinating with the airline 3 donated tickets from 3 different frequent flyer accounts, making arrangements for accessibility at Disney (not as easy as you might think), figuring out details around getting through TSA, letters from doctors, and arranging parking permits but it’s all fallen into place. You, everyone who reached out, did good! and if all of the people who have supported this trip knew how grateful we are…well, thank you everyone.
They arrive here in a couple of hours and will spend two days soaking up some sun and resting up for the big adventure and then on Saturday they’ll drive over to Orlando and spend three nights exploring Disney, SeaWorld, Universal- they can do as much or as little as they like. Then it’s back here for a little more quiet family time, a beach walk, some fresh crab.
For us, this week means an opportunity to spend some quality porch time with this family that we love. Alexis sees Daniel in Ann Arbor (they go regularly to hear him make music) but Grandma Vicki hasn’t laid hands on her for too long. I am eager to feed them (except Juana craves Malto Meal with brown sugar. Do you think I can find Malto Meal anywhere down here??? Arrghhh.) and show them the manatee and let Alexis get eyeball to eyeball with a little screech owl. For them, this week represents a week away from hospitals and doctors and drugs. A week off from work and out of the end of a long cold winter. Most of all, it will be a week to make memories.
(I got this picture mail a bit ago so I know they are at the airport and on their way!)
Some folks’ lives roll easy as a breeze
Drifting through a summer night
Heading for a sunny day
But most folks’ lives, oh they stumble
Lord they fall
Through no fault of their own
Most folks never catch their stars