This room represents so many things to me in a strange way. It was taken in March of 2013 in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I was having a grand time exploring the campus and the city during a brief business trip. Just a short week later, my life would change forever.
In the Winter of 2013, I had just taken a new part time job teaching laboratory procedures to nurses. The job would allow me to travel across the country and visit large medical centers. Free airfare, free meals, and great pay. It seemed like an exciting new adventure. This particular trip was only my second, the first being to Nashville, Tennessee. When I arrived at the hotel, I was pleasantly surprised to find my room overlooking a lovely pond inhabited by a pair of swans. A paved jogging trail meandered around the water and adjacent university buildings.
I only taught for a few hours during the day, so I either had mornings or afternoons to myself. The city of Charlottesville reminded me a lot of Asheville in some ways, yet it was steeped in a rich history that was palpable walking down the cobblestone streets where Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries once stood. I thoroughly enjoyed the small shops and quaint hole-in-the wall restaurants nestled among venerable brick buildings and proud monuments. It was so nice to get away from everyday responsibilities, if only for a brief moment
Before the sun went down each day, I would try to get in a run. The path was very steep in spots, and I noticed that my endurance was flagging as I struggled to reach 3 miles. I chalked it up to needing more hill work, but in the back of my mind, it bothered me. After all, I had finished a half marathon only 4 months before with little trouble. Shouldn’t my endurance be improving?
After 3 wonderful days, I left for home feeling accomplished and rested. I had navigated a huge, unfamiliar medical center and done a really good job teaching. I had enjoyed the city so much that I planned to come back with my family and spend more time, including a visit to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.
As it turned out, that would be my second and last trip. A week later I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and had to give up that job to go through treatment. It’s bittersweet when I look at the pictures now. I remember exactly what I was doing, what I was thinking. I remember how excited I was to embark on a new adventure once I finally made the difficult decision that I needed some time for me and that my kids would live if I left them with their father once per month. It wasn’t to be.
Funny, but situations like this always remind me of a quote from one of my favorite movies of all time, Out of Africa. There is a particularly pulse-pounding scene where Meryl Streep is nearly attacked by a lion while crossing the savannah with wagons and oxen looking for her philandering husband, who has been away for weeks on safari. Her servant Farah turns to her and says, “God is happy m’sabu…he plays with us.”