Sunday, September 7, 2014

Day 13: Gourdon, Jizo, and the Landscape of Cancer

Yesterday (Saturday) was the last day of our cycling tour. The weather was perfect – clear blue skies with temperatures in the 70’s. The riding was not too strenuous, which I appreciated. The scenery, as usual, was beautiful, and it was thrilling when the Mediterranean Sea came into view. But the highlight of the ride was lunch with many other members of the tour at the hilltop village of Gourdon.

Mark writing in his journal the night before at our hotel in Castellane

A candid taken by Jen as we awaited dinner our last night in Castellane.

In particular, we enjoyed sharing lunch with our new friends, Bill and Jen, from Anacortes, Washington. Jen shared with us some of her experiences with yoga, meditation and religion, which both of us could relate to. I also felt at home with Bill. He admitted that he's not very good at small talk, and I appreciated that because I am not exactly a sparkling conversationalist. I could also really relate when he said he's not great at remembering people's names - something I struggle with all the time.

As Jen was discussing the meditation she had practiced that morning to block out the annoyance from the squeak her bike shoes had developed, I was trying not be to annoyed that everyone else in our group - even those who were seated after us - had received their food before us. 

Then, everyone else at our table was served but me. I heard a crash and the sound of china breaking on the cobblestones behind me, and I thought in my mind, "That is probably my quiche and salad." Sure enough, it was. But all was well once my food arrived. (It was good.) I was more fortunate than another member of our group who ordered a full menu of the day and only received her appetizer. She had to resort to a Cliff Bar or two to see her through the afternoon.

One of the main topics of our conversation with Jen and Bill was cancer. Jen had had esophageal cancer and had survived. She told us about two friends who each have stage 3 melanoma. One is not "doing the protocol" and is doing well. Another is following a protocol and struggles with the side-effects. They are both very active in their 60's and 70's. Jen spoke of another acquaintance who was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer 10-15 years ago and is still here.

"I decided not to be a number," Jen said, referring to her odds of surviving her cancer. And she didn't. "Decide not to be a number, Mark," she added. We both appreciated her sharing these stories. The fact of the matter is, we don't know how long Mark will remain healthy and vigorous. The statistics are not in his favor. But he is not a number. And his life need not be dictated by numbers. Certainly, his attitude need not be and is not dictated by a number. 

I'm getting a bit ahead of the story, but last night in Vence, Jen gave something to Mark and me. It is a tiny Jizo that her yoga instructor had given her to give to her pregnant daughter. Jen had been carrying it around France on this cycling trip. She had previously mentioned it to us as we had told her about encountering many, many Jizo statutes in Japan a year ago. (I wrote about him here when we were there.) Jizo occupies a very special place at the heart of Japanese Buddhism. He has vowed not to become a Buddha until all have achieved enlightenment. He is the protector of travelers, pregnant women and deceased children.

Jen said that she had emailed her yoga teacher back in Washington about Mark, and she had replied that the Jizo that Jen had been carrying for her pregnant daughter should be given to Mark. It was an incredibly poignant and emotional moment when Jen presented this to Mark, a moment I - and I'm sure he - will never forget. Thank you, Jen.

Bikes lined up against a stone wall across the street from where we ate lunch. The Mediterranean is visible in the background.

After lunch, we mounted our bikes for a descent from Gourdon, followed by our last climb over the Col de Vence. From there, it was all downhill to our hotel in Vence where the tour concluded. We had our final dinner last night, then went our separate ways this morning, Mark and I leaving for the Nice airport at 6:00 a.m. 

Terri took the lead photo, above, as well as this one, on the last day of the tour. We had decided to wear our matching "Maui" kits to commemorate arriving at the sea.

It was a magical time this tour of ours, a time when our strength was tested, our training was tested, our nerves were tested, and our will was tested. It was a time when I experienced periods of euphoria and periods of frustration. It was a period of growth and reflection. A time to savor goals accomplished. But also a time of enrichment, of meeting new friends, sharing our lives and celebrating this wonderful thing we call life while being thankful to those who share our journey.

A la prochaine (Until the next time) ...

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