Aspen Princess: The only moment you’re promised is this one
A few weeks ago, Ryan and I went to 5Point Film Festival and saw a film called “Mountain in the Hallway,” about two men who were diagnosed with colon cancer.
This short film, produced by Teton Gravity Research, a company known for their adrenaline-fueled action sports films, sent a chilling, if not haunting message: life is short, unpredictable and random. But still, in the days following the incomprehensible death of Sam Coffey, the feeling I’m getting is we ultimately have no control over how and when we die.
We only have control over how we live.
The film centers around the friendship that developed between these men, their battle with this brutal illness, and their desire to climb the Grand Teton that was inspired by a photo of the famous peak that hung in the hallway of the treatment center. You think, thank god they found a reason to live. You think, thank god this is going to have a happy ending. Yes, both men achieve their goal of summiting this rugged peak that erupts out of the valley floor straight up into the sky like a lightning bolt. If nothing else, it seems to be the perfect vehicle for their salvation.
Spoiler alert: it’s not.
Both men later learn that the cancer has returned and is not curable. In one particularly heart-crushing scene, one of the men, the younger one with a very young son, receives the news from the doctor during a phone call. His dutiful wife is poised by his side, attentive and wielding a pad of paper and pen like a weapon and a shield, ready to fight. Then we learn there is no more fight. Husband and wife embrace and cry, holding each other for a long time. We are all sobbing.
“What the hell was the point of that?” I asked our friend as we left the theater, exasperated. “Life is short and then you die?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “How about life is short, live for every moment?”
The film succeeded in making me think about a lot of things, not all of them pleasant and maybe that’s the point. How did TGR go from ski porn to this, I wondered? Perhaps it was their attempt to understand what was happening to their friend, to raise awareness for early detection and this horrible disease that seems to be everywhere, and to put it into the context of our love for the mountains. Perhaps it’s the fact that they too are in their middle age, a time when mortality has a way of setting in.
I can remember thinking deeply about my mortality in first grade, sitting at my desk and feeling the weight of this knowledge that I would indeed die someday. I don’t remember anyone talking to me about dying or experiencing death first hand; I only remember feeling burdened and a little frightened by this knowledge that came from only god knows where.
My own father was diagnosed with lymphoma not long after Levi was born. I didn’t write about it much because I was too afraid of the outcome. Well, he breezed through chemo like a champ, going on 50-mile-plus road bike rides like he didn’t know any better. I’d joke with him that he was probably terrifying to other cyclists on the road, a skeleton glowing neon green because he was thin, bald, and literally radioactive at the time.
His oncologist had said, “You will die, but not from this.” They were able to do genetic testing on the cancer cells to create a very specific chemo cocktail that targeted the right cells that weren’t as toxic as some other treatments.
Still, we only recently learned that his cancer, now in remission, was a lot worse than the doctor let on. Of course it was. The levels of iron in his blood still haven’t returned to normal two years later. “That’s because we blasted the hell out of your bone marrow,” the oncologist said, by way of explanation.
I know three women in our little valley community who are breast cancer survivors who went through double mastectomy surgery, a procedure many say is harder than the actual cancer. Last summer, one of my nearest and dearest watched her husband go through treatment that made him so sick, he almost couldn’t complete it. But he did, and he’s doing OK now. The list goes on and on.
The question is, why so much cancer? Is it the toxins in the air we breathe, the food we eat, our water? Is it not a matter of if, but when that diagnosis will come, if not for us than someone we love? What about deaths like Sam Coffey’s? How does someone so young suffer a stroke?
I’ve started to reread the book, “Many Lives, Many Masters,” by a Yale-trained psychiatrist who had a patient who began to recall past lives and the secrets of life and death under hypnosis. This doctor, who had no belief system, training or framework to interpret any of this, was completely floored by what he learned. A lot of the historical events she referenced checked out. She could speak other languages fluently that she had no knowledge of when awake. It goes on and on and on.
Then again, have you watched an episode of “Hollywood Medium” on E! lately? I know it’s not the most newsworthy network on the planet, but this kid clearly has a gift communicating with dead people. According to him, they are very much with us. Even our animals.
I suppose the only way to make sense of any of it is to find faith in accepting that there is much we don’t understand, and even more we don’t control over. I guess my friend was right. The take away is to live life to the fullest. The only moment we have is now.
The Princess is really hoping the sun will come out tomorrow. Email you love to email@example.com.
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