To the right, is lake Michigan. I can see it through my window. It’s ominous. Nothing can stop it. It’s both life giving and life taking. I can see as far as it will let me and no further than it will allow. It speaks to me with the words of adventure and the sound of possibility.
To the left, is my wife. She is in a hospital bed, recovering from a double mastectomy. She needs my help to sit up, to brush her hair, and to drink water. Breast cancer has taken her strength and vibrancy.
To the right, salmon and steelhead are getting bigger and more powerful. They are preying on smaller fish and aquatic insects; preparing for their run up the rivers of Michigan and Wisconsin. They are waiting for the rains to tell them that it’s time to go. They are waiting for October.
To the left, are my wife’s eyes. Depending on the light, they can be blue or green or some hue found only when you step back from the sea and gaze on it as a whole. Her eyes are one of the attributes I like most about her and she doesn’t even know it. Now, they are closed more than they are open. And when they are open, they are full of tears.
To the right, lake-run brown trout are watching the moves of the salmon closely. Waiting for the salmon to commit to their play. Waiting for the fall run. Waiting for the salmon to drop their eggs. Waiting for the protein filled meals that will fuel their bodies through the winter.
To the left, my wife’s blood pressure is low because of painkillers being fed to her through tubes coming from bags that hang on hooks above her. Pumps are making a dull noise that not even Bruce Springsteen can overcome, as his music streams from her smartphone.
To the right, the sun is trying to shine through the clouds that are building over Lake Michigan. The world beneath its mirror-like finish is moving forward as nature has demanded for centuries. Soon the air will turn crisp and the leaves on the trees will be brilliant with color. Flyfishers will return to the rivers they love in Michigan and Wisconsin, as their nature demands of them. The fall dictates to all, that it is time to go.
To the left, my wife will not let me look at her body. Afraid of the monster she thinks she has become. Strangers come in and out of the room and help her change her gown. She makes me turn around; afraid to let me see the drain tubes that are stitched into her chest. She is afraid that I will stop being attracted to her. She is afraid.
In the center, I sit on a bench, on the 14th floor of Northwestern’s Prentice Hospital for Women in downtown Chicago, caught between two worlds. Trying to make sense of a diagnosis she just recently received. Trying to understand the nature before me. Trying to understand human nature as well as I understand the natural world. Trying to insert some semblance of simplicity into something so complex is difficult, and I’m not doing well with it. Perhaps there are some complexities that can’t be simplified. Breast cancer doesn’t deserve the simplicity that nature affords.
In its truest form, its most basic of needs, nature—whether it be human or the natural world—relies on a single fundamental principle: Survival. To draw another breath. To fight for one more day.
My wife will survive breast cancer; of this I am certain. In October, salmon, steelhead, and brown trout will make their run up the rivers, that flow into Lake Michigan; of this I am certain as well.