Earlier this week John and I returned to Mayo Clinic for his yearly post-transplant check-up. This is the week every year when we both take a long look at where we’ve been. It all comes roaring back. As we walked quickly through the Mayo campus, jogging across the plaza, running up stairs instead of waiting for the elevator, John and I felt the change.
We stood at the crosswalk, waiting for a break in the traffic. We didn’t have to wait for the walk signal. Not this time. John looked at me and smiled. I knew what he was thinking. Four years ago we’d stood right here. We’d walked this same campus, gingerly taking steps across the street, hoping the walk signal would wait for his slow gait. Back then he couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be well. He’d see a guy, maybe his own age, maybe younger, jog across the street, his suit jacket flying open as he ran to his appointment, and John would shake his head.
He didn’t think he’d ever be able to walk quickly again. He thought he’d be sick forever, just one step from a hospital bed, waiting fifteen minutes to hit the pain button again.
One afternoon this week, John and I found a few hours in between appointments and decided to go for a run. “Where can we go?” He asked.
“How about the trail?”
John didn’t know about the paved trail that bisected the town and ran along the river. We set out from the hotel and waited at a stop light and jogged in place. When we crossed I turned left and he continued straight. “Where are you going?” He asked.
I sighed. “To the trail. It’s this way.”
He turned toward me. “How am I supposed to know that?”
He had a point.
While he’d been sick in the hospital those first two months, I’d run these trails alone. I knew, for instance, that about twenty minutes from downtown we’d come to Soldiers Field, where we’d watched the fireworks display on the 4th of July that first night we’d arrived. His appointments started in the morning, and while his skin had already turned yellow, the disease hadn’t really caught up with him yet. It was our last night of near-normalcy before the ordeal started.
Now, as we ran together on the trail, I realized that for John this view was entirely new. He had never seen the geese and ducks floating here on the river, opening their wings to the warm wind. He’d never sailed over this iron bridge, heard the sound of baseballs cracking in that field, watched the soccer girls run laps on this green lawn.
He’d never calculated the distance and turned back at the exact spot where we’d watched in the dark as our life together exploded in colorful fireworks above us, the long streamers turning from red to blue to silver before they faded.
Now John says he can’t remember what it feels to be sick. He cannot conjure up the feeling of small steps, the pain that sat on his right side, the doctor’s words that it was cancer.
And I’m glad. I hope he forgets those things, becoming the man who runs across the street just before the walk signal changes.
Now we run along the trail together, and I can barely keep up with him. And that’s just the way I like it.