Little Did I Know

Dear Will:

Today I took a 6-mile hike through Peters Canyon. Although I have hiked there many times, this was the first time that I walked the full loop.

I couldn’t have picked a nicer day for a hike: clear, blue skies, a light breeze, weather in the low seventies. It was glorious. And although the trail was busy, it was not so crowded that I couldn’t enjoy a little solitude and the chance to be alone with my thoughts for a couple of hours. I thought about my children and their various challenges. I thought about my great wife and the many ways that she blesses our family. I thought about the weeks and months ahead and some of the difficult decisions we’ll be facing.

And of course I thought about my health. Today was a bit of an experiment—an extended hike following several months of forced inactivity. But over the last 30 days or so, I have really been feeling good—like myself again—good enough to take on a long hike and not worry that the paramedics would have to rendezvous with me at the trailhead. And I’m proud to say that I completed the trek without the assistance of the medi-vac unit.

It used to be that when someone asked “How are you?” I would respond “Fine” and give it no further thought. But now when people ask, I tell them I feel great. I don’t necessarily feel a lot better than I used to, but I have come the appreciate the profound blessing of vigor and energy that I previously took for granted. I have experienced firsthand why it is that “it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). After all, without bad health, how could I ever truly understand what it means to be healthy? There was the time a few weeks back when (I kid you not) I watched an elderly man walked nonchalantly across a waiting room and thought, “You have no idea how fortunate you are.” Now when I walk casually across that same room, I notice. Imagine.

When I first learned of my cancer back in August, I shared with you the poem “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins—a poem in which the poet glorifies God for “dappled things . . . With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.” I shared it in advance of any real physical challenges.

Little did I know. Now I sit here cancer-free, having been hospitalized four times, with seven new scars on my abdomen and anti-coagulants running through my body, and I appreciate the poem more than ever. For I have since tasted the sour; I’ve seen the dim. And having done so, I am so much more grateful for the sweet, so much more dazzled by the light.

Walking the trails in Peters Canyon is a small thing—something I thought little about in my previous visits. But today, as I stood high atop the East Rim Trail and looked out over the reservoir and the eucalyptus, as I walked the Creek Trail and delighted in the cool riparian habitat created by the ground-fed stream, as I felt whole again, pain-free, normal even, I finally understood what prompted Hopkins to close his poem like this: “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.”

Praise Him indeed.

PW

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