Monday morning started out like any normal day – wake up, put the coffee on, grab a bite to eat, head out the door and run 10 miles. Okay, so I don’t normally run 10 miles – just once a week or every other week. And usually I have a full morning of clients booked on Mondays. But sicknesses, cancellations, and vacations meant my morning was wide open. Now that I think of it, I guess the day didn’t start too normal after all. But knowing I had the extra time in the morning was enough for me to plan and get pumped up for a 10 miler. So out the door I went.
It was raining Monday morning, but by the time I set out on foot the rain was done falling and was left for me to simply frolic in, and as I ran I enjoyed the fresh scent of the air and the yellow leaves fallen across the path. The miles flew by, and at my turn-around point I felt strong, ready for anything. I returned home excited for the rest of the day as Mikey and I left the house to do some errands and help promote our upcoming film premiere here in Calgary. This, too, was unusual – normally we are both busy with different things on Mondays and not able to work together, but today was different. We were on the same page, we were being productive, we were feeling positive.
Off to the grocery store I went while Mikey walked across the street to get some oil from good ‘ol Canadian Tire. When I picked him up out front with a car full of good food and a belly that was ready to eat, he didn’t seem normal. When he slid quietly into the front seat, I knew something was wrong. “I just received a call from Karine,” he uttered, “Alston died this morning.”
“What?” I found it hard to even comprehend that our good friend, whom we met at the airport when he boldly stepped out to join us on a kayaking trip, could simply not be here anymore. We knew that at the early age of 35 he’d already been fighting esophageal cancer hard for several years (not a smoker but a healthy young man) and that he was going downhill since we saw him on the trip, but now? So soon? He’s gone?
That day didn’t prove to be a normal day after all. But really, what is normal anyway? We get used to our routine and come to expect certain things, but at the end of the day we are not in control of what happens. Although we wanted one last conversation with Alston, a self-proclaimed “devil’s advocate” who called you out when you needed to be and stayed engaged in every moment, we tried to be grateful for the moments we did have with him.
In July 2008, we embarked on a kayaking expedition with 8 other young adult cancer survivors from across Canada (my husband being one of them) ready for adventure, excitement, and the chance to connect and share our stories. The result was not only the subsequent film that has just been finished and will be premiering in Calgary, but the deep relationships that were formed as we went through phyiscal and emotional strain on the river and bonded over our shared experiences. Alston stands out in the film; a dynamic force so full of life, he was so present, so ready for true healing in his cancer journey. He left the Owyhee River in Oregon having contemplated much and been challenged by a lot. He also left a lasting impression on Mikey and I and we know he left one on everyone he met and that he will continue to leave one on the audience who views the film in which he shines.
I will remember to be grateful for the moments I have with others, to stay engaged and live with more life to my day while not knowing the number of days I have left, as Alston did. I will be grateful for health and for the ability to be well and take care of my body and experience life with others. I will say it like it is; Alston always wanted that from people. And I will invite you to the official screening of our film, Wrong Way to Hope: An Inspiring Story of Young Adults and Cancer, premiering at the Uptown Theatre on Oct. 12th and 13th in Calgary (check out http://wrongwaytohope.com for more info). Trent Edwards of the Calgary Herald wrote an article this morning entitled “Living Beyond Fear,” and I believe Alston tried to live that way. Come celebrate life lived and the power of stories, of hope and healing, made all the more poignant by Alston’s death this week, for even in suffering and pain there is much rejoicing over a life well lived and the reminder to take advantage of every moment and to stay engaged!
Live well and be well, friends,