Another of 'the girls' has a birthday today. About a year ago, Beve and I were talking about beauty. So I asked him who he thought was the most beautiful girl we'd gone to high school with. His answer was instant and unequivocal: my friend, MP. It's true. She was (and still is) very pretty. And this beauty of hers was legendary before she'd been in town more than a week. Seriously. She moved to town our eighth grade year, and I'm pretty sure about half the boys in our class were infatuated with her before that week was over. I remember meeting her at the little rental where her family first landed down the major road on our hill before her family moved to another hill to their permanent home (just down the street from another of the girls, W-squared).
However, her beauty isn't what is profound about MP, at least not to me, (though I suspect more than a few--very superficial, nameless males mostly--think of this as the most important thing). When we were in high school what I remember most about her (besides all our shared experiences, of course) was her passion. And who she was then has grown and matured with age. She had strong, passionate opinions and now has strong, well-hewn beliefs that she stands on. She's the most willing to debate in politics of the girls, the most willing to take on all-comers about a host of 'hot-topics,' not mean-spiritedly or with an agenda, but with a strong sense of herself and an innate curiosity about the world and her place in it. She's also a loyal friend, a person with a deep well of humor always at the ready with a story sure to make us laugh until we cry, complete with hand gestures and a mobile face that makes us imagine the scene she paints with her words. And she'll laugh right with us at our stories as well.
But there's more to MP than this. And it's the big thing. The thing that has not only touched me (all of the girls) but moved and impacted us as nothing else could. Fifteen years ago, you see, MP was a mom of three young kids with a husband she loved, a life she enjoyed. But she tired easily, too easily for a woman so young. So she went to the doctor. Then went home, and tried to climb the stairs. Then the doctor called, told her not to pass go, but go directly to the hospital. MP's life changed at the ring of that telephone. She went from a too-tired mom to a cancer patient at a single sentence. "You have luekemia," she was told that day.
One of the great regrets of my life is that I wasn't there during her long fight with cancer, a fight that included kemo, hair loss, and finally the precious gift of bone marrow from her brother. I heard from two states away about that cancer. I was busy with my own life, my own three kids, my own whatever. Nothing, though, that was as big and life-altering as that. And...
I wasn't there when, years later, MP healthy again, got breast cancer.
Yes, she's had--and survived--two distinct kinds of cancer. Lived not only to tell about them but to show and tell about them to us, her old friends, even though we weren't there. She's forgiven me (us) for that. And I'm humbled by that forgivenenss. Now I can't begin tell you what the gift of her life means to those closest to her. I imagine it for her husband--a man I've known longer than I've known MP, since his 4th grade teacher was my mother--and her children who lived it with her (her oldest son is now a Marine serving proudly in Afghanistan), but I don't know for sure. They lived with the cancer but they didn't have to live with her absence, and I don't dare try to guess what they feel at that difference. But I can tell you what the gift of her life means to me.
The gift of MP is a gift of beauty. She is forged from the fire of disease to be a woman of precious metal. And there's beauty in that, the beauty of strength and a faith greater and more transparent than most I've known. She lives beyond the shadow of this disease, not taking life for granted, and reminding us to savor relationships--with God and each other as well. I will never be glad she got cancer, but will always be grateful for her example of grace in surviving it (twice).
There's a song from the musical "Wicked" that I think of, when I think of MP.
"Because I['ve known] you, I have been changed for the better and I've been changed for good."
Happy birthday, MP...and many, many more.
I love you.