Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cows and Breast Cancer

Thank goodness for the cows. Yesterday my husband and I went to a local tree farm with Caroline, our youngest, to select our Christmas tree, a tradition we do each year. (This year, however, my other two children couldn't join us and we had their blessing to go ahead without them).

The three of us plodded along in the cold, biting wind, scanning the horizon for the "perfect tree" only to find that in most cases, the tree that had caught our attention from a distance was in fact either previously tagged, or was too tall, too bare, or just not quite right. My patience was running thin as my toes were becoming noticeably numb.

Caroline, being the astute animal lover that she is, spotted several cows grazing in the field located just adjacent to the tree farm. Although a barbed wire fence separated her from the cows, she quietly walked up to the them, and she carefully extended her hand through the fence to pet them. Several cows began to walk toward her, but none of them ventured close enough for her to touch. Her excitement mounted, however, and she quickly, albeit temporarily, abandoned the idea of finding the right Christmas tree.

At first I just wanted to walk over to her and tell her to leave the cows alone, that we needed to select a tree, cut it down, and head on home. The sun was almost completely lost behind the horizon by now, and my fingertips were feeling the drop in temperature. I had fish at home waiting to be marinated, and I was hungry. Caroline, on the other hand, was totally oblivious. Her focus was on those cows, talking to them in a soft and comforting voice.

I stepped back a bit and couldn't help but see things differently - through her eyes. She is a girl of eleven years of age, and the innocence that exuded from her tiny frame as she tried to coax the cows to come to her, well, it stopped me in my tracks. There won't be many more times when she will feel drawn to pet some dirty cows in the chill of winter. Experience with my other two older children has shown me that. As they enter their teen years, children grow, mature, and quickly shed the child-like innocence that we as adults have lost decades ago. And you know what? I let her watch those cows. I let her keep trying to touch one, and then another, through that barbed fence. I let her relish in the cold evening air, without noise, cares, or hurries.

Caroline, my husband, and I stood there looking at those cows for almost 20 minutes. She liked how they seemed to enjoy rubbing their faces along a large, fallen dead tree, and she smiled as the branches also provided a gratifying back scratch for them. She looked into their dark, warm eyes. One or two cows coughed, sending a puff of warm breath into the chilly air, and this caused Caroline to laugh out loud as only little girls can do.

Finally, we found a tree that was just what we wanted and headed back to the barn where we paid for it and chatted a bit to the shivering lady standing behind the wooden table. Then, almost as if on cue, I turned around and saw a couple that we had met about 2 years ago when we were searching for a new church. I hadn't seen her in nearly two years. We talked for a bit, and the woman shared with me that she was just diagnosed with breast cancer. She'd had surgery two days before Thanksgiving.

Her statement created a whirlwind of emotions within me: disbelief, empathy, fear, instant bonding, and of course concern for her. We chatted for quite some time, but it was the look in her eyes that was the most captivating. She asked me some of the very same questions that I'd asked other survivors when I was first diagnosed. Her questions ranged from hair loss to nausea, treatments to exercise. Her eyes were fixed on my own, waiting for the answers, searching my eyes for responses and making notes, mentally "writing down" my responses as quickly as she could. "I'll call you," she said as we parted. And I hope she does. But if she doesn't, I will definitely call her.

What do the cows have to do with this story? Simple: If Caroline hadn't stopped to really look at the cows, we would have missed seeing the woman with breast cancer. And the opportunity to speak to her in a way that only other survivors can - with sheer honesty and valuable experience - would have been lost.

I am just so thankful that I felt God's calling to wait for the cows with Caroline, because we just never know what opportunity may be waiting for us around the corner, even in a cold barn.