I’m sitting in a corner of the Miami airport. And I just paid 8 bucks for internet access. It was worth it just to see Zora on skype for a few minutes. But I can’t deny that paying so much for the internet feels like a violation of my human rights. Maybe this is something Obama can deal with in his (optimistically presumed) second term – universal obamanet.
Anyway, I digress.
The point is that the last two weeks have been full of surprises. And with every unexpected turn, I’m reminded that we have less control over matters than we hope we do. Apparently plans are just for naïve chumps. Or maybe they’re better seen as an outline of a preferred path. But if we’re not willing to shift, adjust, or entirely scrap our plans when changed circumstances require, we lose.
Exactly a week ago, everything went according to plan. My sister, my niece (the youngest of my sister’s brood), and I stood in my mother’s sister-in-law’s house – in Chicago – waiting to surprise my mother for her birthday. We have lived in different cities for so long that she doesn’t expect to see us without months of advance planning. I’m obviously all over the place – on some other continent, with little money and selfish priorities. My sister is busy on the east coast, working nonstop, supporting her family, and raising her (abnormally attractive) children. But this time, taking ownership of the unexpected, we decided it was time for our Mom to have her (lack of) birthday plans changed. So when she saw us standing there, yelling “surprise!” in her face, she looked as if she was seeing ghosts with a family resemblance. The moment was priceless. And in an instant, we tossed her into a weekend (or a week, considering I stayed for much longer) of unexpected plans. Once the initial shock wore off, which took about a day, she made our plans her own.
But as the Chicago surprise plans went off without a hitch, in the back of my mind I was dealing with some major unexpected events unraveling back in Amsterdam. Backing up another 4 days, when I was still having one incredible and productive day in Suriname after another, outlined plans were finally going from blurry hopes and wishes to concrete next steps and partnerships. But just overnight everything shifted – my focus and priorities included.
The morning after one of my best days in Suriname, I found out that Zora might be dying. A healthy cat when I left Amsterdam (though the doctor wanted her to work on her abs), she was in good shape to stay with our friend while I hopped around the globe a bit more. Well, certainly not as pleasant as a birthday surprise in Chicago, but cancer also gives no warning. It just shows up – uninvited. And rocks whatever plans you thought you had. It took my Dad. It took my grandmother. It’s taken so many. And now it was threatening Zora. I fucking hate cancer.
Zora’s unexpected health concerns immediately took priority. She’s the only family I have in Amsterdam (people often ask: “do you have family here?” And I almost always respond: “It’s me and my cat.”). So once I recovered from the panic, and the tears became less frequent (took the better part of a day), I had to make some decisions about where I needed to be and when. The Chicago trip was days away, during which time Zora was having more tests and little could be done other than waiting. So I decided to proceed with this trip. Plus, when I found out Zora’s prognosis, I would be with my mother, which would be helpful. But the day before leaving for Chicago, I went to the Suriname Airways office to change my Amsterdam return date. And just like that, two months in Suriname would become one. And this would just have to be okay.
As for Zora’s plans, she was expecting to have an easy couple of months without me all up in her face. But when tests came back to confirm that her leg tumor was malignant and growing quickly, suddenly the only concern was saving her life. The doctors did not want to waste any time. And they certainly couldn’t wait for me to return to Amsterdam next week. So yesterday, just like that, before the cancer could reach any other part of her body, they rushed to amputate her leg.
So here I am, in Miami, heading back for my final few days in Suriname. Having just spoken to a healthy, alert, highly-medicated, three-legged Zora on skype (she’s staying with and being cared for by more than one dear friend in Amsterdam), I can finally breathe. Unexpected events may have turned some things upside down. But just like we’ve adjusted to every shift, turn, and stumble in the past, Zora and I will adjust to her prolonged life on three legs. And as my Mom said, Suriname will still be there when I’m ready to go back.
Thanks to all for the kind and well-wishes sent Zora’s way over the past week. I hope she felt them. I certainly did. I’ve also learned that Zora and I have a lot more family and love in Amsterdam than I realized. I owe her life to my friends who have cared for her so well.