About a year ago, film producers contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in participating in a film called A Bloom in the Sidewalk that was profiling six women who overcame adversity to make a positive difference in the world through art.
When I heard the words movie, film crew, and cameras, I imagined waking up in my bedroom to find lighting and sound equipment set up and a cameraman standing over my bed filming me while I slept, then following me into the bathroom while I brushed my teeth, then sitting in the passenger’s seat of my car interviewing me while I drove to work. It sounded a little intrusive, but I said yes anyway.
When it came time to film, the crew didn’t follow me around like paparazzi; instead, they came and set up lighting, video and sound equipment in my living room. I sat on the couch, and the director sat in a chair across from me. And as the cameras rolled, we just talked with each other.
She asked about my life before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my 20’s. Then about the nightmare of the diagnosis, surgery, chemo, radiation, and about everything I’d lost while I was going through treatment.
We talked about my relationship with a man I was in love with, a man who had asked my dad if he could marry me just before I was diagnosed with cancer. A man who held my hand on the drive home from our third date and gently stroked the back of my hand with his thumb as we listened to Rod Stewart’s Have I Told You Lately.
And then, when I was in the middle of chemo, he left.
He wasn’t the only thing I lost, but he was the hardest to lose, like the last block you pull out of the Jenga tower before it collapses.
The cameras kept rolling, and I began talking about moving to Portland with just a suitcase of clothes and starting over. About befriending a refugee family on the train, helping them adjust to life in America, and then writing a book about our adventures so I could put the proceeds into a college fund for the five little Invisible Girls.
Last Friday night, I went to a private screening of the documentary. The film crew and four of the six participants sat together in the producer’s living room. We ate dinner, and then the producer set a box of tissues in the center of the room, turned down the lights, and started the film.
The stories unfolded on the screen. Parents whose two year old daughter died in her sleep. A woman whose uncle sexually abused her since she was five. A young woman who lost her mom to brain cancer. Two women who were sex trafficked. And me.
I heard people sniffle their tears while many, many tissues were pulled out of the Kleenex box. And then, as the movie went into the deepest, most painful parts of our stories, there were audible, heart-wrenching sobs that came from all directions. No one moved. We just sat there together in the middle of the brokenness, breathing through our tears, holding each others’ pain, grieving our losses together.
I was a bridesmaid in a wedding the following day. I woke up and put a cool washcloth on my face to try to soothe my eyelids, which were swollen from crying so much the night before.
I met the bride and the other bridesmaids at a beautiful old country club on the banks of the Willamette River. We had our hair and makeup done, then put on our black cocktail dresses and heels and walked downstairs to the fairway where the violin and cello were starting to play the processional music.
I walked down the aisle with a handsome, blond-haired, blue-eyed kite surfer who was one of the groomsmen. The wedding was gorgeous, and the bride was glowing. The sun was low in the sky, casting an orange glow over the couple as they said their vows.
Then there was a cocktail hour, followed by dinner, followed by dancing.
It was a warm August evening, and at one point I left the hot, sweaty people who were grooving on the dance floor to get a breath of cool air on the patio just outside.
As I was enjoying the evening breeze, the band finished She’s A Brick House and then began playing the sweet, soft melody of Have I Told You Lately.
The groomsman I’d walked down the aisle with came around the corner and saw me swaying to the music. He held his hand out to me. “May I?” he said.
He pulled me close to him, and as we danced, I remembered.
The third date with Ian.
The sensation of his thumb gently stroking the back of my hand.
The story of my cancer and loss and pain I’d seen on the big screen the night before.
The book I’d published a few months ago.
The five precious little Somali girls who’d stolen my heart.
The band was on the second verse now, and I continued to remember.
Sitting in the producer’s living room the night before.
Holding each others’ pain together.
Sitting with the sorrow and the sobs.
Celebrating my close friend’s wedding.
Toasting to a lifetime of love and laughter.
Resting in the comfort that I have people in my life who will walk with me in every
season — people who will help me breathe through the pain and dance through the joy.
The band is on the final chorus. A few tears escape my eyes and land on the kite surfer’s collar. He doesn’t seem to notice. His mouth is near my ear and I hear him softly sing the words…
Fill my heart with gladness
Take away all my sadness
Ease my troubles
That’s what you do