By Jennifer Allford
There is something about a walk in the park.
Big thinkers and philosophers have always known that going for a walk will lead to finding an answer or two. I think it’s the combination of being outside, breathing fresh air and just moving your body. Whatever it is, a walk in the park clears the mind and pretty much always makes you feel better.
Which is why it was fitting that Jim and I would go for a walk one June afternoon as he was waiting for the surgery to remove his kidney. A couple of weeks earlier, he’d gone to the hospital with appendicitis and come home with renal cell carcinoma.
It was too windy to go to Nose Hill. So we went to Bowmont Park to walk along the mighty Bow and talk about life and death and luck and cancer. But the walkway near the river was all fenced off, still under repair from the flood that ravaged the riverbank the year before.
Things don’t always go as planned, the chain link seemed to say. We picked our way along the fence up from the river and walked across from the aging split levels lining the bluff in Silver Springs.
The second time Jim called to say it was time for a “cancer walk” I’m not sure who needed it more. They’d found spots on his lungs. A whole bunch of the little fuckers. He’d known for weeks. I’d known long enough to make tea in to-go mugs before he arrived at my door and I threw my arms around him.
This time Bowmont Park was open for business. We headed down the path talking about life and death and immunotherapy. We talked about gratitude, insurance policies and the time bombs silently ticking away in each and every one of us. And we talked about grabbing each day and filling each moment with people you care about, things that make you laugh and work that has meaning.
We took a sharp left along a dirt path to get to the river. It used to be a gentle sand bar where I’d throw rocks until my arm got sore or my dog got bored. But the sandbar was gone, removed by the flood and replaced by a small cliff. We sat on a log and Jim told me how the radiologist, a friend, had found the cancer on a regular check-up scan. Jim wasn’t surprised. He was half expecting it, he told me as the water rushed by.
Some geese flew overhead, stealing our attention and taking our minds off X-rays and bad news and crying wives. A few of them landed on a sandbar just upstream but we wanted them to take off so Jim could get a video of the geese in flight. We started yelling at them: “Come on geese, get moving! Get going already!”
They weren’t listening, too busy jumping around on the sandbar, squawking at each and settling some big goose dispute. Jim and I started laying down an improv voiceover to the goose soap opera unfolding in front of us. I don’t remember a word of dialogue or any of the plot we invented, but I’ll never forget laughing by the river.
And forever more when I see geese flying overhead I will think of Jim and know to look down, look around and grab the moment I’m in.