Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Earth Day is Every Day

 I didn't plan for Earth Day 2014 and my mammogram to go hand-in-hand. In fact, I didn't put the two events together until I was sitting in the "butterfly room" of the Breast Center, in Oakland, with all the other ladies who'd donned medical-center-issue white robes to wait our turns for our screenings. I appreciated how those who designed the breast health center had made efforts to make the whole visit as pleasant as possible: different rooms are marked with various flowers (I got a lotus), or butterflies, and the sound of bird song comes through the speakers as you wait for your named to be called. And I appreciated those who founded Earth Day to rally more folks around valuing the planet and the environment. But I'm too aware of the fact that butterflies are faced with their own climate-related problems and that mammograms may or may not be that helpful in preventing breast-cancer related deaths. So the transformative symbolism of beautiful creatures used as decor perhaps didn't have the desired effect on me. But the whole experience did jar me into thinking of my friend Samantha, who passed away 6 years ago, at 41 years of age, due to breast cancer.  
Sam and I met as idealistic undergrads at UCSC, majoring in Environmental Studies and adjusting to semi-adult life on and off-campus. While I'd grown up surrounded by nature, Sam was from LA and knew city sidewalks and paved highways better than the dirt trails and redwoods that were my familiar. Slightly jaded about the social scene, Sam was nonetheless completely floored by the natural world she discovered in Santa Cruz, and was wide-eyed and wondrous every time she spotted something new through her binocs. Wildness, the out-of-doors, birds and snakes and butterflies where new to her as a young adult, and her curiosity helped me realize how fortunate I'd been to be raised around trees and wildlife. Likewise, while I helped her identify birds, she showed me how to be comfortable at a party. She was fearless around loved ones and strangers alike. She'd tell you if she thought your boyfriend was no-good, loved elephant seals and Star Wars, Count Basie and the Steaming Hunks of Hot Love Chuncks college band, in equal measure. She ate with gusto, cooked nonchalantly, and would share her lunch anytime I stopped by her apartment on my bike ride up to campus.  On Earth Day circa 1990, you'd likely find her sitting in the great meadow, a butterfly painted on her cheek, watching the crowd, laughing and generally taking it all in. 
Sam knew how to live, and her natural openness toward people and nature went unabated after college... so it was especially cruel when she was diagnosed with breast cancer when at age 39, and crueler still that after a brief period of remission, the disease would come back swiftly and decisively two years after her initial diagnosis. I was grateful I got to say goodbye to her and acknowledge all she meant to me before she died, but like all deaths of loved ones, processing what meaning is to be found is ongoing and episodic.
The fact that she died so young almost hits me harder now, when I realize that she, too, went in for mammograms, on schedule, that all failed to detect what would kill her even as she reported other symptoms to her doctors. My sadness is only amplified by the fact that Earth Day 2014 finds us in a world where the disconnect between cause and affect seems at as great a distance as it was 25 years ago. Yesterday, a woman wished me a 'Happy Earth Day' while holding a styrofoam cup. I was too stunned to say anything. Just like I didn't question my technician as she set me up for my mammogram, at once skeptical and grateful I had insurance to cover the prescribed test.
In reality, taking care of one's health, and focusing on the well-being of the environment is every day.  Life goes on, with or without us, so how to appreciate the moment, this earth, this body, right now?
Tickets can be purchased from the Albany Twin Theater box office (and online) for $10 ($8 for seniors and students) after April 15th.
There will be a screening in Albany next week: Transition Albany & Transition BerkeleyTuesday April 29, 7 pm ARISE Albany Twin Theater, 1115 Solano Avenue, Albany Tickets can be purchased from the Albany Twin Theater box office (and online) for $10 ($8 for seniors and students) after April 15th.Check out the trailer here:

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