Thirty years ago today I wrote a poem. I don’t have a strong recollection of writing this poem, although I do remember clearly the day I wrote it. It was January 2nd, 1984 and I spent a wonderful day with my now deceased grandparents, a special uncle (also now passed away) and aunty and my cousins on a picnic outing to Okains Bay near Christchurch, New Zealand. It was a fun day on the beach and somewhere I have photos of my cousins and I looking sun-kissed and wind-blown and full of life. This particular day is etched in my memory, as it was exactly four years since my amputation for osteosarcoma, a highly malignant form of bone cancer, which was followed by 18 months of high-dose chemotherapy. I remember being on this beach in New Zealand, now at the age of 19, feeling so grateful and amazed at my good health and the path my life had taken. I had obviously gone home to my grandparents’ house from this outing and in bed that night penned a poem on a scribble pad. However, I could not think of a way to finish it and in the end, gave up and went to sleep. The poem was quickly forgotten about in the days ahead as the excitement and busy-ness of my summer holiday in New Zealand took over; I have fantastic memories of staying with family, touring around down south in a caravan with my grandparents and staying in cabins in the Marlborough Sounds with all the relatives from my father’s side of the family. I had just completed my first year of university and this 8-week trip to New Zealand was such a perfect way to spend a summer, with memories that will last a lifetime.
The unfinished poem would have been forgotten about forever, except that on December 4th just passed, I received a package from an aunty in New Zealand. It was the day after emergency surgery to try to clear the infection that had taken hold in my chest cavity 10 days post-mastectomy. This was my 4th round of surgery for the year for the treatment of breast cancer, and this time I felt like I’d been through a mincer. I was in a lot of pain and discomfort, and my body weak from fighting such a massive infection. The parcel from my aunt was post-marked 20th November but did not arrive until this day, the 4th December. Isn’t it amazing how we always get what we need at exactly the right time that we need it! Inside the parcel was a get-well card, a book of short-stories and a photocopy of a page from my grandmother’s diary. My dear grandmother passed away three years ago this January. Back in November my two aunties in New Zealand were going through some of her things when they came across a page in Nana’s diary. The entry in her diary for New Year 1984, 2nd Jan, started with “These lines were found in a “scribble pad” beside Ngaire’s bed written after a day’s picnic outing to Okains Bay with Smith family & George & me…..”. It went on to say, “These lines were thoughts Ngaire had – & were not shown to anyone as she hadn’t completed the writing. I feel they are so beautiful they should not be hidden”. It was signed M. Cox and then my unfinished poem was transcribed below. Following my return to Australia back in 1984 my grandmother had found the scribble pad with my unfinished poem and tucked it away for safekeeping.
I had to wait until I was alone, late into the evening in my hospital bed before I would allow myself to read this page from Nana’s diary. Tears poured down my face as I read the poem, penned 30 years ago today, and gained solace and strength from my own words. It was the most surreal feeling knowing I had written the poem all those years ago, had it hidden away by my grandmother and then unexpectedly found by my aunties, who then sent it to me to arrive on exactly the day that I needed it, nearly 30 years later. One day I might share the whole poem with others, but for now, suffice to say, the poem talks about the strength God had given me to cope with suffering and pain, and how God had shown me things for which I’d never asked. Here was my 19-year-old self, providing hope, assurance and strength to my 49-year-old self, who was tired, sore and broken. His ways are truly remarkable. Try as I might though, I still can’t finish the poem. I agonised for days to come up with a final line, but now I’ve realised it is not meant to be finished. In a way, our lives are all unfinished poetry, and I think that is as it should be.
So here I am today, 2nd January 2014, 34 years since my life changed completely. Except now I’ve had cancer again, with more surgery and chemotherapy and life has changed again. However, I’m well on the road to recovery and healing. The younger me has assured the older me that God is in charge, that His love is all-sufficient for whatever lies ahead, and that exciting and unexpected good things are in store. I had a wonderful day today on summer vacation with my husband and three boys. We ate delicious food at a health food café for lunch, visited a beautiful surf beach, sat by a quiet river, had drinks and chips at an outdoor café before playing at a foreshore playground, had a fantastic pub meal and played pool afterwards with the juke box playing and then witnessed a most magnificent, breathtaking sunset. Life is so very good. All we have is the now, this very moment, and it is so important to be mindful of this and appreciate the present, and rest assured that the future will take care of itself. As we watched the amazing sunset tonight across the rocks and waves, it stuck me that the words of the first stanza of my poem are just as true today as they were those 30 years ago.
“Oh Lord, I look with awe upon the beauty of this land,
I’m once again reminded of the working of your hand.
Four years ago you took my life, reshaped it all anew,
And once again I’m thankful for this gift of life from you.”