What Makes Me Strong


This picture is often offered up to me by Facebook in the memories section.

Remember this?

Oh yes, yes I do.

He and I are sitting on the shore of the Baltic Sea in Humlebæk, Denmark. We passed white-washed, thatched-roofed houses with candles in the windows to get to that spot. It must have been our first trip to the alternative cancer clinic outside of Copenhagen because I’m not wearing socks. It was May, warm, light until midnight.

The second trip, the one where I pushed him in a wheelchair through the Boston airport, the Munich airport, the Copenhagen airport, was in autumn. It was cold and dark by 4pm. I wore boots then.

But on that first trip, when Jay and I believed completely in finding a cure for his cancer and willing to try anything, the Danish doctor told him to take a bit of time every day to enjoy life. So we biked to the Louisiana Art Museum, wandered through sculpture gardens with ancient trees and sweeping views of the Baltic Sea. Jean Arp, Max Ernst, Henry Moore around each perfectly manicured corner.

Someone told us to make things that were “full of life” so we biked to the art store in Kvistgaard, bought paint and paper to make fertile flower gardens and little pieces of colored beeswax for tiny bowls of oranges.

We made our way through wooded paths, over bridges narrow and bridges wide, ready for spontaneous rain showers with rolled-up jackets around our waists. We followed trails along the sea to Hamlet’s castle, an airplane museum, an organic farm where we ate apples from the large baskets. Jay talked to the farmers about his trinity approach to farming: sheep, chickens, hay.

We took the train to Isak Dinesen’s house in Rungsted, a boat across the sea to Sweden and though Jay never really had an appetite for food, we sat in cafes and just laughed because we loved being together. We consumed life, breathed it in, prismatic kisses on the rides at Tivoli. The Scandinavian sky of May was light until midnight, so clear, moon and sun over the Baltic Sea. I felt as though the whole world was inside me, as though I was not separate from anything.


Every Friday night, music was handed out to patients, staff and neighbors. About twenty of us sat around a long wooden table in the middle of the warm living room at the clinic. Coffee and cake with whipped cream was served. Someone played the piano and we all sang together in Danish.

Some days, Jay and I walked instead of biked. We found a faded grey entryway with chipped paint, looked through it, saw heart-shaped leaves on a tree planted where light hit the courtyard. We walked to the edge of the Baltic Sea and collected sticks. We watched scaffolding come down from a thatched house. We saw horseshoes over a blue gate, looked down a dark alley, watched a brick wall change from red to brown when the sun went behind the clouds, felt the rain begin. Sometimes I saw him clutch his stomach. I’d slip my hand into his and squeeze. We watched a stack of stones suspended on a piece of twine sway in the wind at someone’s door. I saw myself suspended in the warm air, afraid to move.

The photo from Denmark, and the memories it evokes, used to make me sad, but when I saw it flash up yesterday, I was comforted by it. The photograph reminds me that I fought for something, for someone, with everything I am, that I saw another person as myself and he saw me as himself. It’s no longer a symbol of what I have lost. It’s a symbol of what has made me strong. Love.

jay's heart


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