Even Los Angeles has its share of perfect days. I really hadn't noticed, I was too busy rushing to a meeting, or back from a meeting. Or some-such. But, the administration building had a large patio, with a panoramic view of the world beyond work. Fluffy white clouds, lush green trees, flowers in bloom, and a crisp blue sky. I almost walked past my colleague Isabella--in fact, I did stride past her. But then I noticed that she was standing still, quiet, feeling the breeze.
I turned back, a greeting on my lips, which, to not break the silence, turned into a smile. Isabella must have seen me standing behind her, a few feet away, but her eyes kept dancing across the canvas before her. Before us. Her gaze scanned every corner, the shape and contour of the clouds, the folds of the green leaves and brown branches, the arcs of the soaring birds; her eyes a camera, taking mental photo after mental photo of the scenes that I, blessed to be healthy, had the good fortune to be able to race by.
The minutes ticked by silently, though they were only seconds, and then, with a swallowed sigh, Isabella turned to me, eyes twinkling, and used my words to say "hello". I only said "hello" as well--"how are you?" would have felt too forward. Remission had eluded her, and she would update me if she wished. A faint blush on her pale cheeks, that neither of us wanted to acknowledge, revealed unneeded embarrassment that she had been caught appreciating a precious moment, etching the Earth on her soul. I did not dare ask how it must have felt that the world I took for granted, the world that I ignored, was slipping from her grasp. I had a meeting to get to, and, like most of us, I did not want to know.
Almost two decades later, I think of Isabella now and then. A rare light rain last week had washed away the smog and grime that typically blanketed the San Fernando Valley, and, as I inched forward in the freeway traffic behind a phalanx of dust-streaked cars, I looked up at an unusually bright blue sky. The cottony cumulus clouds were a surprise, a contrast to the contrail streaks that paint the ever-hazy skies. Somewhere beyond that inviting aqua atmosphere rested many more colleagues, friends, and family members than I had imagined I would lose twenty years ago, Isabella among them. But, for once, my own eyes didn't bore through the mist to the heavens. Instead, I found my gaze darting from cloud to cloud; to birds, to trees, to leaves, to everything; gulping it in, clutching every brilliant picture; painting mental memories that I had just realized--just felt--in my soul, would be ephemeral for me, too. And I remembered Isabella. I had truly felt sorry for Isabella that day years ago, heroically facing the end of her life at a too-young age from a cruel disease. Today, I am also sorry that I had been too young to understand her journey.
We all know that our time on this beautiful Earth is limited. We tuck away that knowledge so that we can live our daily lives, and rush to "take the meetings" we need to survive and function. But there will come a day for many of us when the knowledge that we will have to say good-bye will bubble up into our hearts. And, perhaps for a few moments, we too will be still, taking mental photos and feeling the breeze. Hoping that we can remember this Earth when we, sooner or later, journey to the world beyond. I am grateful to Isabella for letting me share her moment twenty years ago--so that I have the chance before it's too late to build my own album of memories and gratitude for the journey I too will face someday.