CANCER, CORONAVIRUS, AND LOSS OF MY THIRD PLACE
The lonely 26 mile stretch of the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway (State Route 821), is one of the most beautiful drives in Washington state. Constructed in 1924, this road hugs the Yakima River and cuts across Umtanum Ridge - a glorious expanse of nothing but high desert and steep rolling hills.
The challenging elevation gains, dramatic vistas, and tranquility of the area makes it one of my favorite places to hike. Under the current state of the world, this is also a perfect place to quarantine. And so, here I am.
In the past, this has been my escape and respite from everyday life, but this time it feels different and it’s taken some time to figure out what’s been troubling my heart.
There’s a loneliness one feels when diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. I have a support group of friends who’ve survived the Big “C”; yet, every cancer and treatment is different. If the cancer is rare, there’s less research on it and less of a support group that understands my exact experiences.
A global pandemic doesn’t make things easier. Now we’re forced to physically distance ourselves from our loved ones and friends for the sake of all humanity. That in itself, is a heavy burden for all to bear.
Still, something else was amiss. I have a wonderful partner and after a couple of surgeries, I've healed well and gaining strength. As I worked to understand my feelings, a friend suggested the loneliness I was experiencing was further exacerbated by loss of my third place.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
The third place concept was introduced by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. In his book The Great Good Place, Oldenburg suggests that a healthy existence for all individuals relies heavily upon a balance of home (first place), work (second place), and social space (third place). The last is the most crucial of the three in that third places are not only the heart of a community’s social vitality, but a place for connection and bonding. In essence, the third place is an anchor to the community.
Think of the places where you have a true social connection. A welcoming place that you visit regularly and is neutral ground. Everyone is on the same social plane and status. For me, my third places revolved around food, so naturally, restaurants were my third place.
Seattle. My Dream. My Home
It all started in 1999 when I visited Seattle for the very first time. I came to see friends and was excited to see the sights of the city that I relished in pictures for so many years. I remember the moment I got off the plane and smelled the fresh, crisp air. The view was spectacular. Evergreens. Mount Rainier. The Salish Sea. Wow!
Seattle was unlike Houston and Dallas, TX. Relatively small and gritty, Seattle was a different state of mind and it was my kind of place. I knew right then and there that someday Seattle would be my home. The passion coursed through my veins.
I was used to traveling alone and had no fears eating out by myself and reading a book. I found that sitting at the bar was the best place to meet the most interesting people, by far. As the years passed and as I changed professions, a small cluster of restaurants and bars were my home away from home. The people who eventually became my good friends - employees and patrons alike - were also my psychological support. Having no family here in the PNW, they were my family.
Fast forward to today and Seattle is no longer recognizable to me. Having established myself as a Tour Guide and Concierge, I felt very rooted in this city, but well before coronavirus, the city began to change. The cruise industry, tech giants, massive hotels, and more have made an impact on Seattle. As a person involved in tourism, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but like any other city experiencing rapid growth, it came at a cost.
The demise of historic buildings and highways, rent increase, homelessness, and the closing of popular small businesses were victims of progress. Beyond the physical aspect, the demographic, attitude and culture changed as well. People are working longer hours and more days of the week. Many companies provide gyms and food options in their work spaces, even adult beverages in some cases. Social media has supplanted real-life interactions. The introduction of food delivery services has killed the desire to go out. Inadvertently, our social environment and ability to socialize has shifted.
And now coronavirus.
The Coronavirus pandemic is one of the most, if not the most surreal thing I’ve ever lived through in my lifetime - and did I mention I have a rare cancer?
Much of our nation has shut down, schools are closed, kids are freaking out and so are the adults. The shock is being felt world-wide. What the hell is happening??
To make things worse, there’s more racism, classicism, impatience, hoarding, refusing to abide by the government guidelines, and more. We pride ourselves in being a strongly individualistic society, but we can’t stand social distancing.
I've thought a lot about this pandemic and I believe it's our own fault this happened.
We've lost touch with Mother Earth, we've disrespected the environment, and insisted on having everything we want no matter what it takes. We don’t take care of our people, communities, or animals. We are concerned only with ourselves and we’ve forgotten the lessons from our ancestors.
The closing of my beloved third places is heartbreaking because of the people I’ve lost. Already I've seen a few of my friends from those third places move away. When our city comes back to life, it won’t be the same. It won’t be the same anywhere.
Mi familia. Mi comunidad. Gone.
What pisses me off even more is that coronavirus was/is controllable, my cancer was not.
“Good is slow because it goes uphill. Evil is fast because it goes downhill.” –Alexandre Dumas
To Live Slowly
Breathing and pacing yourself is essential in heart-pounding climbs, but I made it a point to stop more often to breathe deeper and longer. I observed the colors of my surroundings more intently. I listened to the voice of the Canyon Spirit in the wind and rushing waters of the Yakima River.
I stood still.
These last few days hiking the lonely hills of Umtanum Ridge, I've allowed myself to cry. The world is a mess, I have cancer, and I miss my loved ones.
The sadness is palpable.
Truthfully, cancer is enough of a reason to live slowly but what the hell, thanks coronavirus for adding fuel to the fire.
Living slowly for me means just that - a chance to pull back. I want to choose love over impatience, grace over judgment, being instead of doing, and even feeling the pain of those thigh burning hikes every curse-filled-step-of-the-way. When this is said and done, I don't want to go back to my old self. Do you?
I don’t know what my cancer will bring, nor coronavirus, nor the loss of my third places, but for now I will allow myself to feel this new reality. And yes, it hurts.