“You can’t skip chapters, that’s not how life works. You have to read every line, meet every character. You won’t enjoy all of it. Hell, some chapters will make you cry for weeks. You will read things you don’t want to read, you will have moments when you don’t want the pages to end. But you have to keep going. Stories keep the world revolving. Live yours, don’t miss out.”

Courtney Peppernell, “Pillow Thoughts II: Healing the Heart”

I was all packed and ready to go. As usual, I would take too much, but then I never really know how much I might need of something-or-other, so better to bring it along “just in case.” Which was going to mean taking two trips down to the underground garage in the morning, to my ten-year-old van that was poised to take its first long trip in two or three years. I would need the exercise anyway.

I had finished my shingles medication five days earlier and had been without pain ever since, mostly. I had the MapQuest directions printed out: each turn, highway number and mileage was circled in red. Half of the trip would be on familiar roads; the other half would be country roads that changed often (it seemed to me) and raised the specter of getting lost. (This fear is real. I have no geographical sense at all.) Never mind that I had a good GPS…it would want to take me north to the Twin Cities, and I don’t do the Twin Cities any more, at age 80. I need all the help I can get.

Besides, I love doing the country these days. It’s fall now, and the landscape is surely changing here and there. And I love farms. You don’t get that on a freeway.

I was excited to spend time with my “little sister” (8 years younger than I) and her husband at their lake place, 3-1/2 hours away. Now that I’m into writing memoir, I have so many questions to ask her about our years growing up together. I know that our memories will differ, but I am newly fascinated with how she saw life in our home as the last child who was only 13 when I married and moved far away.

We three sisters, in our younger adult years, would sit up until 2:00 in the morning when we were together at Christmas or at the lake, sharing memories. We were lucky to have wonderful parents and extended family. This visit was now going be a time to have some of that reminiscing that we elders find so natural. To tell the stories again.

I was, however, awakened in the middle of the night with returned shingles pain. I reluctantly took 2 ibuprofen and tried to get back to sleep. I now knew that I had not, in fact, escaped the Posthepatic Neuralgia (PHN) that can afflict shingles sufferers for 1-3 months after the shingles have gone away, and which can last the rest of their lives. This was not the chapter of my life that I had planned! It was one that I had feared.

I got two hours of sleep that night, so driving 3-1/2 hours was out of the question. I also didn’t know how the pain factor was going to play out in this as-yet-unfinished chapter. So I reluctantly postponed my visit until next week. I don’t know if it was fear or caution that led me to do that. But the decision was definite.

I had been ready to read those pages that I didn’t want to end. And I got the ones I didn’t want to read. This would have sent me into a fit of melancholy a year ago. But with the year that has gone by – with pandemic, cancer and shingles – this is but a moment. I’ll learn how to manage my PHN, if that’s what it is, and make this trip soon. I will “keep going.” I do not want to “miss out.”

Who knows? Maybe the delay will bring me there to the Northern waters and sunsets, the family and memories and laughter and good food, at just the right time. Life has a way of doing that…meeting our delayed dreams with a different opportunity than we might have expected.

Sometimes a chapter of waiting becomes the crucible for some gift that is yet to come. And becomes its own story. It’s what we sometimes call “grace.”

And I’m okay with that.