Be Not Afraid

When You’re Sick and Tired and Need Beauty the Most

One of my favorite memories from when I was pregnant with John Paul is from just days after I’d discovered I was carrying our baby.  Mike and I were in Canada, visiting the hometown of a friend, and it was nighttime.  While everyone relaxed and chatted inside, we snuck outside to see the Canadian night sky our friend had told us so much about.  It was breathtaking.  Though the sky was black-the darkest I’d ever seen, with no intruding city lights to taint it-it also burst with light.  Everywhere you looked, there were stars.  The contrast was incredible.

The breathtaking sky that night spurred Mike and I to make the most of star-gazing outside our Colorado home that summer.  Night after night we’d step outside and stare up at the sky, taking in the wonder of it all.  Being summertime in Colorado, the conditions were perfect-it was always clear and cool.  We didn’t have any children to care for, and neither of us were working (Mike had finished his clerkship and was studying for  the bar), so there was nothing to keep us from staying up late and talking, all the while getting lost in the nighttime beauty.  In those days, it was easy to take the time to appreciate the wonder of this incredible world we live in, to marvel at how small we are in comparison to everything around us, and to truly understand how much more amazing that makes our very existence, our very ability to love.

Fast forward to this week, almost two years later.  On Sunday, John Paul started coughing like crazy and quickly earned a new nickname, “Little Snot Nose.”  By Monday, either because my immune system is still a bit down, or because John Paul likes stick his fingers into my mouth, I had caught the bug, and badly.  Needless to say, the week didn’t start well, and it only continued to get worse.

Early Monday morning, John Paul and I took a trip to the doctor for his 12 month check-up (he’s doing great!)  Though John Paul screamed bloody murder when the nurse injected two immunizations in his arm, the real highlight came when I had to hold his writhing body close to mine as he struggled to escape the lab technician poking his tiny finger and squeezing out a vial’s worth of blood.  The mix of such trauma and his sickness caused John Paul to be adorably clingy the rest of the day, and while I enjoyed snuggling with my sweet boy, he also cried most of the day, which was emotionally exhausting.  Between blowing my nose and wiping his (which caused him to scream every time, as if I were wiping his nose with sandpaper and not a soft “Puffs” tissue), we went through two boxes of kleenex before Tuesday even rolled around.  Worst of all, I could barely get John Paul to eat anything, and though I rationally realize that two days of lighter eating won’t hurt him, it’s hard as a mother to watch your poor baby push away everything you offer him, especially things he usually loves.

Sick Toddler

To make matters worse, after making rhubarb-apple jam earlier that morning, I accidentally left a piece of rhubarb on the counter, which turned our small ant problem in the kitchen into a full-blown there-are-now-fifty-ants-on-the-counter-and-in-the-sink-help! infestation. And though I desperately needed a nice, steamy shower to help me breathe through the double whammy of the cold I’d caught and my normal allergies (why I decided to vacuum and dust the entire house all day Tuesday is beyond me), it wasn’t until 8:30 on Tuesday night that I was able (and had enough energy) to take one.  Finally, upon checking my PMBCL Facebook group (a wonderful group of men and women with my rare kind of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), I found out that a friend who relapsed after completing DA-EPOCH-R chemotherapy (the same chemo I did which usually has a very high success rate) had just received news that the second, salvage chemo she’s doing may not be working, and they may now need to proceed to a stem-cell transplant.  There are many people who do these very successfully, of course, but it’s frustrating to think of her going through so much and having to spend so much time away from her son (as she’s been doing chemo in the hospital).  Her news was like a punch in the gut, and I cried, for my friend, for myself, and for everyone who fights this terrible disease called cancer.

Needless to say, it’s been a week filled with sneezing, ants, kleenex, tears, and soup (side note: if you haven’t tried Irish Leek Oatmeal Soup-I make my version made with shredded chicken-you need to, immediately, especially if you’re nursing a cold!)  All this activity left little time for leisure activities such as star-gazing, and made the life Mike and I lived in Colorado seem like a very distant, dim, dream.

So last night, with star-filled skies of the past on my mind, I went out to our porch, sat in the rocking chair, and looked up.  There was a bone-chilling breeze, and city lights and clouds tainted the dark blue of the sky, so much so that I almost got right back up to go inside.  I could barely make out more than four or five stars, and the risk of making my cold worse hardly seemed worth the trouble.  But something made me stick it out for just a few minutes longer.  And thank goodness I did.  For, though I had to strain my eyes a bit harder and wait a little bit longer than when we lived in Colorado two years ago, over time, the clouds moved away, my eyes adjusted to the darkness, and I was able to make out hundreds of stars hiding in the night sky.  Once again, my breath was taken away, and I found myself lost in the beauty and wonder of the darkness lit up by millions of tiny bursts of light.  Moments later Mike joined me, and we sat near one another, not talking, just gazing.  And you can bet we’ll be back out there every night this week.  For, isn’t it when we have to work a little harder to find it that we truly need to gaze upon beauty the most?



Another thing that helps on those hard, they-just-won’t-end-and-you-can’t-catch-a-break days?  Looking back on beautiful days, like John Paul’s first birthday party!  Here’s a little sunshine for you:

Baby's First Birthday

John Paul and his birthday twin, Uncle Pete!

Birthday Boys

The party hats weren’t the biggest hit with the little boys…

but, John Paul loved stuffing his birthday muffin in his mouth all at once!  Yum!

Thank you to all the McGinleys for a wonderful first-birthday party!  We love you!


  1. Sherry Willems

    I am so sorry you both have been so sick with a cold, but I’m happy to know that you were able to find some time for star gazing!!!! It is something I always loved doing as a child in summer when I lived in Pennsylvania. My girlfriends and I would lie on the third floor roof of our homes, where it was very, very dark. There were millions of stars to view, and we dreamed of going to one of them someday!!! We competed to see who would be the first to spot Sputnik glide across the sky. I was so excited by that I wrote to NASA to ask them if I could be an astronaut—–they wrote back and told me I had to wait until I graduated from college, since I wasn’t yet educated enough to navigate a spaceship. Somehow before finishing grade school, my aspirations changed to other professions.

    The photos from the birthday party are adorable—-wish so much Dad and I could have been there. Love you—-get well soon. Mom

  2. sylvia krause

    Dear Ali,
    Loved your post. We baby sit for our daughter Sophia and every night that she leaves we look at the stars. There is something special about looking at the stars.
    Sylvia Krause
    Tennis friend of your mother

  3. Carolyn Heffner

    So beautiful. You should write a book. I’m so happy that you and family are doing so well. Your Mom’s friend, Carolyn from PA

  4. Carol Somers

    I enjoyed reading your post as you are a wonderful writer. The stars where I am are so big and bright. It makes them seem unblievable close. I’ve been time gazing at them as well and enjoying the peace it can bring.

    So glad you are recovering from that nasty cold. Take care.

    Carol Somers
    Tennis friend of your Mother’s.

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