The carpet sea of lava

The carpet sea of lava
Forum Communications

I wonder if they’ll remember this, when their dad was a jungle gym and they were so small and wild, hanging off his arms like monkey bars, standing on the tops of his bent legs and leaping off into a carpet sea of lava without fear.

In the movies, they would slow this part down, the part where I sat on the floor of our bedroom in my pajamas, watching my young family roughhouse and play.

In the movie, they would play a suggestive song and hone in on my children’s big, wide-open laughs, pieces of their blond hair loose from pigtails and floating in the sunbeam from the crack in the curtains, his strong hands tossing them safely while they squeal. And my smile, too. You would see it, grateful but apprehensive about the turn our story’s taken.

And anxious to get back to complaining about the constant state of stickiness on our countertops the way people do when things are going along just fine enough that you get to be genuinely annoyed by crumbs and laundry and the light fixture that flickers and muddy little boots tracking in on floors that never stay clean, instead of so damn grateful for it all.

But this isn’t a movie — we can’t slow any of it down. And my soundtrack is the voices in my head going down rabbit holes and back again, panicking and then reassuring myself the way I’ve done when faced with tough news about the delicate health of my family members. I know how to find faith there, to center myself. But I’m not sure how to be the one who needs prayers.

For six months, I’ve been having a hard time getting my breath. Was it a cold I couldn’t shake. Asthma? Stress? Was it the reason for the headaches I couldn’t tame with Advil or a nap?

Last week, I found out why. A tumor blocking 90% of my tracheal and bronchial tract. A slow-moving cancer that has likely been growing in my body and spreading to my airway for years, just waiting to make its presence known when it became life-threatening enough to send us rushing to Rochester, Minn., to meet with the experts at one of the best hospitals in the country.

And so that’s what we did. We wrung our hands and clenched our teeth and took deep breaths and called our family and met with the experts and got a plan. And then my husband and I, we sat for three days in a hotel room waiting for the next step, unable to go anywhere to distract ourselves in a world that is all but entirely shut down.

So he laid down and I laid on his chest and we pretended we were on vacation and it was raining. We ordered in food and watched terrible television and woke up early on Monday morning and headed to Mayo Clinic where I hugged him goodbye, the doctors removed the tumor from my airway and I woke up to deep breaths again. Feeling good. Feeling just fine. Headed home.


That part is over. The next step is going to be rougher, a surgery that we’ll learn more about in a few days, one that will have me in the hospital and away from my sticky counters and muddy floors for a while.

In my life as a writer, lessons seem to find me where I stand. Yesterday, my little sister wondered out loud why we need to keep being reminded, in these dramatic ways, to be grateful.

Is there something more I need to learn here? I don’t know yet. Do these things happen for a reason? Maybe.

But maybe they just happen and it’s up to us to do with them what we will. And there have been some divine interventions that have taken me out of the path of disaster on this journey so far, so I’m just going to work on the brave part.

I know I can be brave.

And I know I can be angry as well as grateful. Terrified and hopeful. Panicked and at peace. In my life, I’ve been all of those things at once already. I’ve had some good practice. But until now, I didn’t know the fear of not being able to be there for my children.

There’s no other option than the option of being OK, so I’m going to be OK.

Yes, in the movies, they would slow this all down, so maybe I can, a little bit, to be like my children — impervious to the worries of the world, dangling from jungle gym arms, too wild and held by too much love to fear the carpet sea of lava.


29 thoughts on “The carpet sea of lava

  1. So sorry you have to go through this. May God be with you on this journey and give you strength and peace. Prayers

  2. Jessie, you are in my thoughts and prayers, you and your beautiful family. You will get through this, we are all pulling for you. Sending you strength, friend whom I have never met. You have many more songs to write.

    I am a cancer survivor, it is going on 10 years now.

    • you’ll be fine ! Courage ! In this country ,we have the best docs. The best technology.
      In 2013 ,my hubby was diagnosed “stage 4 ,lung cancer, and 6 months….
      And there we are 2020 .. alive and kicking . I know ,cancer sucks 😦
      Courage , good vibes 4 Md
      Blessings ,xox.j.

  3. You go prairie girl! Time to kick some tail! Grateful for the quick fix…here with prayer for the long haul!!

  4. Fierce woman! Please know that the Piehl Fam is sending all kinds of love and care and strength your way Jessie.

  5. I’m speechless. A rarity, I know. You and your family will be in my prayers. Chin up, eyes forward. You will find your way through this, I’m sure.

  6. Go back with our best wishes and prayers.

    I had my round of cancer when the Grand Children were small, but it was still a little scary.

    The first time I heard you sing was at the New Rockford Threshing Show. Your Dad said you were 13. It was a memorable day for me. I sat on the cottonwood logs for two hours taking to a man who had my mother for a teacher in Sykeston and remembered my Dad and community picnics at Hawks Rest. Then you sang with your Dad!!

    Have a great day and many, many more!

    JWC John Craft Spiritwood

    Sent from my iPhone


  7. Jesse – I am sending my love and prayers to you and your family as you walk through this rough place. I know that we serve a God who heals and that is what I will be praying for. I won’t just pray once – I will continue to pray for you daily.
    I read your column and enjoy it ~ it will be waiting for you when you are better!!

  8. Sending prayers your way. Although I don’t know you personally, I feel I’ve come to know you and your family through your columns. Best of luck to you on your journey from one cancer survivor to another.

  9. So sorry to read of your health scare. I’ve admired you from Minnesota and read your columns in the Fargo Forum. Please know I will keep you in my prayers as that’s all I can do and hope you are soon resuming your busy life.

  10. Sending prayers from a ND gal now living in WA state. I love reading your blog, posts, and pictures of your precious family. You will do fine with all the prayers going your way plus the fantastic team at Mayo!

  11. Jessie, I’m sorry you are going through that horrible experience. You’ve probably read that a person’s attitude can make a big difference in recovery. I don’t know you personally, but the spirit of your blog posts is sure very joyful. So I hope you keep being yourself. That is a tremendous gift to yourself, like you’ve been to so many other people. You’re at the best Clinic in the world.

  12. Jessie, from the first time I read your article
    I’m the tribune I was an admirer. I worked at a nursing home and would read your story aloud on Sunday mornings to a group of thoughtful residents. Rarely was I able to get through an entire piece without choking up. I send good thoughts to you and your tribe. You’ve got lots of livin to do and stories to share.

  13. You have touched so many with your songs and your stories of ranch life, family life, of loved ones who have passed, of those still with you, and your hopes for the future. I pray for your health and your family, for God’s extra attention and healing, and that this will become another story in a long lifetime of stories. Wishing I could do more. God bless.

  14. Thanks for sharing this news. Very disturbing, but glad you are getting help. Will be praying for you and your precious family!

  15. I’m a follower of your column & am saddened to hear of your diagnosis, please know that you, your family & medical team are in my prayers. You have a beautiful soul…

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