I am feeling a great sense of gratitude, and wanted to write this letter not only to send Christmas wishes, but to thank the Harbor Light Newspaper and many of the local shopkeepers for adding to the real meaning of the holidays for myself and my good friend. Although I was not lucky enough to return for a fall visit as I had planned when I wrote to this paper about 6 months ago, somehow the essence of that trip was able to come to my friend.
I wrote in July to tell you about a visit I made to Harbor Springs with my very special college friend that I will call Ellen. She does not know that I have shared our previous trip with you, but I will tell her when it is appropriate. I'd like to share a short update on her progress and an explanation about some special things that have happened since I last wrote.
Ellen made the decision to fight the return of cancer, even after completing treatments beginning 4 years ago. It was not an easy decision, primarily because she does not want her fight to be a concern to others and because it is not easy to have the same optimism when cancer makes a return visit. Those of us who love and want to keep her in our lives of course felt differently, but since she was the one suffering even more medical intervention and a decline in the quality of her life, it had to be her choice. Since July she has started those treatments, and I have been able to be with her for part of that time. I live out of state, but even with my limited visits, I have a much better appreciation for what she endures. I won't go into detail, but I am so glad that her medical team embraces the hope and optimism for the positive outcome that she richly deserves. She is a candidate for a very rigorous clinical trial, and she is working hard to meet the criteria for acceptance.
That leads me to extend a special thanks to the Harbor Springs "connection". At the time of our visit in June, Ellen's decision to continue to fight came in part from a desire to make a return visit this fall to your lovely city. When my original letter was first published, some of our college friends recognized my name and/or deduced the identity of Ellen, and she and I were contacted by a few long-lost friends from all parts of the state. Luckily, she just assumed it was coincidence, and the reason for their contact remains a well-kept secret.
When it became apparent that we could not travel north this fall, several friends made the trip and documented their travels for her. I'd liken it to an adult version of the flat Stanley activity that many children do in elementary school, with lots of images in the city, at the waterfront, on the tunnel of trees drive, and at many other landmarks. The fall images were breathtaking and several photos were enlarged and are now hanging on the wall of the room where she spends much of her time.
While in Harbor, the friends picked up a variety of local "souvenirs" that have special meaning to her. As the friends asked local merchants for suggestions, they responded not only with wonderful ideas, but also with interest and sincere compassion. She wears the soft fleece hat from the Outfitters daily, and it brings her much warmth and comfort. There is a small glass pumpkin from the glass works that catches the afternoon light perfectly and casts a warm glow over most of the room. There is a shadow box with leaves, and fall fronds with some beach sand that also holds a photo of the friends that collected them. Her favorite store on the last visit carried many beautiful home décor items, and she now has a silver frame from them that holds a photo of the view of the harbor from the bluff drive. It captures a breathtaking sunset with just the right amount of orange glow over dusky waves. The materialistic value of these gifts is not what makes them important to us. Knowing that there were people from Harbor Springs that cared enough to make this missed trip as real as possible for her is the most gratifying for me, because I see that it adds to her resolve. I know that these items bring Ellen comfort from the daily reminder that there are people who love her and tangible memories of a place that brings her peace.
So, pardon my rambling thoughts here, but I am filled with such thankfulness to acknowledge that it is these simple acts of kindness that can literally change the outcome in the life of someone else. I truly believe I will someday come back to visit your very special city. In my mind's eye right now I envision a lovely main street with Christmas lights and people stopping by those wonderful shops that helped brighten Ellen's spirit. I don't think Currier and Ives could have rendered it better than I imagine it to look. Thank you again for helping to bring the real spirit of Christmas to me and also my friend this holiday.
I've included a few more snapshots taken in late summer of 1966. I found them recently when a group of Ellen's friends converged with me to create some scrapbooks of noteworthy moments of her life. They were in her collection of photos from the mission trip to Harbor Springs made by her church youth group. I think you might recognize some of the Harbor residents, (Reverend Drew) and perhaps some of the seniors in the residence home where they assisted. The last is a group shot of her youth group at the Presbyterian Church, and yes, Ellen is in that photo.