One reward of living in the same area for more than 30 years is that you get to brush feathers with a full quiver of characters. Juliana is one. She and I became friends when our lives intertwined through a series of seemingly unfortunate circumstances.
For eight years, Juliana thrived on life in the exotic lane. She traveled to distant lands, India mostly, learning new cultures and discovering the varied dialects within one supersized country, all in the line of duty. Now, she and Zowie, her diminutive but stouthearted tortoiseshell cat, share a home in Shady Cove. Several others and I were pleased to help support Jules' work financially, but I rarely made contact.
Her work is with a Bible translating group whose goal is to see that everyone has access to the Bible in their own language. A daunting task, but one Juliana felt equipped to help tackle until the day she discovered that some disturbing symptoms came with a familiar name — multiple sclerosis.
She was 39 years young — the prime of life, most would say. Juliana might have considered her mission work complete, filed for disability and sat down to wait for an advancing disease, but she traveled as long as physically possible until June of 2010 when an infection laid her low.
A band of friends came to help with the necessities of living. I delivered groceries until I came to know her as a woman rather than just a name on a charity receipt. And little Zo-Zo, her staunch ally, accepted me as a regular distributor of kitty treats. We all assumed the commitment might be for a couple weeks. But months elapsed, and even with the infection gone, it soon became apparent that Juliana would no longer drive. At this point, she could have caved in to self-pity and waved a white flag, but surrender to the disease didn't appear to be part of her makeup, and "active duty" translated into a walker and a laptop, with the world at her fingertips instead of under foot.
There are reminders of earlier days. In her closet lies a sari carefully folded — turquoise blue and fuchsia with gold paisley embellishment — a bright reminder. From a photo on the wall, an Indian woman smiles and balances four water pots on her head.
When asked whether looking at the sari made her sad, Jules answered, "A little wistful. It reminds me of when I first started."
Instead of wrapping herself in a sari, Juliana's friends come to wrap her swollen legs, a result of high-powered drugs and prolonged sitting. But with prayer, pain killers and determination, she fights the good fight.
She mounts a resistance using a healthful diet with organic smoothies to help slow her adversary. And when she swims, she's free as a fish. Jules takes her exercise seriously, concentrating on perfecting her stroke and body alignment, and covering 60 laps in an hour.
Instead of Jules throwing in the towel, others work around her schedule. She has Cascade Pool board meetings and children who expect her in Awana class at church. She listens and answers their curious questions. She moves among them with the walker and a smile, a legitimate example of faith and courage.
She is human. She feels pain and chafes at the limitations, but sees MS as a temporary enemy, one that can ravage only her physicality, not her spirit.
Juliana says, "The people I admire most are those who never stop. When I get to the end of my life, I want to be all used up. I don't want to hoard anything."
To shuttle my desires aside for someone else may take surprising effort. A rut of narrow focus awaits me when I rise. But sometimes I break out of my furrow and look around. Sometimes watching others, I see that it's not only possible, but desirable.
Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.