PARKINSON'S CAN'T DESTROY OUR LOVE - reflections #1

“I told him that this (Parkinson’s) wasn’t part of the contract and that he could leave if he wanted to,” - Sandra.  

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It is 05:00. It is dark. Eyes closed, I lay silent. I listen. I listen to the wind. I listen to the waves striking the sandy, pebble-strewn Kanali beach.  At the beginning of my journey sound meant little. Now, it is a major source of information. It tells me how my day is going to be. Rubbing my eyes, I open the tent flap to gaze across the Ionian Sea. It’s calm.  It’s a window. The weather app warns of an approaching storm. I must complete 35 km to Lefkada before noon.

The first stroke is firm. I am confident as I head towards Mytikas. I feel experienced after six months of paddling. I breathe in and say a short thank you. I say thank you every day. I don’t know why, I just do it.

FISHERMEN 

The sun hasn’t risen, but the fishermen have. I see the bobbing lights of several fishing vessels. From a safe distance of 200 to 300 meters, they follow the coastline like an ocean-going caravan. Sun rays ricochet against the water. Small ripples form.

For 45 minutes, I paddle between the fishermen and the shore. I see them. Maybe they see me, maybe they don’t. I approach Akra Mytikas, the point. I need to get around that point.  It’s choppy. The wind is stronger and small ripples are now waves. I brace myself for a tough slog to Lefkada.

I reach the outer point, swing the kayak 45 degrees left, paddle 100 meters and meet silence. The wind is gone. The ocean is calm. I think, wow, what a difference seven kilometers make, what a difference getting around the point makes. Crazy.

Only ten meters from land, I watch house after house appear and disappear. Dogs bark and the scent of burning wood hits my nostrils. It’s true. Due to tough economic times and a tripling in the cost of heating oil, Greeks are burning more wood.  I remember reading that wintertime particle pollution had increased by around 30% in Thessaloniki. I am west, Thessaloniki is north. I keep a steady course towards Preveza.

ROD STEWART: TONIGHTS THE NIGHT 

Two parallel runways in the distance remind me of the black racing strips on the hood, roof and trunk of my 1976 Camaro. The car is history, but this journey is very real. The Aktion International Airport is vacant, very vacant; So vacant that I start to think about my Camaro. The eight-ball stick shift, the leather bucket seats and the time a group of girls drove it for an hour without releasing the emergency brake. I hum Rod Stewart’s, Tonight’s the Night, and smile as I remember some good memories.

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The outline of Lefkada’s Stavrota Mountains is ahead of me.  I can’t see the lower mountains as they spread out from the higher peaks, falling towards the sea, forming plateaus and valleys of different heights. I just see peaks.

Ahead of me are some of the most photographed places in Greece: Porto Katsiki, Kathisma and Egremni. I want to get there.

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Though the wind is picking up and still 13 km between me and Lefkada, I choose a straight line across a bay which shelters the village of Nikolaos.

To my right, whitecaps are forming. What is happening behind me or to the left is irrelevant. Forward is reality. I really, really don’t want to get caught in the middle of the storm. Sensing the approaching storm, I dig into the sea. The power of toned arms and stomach muscles, moves the kayak forward. I paddle hard for 30 minutes and see a distant fishing boat disappear behind a grayish sea wall. It’s there I want to be. There, the waters are calmer. There, I am safe. There is the entrance to the The Lefkada Canal.

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The Lefkada Canal runs for around 3.5 miles through the low-lying land at the NE end of the island and divides it from the Greek mainland. I duck my head as I paddle under the drawbridge. Six sail boats meet me. They are waiting to exit north and as I glance southwards, I silently wish them good luck.

They don’t see the fast approaching, massive formation of dark, deep purple clouds. I do and paddle even harder. Fifteen minutes later, as I enter the Lefkada Marina, the wind is howling, and white caps are everywhere.  I don’t care. I made it. I am safe. I pull my kayak onto the pier, stretch my arms toward the sky and watch six northbound sailboats douse their sails.

HEY MATE WHERE YOU COMING FROM 

“Hey mate, where you coming from,” he says. In the middle of taking off my windbreaker, I can’t see him.  My head is stuck. It’s dark. He continues, “Looks like you need a cuppa.”  What’s a cuppa, I immediately ask myself.

Finally through, I look up, forge a smile and reply. “Just a short 35 km paddle from Kalani, but actually I have paddled over 4500 km from Norway.”

“You what? Are you crazy. Wait, let me get my movie camera.” The Aussie disappears into his sailboat and comes back with a handheld and coffee.

Colin and Sandra, his English wife, are spending the winter in Lefkada on their Beneteau sailboat.

The coffee is warming, like the sailboat’s saloon.  Colin is filming. He says he posts things about the strange people he meets. (Thanks Colin).

Sandra talks from the galley. “We met online and quickly found out that we shared a love for flying.” Her hands shake and her speech is static. “I owned a vintage French aircraft, but we sold that and bought another plane when we moved to Australia.”

The couple flew all over Australia, landing in small airstrips in the outback, on long beaches and roads.

WE FLEW ALL AROUND AUSTRALIA CAMPING UNDER THE WINGS OF OUR PLANE.

 “I can’t recall how many times we pitched the tent under the wings of our plane,” she reminisces, while looking at Colin. I can see a deep love, despite this enormous game-changer sickness. 

Five years into their 15 years of marriage, Sandra was hit with Parkinson’s. She spent time in a care center, but decided to fight the best she could. Inspired by a book on how to battle Parkinson’s, Sandra decided to live life the best she could and that meant getting out of that care center and back on her feet. 

“I just didn’t want to fade away. We decided to buy a sailboat and here we are.”

Supporting herself against the galley cupboard, she says, “I am so thankful that these galleys are so small. Here, it’s pretty near impossible to tumble down onto the floor.” She has a canny sense of humor. Typical English.

HE WAS FREE TO LEAVE.

Sill filming, Colin laughs, stands up and walks to give her a hug. 

“We wouldn’t have it any other way. The living accommodation here is perfect for Sandra. We can use all the time we need to go the two meters from the galley to the sofa,” he says laughingly. 

We talk about love. 

“You guys amaze me,” I say. “It must be so difficult to handle the challenges.” 

“Not really,” says Colin. “For better or for worse, we love each other. Parkinson’s or any other challenge is no reason to stop this fantastic love affair that we began just about two decades ago.” 

Sandra heads towards the sofa. She moves slowly. Laboriously in fact. She reaches out to the closest object to brace herself. She makes it and plunks herself down. I thought she just might disappear into that cushion and how does she ever get out.    

“The Ionian Sea is calmer than most areas. We intend to stay here as long as I can manage and as long as Colin can assist me with the daily challenges,” she explains.

“By the look of things, I am not suffering from lack of food,” says Colin. He rolls his head backover letting go  a deep hearted laugh. “She’s a great cook.” 

Love has no limitations and conditions, believes Colin, who had his own bout with leukemia.

“Sandra has supported me, I support her.  “Together we are an awesome team.”

“When I discovered I had Parkinson’s I told Colin this isn’t what you signed up for,” says Sandra. 

We talk about unconditional love. Is it an obligation or a choice? When loving your partner unconditionally does it mean loving—or staying—no matter what. We agree that the power to love, to give love, and to walk away from love always resides within us. 

“Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but every interaction has to come from a place of love, not duty,” Colin says.

WHY WOULD I TURN AWAY FROM HER BECAUSE SHE HAS A HANDICAP?

I listen. 

“Love has few boundaries and it is not a one-way street. Both have to be committed. Sandra and I have to pull each other up to the best way of loving and not tear each other down.” 

I watch. 

There is a twinkle in her eye. She has a good understanding of acceptance and challenge. He is laid back and understands that, for now, time isn’t an issue.

 “Yes, we don’t know what the future holds, but for now, we are here. We will sail and live our life the best we can. When we cannot tackle the personal challenges anymore…..we will cross that bridge when it comes. But for now, our love is sacred ground,” says Colin. “Sickness cannot take this from us.”

He kisses her softly on her right cheek. I close my notebook. The writing is over, but this memory is embedded, deep, forever in my heart.