April 22, 2010

A celebration of friendship…

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Health, Relationships, Women at 12:57 am by dinaheng

My friend Christine and I live in different parts of the country, and while we rarely see each other, it never feels like we’re far apart because we talk on the phone regularly.  We kept saying we have to get together in person, but somehow the years went by without that happening. Until  last fall, when she received the shocking news that she had ovarian cancer.

Doctors did surgery immediately, and thankfully, the tumor that was removed had not spread. When she felt better, I scheduled a long-overdue visit.

Flying from Los Angeles to Nashville took all day, and since I wasn’t going to arrive until late in the evening, Christine suggested that we look into staying at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, a place she hadn’t been to in years, rather than driving an hour to her home outside the city.

We ended up making it a two-day girls’ retreat, enjoying the kind of pampering most of us rarely take the time to experience.

After meeting at the airport, Christine and I sat up talking until nearly 1 a.m. We talked about our families, a screenplay I’m writing, her work with the local Humane Society, health and nutrition… all without missing a beat.

That, I think, is the real measure of friendship — being able to be with each other, no matter how long it’s been — and instantly BE with each other.

Christine shared that she was awaiting the results of a blood test that would show if her cancer treatment was working. She was trying not to be anxious about the results, so our unspoken girlfriend’s pact was to just concentrate on having fun.

The next morning, we headed for Relache, the resort’s spa, salon and fitness center. The minute we walked into the women’s locker room, our shoulders started to relax as the sound of soothing music filled the air.

“People feel guilty when they think they’re about to pamper themselves,” says Yolanda Harris-Jackson, spa director of Relache. “They don’t want to take time away from family. But I tell people that going to a spa is not about pampering yourself. It’s about preventative wellness to take care of yourself.”

Harris-Jackson believes that five factors contribute to health problems — stress, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, poor nutrition and diet, and lack of a spiritual connection. If any of those factors are present, health concerns may arise.

“We make time for the things we want to do, so make time to sit still for five minutes and reflect,” Harris-Jackson advises. “In the evening, turn off the TV, listen to some soft music, and think about nothing. The mind doesn’t stop, but you can control what you pay attention to. People may have financial problems right now, but when you’re soaking in the bathtub, you need to be able to let go so that your mind can relax.”

For me, there’s nothing more relaxing than getting a great massage and facial. When you work with a truly intuitive massage therapist, who can feel where you’re holding stress in your muscles, it’s easy to let go and unwind. In this case, an aromatherapy massage with de-stressing essence oils and a moisturizing facial made me want to stay on the table and never get up again.

But all too soon, it was time for lunch outside by the pool. As Christine and I laughed about lounging in the sun in spa robes, we watched a group of teenagers splashing about in the water, and decided to take in a swim ourselves — in the quiet of the indoor lap pool. When we finally left the spa at 4 p.m., Christine sighed and said, “I never understood how anyone could spend an entire day in a spa, but now I do.”

After a short rest in our room — yes, I know, how could we possibly relax any more — we headed out for an evening on the General Jackson, one of the largest showboats in the nation. As the 300-foot paddlewheel riverboat moved along the Cumberland River, Christine and I stood at the stern, watching the paddlewheel turn below.

While today’s boat runs on diesel, rather than steam, it was easy to imagine days gone by, when people enjoyed the sights and sounds of nature more than the click of television remotes on summer evenings. The slow movement of the water encourages the mind to slow down and appreciate the moment.

Christine, a retired space biologist, was fascinated by the science and engineering behind our ride. As we talked, it reminded me of how we met, years ago, at Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. I was one of the first 100 semi-finalists in the Journalist-in-Space program, and Christine worked on NASA projects. Our common love for exploring the universe — above in the heavens and deep within the soul — has kept our friendship strong over the years.

When it was time to eat, we joined about 300 other passengers in the Victorian Theater for a delicious prime rib dinner. The alligator appetizer and spring roll needed a more deft touch, but the remainder of the meal was excellent.

The highlight of the evening was watching  “Country Music USA,” a musical revue of songs saluting noted country legends from Hank Williams and Patsy Cline to Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift. As the singers closed with a rousing rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud To Be An American,” the audience got up and cheered.

I loved the patriotic ending, and at the same time, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the cast on stage was white. One of our nation’s greatest strengths is its diversity, and the show would be stronger if it reflected that. Pulling in new audiences means finding ways to connect with them, and if hip-hop can draw Asian, Latino and white kids, there’s no reason country music can’t do the same.

The next day, as our visit to Opryland drew to an end, Christine got a phone call from her doctor. The news was great.  Her blood test showed no signs of cancer, and as we shared a big hug, I gave a silent prayer of thanks.

To celebrate, we went to Cascades American Cafe, which specializes in seafood and other entrees made with local and sustainable ingredients. In short, we ate our way to bliss.

Everything we tried — from the late season vegetable tempura to low country crab cakes — was superbly done, and the lavender lemonade was inspired. Christine ordered the skilled seared Gulf Triggerfish, and I had dressed local greens and fried calamari. The dessert parfaits were almost more than our tummies could stand, but we couldn’t resist.

Christine and I vowed that it would not be several years before we get together again.

“And whenever you come to town, we’ll come back to Opryland,” she added, “even if it’s just for lunch.”

I can’t wait for the next visit.

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