by Bay Nigro
It’s a cloudy afternoon in September and the RV has just crossed over the state border, from North Carolina to Virginia. Despite the storm predictions, we’ve kept our plans and are making our way to Shenandoah National Park.
Beside me sits Diane, a retired science teacher of thirty years and our bucket list wish grantee. Though Diane has a rare eye disease and has suffered rheumatoid arthritis since she was eight years old, her days are filled with activities like tending to her pollinator garden, painting watercolors to donate funds to Meals on Wheels, and getting in her 15,000 daily steps (is spite of the fact that she walks with a cane). Next to her is Claudia, a lifelong New Yorker and loyal companion who now lives in Diane’s same 55+ community in Durham.
With MyJump, a nonprofit organization that helps seniors achieve what’s left on their bucket list, I’ve chased hot air balloons, gone in the Goodyear Blimp, and even zip-lined over the Grand Canyon. But I’ve never experienced a bucket list wish quite like this before.
Diane’s wish is shockingly simple: to ride in an RV.
When we arrive at the park, which is famed for its panoramic views, the storm has set in and the clouds of fog are so thick we can’t see even one foot in front of us. These iconic panoramic views are nowhere to be found, but Diane doesn’t mind. She simply hands me a smiley face umbrella, steps off the RV, and breathes in the fresh forest air.
The next day, our only full day in the park, the storm is raging yet still—Diane is blissfully content to play Monopoly all day.
“I think being grateful is the secret to life,” she tells me while we sit in rocking chairs later on, looking out the window and into the rain-drenched emerald green canopy of trees. It’s then that I realize Diane’s bucket list wish is unique because she’s unique. Her wish is not at all about reaching the destination, because that’s not how she lives her life. Instead, it’s about enjoying the journey she takes to get there—rain or shine.
As we head back home the next morning, the panoramic view that was once blanketed in a dense fog now gives way to an extraordinary sea of greenery and sunshine, so we stop at a few of the lookouts on Skyline Drive. For Diane, and myself, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment that is both poignant and fleeting.
In November, I’m back to the routine of daily life on the West Coast when a water-soaked envelope shows up on my doorstep in the middle of a rainstorm. Inside is the stunning print of a watercolor painting that Diane painted as she was undergoing seven major eye surgeries.
This one painting alone took her nineteen months to complete.
“I share this print with you as a way of sharing the blessings of sight and of friendship,” she writes.
And just like that—a little rain on the print no longer bothers me. In fact, it actually makes the watercolor painting that much more special. It’s like Diane says—even through the storm, there’s always a bit of peace.
There’s always a silver lining.