Eight Years

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Photo by TJ Parker

Eight years ago today a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had leukemia.

Since then I’ve periodically asked a question of myself.  Not, as you might expect, why me, or even just why.  There is no why.  It was random, not predictable, and as far as we know not preventable.  It just was.  So the question isn’t why, but who.  Who was I then, am I the same person now, what did I learn from the experience?

I’ve written here about my philosophy of life a bit… which is basically kindness is key, our love for the people we love and who love us is all that really matters, find joy in the every day, and don’t lose hope about the things that matter to you.  But as this day rolls around every year I find myself doing a bit of an assessment.

I believe in forgiveness, in kindness, joy, hope, and love.  But, I’m not always the best at those things.  And on this day I find myself trying to remind myself who I am.  I find myself trying to forgive myself for the ways I know I’ve hurt people, which doesn’t let me off the hook for those slights, but it does let me employ one of my strongly held beliefs which is that each of us is doing the best we know how at the moment.  Sometimes our efforts aren’t that great, and we don’t handle things well, but at the moment we are only doing what we can with what we have.   It still means we have to try and do better, be better.  We owe our people that.  But, we also can’t continually beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done.  This is where apologizing comes in.  Sincere apology.  We admit what we’ve done, we feel it in our bones, the ways we’ve hurt someone, and then we say we’re sorry for it.  The apology is freeing for both people.  So I ask, have I apologized enough and meant it.  Have I forgiven others, have I forgiven myself?

Kindness.  Have I been kind?  To my people, to strangers, to myself.  Am I moving through the world as a kind person?  Do I say thank you, look people in the eyes, empathize, treat people with respect, watch out for their feelings, simply honor people as the beautiful human beings they are?  Am I kind to myself?  I hope so, I hope I do all of these things, but I know the answer is, I don’t always.  So I need to be more kind.  We can always be kinder.  I think there’s always another level of kindness to strive for.  I think the key for me is to be aware, to be present with people.  If I am, I’m kinder.

Joy.  It’s easy to get discouraged in life.  About our place in it, circumstances we find ourselves in, the state of the world.  The enemy of joy is fear.  So the key is to not be fearful.  But, that’s a tough one.  Having gone through this whole life-threatening experience I find myself afraid of the random and unknown.  Afraid of what could happen, suddenly, without warning.  This fear has no face or name or even bearing on what’s actually happening in my life at the time.  It just comes with large amounts of anxiety.  And when it comes it eats my joy whole.  Like a kipper snack.  So I find myself searching for ways to lessen the fear and find the joy.  I’m innately a silly, joyful person.  I’m a dork.  I can find joy in the smallest things when I’m not afraid.   So I’ve spent some time working on and continue to work on trying to be present in the small moments of life, which I feel is where joy lives.  In smiles and sunsets and dogs and wind in the trees and whispered secrets from grandchildren and laughs over nothing at all.  I try to remind myself to be present.  Nothing is promised to us, which certainly includes time, so we have to live now.  Be alive now.  Be joyous now.  This is a tough one, but I’m trying.  The wind chimes are going strong right now on the front porch, and the sound is magical, and there is joy in that.

Hope. It’s tough to be hopeful when all you see is the stuff that’s not working out.  But as I’m taking a look this year I find myself reminding myself that life is perception.  We see what we want.  Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time.  It comes from the movie, The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”  At the time the film was made the cold war was still in full swing, so the Russians were the bad guys.  But the point isn’t that part of the quote.  The point is the essence of it which to me means we see what we want to see, which is frequently driven by our personal fears, and we have to look with better eyes.  So, I can either see the world from a place of love and forgiveness and hope, or I can see fear, I can see enemies.  I try to come from a place of seeing people as friendly, as human, as trying.  Again, I don’t always succeed in this, but when I do, hope springs and the world looks different somehow.  Brighter, fuller, rich in color and possibility.  It is hopeful.

Love.  I believe in connection and responsibility to and for that connection.  Life is about love.  Who we love, who loves us.  It’s about how we love.  Do we say it?  Do we show it?  Do we let the people we love feel the love we have for them?  For me, this brings gratitude into my life and makes me want to share that gratitude.  To say how grateful I feel for the people and love in my life doesn’t even cover it.  I am sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of it.  Struck profoundly silent by the weight of all the love I know I have in my life.  But, it’s sometimes too easy to see what we don’t have in life, what we think we’re missing.  And in the muck of that, we sometimes forget to take stock of what we have, or even to recognize that it’s there.  Who we have and what that means to us.  Love is all around us.  It’s all around me.  So, as I go through this day I let that wave of gratitude for enormous and profound love wash over me.  Hold me up.  It did when I was sick.  It’s what got me through.  Even though I was semi-isolated when I was sick, I felt the love pouring into me.  Lifting me up.  Holding me.  I felt it.  And luckily, I feel it still.  If I sit with it for a few moments I cry.  Out of a gratitude so overwhelming it crushes me in all the right ways.  That’s where I want to live, where I try to live.  Even when things are tough, the love is there.  I have it, and I try to give it back.  We’re responsible for giving it back.  For loving, and loving well.

Eight years.  If I think of all the beautiful and strange and magical and messy things that have happened in my life in the last eight years I’m amazed and so moved by it all.  It has definitely not all been easy, and there have definitely been sad and heart-breaking times, but there have also been so many moments of joy and laughter and love.  And I guess maybe that’s the point of taking stock.  Which is to say, it’s a messy thing, life.  But it’s in the middle of all that mess we find love and hope, kindness, and joy.  And I remind myself, isn’t that an amazing and beautiful thing?

Eight years.  Eight years on top of the nearly 45 years before those.

Wow.  What a ride it’s been so far.

 

 

 

 

The Whistler

As people begin to change their Facebook profile photos to pictures of their Moms I felt, this year, I needed to do a bit more than that.  Yes, I’ll be changing my photo too, but that just doesn’t seem like enough.  I needed to say a bit more about my Mom.  She’s a good one.

Where to begin.  What to say.  She is a woman of many talents, of many depths, of many experiences.  She is a helper, a champion, a sounding board, and a fantastic example to follow.  Her heart is big and holds so many of us in it.  She’s independent and fierce when she needs to be, sometimes stubborn, sometimes tough, always up for an adventure.  She smiles easily, looks you in the eye, and gives a great hug.

I have stories.  So many stories.

When I finally told Mom I was gay she cried.  Not because she was upset I was gay, but that it took me so long to tell her, that I had been conflicted, afraid, unsure.  She ached for me, for my struggle, because I had been scared.  That’s love.  That aching for another person with no thought of herself, that my friends is unconditional love.

She was just here visiting us, we had all this stuff planned, but plans change and in the middle of her visit we, she and I, ended up driving 6 and a half hours one way to drop off our trailer at the factory, we hung out for a couple of nights in that area, then drove the 6 and a half hours back home.  She’s a great travel buddy, plus she took it all in stride.  Was totally up for it.  Her adventurous spirit fully on display.  She is literally up for anything at any time.  She once ate a fish eye in Guatemala and crickets in some other place I can’t remember, for goodness sake.  I wouldn’t do that.  Mom did.

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Our family history is complex and beautiful.  There have been additions throughout the years and through it all, she opens her arms and her heart to everyone.  My step siblings, half siblings, friends, my wife and her family, and on and on.  Her heart is big.

I grew up with Mom’s whistle.  It’s an amazing thing, birdlike and stunning.   She went through a period of time when she couldn’t whistle (she had braces) and it amazed me how much I missed it.  Luckily it’s back.  Seriously, it’s a great whistle.  Some of my fondest memories are of doing the dishes with Mom when I was younger and listening to her whistle, or make up songs.

Making up songs.  Mom can be silly, she knows how to laugh, how to have fun.  When we were doing those dishes I would throw out some or other thing, a topic, an item, whatever, and Mom would make up a song on the spot about it.  She might not even remember this, but I got the biggest kick out of it.

Mom is a jack of all trades and contrary to the saying, she’s a master of many of them.  In fact, I literally can’t think of a single thing she’s attempted that she didn’t end up being able to do.  Kids always think their parents can do anything, I know mine can.  It’s not just me that thinks this.  When anyone has a problem to solve, a thing to build or construct, some gardening question, whatever… she can help.  She usually just knows, but if she doesn’t she has a great mind for problem-solving.  She’s a fantastic problem solver.

She also pitches in, helps out.  All the time.  Whenever she’s needed.  It’s above and beyond.  When I was sick she helped out at our house.  When K had to go to England for a month during my illness she would only go if Mom agreed to stay with me.  Mom agreed, even though she had her own life going on.  And that didn’t mean just staying with me, she took care of me.  Got me to appointments, stayed with me in the hospital when I spiked a temp and had to go in for a week while they shot me full of antibiotics, helped me through some bouts of anxiety and panic about leaving our house during that time, cooked for me, helped me shower.  And other times, before I was sick, and since as well, she’s helped us so many times.  Painting and dog sitting and yard stuff and working on our Oregon house before we put it on the market and with the rentals and on and on and on.  I don’t have enough room here for all the times she’s helped us, all the things she’s done.  I am forever grateful and beyond lucky.

She is full of grace.  As in she handles very tough situations with a grace and depth of feeling I admire.  Unfortunately, Mom’s lost two husbands.  The first she was a caretaker to for nearly a year before he left us, and the second suddenly, without warning.  Both times, handling it with such grace.  There was emotion and great sadness, both times, but through it all, she never acted bitterly toward those around her, she never took anything out on anyone, she kept going, stayed strong, and never gave up on herself, on us, on life. She impresses me every day.

Mom’s a great human.  Of course, she has her faults, don’t we all, but she is fully a fantastic human.  Loving, forgiving, open, honest, full of integrity, fun-loving, smart, feisty, adventurous, kind, and just plain nice.  She’s a genuinely nice person.

I don’t pretend to know all the depths of her.  No one can know all things about another person, but in my nearly 52 years I can honestly say that she is one of my two most favorite people to spend time with, the other obviously, if you’ve read this blog, being K.   Which puts Mom not just in the Mom category, but in the friend category.  I enjoy being with her, am a better person for the time I’ve spent with her.

I wouldn’t be who I am without her, wouldn’t have the life I have without all the help and guidance and love she’s given and continues to give to me.  I say this all the time because I have that Mom, the one all the friends like and everyone wishes they had, and I have her, so I say this all the time… I am lucky.  Beyond lucky.  I was blessed and lucky to have her as my Mom.  I know this.  I’m fully cognizant of the fact.

I wish I could somehow bottle the feeling I have right now, this feeling of being overwhelmed with love and joy and pride and gratefulness for having this wonderful person in my life.  I wish I could give it away, let other people experience it too.  I can’t pour it into this page so that it emanates out to everyone who might stumble across this post, but I wish I could.  It’s a great feeling, this feeling of overwhelming love.

It’s a great feeling because I have a great Mom.  A one of a kind, in her own class kind of Mom.  I can’t really, fully, describe it, but I guess this attempt will have to do.  Until that is, I can give her a hug.

I love you so very much, Mom.

Now, excuse me while I go and change my Facebook profile photo.

 

 

52 Thoughts: Eighth Thought

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Photo by TJ Parker

Forgiveness.

I walk down the hallway at night
House asleep
Creaks and wind and chimes filter in
I’m at my in-laws house
There’s sickness here
And a kind of hope for better
… feeling better and being better
They love me
I feel that
It’s mutual
I write poems at night when I can’t sleep
I don’t remember them in the morning
After sleep finally comes and washes them away
I think that night work is my best work
Just saying
But it gets me through the hours
Filled with creaks and wind and stray whining cats outside
There’s something special to this forgetting
As if mysteries were revealed to me
Then taken away again
I know they are there
Just out of reach
But there nonetheless
Magic
It’s because of this I forgive myself
Forgiveness for the forgetting
I walk down the hallway at night

~ TJ Parker

Kindness Hits You Where You Live

Today might have been the most simple act of kindness we’ve done to date.  We were kind to each other.  We slept in, laughed, talked, shopped, did laundry, cooked, did dishes, drank our nightly decaf, held hands, showed each other cool photos online, took the pups for a nice walk, problem solved a couple of things, said I love you and thanks honey a few times, and had a pretty quiet day together.  It’s important to be aware of your spouse, to be kind to them.  We do a pretty good job of that most of the time, but it’s good to talk about it, good to be present with it.  It’s a form of kindness that’s not talked about enough.  It’s great and important to be kind to others, but it’s equally important, if not more so, to be kind to the people you are closest to, people who you share your life with.  

Kindness Is No Joke

dog-knock-knockWe are very corny.  Silly even.  It’s something both K and I share, a genuine dorkiness.  It makes our lives fun, we laugh a lot.  Because we love to laugh, we love to make other people laugh.  Sharing laughter is a kindness.  To yourself, and to the person you shared the laugh with.  So today we recorded ourselves doing really corny knock knock jokes and sent them out to some people.  We totally cracked ourselves up.  I hope we made our people laugh as well.

Helping Hand of Kindness

ducksSometimes the kind thing is a thing you might do anyway.  Something as simple as helping out someone when they’re in need.  Kindness doesn’t have to be done in big grand gestures or deliberate acts for someone you don’t know.  It can be simple, and right at home.  The kid’s water heater went out.  They’ve had a couple of days of no hot water, which they’ve managed to deal with pretty well, but the one thing they couldn’t get done at home were baths for the kids.  So today they came over and the littles had a bath.  Kindness can be about just being there for someone when they need you to be.  And in fact, we should be kind like that as much as we can be.

NPR’s Profile of Karl Blau

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My cousin’s new album came out May 13. NPR did a little profile of him on the World Cafe Next. Pretty cool.  Follow the link to hear what they had to say.

 

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/475592690/475593712