My mother-in-law passed away a few days ago. It was unexpected and has been very difficult.
We were planning on leaving April 5 to drive from Illinois to California to see her. It’d been a year. A terrible year that included the death of my father-in-law 10 months ago, the death of our lovely boy Weston, and let’s not forget, COVID. Which is why we hadn’t been there in a year. COVID shut everything down, including us, and the visit we so desperately wanted to have with Betty after Don’s passing. It was devastating for K, but Betty kept telling her to be safe, for us not to come. So we were safe, and we didn’t go.
That morning K and Betty had a lovely exchange via messenger. Betty loved messaging K through Messenger. It was almost like a secret code she learned and enjoyed. They got to say I love you, which is everything. A bit later, she was gone. But K got to have that exchange, she got to say I love you, she got to hear it back from her Mom. It’s so important to say it. All the time. As much as possible.
Betty could be opinionated, tough, ornery, and sometimes difficult. But she was also full of fun and mischief, witty, smart, and she had a great laugh. She was fiercely protective of Don, as he had been of her, and she modeled, they modeled, a good, solid, loving, marriage and partnership. They loved each other. Truly and deeply. It was a beautiful thing to see. Life for Betty without Don must have been difficult. They were together for 71 years. Wow. 71.
Together Don and Betty created a beautiful family. Their children, each accomplished and successful in their own right, who themselves then made families of their own. And so it goes. The circle and cycle of life. Moving, flowing, creating, then leaving things better than they were when they arrived in so many ways.
For me, a person who came into the family 18 years ago, I loved them and felt honored to be a part of it all. Every family has it’s stuff, it’s difficulties, it’s rythmn, it’s joys and successes, and it’s love. My in-laws had love and a great history together.
I can’t seem to wrap my head around not seeing Betty again. That has been the most difficult thing for me personally. I know, for K, it is the same. Not being able to see her Mom again. It is devastating. But Betty would not want us to dwell there, or to be sad. She would want us to think of her with Don, together again. She would want us to think that she did not suffer and she got to live out her life in her own home, still fairly independent and free.
I will miss her sense of humor, that twinkle in her eye, her mischief making, her sharp mind, and yes, even her orneriness. Maybe most especially her orneriness. I don’t know why, but that part of her, the part that liked to poke the bear and challenge you was both infuriating and confounding and something to marvel at. She held her ground, stayed strong in her beliefs. I did not agree with her so many times, but I respected her strength and conviction. I respected that orneriness.
Betty was one of a kind. A truly unique soul. Someone I was very lucky to know, and very blessed to call family. I will miss her so. But now, looking across at my honey who is typing an email to her siblings, and thinking about them as well, I know Betty, and Don who left us 10 months ago, live on. They live on in K and her siblings. They live on in their children. They live on in the hearts and minds of the rest of the family as well. They live in me. Betty is still here, still present, and will always be. Love is an incredibly powerful thing. It holds on. It holds. And as we all hold onto each other through this, I will hold onto that as well. We all will. Love holds us. It holds.
Betty is holding us right now.
Hey everyone… thanks so much for all the kind birthday greetings and wishes both in person and virtually. I always say, and trust me, I do always say this… all that matters in life are the people (and dogs… yes, and cats for the cat people out there) we love and those who love us back. That’s it. Nothing else. Just our people and our big love. The stuff we have, the stressors of politics and the virus, and just those regular stressors that go with living life, are not really important in the grand scheme. When you get overwhelmed or sad or very upset about what’s going on in the world, no matter your politics, think of the faces of the people you love. Run them through your mind. Think of them smiling at you. Think of getting a hug from them, and what that feels like. You will be calmed.
September 17 wasn’t only my birthday, it was also the day, 10 years ago, I had my last push of chemo. That always makes me think, this time of year, about my experience. People often say I had such a great attitude during that ordeal. That I was smiling all the time, even when I could barely walk across the room. Even when I was scared out of my head. I’ll tell you a secret, my secret. And it isn’t really a secret at all. I smile so much in life because I have lots of reasons to smile. The quality of the people in my life is astounding to me. I have no idea how I got so lucky, but I won the lottery in the people department. My family and friends are incredible. What’s more, I know it, I feel it, and I appreciate every one of you. When I was sick I felt this invisible river of love flowing to me from all over. It was so strong I swear I could almost see it, if I looked just right… rivers of color, filled with love, flowing to me from so many directions, and then me willing it right back. That exchange of love was constant and beautiful. That exchange of love helped to save me. It held me. That exchange of love is always there. It was there before I was sick as well, and it’s been there since. Flowing to me, flowing out from me to others. It’s there for you. It’s tangible. It’s real. It sustains and lifts and strengthens and propels us forward. It’s what our lives are built on and around. It is the constant foundation for everything.
So my wish for my birthday is that each of you gets to feel that flow, that exchange, in big and small ways. That each of you can feel what I feel all the time, can see what I see all the time. Love is everywhere. It’s all around us. Those people we love and who love us, they are always there, smiling and holding us.
This is the first morning in over 13 years I’ve gotten up and haven’t then heard the sound of little paws coming out to find me.
Weston was my shadow. My boy. He wanted to be where I was, most all the time. Following me downstairs when I went to fold the clothes from the dryer, outside if I went to look at the blooms in the yard or just to hang out on our deck, into the kitchen or the dining room, following me into the living room with hopeful eyes that I would sit in our chair and he could join me, settling himself against one of my legs. That guy even followed me into the bathroom where I was supposed to pet him until I was done and would then say OK which was his signal to move along.
He loved love, more than anything. He loved pets. He was insistent about them. Pawing or nosing your hand to let you know it should be on him, and no where else.
Don’t get me wrong. He was cantankerous. We’ve all been bitten by Weston. K and I more than once. He didn’t like certain things… to be picked up like a normal dog around the middle, to have things taken from him that he’d procured somehow, to have someone reach at him if he was in places he considered his den at the time, or just to try and help him when he didn’t want to be helped. He was independent, to a fault, but that was his way. And he would let you know it.
He was our little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The most loving dog you’d ever meet who wanted nothing more than loves from you and to give kisses right back and the snarky cantankerous boy who would have none of whatever he would have none of.
We loved him so.
Our little man was an amazing thief. He stole things all the time. We realized yesterday, as we picked up after ourselves, that we’d been thoroughly trained by him to not leave a paper towel or Kleenex anywhere he could get it. He would steal it immediately. He loved to rip up and eat those things. We’ve lost many pairs of glasses and Kleenex and post-it notes and paper towels to him over the years.
He even ate things he shouldn’t. Things that were dangerous for him. We were talking last night and laughing, amazed, at all the times he grabbed things and tried to eat them, or just swallowed them in a hurry so no one would try and take whatever it was from him. We called him the sword swallower because when we first brought him home, and he was so very tiny, we’d given him this bone we’d gotten for him. We were leaving him alone in the house for the first time, in his playpen, and we wanted him to have something good while we were gone. We weren’t gone long and when we got back we couldn’t find the bone in the playpen. We couldn’t find it anywhere. What’s more, he had this weird look on his face. Sort of surprised and slightly distressed, though he wasn’t acting distressed. We took him out of the playpen and he ran off into the living room where he jumped up on his chair and ottoman. We walked out of the room, walked back in, and there was that bone, all 6-8 inches of it, harked back up, out of him onto the ottoman. Lordy. We knew we were in trouble with him from then on. And over the years we were proven right. He stole and tried to eat a rib bone, same result with the harking it up. When we were camping once he found a piece of sausage someone had wrapped around a stick and then put hooks on and used to fish. Don’t ask me what that was supposed to catch, but there it was, discarded on the side of the river, and who would find it? Weston. Of course he would. He got a hold of it and then carried it around. We kept him walking so he wouldn’t try to start eating it because we knew the hooks would be disastrous. We got back to the Jeep and took out our bite gloves (yes, we had heavy cowhide work gloves we carried that we called bite gloves for times just like this when we had to get something from him or do something to him we knew he wouldn’t like). K managed to snatch that thing from him. To this day I don’t even know how she did it. And there was that time, road tripping as we do, when we were walking the pups near this gas station (sometimes there just aren’t great spots to take them on the road) and he found a petrified hamburger. It was hard and because he thought we might try to take it from him he tried to swallow it. He started to choke. I thought, right then, Oh God, he’s going to choke to death. I was trying to figure out how to give him the Heimlich maneuver and low and behold he managed to get it down. One time we’d returned from Europe and we had a bag of these really good chocolates inside a zipped up backpack. In fact, they were in a bag inside the backpack, inside a closed closet. He managed to get into the closet (it was a slider), get the backpack out, open the zippered compartment, open the package of chocolate, and eat them all. We were horrified. We called the dog poison hotline and were told we had to get some hydrogen peroxide down him so he would throw up. So there we were in the bathroom, on the tile floor, me holding him and getting the crap scratched out of me for it, and K pouring peroxide down his throat. It worked, he threw most of it up. But man oh man, what an incident.
We had to be hyper vigilant with him. He did what he wanted and sometimes that was dangerous for him. He didn’t care. He was Weston, danger dog.
He was also a smoker. He loved to find cigarette butts on his walks. If he found one, he would eat it. So we had to be vigilant when we walked him, butts, unfortunately, are everywhere. Crazy dog. We would joke that it was time to take Weston our for his smoke break. Because as much as we tried to keep him away from them, we was sneaky and got them anyway.
He was a smart little guy. Too smart. Too cunning. A true mischief maker.
K used to take him to her office once in a while, long ago when she had one. There were like 100 proof machines and next to each one was a garbage can. He loved garbage cans. Or a better description, he loved to knock garbage cans over. He was always looking for whatever treasures he might find there. Her staff would laugh when they came back in and ask her if Weston had been there. They knew he had because every garbage can, every last one, would be tipped over. When we visited anyone, my Mom, K’s parents, we had to make sure we went in first, his advance team, to put all the garbage cans up out of his reach. We had to scan for candy, or wrappers that might be places he could grab them, and move those things up high enough he couldn’t get to them.
Here at home he got into all sorts of mischief. You couldn’t leave your coffee cup sitting next to your chair for even a moment because the second you left the area he was there, drinking your coffee. He was a master thief, lying in wait, watching all the time, waiting for any opportunity. He pulled things off shelves in the kitchen. We had to organize with him in mind, and even when we did he still went for things. His reach, for being small in stature, was amazing. One time we came back into the living room and found he had managed to pull this old package of instant breakfast we had shoved to the back of the top shelf in the cart and forgotten about. He shouldn’t have been able to get that, but somehow, he did. We found him standing over the ripped up package with powder all over his muzzle. We re-arranged our shelves, again, for him after coming up from watching TV to find him in the living room with a bag of sugar he’d managed to somehow pull down off the shelf, drag to the living room, tear open, and enjoy. The most hilarious thing was the time we were downstairs watching TV in the evening and he had disappeared, which was always a bad sign. Suddenly we heard a loud bang. We both ran up the stairs to find he’d gotten a box of cans of green beans off the bottom shelf, drug it into the living room, and torn up most of an end of the box. I’m not sure how he thought he was getting into the cans, but you know, after everything he’d pulled off, I wouldn’t have put it past him. There is an endless list of things he stole and ate, or tried to eat. A classic was the time, when we still lived in Oregon, I’d set an egg salad sandwich on our pool table while I went into the kitchen for a moment, thinking that was a safe place out of reach for him. No. I came back and my sandwich was gone. He’d managed to jump up onto the sectional, get on the back of the sectional, and jump to the pool table to get to the sandwich. He liked to jump into chairs that were left out to get to tables. We felt like he could’ve been a circus performer in another life.
Every night he had the same routine. As we got ready for bed and after they went outside to do their business he would, as we brushed teeth and got some water and changed, go into K’s office and rummage through whatever pants she’d been wearing that day. He pulled them down off of wherever she’d put them and went through her pockets. If there was anything… Kleenex, cough drop, candy wrapper, he would get it.
A standard phrase yelled in our house for the last 13 years has been, “TREAT!”. It was our way of getting him inside if he was barking at a neighbor (he was friendly to them, but wanted them to pet him and if they didn’t, or until they did, he would bark at them) or a squirrel he’d run up a tree. Yelling “TREAT!” was also our way of getting something away from him he shouldn’t have. Again, we were trained, not him. We couldn’t just take anything from him because of his snarkiness so our option was to bribe him into letting whatever it was go. It worked, but really I think it was all just part of his plan. He would steal something he knew we didn’t want him to have, we would offer him a treat to give it up. Pretty smart. But then, he was a very very smart dog. It was a blessing and a curse, and also the reason for his name.
Weston. Our beautiful boy. He was named after his birthplace, Weston, Oregon. It’s in the Blue Mountains, and it’s lovely. As we were driving to pick him up we’d already picked out a name for him. We had a tag and everything. But when we picked him up and he looked at us with those deep brown eyes, eyes that looked into you, that felt like they were a thousand years old, we knew the name we’d picked wasn’t right. We felt like he looked studious, nerdy, deep thinking. K said, he sort of looks like he should be wearing little glasses and a blazer. Kind of like Harry Potter. We laughed, but it was true. So on the drive back the name change process began. I don’t know how it happened, which one of us thought of it, but somehow in that conversation, as we were running over things, where was he born, intellectual people we could name him after, etc. we said the name of the town. We looked at each other and bam, that was it. Weston. Perfect somehow. Perfectly him.
You know, the funny thing about him, and about his snarkiness, is that we always warned groomers and the people at his vet office about his snarkiness. We always said, watch him, don’t try to pick him up around the middle, cradle him to pick him up, don’t try to take anything from him if he gets anything, etc. We did this every time. We didn’t want anyone to get nipped. But he never bit anyone at those places and in fact everyone always told us, when we picked him up, how wonderful he was. How loving. What a great dog he was.
And he was. He was a great dog. He was the best boy. Snarkiness, and stealing, and mischief, and all. Because with all of that came so much love from him. So much joy. He loved to go for walks and play ball and play with his toys and chew on his bully sticks and run on the beach. The beach was his favorite place. When we could let him off his lead he would run like the wind, chase balls, get sticks, dig holes. He ran and ran, he played, he chased birds, then he would trot over periodically to get a pet or two, giving you little gentle kisses to let you know he loved you as much as you loved him. Letting you know he was so grateful to be there with us, in whatever place we were.
He was our boy. Complicated and intense and a pain in the ass and so loving. So loving.
He had our hearts, and still does. He always will. Our beautiful boy. Our sword swallowing mischief maker. Our one of a kind, full of personality, wonderful, beautiful boy.
March 1, 2007 – June 28, 2020
I originally posted this in 2013, but thought it could use a re-post.
I started writing this on Father’s Day and was, as can happen, distracted by actual life events. Visits from family and then traveling can do that. I nearly forgot about this post until I noticed it idling there, the red “draft” sitting beside it in my post queue. It was important to me to get this piece of writing out there, so here it is… late, but no less important to me.
Originally, like most people, I started out with a Dad. One. He was full of life, fun loving, sporty, loved his coffee, loved to laugh and laughed a lot, went gray early, had false teeth, played the pedal steel guitar better than I’ve heard anyone else play it, had a major sweet tooth, was legally blind, and smiled with his eyes… Warm and full of love. My Dad was a dork, which I inherited. Totally goofy with a dork’s sense of humor. I’m honored to carry that on. I’m also so happy to have his sense of joy. It’s the best gift he passed on to me. That and his sense of play… and awe.
When I was a tad older, and not much mind you, Mom married Bill and brought another dad into my life. For 33 years he was the man of our house. Bill had a sly sense of humor, often a mischievous twinkle in his eye, a love of science and the PBS shows Nova and In Search Of, could fix nearly anything, was the best BS’er I’ve ever seen, adored his tractor, loved a good pancake breakfast, and loved my Mom. Bill taught me to love learning, whether he knew it or not. He had a keen and curious mind. Always reading National Geographic, Scientific American, and the like, he was interested in how things worked. And even though he wasn’t much of a traveler he wanted to know about the world. He was a guy who didn’t have a large formal education, but he was a very educated and very intelligent man. Bill, or Billbsy, as Kev and I called him when we were younger, was a guy of deep feelings and strong opinions. I didn’t often agree with his politics, but that was OK too. Bill had the ability to talk to anyone and did. I was always amazed at how he just struck up a conversation with the people he was around, whoever they were. He taught me to fly fish, to love small Mom and Pop motels and car trips, and passed on to me a great appreciation for the mysteries of the larger world. I am oh so grateful for those gifts and for the gift of seeing my Mom love and be loved so well.
A few years after Bill passed Mom met and married Don. I recently, after Don’s passing, wrote a blog post about him so I won’t go into all the things about Don that impressed and amazed me, but I will say that after just having attended his celebration of life I was so awed by the number of people he affected in such a positive way. He was an amazing father and grandfather. He lived an amazing life and I was so honored to have had him in mine for a time.
I gained yet another dad when I married Karen and met her dad, Don. From the beginning, even though Karen’s parents tend toward the very conservative, they accepted me, and our relationship. I knew I was in when Don, one day, put his arm around me, called me kid, gave me a little squeeze, and smiled at me. That small gesture meant more to me than I can express. He has been strong, and wise, and has shown me love from the start. I also, see an earlier blog, had the honor of being chosen by him as the forker during a new in our relationship Thanksgiving dinner. I won’t explain here, but needless to say, I was thrilled to get the job. Don is steadfast, opinionated, warm, curious, and can, even still, move fast when he’s headed somewhere with a purpose. He has a fantastic laugh and does it with a great twinkle in his eye. He gets joy from small things, which has been a great lesson for me because when it comes down to it it’s the small things that matter. He’s quiet, reads voraciously, loves his family and extended family with a passion, and is a solid rock of support and strength. I appreciate his presence in my life every day. And like I told him this Father’s Day, privately with a little kiss on his cheek, he is the only dad I have left and I love him so.
Lastly, when talking about Dad’s, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about my Grandpa, my Mom’s dad. Grandpa, who I also wrote about in a couple of previous posts, was the epitome of a fantastic father and grandfather. I learned so much from him… how to play cribbage and backgammon, how to tie my shoes, what a good person should be. He had a love for life, an adoration of family, and a playfulness and sense of joy that was so strong it still flows through our family. I was with some of the family this last weekend and I could see him in all of us. Those were some amazing genes he passed on. He is the father of my Mom and so through her, he also gave me so many gifts. I was blessed to have him in my life for so long and am so lucky to be a part of him.
As I look back at this list of fathers, my list of dads, I am amazed at the quality of the men here. They were nothing like each other, and yet the most important thing about them, their ability to love well, is shared by all of them. Most people get one dad and I have been fortunate enough to have four. They have been, and are all, each one, a blessing to me and my life. Men, who might be reading this, and I know a few uncles, brothers, brothers in law, a son in law, friends, and cousins who might, you should know you are valued. You, as fathers, are priceless. You bring so much love, joy, strength, and happiness to the children in your life. You might not know this, or be aware all the time, but you are so loved. What you do, what you provide, is invaluable, and I, for one, am so thankful and grateful to you. Watching you dads be dads is an amazing thing. It’s a joyous thing. So thank you fathers, mine and the dads I get to watch every day being fathers to their daughters and sons. Thank you, and happy Father’s Day.
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.
Today my little brother turns 50. He’s one of a kind.
When we were kids our parents got divorced, then both remarried. We had new siblings to get to know. We went through it together. We moved to a new place, started a new school. We went through it together. We built forts, learned to swim, rode his mini bike, rode our bikes all around town, fought, made up, fought for each other and went through it together. A few years later we moved to a bigger town and learned to adjust to being in a much larger school. We went through it together. We lived on a small farm, hauled hay, played in the barn, visited our grandparents, put on plays, romped the woods. We went through it together. We visited our dad, step-mom, and younger brothers and sisters in Montana, drove there once with an aunt who nearly drove us insane, but we did that together. We swam in airplane shaped pools, waded the ocean, learned to fly fish on family vacations. All of it together. When I was 16 I went to Germany/Austria/Holland for three weeks and right as I was getting home, nearly the same day, he left for a trip to Alaska for a couple of weeks. It was the first time we’d done something separate, without each other. We each had a great time, but I can honestly say I missed him and wished I was sharing the experience with him. It didn’t quite seem complete without him. We got a tad older and got jobs at the same place, alongside some good friends. Then he moved away for college (I’d stayed at home for it) and we were, for the first time, truly apart. It was strange, and hard on us both, I think. When it was time for him to move back I flew down, helped him pack up his things, and we drove back in his tiny car stuffed with all of his belongings and had an adventure when the car broke down near Sacramento. We went through it together. Later, we rented a house together with friends. He joined the Naval Reserve and went off around the world for various exercises. I got a job and he got a job and he was nearly deployed to Desert Storm (had the orders and a date, but ended up not going because that particular conflict ended right before he was scheduled to leave). When we told me he was being deployed I hugged and cried and told him to please be careful, try to stay safe. Luckily he didn’t have to go. Later he got married, I was his best “man”, and then he built a house, while I was first living at the beach and then working in Southern Oregon. When I changed jobs and moved back up North I stayed with him and his wife for a few months, until I got a place of my own. He got divorced and I was there for him. I told him I was gay and he didn’t flinch, he was totally supportive. I met K and they, K and my brother, loved each other instantly. I got sick and was bald from the chemotherapy and he shaved his head. K and I moved to Illinois and in preparation, my brother helped me drive a car from Oregon to Illinois filled with household goods, survived a tornado in Colorado during that trip, explored Chicago together, ate some good pie, stood on the ledge, and laughed a lot. We’re good at that, laughing together.
And on and on. So many life experiences shared.
Life has moved forward, huge changes and small ones in our lives, and we support and love each other, always. We have had fights, of course, and disagreed sometimes, but what matters and remains constant is our love for one another and our ability to be silly and laugh together.
My little brother turns 50 today. And though I can’t be with him, I know he knows I’m thinking of him, and in my heart, we’re together.
Happy birthday, Little Big Brother. I couldn’t love you more.
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.
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.
I just now finished up posting all of my reviews for the movies we watched at Ebertfest this year. It was a splendid group of films, as per usual. Lots of things I hadn’t seen this time around, which is always fun. I was shocked I hadn’t ever seen Hair or Being There, but I hadn’t. I loved the documentaries as well, particularly Mind/Game about Chamique Holdsclaw’s struggle with mental illness. She was eloquent and brave and open. I also really enjoyed Elle, disturbing and confounding as it was, and The Handmaiden. The storytelling in The Handmaiden was smart and creative. It was, as I said, a fantastic experience once again… except…
For a brief terrible time, day four, midafternoon, our little Riley went missing. We were on a break from the festival, searching for a little chocolate to sate the sweet tooth, and in that vein had wandered into Cafe Kopi (our favorite coffee spot downtown). We’d chosen a couple of small bars and also a little snack pack of some meats and cheeses when K got a text from our lawn guy. He’d left the gate open, thinking the dogs couldn’t get out to the backyard, and Riley had run out. We threw our goods back into the case at Kopi, literally, and ran toward the Jeep. We didn’t even, right away anyway, tell Mom, who was inside the theater, or our friend Ann, also inside the theater, that we were leaving, we just left. I drove too fast and sort of like a maniac to get home. K’s daughter had been called by our lawn guy as well because he hadn’t been able to get ahold of K right way. She was on her way to our house at the same time we were, though slightly ahead of us. She hadn’t made it to our house yet when she spotted Riley running down a street fairly near our home. She stopped her car in the middle of the road, jumped out, and called to Riley, sitting down on the side of the road to try and be calm for Riley. Riley though, given her poor eyesight and the panic she was probably feeling at the time, ran the other direction. Mary, K’s daughter, called K, who I dropped off, and K started chasing. She also spotted Riley, on another street, way far way and up head. She called to Riley, but at just that moment our gardener drove past K and we think Riley saw him (who she was afraid of) and continued to run. K chased her on foot for a bit, not seeing her anymore, but circling around. K eventually came back to the house and got on her bike so she could be faster and cover more ground. Mary walked around as well, in other areas, and this whole time I drove around our neighborhood, all the places we walk (which are many). We talked to everyone we passed, asking if people had seen her. Some had and pointed us in one direction or another, others hadn’t. It was terrifying and heart-breaking. We cried a lot, though we were trying not to, trying to stay focused, trying to keep on track. My Mom, who we’d contacted, left the theater and took an Uber to our house. Once she got there she stood out front, with the garage door open, just in case Riley came back.
Four hours this went on. Four hours of looking and not finding her, of asking people, of circling and driving and riding and walking. At one point we took Weston out thinking if Riley heard or saw him she would come to him, but he eventually got too tired and we had to take him home. I walked and ran and yelled and asked and drove and asked and drove. K walked and rode her bike and eventually got in Mary’s car with her and they drove around and around. Mary walked and ran and drove. My Mom paced in front of our house, showing anyone who walked past Riley’s photo and asked about her. Weston fretted in the house knowing something was wrong, probably wondering where his little sister was.
We missed a film at the festival. We didn’t care.
Finally, four hours later, I was driving along a street I’d been up and down many times, when a man, who I’d stopped and asked about Riley earlier, waved me down. He said he’d just seen her running West. I knew that was toward our house. At the same time, I got a text, but I didn’t check it because I was then trying to get home to see if she was around there anywhere. I pulled up toward our house and my Mom looked at me and gave the biggest smile, pantomiming that Riley was there, that she’d shown back up.
Relief. Total relief.
K and Mary showed up shortly after and we were all reunited. Other than being really thirsty Riley acted totally normal. She lay down of course because, well, she had been running pretty much non-stop for four hours, but she was fine. Totally fine.
As I said, relief. Your mind tries not to go to all the scary dark places it could during these times… but they are there, inside of you, haunting you throughout. It’s a huge amount of stress.
We made sure Riley was fine, that the gate was locked, that she had sufficient cuddles, and we then took off, back to Ebertfest. We’d been willing to miss the rest of it if we’d had to if we didn’t find her, but since we did, we didn’t want to miss any more than we had. We had that luxury. Life was back to normal. We were lucky. Riley was lucky.
Life throws things at you like a missing dog, a missed film at Ebertfest because of it, the anxiety of it all followed by the elation. In a nutshell, it’s a rollercoaster.
I appreciate life so much, not just because of this incident, but I would include this incident as a factor. You never know what’s going to happen so hug your people, tell them you love them, hug your pets, tell them you love them, look at the sky and the trees and feel the wind in your face. There’s beauty and love and light everywhere.
Riley came home. And we’ll just get Pleasantville, the movie we missed at Ebertfest, from the library.
I walk down the hallway at night
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
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
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
It’s because of this I forgive myself
Forgiveness for the forgetting
I walk down the hallway at night
~ TJ Parker
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.
We 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.
Sometimes 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.
Today’s random act of kindness was to call a faraway friend or relative to say hello. We decided to pick up the phone and give Lisa, K’s cousin, a jingle. We hardly ever get to see her, and shamefully never talk to her on the phone, so we thought she would be a good choice. The funny thing is when she answered the first thing she asked was if she was our act of kindness today. We told her yes! It was a great conversation and we were so glad we called her.
It reminded us, again, that we should reach out more often to those people in our lives we love. All it takes is a quick phone call or even an email to say, I’m thinking of you, and I love you.
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.
Today is our anniversary. Number 13. I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen for several minutes now trying to form a coherent thought in an attempt to describe my love and my relationship. The only things that keep coming are rushes of words… tender, grateful, peace, safety, rock-solid, trust, truth, faith, honesty, center, love, and love, and love. It’s been going on like that in my head, in my heart.
I have often tried to explain to people what it felt like when we met. I’d had a sketchy path to her. I’d not picked well for myself up to then and somehow I’d always felt like I was scrambling, reaching out for something that wasn’t really there, and couldn’t be, no matter where I tried to look. I spent quite a lot of time soul searching before her. Had vowed not to be in a relationship again until I knew myself better, until I felt like I would and could pick someone better for me. I say often it took a long time for me to come to myself so that I could eventually come to her.
In truth, I don’t know how I got so lucky. It was a fluke, a chance encounter, a brush with fate. You could call it all of those. It was my first day on a dating site, and her last. She had been at it awhile, not finding what she was looking for, coming to the conclusion she needed to take a break. And, even when she saw my profile she contacted me not to date me (she thought I was too young), but to tell me she liked my profile, that it was great, and to wish me luck. I responded by saying something funny about how my “Real Age” score said I was older than my actual age so maybe I wasn’t too young after all. We laughed. We started emailing.
Our emails to each other in those early days were not filled with love or lust or anything other than ourselves. We told each other about our lives, about the music and poetry we loved, about the things that were important to us. I wrote to her about my step-dad’s illness and she wrote to me about her kids. And somehow, over the course of those two months of just writing to each other, we started to fall in love.
She is a person who has a great amount of confidence and she’s very secure with who she is. She’s sure. I have always admired that in her and did from the start. When she started asking to meet me in person, I put her off, and put her off. I kept avoiding it, afraid of I don’t know what, and of everything. She took it all with humor and never gave up on me, she was sure. When we finally talked on the phone, starting only a week before we actually met, it was as if we’d known each other much longer than just the two months we’d been emailing. We talked every day that week, for hours each day. We laughed a lot and even though I had butterflies about the whole thing, I never felt awkward or strange. The whole thing felt right somehow, easy.
The day we finally met I was nervous as hell. I called a friend on the way to the meeting and tried to talk myself out of going, even though I knew I’d go. I had to go. By then I was starting to fall in love, without having ever met her in person. Crazy, but true. I got to the pub first and waited at an outside table. Then there she was, walking around the corner and striding toward me in her jeans and black boots and cool shirt. She walked with the confidence I’d always read in her emails and then heard in her voice. She looked free. I could barely breathe.
We started to talk, ordered salads, and I couldn’t stop shaking. I told her, showed her my shaking hands. I felt I could because she instilled a sense of safety in me. That no matter what I told her, who I was, she would be OK with that, with me. I felt I could be myself, completely, and she would embrace that. We talked for hours that evening. Moving to an inside table when the sun went down and the weather got cool.
There was, for me, a feeling of everything in my life clicking into place that night. An almost audible sound. Everything that came before rushing toward that moment, and there we were. Right, finally whole and complete.
Since the beginning we have said we are each others split-apart. Two halves, at one time separated by space and time, finally reunited. We make sense, and together we are home.
So here we are, 13 years later, and I feel that even more strongly than I did at the beginning. Life has brought us some scary stuff, some sadness, and all kinds of wonder and beauty and joy. I can’t imagine my life without her in it. I can’t imagine facing what’s come and what will, good and bad, without her.
We met, and I knew. So did she. You do, when the right one comes along.
Our granddaughter just had her first birthday. She is light and love and magic. She has the biggest grin imaginable, her face scrunching all up, eyes getting narrow, and her mouth, with it’s little fangs, gets huge. Light beams out of her. Her smile matches her personality. Curious, determined to keep up with her older brothers, tenacious when she has to be, smiley, tough, adventurous, affectionate, loves to laugh, loves books, loves life. She is joy.
I have a personal tradition, started with Sebastian, where I find a song that means something to me as it relates to each particular grandchild. I will post the boy’s songs here in the next week some time, but today I thought I’d post Tessa’s.
I have no idea what made this song Tessa’s for me. It has always worked like that, for each of them. I hear a song, and for whatever reason it attaches itself to them, and to my heart. From that moment on I can’t hear it without thinking of them, and I can’t stop myself from crying. Tears of happiness, tears of being so grateful I’m in their little lives and they are in mine. I can’t hear these songs without getting the feeling that my heart could burst from all the love I feel for them.
I give you Tessa’s song, You Were Born, by Cloud Cult
When something shocking happens in life our world shrinks down. Everything we know somehow narrows, magnifying the thing in the center that is our pain, our sorrow, our grief, our fear, our shame. Suddenly we do not see, cannot see, anything outside of what we feel. We begin a sort of sleep walk. Moving around, going about the necessities of life, unaware of anything outside of our immediate place in time. We see ourselves putting on shoes, getting something to eat, talking to friends, paying our bills. Yet, we are disconnected from all of it. Suddenly apart from the world, in a cocoon of emotion we can’t even begin to know how to escape. Everything feels like a dream, as if there is a veil between us and the rest of the world.
Slowly though, the world returns to us. We start to wake up. We notice the rain, or a bird, we are aware of the smile of a friend. We begin to find interest in things we’d forgotten we used to love, and still do. We look up, and out. We feel the warmth of the sun and feel the rhythm of the world. We learn that life moves on, moves forward, one small moment at a time. Until, finally, we are mostly ourselves again. A piece of us utterly changed by our experience, but still, ourselves.
The whole of this experience, though usually terribly painful, is beautiful. The feeling of it, the pulling away, the return, all bring a deeper meaning to our lives. It can, if we let it, help us to find a peace and a grace we didn’t know before. It can help us to see more deeply into things.
Life is a gift. Our friends and family are gifts. We are lucky, even with the pain and sorrow that inevitably come. After all, pain and sorrow only come because we were brave enough and our souls beautiful enough to love someone or something.
“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)I am never without it (anywhere
I go you go,my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
I fear no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet)I want no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”
M, my friend, I love you. I know your heart is breaking as you get ready to start your journey. This trip, in one sense, signifies an ending, but I know in my heart it will also end up being a celebration of a life well lived.
I believe the people we love never truly leave us. She lives in your heart, she lives inside of you. Her spirit is with you…
She’s there in the sound of footsteps and the rain falling on roofs and the feel of the wind on your cheek. In the rushing of the waves and the ceaseless movement of the tides. In small kisses and the purring of a furry friend and when you are wrapped up in a warm hug. In the emotions brought on by the pages of a good book and in the beats of great songs. In hope and joy and laughter and in the sunlight through the trees. Inside deep conversations and thoughts of love. During moments of celebration and sadness. In the quiet space on either side of a breath. In the flapping of birds wings overhead and in the lightly falling snow. In the moonlight, the moving of the planets, the rushing of the blood inside of you. She resides there. In all those moments. In so many moments. Strong, eternal, full of grace, and overflowing with love.
Love surrounds you my friend, as it surrounded and surrounds your Mom as she steps to the next place on this amazing cosmic adventure.
November 18. Four years ago today we got the news that we’d been waiting for. The molecular scan of my latest bone marrow biopsy showed I was in molecular remission. It was a big deal. My honey gave me a necklace with the date, a heart, and an inscription that included, among other things, the word, “breathe”.
I haven’t talked much about my experience with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. When it happened I was so sick I basically had a near zero count for neutrophils, white blood cells, and platelets. I was so sick they moved me by ambulance from the urgent care to the hospital because they said if I’d gotten in a car accident at that point, or even had an impact at all, I would die because my blood wouldn’t clot. The first thing they did when they got me to the oncology unit at the hospital that night was to give me a transfusion. It was the first of many. I went into the hospital that first time on June 1 and was there until July 1. I would go back in for a week later that July for my second round of chemo, then again for a week in August for round three, and again for a week in September, before I was even supposed to get my last round, because I’d developed what’s called a neutropenic fever. My counts were so low, from the chemo, that I’d somehow gotten an infection that my body couldn’t fight off. My temp passed the holy grail of 102 and the oncology nurses said, yep, get thyself into the hospital. I was there for a week that time, pumped with antibiotics and fluids until my fever broke and my counts went up enough for them to send me home. My last round of chemo, which was two pushes on two consecutive days (by far the shortest round I had since the others were four or five days), ended up being outpatient (I was excited by this as before then the nurses at the infusion center couldn’t push the kind of chemo I was on because it was considered too dangerous. Somehow, near the end of my chemotherapy, they’d managed to get that rule changed which was great for me as I was able to just go in, get the last two pushes, and leave… yes, it was more complicated than that, but outpatient chemo was way better than days in the hospital). My last push was actually on my 45th birthday. Crazy, but true. I’d agreed to that because I didn’t want to delay it at all. I wanted to get it done, which had pretty much been my attitude all along. Let’s do what we have to do, let’s go, let’s get it done. In fact, when the doctor came into my hospital room the third day of my first stay and was there to tell us (my honey, my mom, and my brother, Kev, were there with me) I had APL my first reaction was OK, what do we do about it. What’s next. I was weak as hell, bruised like you wouldn’t believe because I had hardly any platelets and had just had a bone marrow biopsy and IV’s put in, but I was determined. Let’s do everything we can, let’s get started, let’s go.
I have talked a bit, on and off, about the details of what I went through, answering questions people have had, telling my story. What I’ve only talked a little about though, are the feelings. The determination, the fear, the sadness at the thought of leaving K alone, of leaving my Mom, of leaving family and friends, and as crazy as it sounds, of the thought of not being there for our pups when it was their time to go. Strange thought, but I’m supposed to be the one to hold them when that time comes (hopefully a long time from now), and I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for them, of not being able to tell them I loved them. Weird huh? A person thinks strange things when there’s a good possibility they could die.
The nurses and doctors at the hospital that first time, and every time actually, never pulled punches with me. I appreciated that. They told me what was what in an upfront and matter of fact way. They told me I could die. They told me that the first month would be the hardest, and possibly most lethal, and that if I made it through that first month I might even be able to be cured. Crazy. The most deadly and most curable leukemia. Great. What a juxtaposition. They were honest, and so I knew I could die. I knew that first month would be especially hard. I was right.
At first, after a few transfusions (which made me feel so much better I would ask if I could have another… too funny… what a vampire) and being given other things to bolster me, I felt better than I had in a while. A little more energy. It was fleeting, and came right after a transfusion, but still, I’d feel a little better for a couple of days. Even as I started that first round of chemo I felt pretty good, all things considered. Granted, pretty good for me at that stage was still not great. I had no energy and could hardly walk to the bathroom without having to stop and rest after a couple of steps, but I felt good in that context. The nurses said I should be getting sicker, from the chemo. At first, I didn’t. Then, I spiked a fever, out of the blue, and was put on antibiotics. A lot of antibiotics. And then, finally, all hell broke loose. I was allergic to one kind they gave me (I was on more than one) and reacted to it. I don’t really remember much of those two weeks of craziness, thank goodness. It’s all pretty fuzzy. I remember not being able to get to the bathroom without a lot of help, I remember throwing up and having diarrhea all at the same time and all in my bed, which then the nursing staff had to clean up (this might have embarrassed me, but somehow didn’t… they were so gracious about it), I remember bags of clothes being sent home with my Mom or my brother so they could wash my soiled shorts and t-shirts (I was wearing my stuff, not hospital gowns) and I felt bad they had to do that. I remember at some point the medical staff were worried about my something or other (at differing points they did extra tests on my heart, my lungs, and who knows what else, I don’t remember it all) and I was supposed to drink all of this cranberry juice that had some liquid in it that they needed in me before they wheeled me down for… uh, I think that one was a heart test? I don’t know. Anyway, I was supposed to drink all this juice and I couldn’t do it. K was there, trying to help me do it, to coax me to do it, and I was resistant. I got some down, then threw up some, then got more down. It was a terrible process. Finally they said they thought I’d gotten enough in me. It was awful. I remember I didn’t want to shower either, it was too hard, and I couldn’t do it on my own (my honey basically had to get me in there and wash me every time as I couldn’t stand up, I used a shower seat, and I could barely raise my arms). The nurses said I had to do it because I had no immune system and I could end up getting an infection from my own body if I didn’t wash often enough. Pretty scary to think you might not even be able to fight off the normal bacteria on your own body, but there I was. I remember the difficult time they had putting in my pic line and then the infection I got in it a couple of weeks later that resulted in fevers and ultimately having it removed. I remember having special protocols for my room, people couldn’t come in unless they were free of all possible colds and hadn’t been in contact with anyone who might have had a cold, and then sometimes they had to be masked to even come in. Masks became familiar to me. Later, after I was home and then had to go into the clinic or back to the hospital I would have to wear masks everywhere so that my compromised system would be as protected as I could make it. Doctors orders. They weren’t messing around.
So that first month, terrible. Scary. Muddled in my head. As I said, I don’t remember much of it. Unfortunately, my honey does. When people talk about how their loved ones never left their side, well, that’s my honey. She stayed with me, never left the hospital except for one night (when I finally convinced her to take one night off, take a break, go see and love on the puppies, breathe, take a shower, sleep in her own bed… she wouldn’t agree to it unless my Mom agreed to stay with me that one night, which of course Mom did) in the whole of that month. My hospital room had a little twin sized window seat meant to be big enough for someone to sleep on. My mom brought in a twin sized air mattress for K and the hospital staff gave her linens and my honey lived there, with me. She couldn’t use the bathroom in my room because it was too dangerous for her with the chemo circulating through and then coming out of my body, so she had to go down the hall. She got a Verizon mobile modem and worked from the hospital, each time I went in. I don’t know how she managed to both rule the world from the hospital and still take such good care of me, but she did. She held me up, literally, more times than I can count, and urged me to take the myriad of pills I didn’t want to take, and coaxed me into eating a bit of something, and talked me into showering and into doing much-needed laps around the oncology unit the nurses said I needed to do when I was starting to get my strength back, and bought me a new laptop so I could stay connected with things outside of the hospital, and communicated with friends and family outside of the hospital because I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and she held me. She held me up, held onto me, she never let me go. I relied on her so much, during not just that and the following hospital stays, but in between, when I became afraid to leave our house because it was too hard and too scary and too everything and she would urge me on. She protected me and saved me and helped me and nudged me and loved me. She loved me. She loved me more than I could have ever imagined, and that love of hers, strong, and unending, and selfless, it saved me. When the panic attacks and major anxiety started and I would feel like I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t move and that just the simple act of leaving our house filled me with so much fear and anxiety and scared the crap out of me she could talk me off the ledge, help to get my nerves under control, help to keep me moving forward toward healing and health and a day when life would return to normal. The staff at the hospital kept telling me how great my attitude was, that I smiled all the time, even though I was going through something so hard, and that I was always gracious and nice about everything that was going on. I guess I was, but I could only be that way because my honey had me. It’s what she said to me, what she still says to me… I got you. She did. She was my rock, the foundation that did not, and will not, ever crumble. The hospital staff also kept mentioning what a great relationship we had, how well we loved each other, how good we treated each other. We did, she did. She does. She has me.
Life was insular. When something like this happens it’s almost exactly like when, in old movies, the frame fades in toward the center, first to a pinpoint, then to black. Everything outside of hospital visits and treatments and medications and test scares and transfusions and antibiotics and weird side effects and leukemia fades away. Life becomes small and exact and finite. You live in a place of fear and hope and anxiety and holding your breath. There’s a lot of holding your breath. You live for the blood tests and the results and fear them at the same time. You hope the treatment is working, you hope you live. You want to live. It becomes the focus of your existence. Living.
Somehow, through the course of my time in and out of hospitals and clinics, I managed to maintain myself and my attitude pretty well, to the outside world anyway. It’s strange that after the first major chemotherapy and that first hospital stay I would then get anxiety. After. After I was done with the first part of my treatment. It started to creep in when I went home that first time. I was scared to be without my safety net. Scared to be on our own, so far away from help if I needed it. I was scared of a lot of things. I’d been so so sick, been so dependent on everyone at the hospital, I was so unsure of trying to do it all without them. So the anxiety came and it crept up in intensity as I went along, through the next rounds of chemo. I’d actually be relieved, in a love-hate kind of way, when I had to go back into the hospital for the next round as I’d know I would be there, where it was safe. Then, when after the rounds of major chemotherapy were done, I entered maintenance, which is called consolidation, and the anxiety started to increase even more. Now, looking back, I think I know why. When something like this happens to you it’s sudden. Sure, I didn’t feel very good before diagnosis, I had no energy, felt under the weather, but I never thought, wow… I’m tired, I must have a touch of leukemia. You think oh, I must have a cold. So when you have the test and the doctor comes in and says OK, your blood is chock full of APL, you’re surprised. Not totally, since by that point you know you’re in the oncology unit and you know something is definitely not right inside of you, but it’s still a total surprise. One minute you’re living life… working, playing, waiting for the birth of your first grandchild, enjoying everything, and the next you’re getting a transfusion and chemo and you don’t know if you’re going to make it through the month. Weird. Sudden. What it does, or at least what it did to me, was make me acutely aware that life can be great one minute, and something terrible can happen in the next instant. Nothing is guaranteed. Which means that it’s all sort of random and unpredictable. That scared me, still scares me. A lot.
I’ve spent the last four years hopeful and afraid all at the same time. In the last couple of years you can throw in a good dose of anger to that mix. I’ve had some periods of time when I’ve been really angry. Angry this happened, depressed as well. It really wasn’t just this experience, it’s been a lot of things (K’s terrible illness before mine and all the deaths I’ve had in my family), but my illness certainly contributed mightily to the feelings of hopelessness in the face of odds that at times seem to be stacked against us.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not walking around angry and depressed all the time. Those feelings, the blasts in the face I’ve had of them on and off, are finally starting to subside some. It’s not who I was before all this, and certainly doesn’t define me now. It’s just that those feelings have been a part of my life in a bigger way than they were before leukemia. I still get bouts of fear and depression. I still get angry over things that are silly and insignificant, but that for some reason trigger a reaction in me. I’m working through all of that. Working through the new impatience I feel when I’m doing a project and something goes wrong. I don’t much like it when things go wrong now, even in a little way. But, I’m getting through it. I think I might be, finally, coming back to myself a little. I think maybe the haze that’s been there the last four years might be lifting. And yes, my honey has had a major part in helping me through it, in getting me back to myself. She’s also been patient with me. Patient when Mr. Hyde comes for a visit and Dr. Jekyll completely leaves the room.
You hear stories from people who’ve gone through traumatic experiences, near death experiences, who say that afterward they are left with a wonderful sense of possibility and living life to the fullest. That wasn’t me. Certainly not initially that is. My illness did give me an overwhelming sense of appreciation and gratitude for the people in my life, family and friends, who I love and who love me, though to be honest I had a pretty good sense of that already. But, it magnified it, which is a good thing. But I’m not one of those people who will tell you that they are grateful for their experience because it woke something up in them. To that I say pshaw. At least as far as I’m concerned. It didn’t make me free, it scared the crap out of me. It didn’t wake me up, I was already awake. I’m definitely not one of those people who now, after having this nearer-to-death-than-I-would’ve-liked experience, goes sky diving and takes more risks. I don’t think anything could make me want to sky dive, not the thought of cheating death or the promise of a million dollars. I keep waiting for the miraculous feeling of “grabbing-hold-of-life”, but it hasn’t come yet. I sort of had it before. I mean, as I said, I have always appreciated what I’ve had in the people in my life, I’ve always known that’s where the magic lies, and I’ve always thought of myself as lucky in that regard. Leukemia did nothing to engender those feelings in me, it just made me scared of losing them.
Now, as I continue to come out of the haze that’s been the last four years, I’ve chosen another path with regards to how I look at all of this. I’ve chosen to look at it like any other thing in my life that has been hard or unpleasant. I got through it. I put my head down, did what was necessary, and plowed through. My own body betrayed me. It took me down the rabbit hole and I clawed my way out of it (with some fantastic help of course) and somehow I must forgive it for doing that terrible injustice to me. I must say to it, yes, you threw me a big curve ball, but sometimes that’s how things go. Sometimes unexpected things are going to happen and the only choice is to move forward. I have to put one foot in front of the other and I have to keep moving. Because when I plow through, there are always beautiful things waiting for me on the other side of it. Always.
So this is how it is for me, this new gloriously strange life. Life is unexpected, it’s challenging, it’s scary, and not guaranteed. It’s also joyous and beautiful and sacred and luminous and spectacularly, singularly, amazing. It is all of those things. Those and more. I have to take the good and the bad and all the gray in between. Sometimes that means living through the fear and the pain and the awful, and sometimes it means celebrating and laughing and being joyous and going balls out. Under whatever circumstance, it means living. Always. Living. And luckily, fantastically, I am miraculously alive. This experience does not define me, no experience can. We are defined by how we live over the long haul, how we love and are loved in return.
Today, four years later, I’ve moved on and am moving forward, small steps at a time. I’m laughing, I’m awed, I’m sad, I’m joyous, I’m angry, I’m elated, I’m overcome, I’m held captive by my past one minute and free of it the next. That freedom though, ah, that freedom is so very sweet when it comes. I love deeply, and I am loved just as deeply in return. And when the fear comes, when it grips my heart and things become just a bit uncertain, I feel my honey, gently holding me and whispering in my ear, just breathe. And I do.
I turned 49 a few days ago. No, I’m not really 50 something and just using 49 as my sticky-post age. I’m 49.
I’m not fazed. Not being fazed is a good thing.
I have never been a person who was affected by my age. I turned 16, 21, 25, 30, 40, etc. with no real worry or fear about getting older. Time is what it is. It marches, so do we. I feel like I’m becoming a better version of myself, and getting better all the time, as I’ve aged. Wisdom, lessening insecurities, a strong and getting stronger I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-what-anyone-thinks attitude, and a more and more relaxed way of looking at the world.
I feel like I’m better at looking outside of myself, outside of my inner dialogue, to the world beyond. I realize I’m a small drop in a very large bucket. And what’s more, when I fall back to being too much in my head, too much about me, I can snap out of it pretty quickly by reminding myself there’s more to life, so much more, than me. It’s my personal version of a mental slap upside my head. It’s a wisdom thing. Something I’ve gained with age. A certain perspective. I’m grateful for it.
I try not to take myself to seriously, also a wisdom with age thing. It’s the last vestige of big things I’m trying to work on. I think I just wrote that with a serious face. Mental note to relax the face while writing.
So I’m better, like fine wine, aged cheese, a good bourbon. A better and bettering version of myself. Is bettering even a word? I have no idea.
I don’t know why I’m writing all of this. My intention was to make a list of 49 things, of various types and intention, in honor of my 49th. Instead I’ve seemed to wax on about how aged I am.
Let’s take a new tack.
I received a boat load of well wishes and birthday congrats and notes of love on Facebook. I have an amazing group of people in my life, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, and I’m ever so grateful for their presence, support, love, generosity of spirit, and humor. It’s not so much that I have a quantity of people, I have quality people. There’s a huge distinction in that. They are quality people, and I’m beyond lucky to know them, to have them in my life. I know this. I’m blessed.
Which brings me back to the list. The multitude of wishes made me grateful for the people in my life and that made me think of others things I’m grateful for. I thought, at this juncture, it would be good to write some of those down, so the following is a list of things I’m grateful for. It’s like a master list, though I know it will change, has changed, and morph over the years. Some things though, remain constant. I think it’s so important in life to look at what’s good, what’s working, what’s beautiful in our lives. To actually take the time to acknowledge these things, stop in our crazy day, be still, and reflect on what’s good and important to us. The people in my life would be number one. So let’s start there.
1. Family. Born into a group of beautiful people, on both sides, was like winning the lottery. There are people you choose in life, who I will get to in a moment, but the clan you enter the world belonging to can be a matter of luck. My luck was good. They are, to the last of them, quality, wonderful, and staggeringly spectacular. I can’t even being to express the fortune I feel and how proud I am to belong to the lot of them.
2. Friends. Or a better description might be to say they are the family I’ve chosen. Throughout my life I seem to have chosen well. I also find this lucky as I was not always my better self, yet somehow my center chose wisely, most of the time. I’ve met and made friends with so many shining souls in my life I can’t even count them all. As I sit here I see face after face run through my mind and I’m smiling. Each and every one brought, and continues to bring, something singularly special to my life. Such a unique, varied, luminous group of people. I don’t know how I ended up with the pack of you, but I’m so so glad I did. You are more than friends, you are truly family to me.
3. Pups. I’ve always been a dog person. I love their pack mentality. The group is better than the one. I love their loyalty and sweetness and unconditional love. I love how cuddly they are. I realize not all dogs are like this, but in my experience, this is what I’ve found. Our dogs, Weston and Riley, are the most wonderful of creatures. Both quirky and slightly flawed and neurotic in their own little ways, they bring so much joy and love and happiness to our lives. I can’t believe how much I love them, and how much love they give to us. It’s miraculous, the love of our dogs for us. It’s important to honor that, to cherish it, and to take up the responsibility that having them in our lives brings.
4. Wind in the trees. This is a bit of a crazy one, or might seem crazy anyway, but its going to stay here none the less. I love the sound of the wind in the trees. It’s a reminder of the moving world. The wind blows here, it’s blowing somewhere across the world. It carries life and hazard and is alive in its own way. It reminds me how gentle or ferocious life can be and that I should try to be gentler, quieter, softer in my approach. It reminds me how small I am, how big the world is, and that there are people in other places lifting their faces to the wind, closing their eyes, and sighing, just like I do sometimes.
5. The grand boys. I know they are people too, and yes they are included in what I wrote above, but they are worth their own category. Every day it seems I learn something new from them, something new about them. They have such zest, such emotion, such joy for life. They are amazing little men and the fact that I get to be privy to their growth and exploration of the world is magical. Seeing how they respond to things, how they are effected by their world, how they learn, it all stuns me. I’m so grateful for the experience of knowing them and loving them and having them love me.
6. My honey. Yes, she also deserves her own category. I would’ve put her first, as she deserves to be first, and is, but no matter. It doesn’t matter what number gets put next to her on any list, she’s my number one. My center, my split apart, my soul mate. Two people were never more suited for each other. We are like a hand in a perfectly fit glove. We mesh. We work. We somehow found each other. It’s rare, to have this kind of relationship. I know it is. She knows it too. I can be moody and difficult, we have our issues, like everyone does, but the difference is that we are always moving together in the same direction. We find joy in each other, in our relationship. We look at things the same way, with a sense of adventure and excitement. She has more joy than anyone I’ve ever met. I am amazed by her.
7. The Scooter. It’s fun. It’s fast. It’s zippy. It’s freedom on two wheels. Riding it gives me great joy. What more is there to say?
8. A good book. I’m in a reading phase now. I seem to, over the course of my life, go in and out of reading phases. I’ve always loved it, but sometimes I go off reading. I have no idea why. The times when I’m in a reading phase definitely are better times. I am more relaxed, more at peace, more in touch with things outside myself. It’s a good advertisement, in my life anyway, for me trying to stay in a reading phase. New worlds are always waiting inside the pages of a good book.
9. My kindle, and other electronic devices. Is this cheating to bring up the Kindle right after the above number 8? Nah…. I’m a geek. I love all things techy. I love new technology, what it can do, the places it can take me. I have always loved these things. I have no idea why. I don’t really want to know how they work, I just want to figure out their functions and then use them. Whatever thing; phone, laptop, Kindle, iPod, GPS in the Jeep, new app, etc., I happen to be using at the time. Fabulous.
10. The dictionary. The vehicle of its delivery has changed, moving to an online or let’s make that plural as in multiple online dictionaries, but I love them all the same. Words, meanings of words, other words to use in place of words I think I’ve over used, and on and on. The dictionary and/or a good thesaurus, are wonders of the world. I adore them.
11. Chocolate. In all its forms, covered over the top of things or standing alone on its own, I love me some good chocolate.
12. The ocean. Doesn’t really matter which one, though I’m sort of partial to the Pacific as it’s the one I grew up with. The power, the endless depth, the mysteries living there. Again, it’s one of those things that makes me feel small in a big world. As you can probably tell by now I love that feeling. It helps to put things in perspective. I like most forms of natural water; rivers, oceans, big lakes, streams. Even rain. Rain is amazing. I think my Oregon is showing through.
13. Ceiling fans. Crazy as this may seem. I love our ceiling fan in our bedroom. I don’t know if I could sleep without it. It’s the simple pleasures in life. Besides which, in Scappoose we actually named our ceiling fan The Super-Sky-Diving-Fan-Blade-Lady. Yes, if you looked at it just right, like shapes in clouds, you could see her.
14. Filtered sunlight. I’m looking out into the backyard now. It’s now (a few days have gone by since I started this list) the first day of Autumn (which happens to be my favorite of the seasons) and it’s gorgeous outside. The light is coming down in streaks through the trees and it’s absolutely beautiful. Stunning. Gorgeous. Amazing.
15. Weston’s snoring sound. I know I already talked about the dogs, but seriously, his snore rocks. He’s a small dog, but can snore with the best of them. I love that sound.
16. Finding a new band/music and music in general. I’m an explorer by nature. This applies to music as well. I’m constantly looking for new music. Finding a new group/artist is an amazing thing. It lifts my soul. Just as listening to an old standard lifts my soul. Some people aren’t music people, they could care less. I don’t understand those people. I’m moved, shaped, enlightened, lifted, seared to the core, and effected greatly by the music in my life.
17. Birkenstocks. We are a Birkenstock household. There are so many different kinds of Birkenstocks in our house it’s sort of ridiculous, but they are here for a reason. They are comfortable. The most comfortable shoe ever. My feet sing while wearing them.
18. Walkabouts. I love a good stroll. Going places my feet can take me, anywhere I happen to be, is a great thing. My Mom and I just did a 13 plus mile stroll in Chicago recently. We hadn’t planned on walking that far, we just did. The weather was wonderful, the company stellar, and the sights beautiful. Walking is an experiment in living the slow life. It allows you to drink it what’s around you, be more effected by it, be IN it. I recommend it highly.
19. iPhone camera. I’m a fan. Being somewhat of a photographer (I’ve gotten paid to do it occasionally) I have a lot of equipment. Recently, however, I’ve been using my iPhone camera more and more. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t have to carry around a ton of stuff, my phone is always in my pocket anyway, and two, not carrying around all that stuff and attending to it, and then using it, I feel like I’m more in the moment. I’m still taking loads of photos, but I seem to be more present in situations just using my phone as opposed to big cameras. And to top it off, the iPhone camera is pretty darn good for a phone camera. I like it. I like it a lot.
20. Eggs on toast. We just spent many days in our travel trailer. An egg on toast was a go to breakfast for us during that time. One egg, one piece of toast. Simple, and warm, and tasty. I enjoyed it. I just thought of it this morning, so guess what we had for breakfast today?
21. Autumn. I mentioned fall in an earlier item. It’s my favorite and deserves its own slot. I love the changing of the leaves, I love the new crispness in the air, I love how we clean up the yard and put stuff away and everything starts to get still, quiet. Strangely I love having to put on my long pants and sweatshirts for the first time in months. I love the holidays during fall and how here in Illinois the trees start to bare themselves as the leaves start to fall. It’s a time of change and quieting and relief from the heat.
22. Old fashioned chocolate sodas. To be honest I just discovered these this last week. I liked it so much I’m including it here. Yum.
23. Travel. As I said earlier, I’m an explorer by nature. New places, new things, new experiences are like mana of the gods to me. I drink them in. Travel, by its nature, feeds that need in me to explore. New sights, sounds, people met, and areas to explore feed my soul. I’m a bit of a nomad and travel, of any kind and distance, fills that part of me.
24. Our new travel trailer. Related, obviously, to the previous item, our travel trailer rocks. We just got it this summer and ended up spending, so far, nearly 50 nights traveling around and sleeping in it. I never got tired of it. It’s small, but feels big for its size. I think, honestly, I could actually live in it. That won’t happen, as having a home base is necessary for my honey, and probably for me as well, but I think I could. It’s perfect for the two of us and our two fur heads. It symbolizes adventure and fun and exploration. I’m ready to take it out again.
25. Tasty vittles. Along with new places to see, I love finding new foods I like. As well, truth be told, as eating standard favorites of mine. A good meal shared with good people and maybe a nice glass of Barbera d’Alba. Yum.
26. Quiet time. I’m a person who enjoys solitude and silence. In fact I don’t just enjoy it, I need it. Sitting alone in a space reading, watching tv, drinking coffee, looking around, or just sitting and thinking, is necessary for me. I call it my recharge time. It’s important for me. And consequently it’s important for those around me. I’m a better me when I get time to myself once in a while. If I don’t I begin to feel overloaded, overwhelmed, and a tad crazy pants. Plus, I just plain enjoy it.
27. The blogs. Creative outlets, period the end. I love writing, I love taking photos, and I love having a place to put that out into the world. Read or not read (though I prefer read) I so enjoy the constant platforms for creativity.
28. Speaking of photography. Photography. I see the world a certain way. I see it in detail. The whole is beautiful, but the real secret beauty lives in the details. A leaf, an arm, a man smoking a cigar, shadows and light. I have always seen this way, though I think using a camera so much has heightened this sense of mine. When I capture what I’ve just seen with my eyes in a photograph it’s an incredible feeling.
29. Words. Written by others, written by myself, lyrics, stanzas, dialogue, conversation, puns, silly phrases, novels, poems, short stories, witty commercials, plays, dictionaries, etc. No matter the vehicle, words mean a lot to me. I’m grateful for their breadth and depth and expanse. I’m grateful to be able to convey and to have things conveyed to me. I’m grateful for the expression of others and my ability to express. They are the bread and fruit of life.
30. A good hug. My brother, Kev, is a fantastic hugger. He’s known for it actually. I think his hugs will go down in song and story. He hugs with the all of himself. It engulfs and warms and conveys so much. There’s nothing like a good hug. We are a hugging family. We are people who hug. There’s a reason for that.
31. Experience. Vague, yes, but not really meant to be. I love new experiences with the people in my life. Fishing on Stan’s boat, disc golf with the Gal Up group, crab feast with the POD, fantasy football, going out for a bite to eat, bike rides, walks, dinners at the houses of great friends, train rides, laughing and laughing, seeing a film, reading a book, walking on a beach, kayaking, exploring cool buildings, seeing great art, and on and on and on. The experiences we have are everything. What we own, nothing. The time we spend with the people we love, doing things we love, that’s where the heart and soul of living is.
32. Bike rides. I have always loved the feeling of being on a bike. It’s always meant freedom and fun to me. When I was a kid a whole gang of us would ride around together, exploring the neighborhood. I bought my first bike, a sweet little green 10 speed, when I was in junior high. I’d had bikes before, but that was the first one I paid for by myself. I saved the money. It was so cool. I rode that bike for years actually. I think it’s even the one I took to college with me. It was, during school days, my main mode of transport. Somehow I let that bike go and didn’t have another one for a long time. In recent years I’ve gotten back into it, not as a major cyclist or anything, just as a day rider, and have loved every moment I’m in the seat. It’s liberating, invigorating, and free. Last year I got a new, slightly better bike, and it’s been heaven. Stepping out to the garage and just hoping on the bike and going out for a spin, so much fun. SO much fun. Makes me feel the same way I did when I was a kid.
33. Life. I’m grateful for it. Four years ago first my honey and then I had brushes with death. Both sicknesses, both life threatening, both terrifying. We each pulled through with flying colors, but at times, for each of us, it was touch and go. I’m grateful we are both here and loving, laughing, experiencing, exploring, and trying to drink in every bit of life. I’m so very grateful.
34. Not taking things for granted. I don’t. I feel an expanding sense of gratitude all the time. I know my life is good, and I don’t take that for granted. I’m glad I don’t. I’m lucky to know not to. I’ve always been this way, but as I get older, and as I’ve experienced more in life, I feel this even more. I wish I could gift it to everyone, this feeling of being so thankful for what I have, and so in tune with that feeling. It changes everything, or can anyway. I know people who struggle with life, always feeling they are owed, or due something, or that they have been robbed of something. I feel so sad for them. Honestly sad. Our lives are a matter of perspective. “Coffey looks and he sees hate and fear, you have to look with better eyes than that”. It’s my favorite line from the move The Abyss. It says everything there is to say. We all have to look with our best eyes. I’m not preaching here, OK, maybe I am just a little, I’m just trying to say that I’m grateful that I don’t take things for granted and I wish everyone could feel what that feels like.
35. Connection. I feel a deep sense of connection. Not just to my family and friends, but to the world at large. I feel a spiritual connection to all living things, and therefore a responsibility to them. I’m grateful for this feeling. It brings a depth to my life, helping me to center myself at times, to know my place. Again, I’m but a drop in the bucket and this larger living world is a huge place filled with wonders.
36. Silliness. I was going to write a good laugh here, but changed my mind and wrote silliness instead. There’s nothing like being silly, being a dork, being unafraid to be ridiculous and not care what anyone thinks. I’m a total dork. I admit it. I embrace it. I say and do things that get me strange looks at times. I’m OK with that. I’m grateful for the quirk in myself, for the quirk in my friends, for the dorkiness of my family, for the natural pratfalls and schtick, and playfulness in myself and the people I love. Everyone should be willing to dance in the rain and do silly stuff just to make the people you love laugh. At least, that’s what I think. Last night I was talking in the most ridiculous southern accent just to make my honey laugh. She did. It was awesome.
37. Film. I adore a good movie. I cry, learn, expand, dream, breathe, laugh, and find so much beauty in movies. I always have. It’s the stories, the hope, the despair, the human commonality, the connection with places and people who I feel I know. Near or far, made in the US or not, these stories grow a world view, empower change, enlighten, and sometimes offer an escape and relief from my daily life. I value them, their contribution, their art. I value their expression and message, even if I don’t always agree with it. Movies enrich my life in a myriad of ways.
38. The Library. I’ve always been a fan of libraries. When I was younger I used to hang out in them a bit to do homework, people watch, enjoy a quiet place. I never took full advantage of one and I’m not sure I even had a library card (other than in college) anywhere I’ve lived, until now. When we moved to C-U we, naturally because it’s why we moved here, started hanging out a lot with our first grandson. The library in our town has a great children’s area and a couple of times we found ourselves there with him exploring the kids area, playing with the train, running up and down the little stairs. I decided to look around a bit and discovered they had a lot to offer and set about getting a library card. I’m so glad I did. Books, movies, music, magazines, and so much are now at my fingertips. I created a hold list and add stuff to it all the time. It’s so much fun. In a time in our lives when we are trying to live smaller, use less, and have less, the library provides a great way for me to still enjoy all those things I love without having to pay out tons of money, or find tons of space in the house. Plus, again, it’s so much fun.
39. The Y. We also joined the Y when we moved here. We’d never been members of a gym together. Not really. Well, OK, we joined another gym the first year we were here, but it was small and in a mall. Neither of those things were necessarily bad, but it was limited. Then the new Y opened up and we went in to check it out. Great facility. Pools, weight rooms, indoor track, rock climbing wall, great locker room facilities, and a great play space for the grand boys. We were hooked and signed up. We go through spurts when using it, like most people with gym memberships, but the diverse class offerings (we’re going to try yoga next week), combined with the facilities themselves and the incredibly nice staff make it a total winner. We absolutely love it, and I’m particularly fond of it now as I’m back in a swimming mode and love being in the water.
40. Our meat man. I get a lot of joy out of this one. When we moved to Illinois from Oregon I did a lot of research on sustainable food sources, organic availability, grocery stores and what they offered, etc. Coming from the Portland area we were used to having locally sourced meat and other foods available to us all the time. What I found in my search here was that we could join a meat club. Yay. Seriously, it’s the coolest thing. We buy our meat directly from a farmer. We can visit the farm, though we haven’t, if we want to. We know his practices, like him and the other people who work the truck when we do our monthly pick up, and totally dig on the superior quality of the meat we are now eating. It tastes better than anything we’ve ever purchased, anywhere. It rocks, and we love that we get the majority of our meat this way. We get an email every month, we use and order form and email back what we want, we show up at the pick up spot and pick it up. It rocks.
41. Quirky art. My honey and I are fans of art. All kinds actually. We’ve purchased sculptures and paintings and photography and funky lamps and stain glass pieces. We’ve even made some of our own, of various kinds. It’s a great thing to go to some art fair and find something we both love. It’s a rule, we don’t buy anything unless we agree on it, which actually isn’t that tough since our tastes are similar. I love the pieces we’ve purchased and so does she. We haven’t regretted a single one and the whole of them makes our house uniquely ours. It’s funky, it’s fun, it’s joyous. And I’m grateful for the funky beautiful things we’ve managed to collect. They represent us well.
42. Coffee. I can’t believe this didn’t occur to me earlier in this list, but no matter. I love a great cup of joe. Love it. We buy our beans from a local roasting company and every morning we grind them fresh and make two french presses full of gorgeous, beautiful, sweet-smelling coffee. There’s nothing like that first cup of the day, except for maybe the third cup… or the second. We’re also fans of going out to a local spot (no Starbucks for us anymore), and enjoying a nice cup of drip coffee. A good cup of coffee can be heaven in a cup.
43. Our DVR. This one is a tad shallow, but who cares. These are the things I’m grateful for and the DVR, and services like Netflix, are on the list. I love not having to watch commercials. I love being able to watch what we want when we want to. I love the ease of it all. I love the technology of it all. We watch only what we want, when we want to, and barely know anything else is on. Lovely.
44. The Up Center. Moving to a new place is tough. Especially when you love where you already live, have a fantastic group of friends, and aren’t over the moon with where you are going. Our transition, those first couple of months, was tough. We cried, we had regrets, we asked ourselves what the hell were we thinking and why did we do it? Of course, we did it for the grand son (there was only the one at the time, not the two and the baby girl on the way we have now) and he was totally worth it. It’s just that we had a big big life in Oregon and at first our move here was difficult. But, we found a little place called the Up Center, went to a group or two, met some people, and started making friends. All the friends we have here we met through that organization. It’s because of that I’m so grateful for it. We have a stellar group of friends here. A truly amazing group. A group we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.
45. Big Boy Shorts/Pants. I’m a huge fan of cargo shorts. My honey and I call these our big boy shorts. We also have big boy pants. Nothing says convenience more than shorts equipped with pockets. Keys, phone, wallet, etc. They all fit. No purse, no backpack, no anything else to carry. It’s perfect. They are perfect. I really dig them. Grateful for the ease of wearing them.
46. Our bird feeders. I’ve never really been into birds. I mean, they can be lovely and all, but I wasn’t ever a bird watcher or anything. Then we moved to Illinois and my honey wanted bird feeders. She is a bird lover. We tried a few configurations including sitting them up on things or putting them on hooks. We have a lot of trees which means we have a lot of squirrels. Finally it occurred to us that we needed something taller. A long story short, we actually sunk posts in with hooks on each side. We stained them, put copper tops on them, and used nice wrought iron hooks. They’re great. And we get loads of birds. So many types it’s amazing. I’m a bird person now.
47. Our down comforters. We have both a summer and a winter comforter, they’re both down. There’s something extra snuggly about getting into bed with either of these on. They make our life so much more comfortable. They’re awesome.
48. Grateful. I’m grateful for being grateful. I often feel a wave of gratefulness wash over me. Not sure where it comes from all the time, but it happens. I’m grateful for this feeling. For knowing there’s so much to be grateful for.
49. A positive attitude. It’s fitting that I should save this for last. It’s important to me, and a big part of who I am. Don’t get me wrong. I am afraid sometimes, really afraid. I worry. I get really angry sometimes. I’m moody. I’m not always the person who says let’s hold hands and all sing kumbaya. But for the most part, most of the time, I’m pretty upbeat. I tend to look on the bright side. I think it’s a mixture of hope and what I believe to be true all rolled together. I’m genuinely hopeful, most of the time. I also genuinely believe in the overwhelming good of most people. I know there are evil souls out there doing bad things, but I truly believe that for the most part people are good, are trying to do what they think is best, are sincere and giving and gracious and kind. I believe that. I’m glad I do. I believe that things can work out. They don’t always, but they can. I’ve always been this way. Maybe that’s why the teachers at my high school gave me a president’s award my senior year for having the best attitude. I believe we should smile at each other, with our eyes, and say thank you, and that we should be friendly, we should be nice. A positive attitude gives you a lot in return as well. In my opinion it just doesn’t project out toward the world, it gives you a better view of it.
So there it is. My list of 49 things I’m grateful for as I start this year of my life. 50 is just around the corner and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year, leading up to that milestone, brings to my life. It’s exciting.
I was sitting outside this morning, enjoying a bit of time before the heat and humidity forced me back inside. I had a cup of coffee and was chatting with K about our trip to Oregon this year, going over some of the little details of the trip out, discussing some of the things we will do while we’re there. During the discussion I started thinking about all of our people out there, which I often do. I wondered if we would get to see most of them, I hoped we would.
Thinking about the people you miss sometimes leads to thinking about the life you’ve had. Mine has been amazing so far. Amazing, mostly, because of the people who have been in my life, either for a short time or for most of it. It’s the people, you see, who make a life what it is. It’s the experiences you have with those people who make the memories you hold on to, that make this journey we are all on worth the ride.
In that short time sitting outside I ran the gamut of my life, thinking about antics on playgrounds, singing silly songs in high school hallways, riding around in my Plymouth Scamp, playing frisbee in dark parks, skipping class to go to the coast, bridesmaids dresses, card games, talks in coffee shops, bike rides, racquetball, drive-in movies, travel to far away places, crying together, music shared, and laughter. So much laughter. So many smiles. I have what seems like an endless litany of shared experiences.
My thoughts then turned to Facebook, which really isn’t that strange of a leap to make. I realized, during this short accounting of my life, that I am friends on Facebook with people from all phases of my life. I have managed to gather them there, these parts of my life, parts of myself. I can look at my friends list and see people I knew in grade school, people I spent time with in high school, people I met in college, and people from my work life afterward. And I realized something else… I love them all. I love them like I love those versions of myself. The versions of me I was when I knew them. I hold those parts of myself close, trying to remember who I’ve been, how far I’ve traveled in life, and who these wonderful people have become themselves. Who we are all becoming, every day as we move forward in life.
It’s a deep thought, not easily articulated. I guess I will say this. I love Facebook. Not for the games or the re-posting or the political stuff I seem to be inundated with every day, but for the connection. I love it for the window into people’s lives. For the thoughts and photos and snippets of things that are important to them. People I’ve loved, people I still love for who they were to me, who they are to me now. People who have made my life what it is, who have made me who I am. I’m grateful for this connection, for this window. I’m blessed to have been able to renew those ties to my former self, my younger self, and to stay connected to family and friends in far away places.
Before Facebook these parts of my life were like vapor. Diffused. Slightly transparent. Now, though still removed and in far off places, they are re-connected to me. And I am, miraculously, reconnected to myself, to my past, to this life I’ve lived and am living, and to the people that have made this life. I’m grateful for that.
It’s the 12th of June. We’ve been legally married for 10 days now. I don’t feel any more married than I did before, though we were told, immediately after getting the deed done, that now if we split up we’d have to get divorced like everyone else. That made us laugh.
In 2003 my life changed for good, in both senses of that word. It got infinitely better and was also altered for all time. I met K, and life changed. Ours is a true love story. Girl meets girl, they fall madly in love, they buy a house, they do their own marriage ceremony on a far off Hawaiian island because it’s not legal where they live anyway and Hawaii was the perfect spot, they return home and have a party with their families and friends to celebrate both the purchase of their first home together and their union, and bliss ensues, even if it’s not legally wedded bliss.
Flash forward five years and Oregon gets Domestic Partnership. We already considered ourselves married, but this was a step toward legal recognition, so I marched over to the County Clerk‘s desk (I worked for the county so it wasn’t a long jaunt), filled out the form, took it home for K to sign, paid the fee, and tah-da! we were suddenly legally domestically partnered. Soon after we got a letter from the state of Oregon telling us we now had to file our state taxes together. However, we still couldn’t file together federally so we had to do a fake federal return every year to go with the real Oregon return we filed. Hilarious, and annoying.
A couple of years later K got sick, and not long after that I did. Both required hospitalization and nearer to death than we’d like experiences. Both times the hospital staff were very nice to us, as a couple, and even complimented us on our relationship, saying we were more devoted to each other than many couples they’d seen together. But, they also asked us, in the middle of emotional crisis, to call our attorney and have him fax over our legal paperwork, which we’d done not long after we bought our house together, to protect ourselves and our relationship because we couldn’t get protections through legal marriage. They said that they didn’t perceive an issue, but just in case, to be safe, we should get that paperwork on file with the hospital so we could make decisions for each other. We were glad we had that paperwork, but slightly upset we had to go through all that, on top of everything else that was going on, during very hard times. But, you do what you have to, even if other couples don’t have to.
We continued to live our blissfully un-legally married lives. We got dogs (who we still have and adore more than we could ever explain), we bought rental properties, took vacations, took a motorcycle class and then bought motorcycles, got into kayaking and started doing that, went to dinners with friends and celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, visited our families, worked in the yard, eventually moved to another state, set up a new house, spent time with our grandson (and then, as of last year, grandsons), bought and sold cars, sold that first house we’d bought together those years ago (ironically the sale happened during our 10th anniversary road trip), and loved each other the whole way. We are still loving each other, the whole way.
Suddenly, or actually not so suddenly, this year, an amazing thing happened, marriage became legal. Huh? And, Yeah!
The subject of marriage equality, in our normal every day lives, rarely ever came up. We were living as a married couple, thought of ourselves as a married couple, and have been treated like a married couple by our families and friends for years. But, we were never legally married. We were married in every way that counted, save for that one. Once in a while we’d talk about it, about being legal, about getting to be the same as everyone else we knew, as our brothers and sisters had been able to, as our parents had been able to, as many of our friends had been able to. Something they all took for granted. Meet someone you love, marry them, settle down. For us it was never that easy, we had never been allowed do it. We were barred from it though we were expected to pay our taxes like everyone else, without getting all the benefit those taxes are supposed to ensure. Rubbish. It was rubbish, but there was nothing we could do about it, not really. So we’d talk about it once in awhile, get disgruntled, I’d sometimes cry, and we’d move on to other more important things, like what to make for dinner and the logistics of taking the car in for service and what we were going to do on the weekend when we spent time with the kids and the grand boys. Life stuff. Tangible stuff.
Then, as I said, marriage happened. So, the day after it was legal here in Illinois, we again marched down to yet another County Clerk’s office to, as we’d read we could, to trade in our Oregon Domestic Partnership for an actual marriage certificate. We walked into the building joking with each other, laughing, saying hey, wanna get married? We walked up to the counter, whipped out our domestic partnership paperwork, and were immediately told no. It was a kind and polite no, but a no none the less. They said IF we’d had an Illinois Civil Union we could trade that in, and trade up, but not with our domestic partnership stuff. I was, as is per usual, ready to accept it and ask for a marriage license so we could get married, K was not deterred, as is per usual for her (thank goodness!). She said she’d read it on the state website, that we should be able to it, and that the conversion should be, as stated on the state website, backdated to our domestic partnership date. The clerk went back to talk to the actual County Clerk, more than once, who finally came out to chat with us. He again said no, but by then I was onboard and explained that Oregon’s Domestic Partnership was legally binding, just like Illinois’ Civil Unions were, and that we were even required to file taxes together in Oregon. He smiled and said this was the first time they’d run into a situation like this, as it was all new to them as well, and he had to go make a call. A bit later he came back, said we were correct, that Oregon’s was legally binding, and that they would indeed convert our domestic partnership to a marriage certificate backdated to our domestic partnership date. He congratulated us, shook our hands, as other people in the office also congratulated us. So did the heterosexual couple standing at the window next to us who was applying for their own marriage license. Everyone was pretty awesome. About 15 minutes later there we were, walking out with two legal copies of our marriage certificate, dated 2008. We were, suddenly, after all this time, legally married. We smiled, we giggled, and… I cried. Of course I did.
Now, looking back on it all, the legalization has changed nothing in our day-to-day lives. We made dinner that night, we chatted with K’s parents, who were visiting us at the time, we called our tree guy about a damaged limb we need to get removed, we snuggled our pups, held our grandsons, and did a million other things we do every day, every week, and have done every year since we met and fell in love. It hasn’t changed us, but somehow the light is a bit brighter, the wind is a bit sweeter, and the world is strangely a tad more solid under our feet. We are married. We are legally married. We are suddenly, miraculously, the same, afforded the same privileges and pains in the ass as every other legally married couple. And yes… if we ever decide to split up, we will have to get divorced. I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that won’t happen, but the fact that we would have to get divorced means a lot. We take on the good with the bad, the consequences with the privileges, we take it all. Because we, my friends, are now in the same boat as every other married couple we know. We’ve traded up. Traded up to a marriage we already had.