Eight Years

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Photo by TJ Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow.  What a ride it’s been so far.

 

 

 

 

Gratitude and Grace

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

I had a great conversation the other night about gratitude and grace and the things that are important in life.  It was lovely, and a good reminder.

 

It’s very tough to not be overwhelmed by the things in life that don’t go as planned, the things in the world that are heartbreaking.  It’s easy to forget ourselves, forget the good and the light and the hope.  But this time of year, it’s all about those things.

There’s meaning in the little things, it’s really where the good stuff lives.  A smile, a sunset, a snuggle from one of the dogs, the laughter of a grandchild, light through the trees, a good meal, warm socks, a good hug, small kindnesses, small generosities, the bluest blue in the sky, music playing, walks in the crisp air, a good meal with friends, love, love in any form it comes to you.

I have no big message of thanks, this year, but will offer this.  It isn’t about the big things, the mighty changes, and large leaps.  Those things are rare.  What it’s about, and should be, are the small things.  Those little moments of grace and gratitude.  They are the meat of life, the soul of it.

And in that vein, we’re going to take the dogs out for a walk on this crisp Illinois fall day.  The sky is the most lovely blue.

The Whistler

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

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

I have stories.  So many stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you so very much, Mom.

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

 

 

Missing a Film and Missing a Dog

b272c-16124110_1754114004904848_3202377720986075136_nI 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.

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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.

52 Thoughts – Tenth Thought

 

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Mind, body, spirit.  We’ve been trying to take care of the body part of that equation for a bit now.  Joined a new gym a month or so ago.  We’ve been going very regularly since save for the time we were in San Jose and then we at least tried to walk every day.  Moving the body has been great for the two other parts of that equation, mind, and spirit.  It makes me feel good about me to take care of myself.  Puts me in a good mental place.

 

That is all.

Our Boy is 10

Today is our boy, Weston’s, 10th birthday.  I can’t even begin to express what he means and has meant to our lives.  He is cantankerous, mischievous, smart, fun, quirky, and very loving.  He is our little Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.  He can be very affectionate one minute and try to gnash at you the next if you look like you might want to take something from him.  Never try and take something from him.  He loves to play catch with a ball and can actually nose that ball back to you over and over so you are literally playing catch with him.  It’s crazy and cool.  We really should take a video of it.  He loves going on walks, letting us know in the afternoon if he hasn’t had one yet that day by giving us the half bark.  He loves bully sticks and cheese.  He loves cuddle time in the morning, wanting to be spooned with his head on my pillow, and cuddle time at night when we watch TV, laying on me with his head on my chest.  He barks to get veggies when we are cutting them up for dinner and whines to get just a little bit of oatmeal in the morning.  It’s not his fault, we give him veggies and oatmeal.  We spoil him.  We should.

Our philosophy about our pups has always been that we chose them, and because we chose them we owe them.  We owe them a good life, love, fun, walks, and our attention.  They are pure creatures.  Innocent.  Dependent on us in so many ways.  And because of this, we have an obligation to them.  Every day.  To take care of them the best way we can, to love them like they deserve to be loved, and to accept their little foibles and faults, because yes, they have them.

Weston is our little man.  Our grumpy, moody, affectionate little dude.  He is light and love and sometimes frustration, but he is ours, and we are his.  I love him more than I can say and am grateful every day for his little furry presence in my life.

Happy birthday little man.  We love you.

52 Thoughts – Ninth Thought

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Photo by TJ Parker

Be kind in big ways and small even when it seems a tad difficult.  Be present.  Listen more, talk less. Close my eyes, turn my face to the sun or the wind or both at the same time and breathe deeply.  Spend time on or near the water.  Go on long walks with the pups. Drink life in.  Be silly and dorky and unafraid to make a fool of myself.  We are bombarded with information every day so choose wisely.  Life is a matter of perception so remember I can see things in a negative or positive light. Act to change things in ways I feel I can.  Meet the world with love and good intentions in my heart instead of fear and anger.  Smile at people I know and don’t know.  Bridge gaps.  Notice a glint of sun.  Appreciate the natural world.  Think about what it might be like for others.  Cuddle the pups often.  Laugh and play with the grandkids. Write letters. Tell people I love them.  Be honest even when it’s uncomfortable.  Share. Recognize joy. Believe in hope. Dance. Cry. Be curious. Give lots of hugs. Accept compliments. Hold my honey’s hand every chance I can.