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…
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.
Here we are, the final day of thanks for the month of November. I think every day, in my normal life, I say a mental and emotional thank you for something… the way my honey laughs, the excited way the pups greet me every time I walk in a room, the smiles of my grandsons, the beauty of the sky or the day or the soul of a friend. I appreciate things. Even so, this has been a lovely exercise in purposed thankfulness. Being cognizant of what I have in my life. I have a lot.
30. I am thankful for love. Love of all kinds. Love from friends, family, my pups, the grandsons, the kids, my Mom, my siblings, and most of all my honey. I am blessed to have so much love in my life. More love and more joy from that love than I could ever dream possible. I feel it like a wave sometimes, immense and overwhelming in a totally good way, and other times it’s presence is like a vast and endless calm sea supporting the weight of this tiny ship. Most importantly, I feel it. Always. I’m lucky, fortunate, grateful, thankful, honored, blessed, graced, and humbled by the magnitude of it. I am loved, and I love. It’s beautiful.
29. I’m thankful for travel. I’m lucky enough to have been a few places. K and I love to experience a new place; the people, the smells, the tastes, the culture, a window into the way people live their lives. We love this. I’ve loved it since I was young and our family headed out on one road trip after another. I loved it when I went to Europe for the first time when I was 16. I love it when K and I go on a car trip that can last a day or a couple of weeks. I love it when we pack and bag and fly off to who knows where or jump on a cruise ship or take a train ride. Traveling brings a sense of how large the world is, and yet it also brings a feeling of sameness and smallness. People are people, everywhere. Loving, searching, laughing, angry, happy, striving, living — the same. Travel gives you a window to that. It also gives a sense of wonder about the world. There are amazing things to see and wonderful people to meet. This world of ours is a fantastic place. However we travel, being out on the road with a backpack, a camera, and my honey is about the best place to be.
28. I’m thankful for film. I love going to the theater, buying the tickets, finding seats, lights go down, previews play, some guy sitting somewhere coughs, the sounds of people munching popcorn, music comes up, and then… action. Movies open us to worlds we don’t know, lives we haven’t lived, places we’ve never been, feelings we’re to afraid to speak out loud, and beauty inside and out. They are magical and heart-wrenching and filled with wonder. They are scary and frustrating and amazing. They are our stories, and where some of our best story-telling happens. I’ve spent a lot of time in theaters and pressing play on the Blu-Ray player. I find movies wonderful and am so thankful for the joy they’ve brought to my life.
27. I’m thankful for sunsets. I was just working on my photos over at Flickr and came across several lovely sunset photos. Nothing creates a sense of awe and peace and wonder quite like a good sunset. Nature made, they are wonderful things to behold.
26. I am thankful for beautiful architecture. I’m fascinated by building. Not the building I have done, which is none, or might do, which is also probably none, but by the amazing structures all around me. Capturing form, light, and harnessing the marriage between use and beauty, I am constantly in awe of form, everywhere. From amazing mid-century modern homes to the Natural History Museum in London, Tower Bridge to La Sagrada Familia in Spain, I’ve been lucky to see some wonderfully gorgeous buildings and structures. The minds of humans are fantastic and astounding.
25. I am thankful for poetry. e.e. cummings, pablo neruda, w.h. auden, william carlos williams, sylvia plath, h.d., charles bukowski, poe, whitman, longfellow, yeats, thoreau, tennyson, shakespeare, frost, dickinson and on and on. I’ve spent hours enjoying beautiful words written by amazing minds and hours trying to write my own words. These words have enriched my life, helped me to better make sense of my world, and given me deeper understanding of life as I know it.
24. I am thankful for lined jeans. It’s cold cold cold outside. Temps well below freezing and wind chill bringing it even further down. Lined jeans, down coats, and warm hats make all the difference. I was walking the dogs tonight in the cold and the wind was blowing hard. It was cold out and I was toasty warm. Thanks to lined jeans.
23. I’m thankful for my grandparents. Bill and Martha were the best. They gave us all, and there are a lot of us, such a great sense of family and fun and strength and curiosity and acceptance and love. I’ve written about them here and here and here and so many other times on this blog before, but I can’t say enough about how thankful I am to have come from, and been able to spend time with, such amazing people. I see them everyday in my Mom, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and myself. We are their legacy, and if you ask me, they did good. I feel them every day and I’m so thankful for that.
22. I’m thankful for YouTube. I’m not someone who watches loads of silly videos and in fact I haven’t done that hardly at all. Mostly I watch, and listen to, music videos, live performances, and such. Once in a while I use it for movie clips or trailers as well, but mostly it’s all about the music for me. And what a wonderful thing it is to be able to sit with headphones on and listen to recordings of live performances. I’m a tad obsessed with music, as I said in an earlier 30 days post, and YouTube is just another avenue for music listening. I adore it.
21. I am thankful for the birds in our backyard. I’ve never really been a bird person. I like looking at them, am amazed by them, but haven’t ever really been into them. Until now. My honey loves birds. She loves animals of all kinds actually, but she really digs on the birds in our backyard. So much so we’ve got this whole feeding system going on back there that’s pretty spectacular. It actually involved putting in posts (with cement to anchor), stove pipe (to stop the squirrels from climbing), and then hooks on top for the feeders. We stained them and put copper post tops on. They look pretty fantastic. We have two of these posts now which means there are eight feeders. This doesn’t count the outside clothes dryer pole that used to be a drying apparatus and was cut off to now be a post with a tray feeder on top (we didn’t need to dry clothes outside anyway… we have a stand alone rack for that if we want one) or the other colored rod iron poles we have around the yard or the two bird baths. Yes, we are a veritable bird sanctuary. All because my honey loves birds. We have bird books now and binoculars for looking out to see them up close. It’s sort of awesome. I was never into them before, but now… I just went and filled up a pitcher with hot water to take out and pour over the bird bath water (which this time of year pretty much freezes every night) so they have some water to drink. I’m in it. And I’m thankful for that.
20. I’m thankful for this beautiful place we live. We’ve traveled a lot and especially love road trips here in the states. We’ve seen a lot of the country and we’re always amazed by it. It seems no matter where we go it’s beautiful and unique and pretty fantastic. We’re lucky to live in the U.S. and we know it.
19. I’m thankful for the kids. I never had my own children. Never really wanted to, until I met K. By then we were old enough that we decided having them wouldn’t work. Lucky for me K already had children. They were grown, but she had them. It meant, and means, that I get to be a step-parent to some great kids. When I met K her daughter was in college. She visited in the summers and we went to visit at various times of the year. In the years since she graduated, met her husband, moved to England with him, started having babies, and moved back to the states. K’s son graduated from college and moved to Japan, lived there for several years, and is now back in the states. We live near K’s daughter, her husband (who I also feel is a kid to us), and the grand boys, and we get to see K’s son when we visit Portland or he visits here. I’m lucky. Before K there was just me, my family, and my friends. It was a good life, I enjoyed it. But now, wow. My life is so much richer, so much more full and lovely because I get to spend time with the kids and the grandsons. We enjoy them, have fun spending time with them, have had big adventures with them, and we love them tremendously.
17. I’m thankful for laughter. The way my honey laughs with her whole body, how my brother slaps his knee when it’s a real good one, the grandsons giddy sounds, my friends smiling eyes when they laugh, strangers passing by who are cracking up, my family’s sounds of laughter at a family function, and my laugh when I’m crying because something is just so wonderful. Laughter is the music of the soul. It’s joy out loud. I’m greedy for it, in myself and in others. Nothing beats a good laugh.
16. I’m thankful for our furnace and air conditioning. It’s cold in Illinois in the winter. Cold. It’s also hot in the summer. Humid and hot. We live in a place of extremes and I’m so very grateful for the warmth and coziness of the heat on those cold winter mornings (like today) and for the cool refreshing air conditioning on those hottest of hot summer days. They both make our lives so much nicer, so much easier. And it’s not lost on me that other people in other places don’t have either, which makes me appreciate both all the more. I’m so thankful for the heat every time the temps get down to 17 and the windchill brings that down even further. So grateful for the coolness of the air every time humidity is 88 percent and it’s already 100 outside. For these things I’m thankful, everyday.
Halfway through. I can’t believe this little exercise is going so fast, let alone how the month of November seems to be speeding by.
15. I’m thankful for photography. It is a vehicle for the passionate drive I have to create and allows me to see the world in ways I didn’t, before I picked up a camera, know were possible. It brings me joy and helps to fuel my awe for the wonder and magic all around us. Whether it’s snapping a picture with my iPhone or capturing an image with one of my Canons, I’m lucky to have found it and so very thankful I did.
14. I’m thankful for the water around me. Whether it’s clean drinking water, a warm shower, snow, a lake to kayak in, a pool to swim in, ice for my drink, a river to fish in, rain, or an ocean to be amazed at I am so grateful and thankful for all it’s lovely forms. I’m a water girl. I learned to swim at a young age and have spent many hours near or on the water creating memories with family and friends. It’s a gift and a blessing I appreciate whole heartedly and don’t take for granted. I’m lucky, and thankful, it’s so readily available to me. I know others don’t have it so lucky.
13. I’m thankful for the music in my life. I was fortunate to grow up around people who love, listen to, and play all types of music. It instilled in me a love for all types of amazing sound. Nothing fills the soul more than a fantastic piece of music. My tastes are eclectic and varied, which was also a gift from a myriad of people, and thankfully I have music in and around my life every day.
12. I’m thankful for my friends, near and far, who are the best people I could hope to know. Each of you has brought such depth and joy and fun and meaning to my life. I’m blessed, honored, lucky, and humbled beyond measure by the quality of my friendships. I have so much love for you and am so thankful for the love you’ve always given me.
11. I’m thankful for the sacrifices the men and women in the armed forces give us every day. My family has a long history of serving and I’m so proud of that history. Without our veterans we would not enjoy all the freedoms we do today. I’m thankful for what they’ve done, and for what they continue to do.
The photo is of my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and my mom as a baby.
Here we are, a third of the way through, and I feel like I’m just getting started. This is good for the soul. This little affirmation every day of things to be thankful and grateful for. It’s sending positive energy out into the world. I feel that from others. I feel that for myself.
10. I’m thankful for coffee, in all it’s forms — lattes, au laits, drip, french press, espresso, iced, hot, and a lovely thing called a Bibero I once had in Spain. Not only does it help me to wake in the morning, I enjoy it. I love the warmth in the morning and sometimes the cold in the afternoon. I love the flavor of a flavored drink or the simplicity of a really good cup o’ joe. I enjoy trying new cafes and stands and diners. I’m a fan, and thankful I get to drink the stuff. It brings me joy.
9. I’m thankful for the visual world. I am made breathless every day by something I see. It seems everywhere I look there’s beauty and magnificence. It constantly amazes, enlightens, and nourishes my soul. Leaves blowing from trees, blue sky, rain drops falling just so, structures made by man, light in all it’s forms. Everything has history and a story to tell. All of it inspires awe and is magical.
8. I’m thankful for my second family. When K and I got together I didn’t realize at the time that I’d be gaining a whole new set of people to call my own. People who in turn would call me their own. People who made me a part of the family and have accepted and loved me ever since. They are amazing and I’m so fortunate to have them in my life.