|Do not doubt your own basic goodness. In spite of all confusion and fear, you are born with a heart that knows what is just, loving, and beautiful.|
This week, the news of the world is bleak, another war
grinding on, and all these friends down with cancer,
or worse, a little something long term that they won’t die of
for twenty or thirty miserable years—
And here I live in a house of weathered brick, where a man
with silver hair still thinks I’m beautiful. How many times
have I forgotten to give thanks? The late day sun shines
through the pink wisteria with its green and white leaves
as if it were stained glass, there’s an old cherry tree
that one lucky Sunday bloomed with a rainbow:
cardinals, orioles, goldfinches, blue jays, indigo buntings,
and my garden has tiny lettuces just coming up,
so perfect they could make you cry: Green Towers,
Red Sails, Oak Leaf. For this is May, and the whole world
sings, gleams, as if it were basted in butter, and the air’s
sweet enough to send a diabetic into shock—
And at least today, all the parts of my body are working,
the sky’s clear as a china bowl, leaves murmur their leafy chatter,
finches percolate along. I’m doodling around this page,
know sorrow’s somewhere beyond the horizon, but still, I’m riffing
on the warm air, the wingbeats of my lungs that can take this all in,
flush the heart’s red peony, then send it back without effort or thought.
And the trees breathe in what we exhale, clap their green hands
in gratitude, bend to the sky.
First published in Poetry East, then in Line Dance (Word Press, 2008).
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.
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.
It’s Thanksgiving. I’m thankful, and grateful, for so many things… the people in my life who I love and who love me, the warmth of the sun on a cold day, cuddles with the pups, a cup of hot coffee with just the right amount of half and half, a good story, the birds at the feeders, a song that moves me, the coziness of our house, the smiles on the grandkids faces and their amazing laughter, the moment I “see” the perfect photograph, long walks in lovely parks, the wind in the trees, forgiveness given and received, the taste of chocolate, a comfy pair of socks, and my wondrous relationship with my honey that never, even after all this time, ceases to amaze and delight me.
There are things in life to be grateful and thankful for every day. Every moment of every day. We just have to look around, we have to see them.
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
~ John Milton
Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe.
~ Wayne Dyer
I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.
~ Brene Brown
For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.
~ Elie Wiesel
Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.
~ Eckhart Tolle
The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes. It has enough lush forests, flowered fields, and sandy beaches. It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day. What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.
~ Michael Josephson
Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.
~ A.A. Milne
I truly believe we can either see the connections, celebrate them, and express gratitude for our blessings, or we can see life as a string of coincidences that have no meaning or connection. For me, I’m going to believe in miracles, celebrate life, rejoice in the views of eternity, and hope my choices will create a positive ripple effect in the lives of others. This is my choice.
~ Mike Ericksen
They both seemed to understand that describing it was beyond their powers, the gratitude that spreads through your body when a burden gets lifted, and the sense of homecoming that follows, when you suddenly remember what it feels like to be yourself.
~ Tom Perrotta
This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.
~ Maya Angelou
“But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise on your lips.”
— Kahlil Gibran
I know, I know, there’s a lot of shit going on in the world. Yes, I said shit, I’m allowed to cuss once in a while. Sometimes no other word works. Seriously though, I’m not blind to all the stuff that’s not working. I know there are things that need fixing.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in what’s wrong. It’s so easy in fact that we don’t see what’s going right. What’s good. The conflict and hate and the things we dislike seem to take our attention. I’m not sure why that is. We get critical of, and complain about a myriad of things – family members and politicians and news programs and celebrities and an endless litany of stuff. The onslaught leaves us in a state of anxiety, anger, and helplessness. Is there another way?
Sometimes, I think it’s just a matter of perspective. Sometimes, all it takes is a moment, a little shift. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and open them again. Look at the sky and the light and the faces of the people you love. Put on a great album and hear the notes, the arrangement, the groove of the vocals. Read a book and appreciate the beauty of the words. Listen to the laughter of your children or grandchildren or your spouse. Play with your pups or cats or rabbits or lizards and notice how much they love you. Seek out positivity in your news, see what good is being done out in the world, there’s so much of it. Notice kindnesses and smiles and the friendliness of your neighbors. Watch sunsets and look with wonder at the amazing things we can build when we dream. See the world with different eyes, a different heart, and it will be different. It can be. Even if we only manage to do it for a moment or a day. String those moments to hours and those days to weeks. If we notice the kindnesses in the world, maybe we’ll act with more kindness. Be the love you want to see in the world.
I’m in a good mood today and I want everyone to be in a good mood.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day seven and these feelings of being thankful are still going strong.
7. I’m thankful for my brother, Kevin. We’ve been through so much together. No two people have the same experiences he and I share. But more than that, he’s a fantastic brother, and a gentle soul. He’s also famously the best hugger in the family. In fact, when someone gives someone else a big hug they call it giving a Kevin. Funny, but true. He’s my partner in dorkiness and has one of the best belly laughs I’ve ever heard.
November. So many great things about it – leaves changing and falling, cooler temperatures lead to the wearing of jackets and hats, blankets and the beginnings of spending more cozy time indoors, women’s basketball, football in full swing, and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.
I’m actually not much of a holiday person. I know, bah hum bug, but it’s true. I don’t much like decorating or dressing up and I definitely don’t like the commercialism if it all. Decidedly not my thing. But Thanksgiving, that’s for me. Family time, food, conversation, and a general spirit of thankfulness.
In the last couple of years I’ve noticed more and more people doing this thing called 30 Days of Thanks on Facebook. Listing, each day of the month, something they’re thankful for. I love this idea. I’ve written a lot about being thankful, grateful, and lucky for various things in my life on this blog. Obviously I’m a big proponent of saying thank you and so jumping on the bandwagon of something as cool as taking a moment every day to give thanks for someone or something seems like a great idea to me. All this thanking is good for the world. It’s been good for me to read the thanks other people are putting down. It’s warm and fuzzy. It’s good energy. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’m a bit late starting this, so I’ll be doing a little catch up, but here we go…
1. I’m thankful for my split apart. Every day I get more love, laughter, and togetherness than a person really has a right to. She’s poetry and light. She completes me.
2. I’m thankful for the wag in our pups tails. The pups add so much joy, fun, and wonder, and magic to our lives. They make our family. I love them.
3. I’m thankful for having the coolest, most wonderful, amazingly awesome Mom a person could have. Not just my Mom, she’s also my friend. And that smile — wow.
4. I’m thankful for words. They have, and continue to, inspire, transform, encourage, explain the world, and enlighten me. I’m so appreciative of their presence in my life.
And there it is… I’ve caught up. Tomorrow number 5 on the 5th.
What are you thankful for?
Ever find yourself sitting in the garage after you’ve pulled in, unwilling to get out of the car because the song that’s playing is making you feel something?
That was me just now, and damn, it is great to be alive.
Every once in awhile I find myself, because of a song, or a video, or a thought, or something my honey or the grandsons or the dogs do, just loving being alive. And not just loving it, but being so overwhelmingly grateful that I’m here, enjoying whatever it is that’s making me feel so much at the moment, I cry.
There’s a story behind this. Yeah, yeah, isn’t there always?
The story is a tad long, but it’s mine, and today I’ve decided to tell it. Here goes…
At the end of 2009, November it was, life was moving along just fine. Work, home, friends, family, dogs… a good life. Then, unexpectedly and out out of the blue, my honey got sick. Not just sick, but really sick. Sick as in we went to urgent care, they said oh, you have pneumonia, and here … have a shot in your bum, and go home. Only to be called by an emergency room doctor a couple of hours later who, after reviewing the blood work, told me to get her in immediately. He even told me all the other hospitals along my route in case she lost consciousness. Seems she was sicker than we were originally told. She went into the cardiac critical care unit. One of her lungs was completely full and the other was half full of stuff. This was effecting her heart as well, hence the cardiac critical care unit. She was delirious, literally. I didn’t know what she was saying half the time and she didn’t know much of what was going on. The nurses repeatedly told me she was the sickest person on that unit. She was there in critical condition for a week, before they were able to downgrade her and then finally send her home. I stayed with her at the hospital, never leaving. How could I? She’s my everything. It was the worst week of my life. Which, after you hear the rest of the story will mean even more than it does right now.
Fast forward to May 2010, six months after her illness, and I started not feeling that great. Looking back now I wasn’t feeling great for a little while, but by the end of May 2010 I really wasn’t feeling good. On June 1st we had yet another fateful trip to urgent care. Some blood work results, and they sent me directly from urgent care to the hospital, by ambulance. Seems I was so sick by then that if I’d gotten in a car accident on the way to the hospital from urgent care I would’ve bled to death. The EMTs took me directly to the oncology unit. A couple of transfusions, a bone marrow biopsy (my first of three) with the results a couple of days later, and what we feared had come true. I had leukemia. I was told that it was the deadliest form, but if I lived through the first month, it was also the kind that was curable. Scary, but… good? Yes. Good. If I lived, I thought, I might live.
I spent a month in the hospital… multiple transfusions, multiple tests, and my first round of major chemotherapy. I say first because though I got out of the hospital a month to the day that I went in, I had to go back in later in July for a second round. I was in for a week that time. Then again in August, for another round and another week. And then, in September, I got to do my last round, which was only two pushes (the last of which was on my birthday), outpatient. Unfortunately I ended up getting a neutropenic fever after that round and ended up in the hospital again, for another week, anyway.
By October I was done with the major chemo and starting on maintenance treatment. Which would last for two years and entailed me taking rounds of ATRA (the thing I started right in the beginning that really saved my life), low dose chemo in the form of pills, and a shot, every week. I had to go into the infusion center every week for that shot. It was my life, our lives, for two years. My first, and diagnosing, oncologist, who was an amazing guy, told me that the maintenance treatment was akin to sweeping the floor. Done to make sure we got anything that could be lurking. I was all for it. My attitude, during the whole thing, was let’s go. Whatever we have to do, let’s do it.
In November, of that first year, I had the third of my bone marrow biopsies. They did a molecular scan and I was cancer free. No aberrant cells found at all. Yay! I cried, my honey cried, my Mom cried. I think I might have breathed deeply for the first time since the ordeal started.
Here I am, three and half years later, no longer on maintenance treatment, still getting blood work and seeing an oncologist every three months. Leukemia free. I will do this for another year or so before, once again, my protocol will change and I will only have to go once every six months, and then, at some point, maybe once a year. Who knows. I’m OK with whatever the schedule is.
I chronicled part of this journey here, on this blog. Not posting during that initial time in the hospital, except maybe right in the first few days, but posting here and there during the months that followed. I posted about things that happened, but I never really posted about how I felt.
Damn, I’m so glad to be alive.
I was, as maybe you can or can’t imagine, scared as hell. Scared doesn’t even cut it really. I was terrified. When you hear the words, “your body is chalk full of Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia” everything sort of freezes. Slow motion starts and you look at your honey and your Mom and your brother who are all there with you and they all start crying at once. You look back at the doctor and he’s looking at you, and you say something that seems like it comes from you, and from someone else all at the same time. You say, “OK, what do we do, let’s go”. I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry at all. Everyone else was crying, but I just felt this thing come alive in me. Will. An amazingly strong will. It was there, nuzzled right up against the terror. I would be so determined and yet I kept thinking about things like, oh god, if I die my honey will be alone, my Mom will lose a child (which is unthinkable), my brother will lose his sister, that my grandson won’t know me, that my honey won’t have any more adventures with me, that my dogs won’t understand if I don’t come home. I was so worried about everyone else. Interesting. I kept rehearsing the speech I would have with my Mom if it looked like I was going to take a bad turn. The speech where I tell her to be with my honey, to help her through losing me, to comfort each other. I wanted to live, I was fighting to live, but I also had to prepare myself mentally for the other thing that could happen.
I went through some awful things while I was sick. After the first round of chemo, while I was still in the hospital, I got so sick I don’t remember much, thank goodness. I had to be helped to the bathroom (by my honey or my mom), someone (my honey or my mom) had to shower me, I would throw up and have diarrhea at the same time which the nurses would have to clean up. During this time I also had to have a test (one of many), I don’t remember which one, and part of it was that I had to drink some stuff. I remember my honey, who spent only one night away from me during that entire time (working from the hospital, sleeping there, taking care of me) having to try and talk me into drinking it because I was getting so sick from it. I was sick anyway, and having to drink that stuff didn’t help. She convinced me and encouraged me to get enough of it down so I could take the test. She also had to talk me into taking my pills every day, and trying to eat, and taking a shower. She was my champion.
Everyone talks about the chemo, but no one talks about the other things… weird little side effects from basically having no immune system, like yeast that develops on parts of your body that you can’t get rid of, and other just as lovely things. I had a reaction to one of the transfusions and had to have a major dose of benadryl shot directly into me. I had neutropenic fevers followed by loads and loads of IV antibiotics (two at the same time), which didn’t help with the nausea. I had a pic line put in that was very difficult for them to get in and three weeks later an infection from that pic line which resulted in them having to take it out. I had ultrasounds because I had so much scar tissue in my veins in my arms after pushes and lines and blood draws and IVs that a couple of times they wanted to make sure I wasn’t clotting too much in there. I ended up at urgent once, during those first few months, because I got a hemorrhoid from all the laying and sitting, that started to bleed. Gross. But, so it went.
I think the worst of it though, ultimately was, and is, the anxiety. I’m a person who never had anxiety before all of this. I’m pretty laid back. Pretty care free and pretty full of joy. Anxiety was something unknown and foreign to me. But during this I developed anxiety. So much so that leaving the house, after I had been allowed to go home, was scary for me. My body would just react… feeling like I couldn’t breathe, heart pounding, panic. When I was neutropenic, which was a lot during those first months as every time I’d have a round of chemo my numbers would crash, I had to be so careful. When I was in the hospital the precautions for neutropenia were major. Gloves, masks on everyone who came in, no flowers in the room, no fresh veggies or fruits on my food tray (and if there was, even a sprig of parsley placed there accidentally, they had to remove it quickly from my room and get me a whole new tray), restricted visitation, basically creating a germ free zone. It wasn’t just that I might get sicker, it was that I could die. My body couldn’t fight anything off when I was neutropenic. An infection became life threatening, as did a cold. So I got anxious about a lot of things. When I was permitted to go home my honey had to remove all house plants from the house (there’s a fungus that can be in the soil that could kill me if I inhaled it), we couldn’t have fresh fruits or veggies, no one could see me if they had even been around someone who might have been sick. I was weak and tired and nauseous most of the time. And just when I’d start feeling better, just when the numbers would start to rise, I’d have to have another round of chemo. My life became very boxed in and small. Hospital for treatment, then home where leaving the house (I’d have to wear a mask when I was outside the house) was not worth it or even possible sometimes. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t do anything really. My honey didn’t even sleep in our bed during this time. She slept on that same air mattress she’d used in the hospital, next to our bed, with the dogs, who couldn’t sleep with me either. It’s not just that things were dangerous to me, I was dangerous to them. I was leaking poison out of my pours most of the time. No kisses, from my honey or the dogs, no using the same toilet even, because I was toxic. All of this created anxiety in me. I still get it actually. Less and less all the time, but I do. I have pills for it. I got them a lot in the hospital, and used them a lot during those months of chemotherapy. They help. And thank goodness for them. Sometimes my mind would go and go, worrying, and worrying. A loop of worry and fear and anxiety and sometimes, panic. As I said, I’m better now, but I don’t know how many times my honey has had to look me in the eye and say to me, “it’s OK my love, you aren’t sick anymore, there’s no leukemia in you… none”. And the rational me then sort of wakes up, comes to again, and knows it’s true.
And damn, it’s amazing to be alive.
I guess I’m recounting all of this because I never have before, and it’s time. Time for me to say it aloud, as aloud as this is. But I guess it’s also because all of this is the counter point to what I was feeling just a bit ago sitting in our garage after having come home from running some errands. Nothing big happened while I was out. I just went to the library and then to the coffee roasting house and then drove home, sipping some coffee and listening to music really loud in the car. It’s sort of gray outside today and the leaves are falling. But as I drove into the garage, and shut off the car, staying in there to listen to the rest of the song (Change by Rascal Flatts, for anyone who’s wondering) I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed because the leaves are falling, and the dogs were barking in the house knowing I was home, and I knew my honey was in her office working, and earlier today we’d gone swimming with our grandson, and the music was so beautiful. I started to cry. Crying from a place of overwhelming happiness and a feeling that life is so big and wonderful, and so fully felt.
Damn, it’s so so good to be alive.
I am grateful and I’m humbled by the quality of my life.
The thing I learned from my honey’s illness, and then mine, was something I already kind of knew anyway, but it got reinforced big time. It’s something, a feeling, I wish everyone could feel and something I wish everyone could know, without having to go through something so major, so awful. It’s the surety of knowing that there’s nothing important in life save for the people we have in ours. That is, period the end, the only thing that matters. Stuff, problems, annoyances, possessions… none of it matters. Not really. The time we spend having adventures and experiences with the people we love and who love us, that’s what matters. That’s what you think of, what you fear you’ll miss, if you think you could die.
It’s so damn good to be alive because I have so many fantastic people in my life. People, and dogs that is. People I love to be with, who love to be with me. People who I miss when I don’t see them, who miss me right back. Dogs who love me unconditionally and bring me so much joy I can hardly stand it sometimes. People who I laugh with, and get angry at, and cry with, and am silly with. People I have adventures with. People. There is nothing more important than our relationships and the experiences we create together. It’s the journey we’re making, with each other, that matters. It’s what matters most to me.
I am so happy, so thankful, so grateful, and so overwhelmed to be alive. Life is so beautiful.
I get feeds. You know, tidbits of info from various sources bringing in all type and manner of information. I subscribe to some. One, Upworthy, comes across on my Facebook news feed. I like this one in particular because the stuff is usually interesting, informative, and many times it’s positive. There’s loads of negative emotion, news, “stuff” out there these days and my opinion is that anything positive and uplifting is a very good thing. The whole good-things-out-into-the-universe-is-important perspective. Positive vibrations and all that. It’s not solely that, but much of the time it is that.
Without going into it too much, I particularly loved this one. It made me tear up, which if you know me doesn’t take much sometimes, but seriously… this is good. Plus the group who made it is called Soul Pancake. C’mon… that rocks.
Watch this, and get happy….
Wow… Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Can’t believe it. Sometimes these things sneak up on us. Not that we aren’t prepared, we are. It’s just that I can’t believe it’s already that time of year. We have entered the holiday season. And again I’ll say… wow.
Now that I’m getting over my shock at the time of year it is, I want to give some thanks, as has become my tradition here at the think tank every year. I am thankful for so many things….
First, as always, I’m thankful for my honey. I just spent a couple of weeks away from her and let me tell you, I’m no good without her. I mean this in a metaphorical sense people so don’t go making assumptions about my lack of self esteem… my self esteem is in tact. It’s just that I don’t like being without her. As I explained to my Mom and my brother, Karen is my home. A house is a structure that, if done correctly, reflects who we are, feels cozy to that end, and shelters us from the elements. A home, on the other hand, is where our heart lives. Mine lives with Karen. Hers with me. We are simpatico in this. Which makes it all the more real and heartfelt. My home is with her, no matter where we live, and I am beyond thankful for that. I’m blessed to have met her, lucky to have snagged her, and honored and humbled by the fact that she continues to love me, and love me more every day. I can’t begin to express what this means to me, and really I don’t think there are words to describe it. She is my breath, my light, my warmth, my love. She is my split apart, and I am hers. I whisper, thank you thank you thank you, out to the universe every day for her.
Mom and Kev… We are, and have been for a long long time, the three amigos. Having spent time with you these least three weeks (one here and two there), I appreciate you even more, if that’s even possible. There is a magic that happens when we are all in the same room. I’m so lucky to be a part of that. So lucky to have you… I feel love and gratitude for you every day.
Mary, Martin, and our little man… Thank you. Thank you for allowing me into your lives, into your family. As I’ve said before, I never had my own children, but nevertheless I consider you mine. I feel a part of a family, with children, and grandchildren, that I would never have without you and your acceptance and love of me. I love you guys and am so very grateful for you every day.
My family and friends… I tear up thinking about all of you, near and far. For one person to be blessed with such an outstanding group of people in my life… I am so humbled. You bring the zest, the encouragement, the support, the fun, and more love than I thought possible. I’m amazed every day by the depth and quality of the people in my life. Not only the sheer numbers of you, but by the people you are. Each and every one of you is a stellar human. I mean this. Family to friends, each of you brings something so uniquely you to my life. I treasure that. I treasure how individual you are, how loving you are, how fun you are, how many smiles and laughs you’ve given me over the years, and I feel so fortunate to have all of that with you. I am blessed beyond measure for knowing you, for having you in my life, and for continuing to get to spend time with you when I can. No matter the distance it seems we always manage to pick up where we left off, be that a year ago or yesterday, and I am honored by that, by your presence in my life. I feel you with me every day and I’m so very thankful for you.
The pups… I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but they are so important to me and every day I’m so loved by them, and grateful to them for their little selves in my life. They are my home as well, and I am so lucky to have them. They love without condition, without pretense, without judgement or agenda. They’re always excited to see me, even if I’ve only been outside for a moment, and they are always completely genuine. I love them more than I can measure, and am so very thankful for them. They bring a joy to my life, our lives, that can’t be measured.
I always say the only thing in life that truly matters are the people we love and who love us. I mean this. Everything else is set dressing, though nature, in all it’s glory, is a wonder and something I’m also grateful for every day. To that end I’d like to include the following poem by e.e. cummings. He’s my favorite poet, and I’m humbled by and grateful for his words, words that have helped, at times, me to get through periods of struggle. Words that have at times helped me to better explain the world to myself. This is one of my favorites of his… and it pretty much sums up the rest of it, the rest of what I’m grateful for…
i thank You God for most this amazing
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
This is something I wrote on the plane ride over to the U.K. a couple of weeks ago. Tried to post it when we landed and couldn’t, then with all the business of getting here and such I forgot about it, until today. I re-read it, liked it a lot, and so am posting it now. It’s relevent, anytime really….
December 10, 1:20 AM, Pacific time
Sun coming up over the Atlantic. Traveling in this plane, just having woken up from a nap laying across two seats and Karen (a miracle in and of itself). Taking pictues with my phone out the window and listening to the Hip (80) playlist on the ipod on my phone. Bose quiet canceling headphones on. The world is a beautiful place.
I’m having one of those moments… So filled with gratitude and wonder and love. So much love I feel like this smaller body of mine might not be able to hold it all in. Overflowing out of me as teardrops falling down my face. It’s so quiet in here right now. All these people sleeping, watching the movie or listening to their own music. All these people going somewhere…. To see someone they love, like we are, or to see somewhere new, or just making the journey home. And here we all are together, on this plane winging our way across the Atlantic as the sun comes up. I’m listening to Good Life right now, and it really is a good good life. Thank you thank you thank you thank you….