I recently met someone new who shared a lesson from Judaism that keeps playing in my head, that you should never cancel joy because of despair. Wow, did I need that.
It’s been a tough year, with wave after wave crashing over my head, often without enough time to fill my lungs in between. Joy has been scarce. And yet…it has been there. It’s come in the form of the different flowers of spring, each taking their turn to bring joy to my daily commute or dining room. It’s taken the form of many friends who randomly check in on me and lift my spirits. It’s come in the form of the neighbor boy who, as I write this, is playing in his front yard in his Spider Man jammies. Mostly, it’s come in the form of the laughter I share with my kids, often at the dark humor that is a hallmark of our family.
My new friend is right: every day is a fleeting gift, one that I can’t afford to waste. I will stop waiting for the joy to find me…I will pursue it and wrestle every ounce of happiness I can from it.
“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” –e.e. cummings
We lost our rescue retriever last year…it was hard. She was a senior when she came to us, an orphan after suddenly losing her senior parent. Though we only had the privilege of providing her retirement home for a few years, she quickly wormed her way into our hearts…she was a sweetie.
The day we lost her, the gray March day outside matched our mood inside. We decided to get out of the empty, too quiet house and get lunch out. I swung into Tractor Supply on the way to pick up a quick item. It was a fateful decision. That Saturday morning, the dog rescue people were there with a small pen set up inside the store. By the time I was fully inside the entry, Megan was already cuddling a small creature in her arms. It stayed there the entire time I shopped and internally debated this unexpected dilemma. Megan and the senior dog had been especially close, finding in each other a kindred spirit who understood pain and loss. I think I knew from the moment I saw the pen and realized my unexpected predicament what I would do. The small, odd creature came home with us. We never made it to lunch.
As has now happened enough times in my life that I’ve come to expect it, when you let love win, wonderful things happen. We have no idea what our mutt is (we say she’s a “Ginny”), but she’s special. She’s loving. She’s adorable. She’s funny. She makes us smile. No matter how bad your day is, she makes you feel better. She’s a gift. Love won.
“When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason: they bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude.” –Bruce Cameron
When I was nine years old, I received a signed photo of President Gerald Ford in the mail. I’d written a letter to him when I heard of a problem the country was having on the evening news. I’d learned what inflation was, and that we had a lot of it. The solution I proposed to the President seemed simple enough: just have the government take over all industry so they could control prices. At the tender age of nine, I proposed Communism to the leader of the free world.
The President’s response didn’t mention my childish (and borderline treasonous in the middle of the Cold War) proposal. I found the photo and letter recently when cleaning out some old papers. I’d rather have back the letter I sent to him than his form letter, but I’m glad my parents’ response was to give me an envelope and address it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue instead of telling me that I was wrong…my parents are great that way. My son has a similar photo and letter from President Bill Clinton. I don’t remember why he wrote to the President, though I know he wasn’t proposing a revolution like his mom did.
I’ve always believed each of us has the power to change the world. Though my optimism has been markedly tempered by adult realizations, this last year has reinforced this belief. The voice of The People has been awakened in our country in a way we haven’t seen in too long. New activists are taking action for the first time. Women, in particular, are realizing that they must speak for themselves if they are to be heard. I find it exhilarating; our democracy is scraping off the rust it had been gathering. The world will be different for it; our country will be changed.
“The history of liberty is a history of resistance.” –Woodrow Wilson
I made my bed today when I got up. I make it every day. Apparently not everyone does…I guess I didn’t realize that. It’s surprisingly important to me, and I’m fully aware of why, especially now: when there is so much in my life that I can’t control, I can control the chaos in the physical space around me.
So while events that I’m an unwilling participant in swirl tornado-like, throwing me like a rag doll, and while I concentrate intensely to quiet the storm inside my head, I mechanically go about the countless small tasks of daily living. I start laundry and find peace in folding it. I dust away the cobwebs in the corners of my house and in my mind. Today I will touch up paint in some spots that have been bothering me. And tomorrow I will get up and make my bed, and in doing so, I will take a small but crucial step toward wresting control of my life back.
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” –Buddha
My favorite flight delay (yes, I have one) was a delay in Chicago in October 2016. A massive fall thunderstorm swept through the Midwest, setting off a cascade of flight cancellations. By the time my connecting flight home was cancelled at 10:00 pm, it had been delayed six times. I’d hoped against hope while grabbing dinner in a packed bar with the entire airport watching the Cubs on their way to their first World Series since 1908. When the airline finally gave me my hotel voucher, I’d long ago said goodbye to my suitcase with my toiletries and jammies in Toronto, where I was forced to check my bag on an overfull flight.
Throngs of tired and cranky passengers waited for their vouchered shuttle in an icy October drizzle, the remnants of the storm that was the cause of all of our suffering. When we finally packed into ours after 40 minutes in the cold, there were apparently so many cancelled flights that it just kept driving. We finally arrived at a dingy Holiday Inn in some generic suburb of Chicago. I got my room key and complimentary toothbrush and wandered around trying to find my room. That was more difficult than it should have been given there were almost no lights on in the cavernous tropical pool area. I was struck at how perfectly the setting mirrored a B-grade horror show, complete with its hapless, lone female victim. I saw literally not a single other soul. I quickly deadbolted my room and prayed I’d make it through the night. Then the fun began.
As I internally debated the pros of sleeping in the same clothes I’d been wearing all day and would again much of tomorrow against the “relative” cleanliness of this fine establishment, I improvised a makeshift contact lens case out of the hotel glasses, the soap dish, and some coffee filters. As I labored, I began to realize how very cold it was in there. The heater didn’t work. I should have thrown a fit and made them switch my room (heaven knows it felt every other room in the place was unoccupied), but I’d retained my good mood so far, so instead I waited 20 minutes for a maintenance guy who seemed to know just what was wrong, like this had happened before. As I let a strange man into my room at midnight in a place I was sure no one could hear me scream, I held the room door open into the dark abyss…I knew it was a pointless gesture if my fate were already sealed, but it made me feel better. He had it fixed in a few minutes and told me to give it half an hour to get warm. He was right about that, too.
In the morning I showered, put my dirty clothes back on, and hopped the shuttle for the long drive back to the airport. I took one conference call in the shuttle and another at my gate to deal with an unfolding work crisis. I got home tired and feeling like the floor of a taxi cab (one of my favorite borrowed sayings), but still in good humor. I’m not sure why: there was a day when less than this chain of events would have left me angry and stressed. But a lot has happened these last five years, and I guess I’m more comfortable with not being in control. I’ve learned beyond any shadow of a doubt that any feeling of control I ever had was always an illusion that I fooled myself with to stay sane. Instead, I found humor in the cascading comedy of events. No permanent harm done. But it did leave me a permanent gift: this story.
“The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.” –Chris Pine
The daffodils are blooming. These little spot of sunshine along the country drive on my way to work are a sure sign spring is here. But it’s not just when daffodils bloom that makes them special, it’s where.
Daffodils bloom from bulbs and are not as easily spread as seed wildflowers. They’re not spread by the wind or wild animals; they generally require human transplanting. That makes their seemingly random placement along the road, where there is no other apparent evidence of human habitation, not a mystery but a historical marker. When I see an unexpected clump of yellow by the side of the road, I know to look closer. I can then often see what I’d have otherwise missed: a long unused driveway; a pile of rocks, perhaps from an old chimney; or just a telltale cluster of trees, planted to provide shade and hope.
As the daffodils’ sunshine warms my heart, I wonder about the hands that planted them and the family she loved. Was their life happy or hard? Was this a place of love or tragedy? Or, as is generally the case with humans, a bit of both? I can’t ever know these answers, but I can be grateful for her endowment to those of us who followed her. Her investment of time and energy has left us with a small bit of the beauty and hope that were, I believe, the reasons that drove her to plant them in the first place. It is her legacy.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” –Greek Proverb
A bone marrow transplant (BMT) donor recently posted on the Facebook page dedicated to the rare blood disorder our daughter had. He’d never learned what happened to his recipient, and he was looking for information. Thanking him on behalf of those anonymous parents made me cry.
When someone gets to the point they need a BMT, it’s generally their last shot. It’s a Hail Mary treatment carrying significant risks. Basically, doctors pump poison (chemo) into your body over a series of weeks through IV’s. The poison wipes out your immune system so your body will accept someone else’s healthy immune system via their bone marrow. The actual transplant itself is an anticlimactic process: just one more transfusion no different than the countless others you’ve had by then. But that’s the easy part.
The hard part is surviving the significant risks your poisoned, weakened body now faces. Your complete lack of (read zero) an immune system makes the smallest infection life-threatening. And unless the donor is a 10/10 match, there’s significant risk of rejection. That, too, can be fatal. Plus not all transplants “take”. It’s not uncommon to need a second transplant, and it’s not unprecedented to have a third. And all of this is only possible if your underlying disease, by definition a killer itself, lets you remain strong enough to attempt the transplant in the first place. Before this terrible treatment option even became an option in the last few decades, generally the only other alternative was to die.
Back to that donor who reached out. He didn’t have it completely easy either. The donor has more pain than their recipient, generally a soreness in their hip (the donation site) for a couple of days. They will miss up to a week of work, for up-front testing and then for the procedure itself. And the process has to be at least a little emotional, as you wonder how your recipient is doing until many months later when information can finally be exchanged, but only if both parties are willing. All of that said, I told the guy the truth: that what he did was an amazing thing, even if he doesn’t get a happy ending. Because even if it’s not, he likely gave some kid’s parents the peace of knowing that their child had every chance to live, and of knowing that there are good, caring people out there willing to go through a week of personal hassle to give their kid that shot.
If you’re under the age of 50 (60 in some cases) and in good health, please consider registering to be a bone marrow donor. It’s simple and literally painless. Simply answer some basic medical questions and swab the inside of your mouth. And you’re even more needed if you’re not Caucasian. While white Americans have a 97% chance of finding a donor in the registry, the odds of not finding a match are 1 in 5 if you’re Hispanic; 1 in 4 if you’re Asian or American Indian; and a staggering 1 in 3 if you’re African American. Mixed race patients can have an even more difficult time finding a match. Will you consider taking a few minutes TODAY to go online and sign up? You, too, could give someone hope. You could save a life!