A Breather

This summer, a week before leaving for Santa Barbara, J⁴ spoke with a man who had had a near-death experience.  He flatlined 7 times.  The man told J⁴ that he had seen God and that it was beautiful “on the other side.”

After telling me the man’s story, J⁴ said,

“I want you to know that I’m at peace with dying.”

The summer before, in 2016, J⁴ survived malignant pleural effusion, a complication of lung cancer. Doctors predicted a 3-month life expectancy.

“If I’m going to die, I want to spend my last days at the beach.”

Her angel-of-a-husband, QCJ rented a house on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Santa Barbara.  They invited their family and my family for a week-long vacation. It was an incredible week.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought we’d make it back to the beach this year, but we did. J⁴ fought every single day of the 365 days, battling and overcoming the coughs, the fatigue, the treatment failures, the chemo, the radiation, and the depression. She assures me,

“I accept I drew the short stick with this cancer card,

but I’m not done.”

She keeps moving – onward and upward – hoping for a miracle and defying the odds.

And because of J⁴’s perseverance and optimism, we’re back in Santa Barbara this year.

We’re in a different rental house with a modified group of family, but we’re back at the beach and still have J⁴.

One afternoon while J⁴ rested by the rental house’s pool, I went out to photograph.  I google-searched a stairway to the ocean that I had seen while doing some travel research on Pinterest.  I used my Waze app to lead me to the stairway’s access,  hidden in between two homes in a Santa Barbara residential neighborhood.  With my 40+ lb camera bag on my back and wearing my street clothes and shoes, I headed down the path toward the stairs. As I approached the stairs, I saw a male runner ascending the stairs toward me. He was in great shape, yet as he passed me, I could hear his heavy breathing.  He was out of breath but still running.  I second-guessed my clothing and longed for my running shoes and workout pants/top.  The stairs were steep and numerous. This was going to be a workout for me, too.

As I descended, I noticed the people who headed up the stairs. Some had beach chairs and towels, so I presumed the steep staircase was the only exit option from the beach. Many took a break on a long bench located midway on the stairs. Below, I could see surfers slowly paddling their boards close to the shoreline, resting before heading back out to sea.  It seemed, at the moment, everyone was taking a breather.

I took photos while I made the journey down toward the water. When I reached the bottom, I, too, took a breather.

At the bottom of the steep stairs, I eyed the staircase. I had no choice but to climb in my uncomfortable shoes and with my heavy backpack the 270+ stairs back to my parked car. I knew I’d be out of breath – that the hike up would be strenuous, but I also felt confident I’d make it, possibly breathing heavily, but it’d be doable. I closed my eyes and acknowledged with gratitude my lungs that would ultimately get me to the top. I couldn’t help but think of J⁴, exactly where she should be, resting, taking a breather, by the pool and not with me at the bottom of this intimidating staircase.

That’s what happens when someone you love is challenged.  You feel the hurdle with them, and as your compassion grows, you acknowledge the simple acts we so often take for granted, like hearts continuously pumping blood to our organs and lungs expanding and contracting without thought.  We may feel occasional stress, but we don’t face a death sentence.  For most, a walk up a staircase is not life-threatening. However, when someone who used to walk with such confidence, speed, and grace, now struggles to walk a city block, we become aware. We recognize the gifts of living – of one more staircase, one more triumphant, one more day, and are humbled when we draw the long stick, allowing us one or more years!

*******

Yesterday, I went with J⁴ to her oncology appointment.  Her CT scans revealed the current chemo drug is working! Her lungs have 50% more room for oxygen.

J⁴ has triumphantly turned a death sentence into a life sentence, and we’ve all gotten a breather from worrying about her every breath as she moves forward and lives –

Next time you take the stairs, when you’re out of breath and agitated with the climb, take a moment for a breather – a time out to be grateful for breath, for health, for compassion, and for life.

And remember it’s our attitudes that shape our abilities to climb and to withstand precarious altitudes!

Positivity and hope heal – I’ve seen it firsthand “on this side!”

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Remember to Rabbit

Are any of you going to Rabbit tomorrow? – Chrissy

No affirmative responses, so

We began our spin class and rode hard til the end of class. As we cooled down, stretching while still seated on our bike saddles, we listened to our instructor, who asked again,

Who’s going to Rabbit tomorrow?

I had no idea what she was asking, and seemingly, the rest of the roomful of cyclists were perplexed, too. Chrissy explained,

“I’m usually not too superstitious, but a few years ago a friend of mine told me to say Rabbit first thing on the first day of every month.  Before you put your feet on the floor, you’ve got to say ‘Rabbit’ for good luck and good fortune. Last month is the first month – in like 2-3 years – that I haven’t Rabbit’d.  This month I had some bad fortune, so tomorrow, August 1st, I’m going to Rabbit.”

So I’ve set a reminder for tomorrow and every 1st day of the month forward with no end date,

Rabbit today

✌🏼

and with ears like Gabriel, my friend from Saba, I’ll surely be heard.

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Take A Look in the Mirror

Dressed up for church and then dressed down for spin class, my daughter and I spent a Sunday morning together. Post-spin we were sweaty and makeup-less but stopped at the grocery store to get food for what’s become Sunday night tradition, dinner for J⁴.

Parking outside the store, my daughter and I sat in the car for awhile, talking about how great spin class had been and what we should make for J⁴’s dinner.  Entering the store, my daughter looked down at her sweaty clothes and said,

‘I sure hope I don’t see anyone I know in here.’

I told her that I’d cover for her if she’d run into someone she knew. Although I had no idea how I’d cover for her, I thought my assurance would help her insecurities.  I walked through the produce section to the lettuce section.  I sent my daughter to search for avocados.

Returning to my side, my daughter rubbed up next to me as I inspected the lettuces, and she whispered in my ear,

“I think that might be so-n-so, but I’m not sure.  You both were standing side by side, and when she saw it was you, she grabbed her cart and bolted for the deli.”

Really? oh, dear.

So instead of me covering for my daughter, my daughter covered for me, seeing a person avoid me.  My daughter then saw the insecurities that surfaced within me.

I looked over at the deli and confirmed who my daughter thought the person to be.

What have I done to make someone want to bolt away from me?

What’s wrong with me?

What did I do wrong?

My daughter had gone into the store, worrying about running into someone she knew and instead saw someone worried about running into her mother.

Life lessons can be found everywhere – even in a Fry’s produce section.

Our own insecurities leave people questioning and feeling insecure, too – it’s universal.

We care so much about what if – what if that person judges me, what if that person doesn’t like me, what if that person thinks I’m avoiding them, and we care not enough about so what? so what if I see a person sweaty and makeup-less, so what if I say the wrong thing, so what if I’m not liked.

What about if I acknowledge others no matter what.

Who would you run away from if you saw them across a crowded Sunday morning produce section?  Why would you run away?  What is it about you that makes you want to avoid that person?

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This week is the one year anniversary of my dear friend, Mark’s suicide. He died on July 21, 2016.  Along with teaching me about workouts and diet, Mark taught me a lot about life. Mark  explained, “there are three universal commonalities:

  1. we all want to be loved.
  2. we all want to get the joke.
  3. we all don’t want to be the butt of the joke.

“It is easy to dismiss people you don’t even see” – Canvas SF guest speaker

I believe by saying a hello, a positive acknowledgment or by smiling, we could change our world and heal our world’s insecurities from the outside-in.

We all need to take a look in the mirror, looking not at what’s perfectly reflecting in the mirror but rather at what or who we see staring back at us – what are we projecting into the world? It may be uncomfortable, but it reminds us of another universal commonality:

4. We all want to be seen.

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“Trees of Life often symbolize growth into a beautiful and unique person. When trees are young, they pretty much all look the same. But, as they grow older, they weather storms and are battered by the forces of wind and water.

Their branches may break and grow back in a different direction, or the very soil beneath them will erode away, causing them to grow even stronger roots to hold on.

Over time, they become very unique and beautiful in their eccentricity and idiosyncrasies. They are just as we all wish to become – shaped into fascinating, intriguing individuals who have weathered hardships and broad experiences in life that have made us into who we are.” – Woot & Hammy

 

We are all imperfect. We are all worthy of acknowledgment.

 

Mark, I see you even after you’re gone. You’re missed.

Thank you for coaching me to look in the mirror and not run away.