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.

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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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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.

The Voice

Seated behind me, an off-key singer belted every word to each hymn and prayer during the church service.  Her voice cracked and carried in all directions, butchering the notes, but she had all the words down pat.

Midway through the service, my daughter whispered into my ear, can you hear the woman’s voice behind you? I nodded.

It was time to pass the peace, a Catholic mass ritual. I wasn’t raised Catholic, so I’m not familiar with the religion’s formalities. Plus, it’s my nature to keep to myself. I prefer a seat in the back of the classroom, a drive-thru cashier who does not to take my order at my car’s window, a bike or yoga mat that’s off to the side in a workout room, and a private table in the back of a restaurant.

Attempting to participate in this greeting ritual, I gazed at the people near me, but everyone was busy greeting others. After a few seconds and an awkward pause, I turned to the row behind me. I faced The Voice.

The Voice is an older woman and less than 5′ tall, wearing a blue and white striped bucket hat.

We smile at each other, taking each other’s hands as I say, peace be with you.

Smiling and with the most crystal clear, melodic voice, The Voice spoke,

May God be with you, and may you never cut your hair. It’s beautiful.

Caught off guard, I fumbled for words and responded with an “aw, thank you.”

I wanted to reply, I learned so much while listening as you precisely recited each sacrament and hymn, but the mass continued, ending our face-time.

We knelt for communion. I quickly searched in my purse for a J⁴ angel.  I had just one, blue, matching the color in the stripes of The Voice’s bucket hat.  It was meant to be.

Leaving the pew, I placed the angel on The Voice’s praying hands. Kneeling on a prayer bench behind me, she opened her eyes, looked at the angel, and didn’t say a word.  I could feel the peace we shared as I exited the sanctuary.

As my week continued, I heard The Voice. I heard her confident yet labored singing voice transition into her soothing speaking voice. I heard her heartfelt words. I believe from here forward, The Voice will aid the awkward pauses when I’m searching for someone to greet.

Our actions and words have the power to bring peace.  Let’s be more like The Voice, being precise with our words and not worrying so much about what others think. Who knows what impact we may have on the world by putting our kind words out there. It doesn’t matter if we’re sharp, flat, tone deaf or out-of-tune.

It matters more that we’ve got offering peace down pat.

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“Offering Peace”

 

 

 

Earth Angel

For my birthday, LCP, my daughter, gave me a trip to Puerto Vallarta, using her mileage points.  She flew from SJC to SNA, and I flew from PHX to SNA. Meeting in the middle, we then traveled together to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

On the first leg, flying SWA, I had A37. I chose an aisle seat in a 3-seat row where a man was already sitting by the window, and as the plane began to fill, a flight attendant announced it was a full flight.  Minutes before the plane’s doors were closed, a woman asked me if she could sit in the middle seat next to me. I stood up, allowing her to move past me into the seat. As she shoved her carry-on under the seat in front of her, I noticed she, too, carried a black pack.  I commented, smiling, “nice backpack, that’s the only way to go.”

She responded, “yes, a purse doesn’t work for me.”

It doesn’t work for me either.

We began a conversation that lasted the duration of the 55-minute flight to SNA.

“I have my work and personal stuff plus my daughter – who I take everywhere with me when I can – so I need a bag to carry it all.”

She has a daughter, too.

I used to take my daughters to work when they were young. Instead of play dates, we had work dates.  We needed our load to be light, too, and a purse was extra baggage.

I got an SWA drink coupon out of my backpack and offered one to her.  She said, “no, thank you, I have one of my own, but I’d like to have a drink with you.  Is it bad to drink this early in the morning?”

Don’t worry about what other’s think – if you want a drink, have a drink.

I felt like her mother.

She told me about her job – that she works for an organic food brokerage company. During her pregnancy with her daughter, she was exhausted, stocking shelves and doing manual labor at a local organic grocery store.  She worked 14 hour days. Her body ached, and her legs swelled from her pregnancy.  She was a mess, worrying about how she’d be able to sustain this pace after her child’s birth.  One day, while stocking shelves, a man approached her, asking if she’d be interested in a sales position with his company.  He said, “you have a twinkle in your eye, and I know you’d be great.”

She was dumbfounded – how could this happen?  A stranger randomly hired her, and now she has this great job that allows her to travel, and often, when in-state, with her daughter – she says, it was God.

She told me about her travels all over southern Arizona, her work territory.  Often she takes her daughter, who sits in her car seat in the backseat of her car.  They talk about the beauty of the desert (she says, Patagonia is awesome right now!) and try local restaurants, together. She mentioned a great pizza place in Sierra Vista, and I mentioned I’d recently been to a great, pizza place in Florence.  She related that she goes to Florence quite a bit. I told her the only thing I knew about Florence, before finding the pizza place via Yelp, was the prison that’s there. She said, “yes, I actually have a friend who’s in that prison who I try to visit pretty regularly.”

I asked what the charge is –

Armed robbery and car theft.

“He likes to fight, so he’s in trouble quite a bit. Lots of times I don’t get to see him during prison visitation because he’s being disciplined.”

I asked her how she knows him.

“We lived together throughout our childhoods – so he’s like a brother.  Our parents were meth addicts –  3 couples and their children lived with my parents.  When the parents would go on drug binges, we children would be handcuffed to a metal pole for hours. We were forced to do meth at around age 11, and there were times that we’d be up for 6 days straight, tweaking.  It’s weird though when our parents would disappear, we’d sneak up to the top of this hill near our house and just hang out – we felt like we were good.  It was in those moments that I’d talk to God, and know that everything would be OK, that He would take care of me.”

The children of meth-addicted parents craving love from mothers and fathers, only to be shackled to a metal post and abandoned for their parents’ highs.

“Just yesterday I had work that took me back home – I visited my mother, who’s still using. I had to tell her that she couldn’t take care of my daughter.  She was outraged.  I left with her being mad.”

You don’t have to feel guilty for leaving your mother yesterday. You can love her, but you can’t fix her.  The drugs are her daughter, not you.  She’s attentive to the meth, but you’ve been abused.  You can’t return to your abuser and allow it to infect you. As you love your own child today, you’re clean and sharing the beauty of this world with her.  Who knows – but I’d put money on it– your daughter will be taking you on a trip when she grows up and is out on her own.  She’ll be meeting you half way and helping you carry the load because you’re deserving. You share hard work, respect, and love, and with that cocktail, healthy relationships are born and nourished.

We each have our own drink coupons and mileage points – our own culminations of life experiences and influences.  Not all comes free – some of us have had to pay and to sacrifice enormously and to learn really hard lessons the hard way. However, finding happiness through goodness is free, as is trusting we’re never alone.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Be a good mother. Be a good daughter. Be a good father. Be a good son. Make a new friend or visit an old friend who needs reminding of the good in the world.

Change the world by changing the cycle. Rejoice when it’s awesome and believe

Good can come from the weirdest places, like sharing a drink on an airplane flight before 9 –

Life exists beyond the handcuffs –

Those cuffs make both prisoners and earth angels.

As children, we often have little choice,

but as adults, we choose.

Growing up and old has its perks –

Drink in these moments.

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