Dignity, respect, and just showing up

I spent much of my teens and twenties trying to change the world.  The world seemed to be a hopeful place and we truly believed we could make everything better.  Part of that was the innocence of youth and part of it was what was happening around us. Civil rights, the feminist movement, gay rights, ending the Vietnam war, all of it was filled with great energy and excitement, and then the assassinations began and over and over again, hope turned to despair.

Today I am older and wiser, still filled with a need to make things better.  I have learned that the only way to change the world is to change my world, slowly but surely, like the drip of water on stone. I have also learned that the most important part of change are dignity, respect, and just showing up.  Being there cannot be underestimated. Without dignity and respect, little can be accomplished.  With it, all things are possible.

A few months ago I began running with a group called A Mile In My Shoes.  A group of volunteers meet at a homeless shelter and run with homeless men. My experiences with the men who run with us have changed my life. Beginning each run with warmups and hugs is invaluable, and we end each workout the same way. The first few runs, I hugged a few men and then was anxious to leave.  Now, I need a hug from everyone before I can leave to begin my day. Knowing that I am valued for just showing up and running becomes the centerpiece of my day.

On a particularly cold morning, I found I had lost one of my mittens. I didn't say anything as I am perfectly capable of pulling my hand inside my running jacket and was embarrassed by my carelessness.  One of my homeless friends noticed I was missing my mitten and immediately began searching for it.  When I explained, that I would be fine without it, he kept looking and told me HE knew what it was to be cold, and he would find my mitten. He did find it and I wore it that day with the humility of someone who doesn't know what I don't know.

Posted on March 17, 2015 .

The ferocity of love

When I heard the words, "Oh, look, there's cancer", my first thought was how to protect my men (my husband and two sons). It has always been my go-to thought, as keeping them all safe is part of my love.  Even though I have never thought I had enough power to keep them completely safe, I have always tried my best in my own silly ways.

When my boys were growing up, I hoped to keep them safe by loving them with all my heart. There is a wonderful passage at the end of the first Harry Potter book when Harry asks Dumbledore why Voldemort hadn't been able to kill him, despite his powerful magic.  Dumbledore explained that it was really quite simple.  Harry was protected by his mother's love. That made great sense to me, and when I sent each son off to college I knit them an afghan, repeated the Harry Potter story, and told them that this afghan was the embodiment of my love and would protect them. We loved the silliness of it, but it held great meaning.

As soon as I began my years long journey through cancer, the men in my life showed me a ferocity of love that humbles me still. They made it very clear to me that it was now their turn to keep me safe. My husband doted on me, covering me up (even during horrific hot flashes), drove me everywhere, and fretted over everything I did, sure I was doing too much. The hardest thing for him to do was to support my need to keep moving, but he did.  He really wanted to wrap me in bubble wrap and keep me safe, but he let me be safe in my own way.

My oldest who was already in college, and a great caller, redoubled his efforts to call. No matter what was happening in his life, he  called sounding upbeat and happy and made sure he had at least one funny story to tell me. Despite his own fears, he loved to remind me that I was 'kicking cancer's ass'.

My youngest son was still at home, and made sure to 'allow' me the freedom to fight it as I needed.  He encouraged me to keep running and to work every day. Eating was my biggest challenge.  I lost my sense of taste with the first surgery, and coupled with daily nausea, eating became a full time job.  My son would come home from basketball practice on my worst days and get to work in the kitchen. He assured me he would keep cooking until I could eat something, and he did.  Knowing how much it meant to him, I tried harder than ever to get something down.

While I am well today, the ferocity of their love continues. They freely tell me how much they believe in me, how proud they are of me, and how much they love me. When I wrote my book, my oldest son designed the gorgeous cover and my youngest was my editor. Did cancer break our family? It did not, despite great effort. We are here.  We are healthy and we love each other with a ferocity of love that keeps us safe, for today.

Posted on January 8, 2015 .

Living

I never gave living much thought until I was diagnosed with cancer. Then it became the centerpiece of every breath I took. I woke up every morning and asked myself if today was the day I would die.  Thankfully, the answer was "No!" Then I needed to assess how lousy I felt. On the worst days, I reminded myself that it was possible that this could be the best I would ever feel again.  If so, I needed to get up and live my best day. Figuring out how to live my best day each and every day is not just a reaction to life threatening situations. It is what we all need to do each day, but so often ignore.

I learned to 'live my best day' each and every day because each and every day was different.  Some days were easy and obvious.  Others were dark and difficult, but that is true for all of us in all parts of our lives. I learned to put one foot in front of the other and move forward, even on the days when all my effort meant I didn't move forward very far. Appreciating those few 'inches' I moved had to become a new part of my life.

I took early retirement because of a financial package I couldn't pass up. I thought retirement would be a breeze and the best part of my life so far.  Some days it is.  Some days it is scary and lonely and I feel lost. The biggest challenge is the biggest blessing.  There is no longer the structure and organizing principles of working. How fabulous is that?  How terrifying is that?

As I continue to live each day, I find some days are difficult, some are not, some are easy, some are boring, some are frenetic, some are filled with joy and laughter, and some are a struggle.  It really doesn't matter.  Nothing matters but getting up each morning and putting one foot in front of the other, doing the best you can in THAT moment, and then getting up and doing it all over again, knowing it will be different than the day before. That is the best part of each of my days.

Posted on January 8, 2015 .