Including a friend

When I have chemo, I spend much of my time either in the cancer infusion center or in our house, making me feel isolated and my world very small. Afterwards, when I reenter the rest of the society, I join my friends who have ongoing connections with each other. They are wonderful and open but getting back into the flow of our connections initially feels like entering a foreign world. Each time, I need to get over my shyness and remember how to navigate the dynamics. I make fumbling attempts as I start.

Thankfully, friends help me in this reconnection, so smoothly that I don’t even notice that they are the ones opening the path for me. However, an experience with one of our sons drove this right into my heart.

Recently, our six-year-old son had four of his classmates over for a playdate. After climbing onto the trampoline, the five boys started jumping, which quickly turned to wrestling. Amid peals of laughter, I heard comments like, “Out of my way!” and “Your butt stinks!”

Periodically one would yell, “New game!” I naively thought that meant switching to basketball or baseball. Nope. Each time, I watched them unfold from their puppy pile, stand for barely a second, and then gleefully tackle each other again.

One boy I’ll call Max kept himself on the fringe of the fray. Max is a sweet kid who follows the rules. He eats neatly, takes off his shoes when he enters my house, and politely says “please” and “thank you” without missing a beat. He even flushes the toilet and washes his hands. He didn’t give off a rough-and-tumble vibe, and he kept one eye on the roughhousing as he ran around the perimeter of the trampoline.

I stood next to the trampoline, ostensibly to make sure that no one got physically hurt, but more to make sure that no one got emotionally hurt. Because I hate to be left out, my antennae went up as I watched Max run around the action and not be part of it.

“You’re not playing, Max,” one boy stated as he launched into another tackle. His voice held no judgment, just observation.

“I want to play,” Max stated in a calm, matter-of-fact tone while he continued to run in a circle around the moving pile of boys, careful not to step on anyone. “I WANT to play,” he repeated with emphasis.

“Okay then, you can play, Max. All you have to do is tackle people.” Then, that boy tackled him. Not hard, but enough to knock him down.

The tackling boy then spoke to Max with kindness, as if he were instructing. “That’s how you play, Max. Like that.”

Just as Max stood up, two other boys tackled him. While those two got up to tackle someone else, Max remained still and face-down on the trampoline.

Concerned, I walked closer. “Are you okay, Max?”

Max remained in his position but lifted his head and looked at me with a huge grin. “I’m fine, Mrs. Pechet.”

My heart swelled with gratitude knowing that Max was more than fine. Then that gratitude instantly expanded, first toward the boys on behalf of Max, but then toward all my friends who do the same for me, and soon, toward to every person who helps to include others in their lives, especially when someone wants to share in the fun of life and doesn’t quite know what to do. Thank you.

Unbounded Joy. Always.

Unbounded Joy

As much as I love to see this kind of joy, I rarely feel it inside myself. Though I am happy in my heart,  I would not call it unbounded joy. Even if I feel that everything is wonderful, I still notice something I could have done better. Other times, I feel a twinge (or more) of guilt for things being so good. Often, I simply feel undeserving. Whatever the reason, something inside holds me back from feeling pure, unmitigated joy.

I do generally feel incredibly grateful, especially for seemingly simple things. I am grateful for being able to get a glass of water when I am thirsty, for being able to go outside or open a window when I want fresh air, and for having friends who forgive my many shortcomings and generously fill my life.

Most recently, I feel gratitude for being able to start a chemo holiday and then, the next day, leave Boston for Arizona to begin a week-long physical holiday with my husband and sons. I carried more than a twinge of guilt on behalf of others who are dealing with cancer and cannot take a break from it, and for being lucky enough to be able to travel when I know that it is a luxury for many. The guilt is not strong enough for me to cancel the trip, but it does make me hold back some of the joy.

While we were away, there came Marathon Monday and the events that followed. Not that I could have done anything to help in Boston, and it was probably much better for all of us that we were away, but I had some trouble reconciling the events back home with the calm and relaxing atmosphere in Arizona.

In the middle of that week, we stopped at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona. This tiny chapel added a religious element to the awe-inspiring and spiritual feel of Sedona. We spent awhile simply sitting quietly in the chapel; the boys and I lit candles and said a few prayers.

Because we live in a commercial culture, the Chapel generously provides a gift shop. Before leaving the chapel, we explored the gift shop where I saw a marble stone with this carving:

Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances…
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Be joyful.

Be joyful always.

If it is in the bible to be joyful, perhaps in the name of God I can push aside a little of whatever it is holding back the joy and know that it is okay to fully express the joy and the blessings of the moment.

I hope you are feeling joy, that it expands your heart and your world, because I do know that it lifts us all and gives me yet another reason to give thanks, even while I am still working on being joyful.

Angel in the waiting room

When I walked into the waiting room at Dana Farber, I noticed an older couple sitting together with some space between them. Her face pointed slightly away from him and turned toward a wordsearch book she was holding. She held a pen in her right hand but wasn’t using it. Her eyes appeared to be unfocused.

Settling into my seat, I heard his harsh tone.

“You are crying? You can cry when I croak.”

Without even thinking, I looked up. Since I was sitting in the section next to them,  I wasn’t looking straight at them, but saw them both from the side. She was closer to me and I now noticed her shaking shoulders and realized she wasn’t saying a word.

He repeated his words again, in the same harsh tone. “You can cry when I croak.”

Of course, everyone has their own way of dealing with emotionally difficult issues, especially heartbreak, and no one way is right. I still felt this overwhelming desire to help somehow (see previous posts on stranger-friends!), to hold her hand or give her a hug, I also felt like they would both turn on me and that it wouldn’t help. This was a private matter playing out in a public setting.

Her shoulders were shaking while she still made no sound. Soon, the nurse called him to get his vital signs taken and she remained seated.

Right then, a man in his early 30’s sat down next to her.

“Hi,” he said kindly. “Can I sit here?”

I didn’t listen to the rest of their conversation and I don’t even know how much they actually spoke. I did see that she looked at him almost as one would look at a lifeline as he continued to slowly connect with her.

I don’t know about her, but I was grateful.

Stranger-friends from another perspective

Guest blogger today! “Grace” is sharing her version of Stranger-friends. Just like we all share different stories about the same traffic accident, we have different stories about the same life event. I will admit that hers does jog my memory a bit more.

“Sylvia” remains, as always, beloved Switzerland.

Here is Grace:

Marie walks in with a stranger, and says “I ran into <Stranger X>, and so he gave me a ride home.”  Sylvia and I say (thinking that he is an old friend of Marie’s), “Great, come join us for dinner and an episode of LA Law (or whatever the popular show was).”  Marie runs up to her room to change, and Sylvia/I start peppering him with questions, like “How do you know Marie?”  Our Asian eyes start to get big and round, and we start to chomp on our dinner quietly.  Stranger X then has to go to the bathroom, and we start asking Marie “Did you know this guy????  Why did you let him come in?” Stranger X returns from the bathroom and we all watch TV silently, afraid to move, looking for a self defense object (in case we need it). Stranger X realizes that it is very uncomfortable, and he makes a quick exit.  I have still not recovered from this episode.

Marie again: Since this is my blog, I get the final word. tee hee. From the outside, Grace has apparently recovered enough to marry a wonderful man and raise two very bright children who do not accept rides from strangers. This helps to alleviate my guilt.


When I first moved to Boston, right out of college, I shared a house with two roommates I will call Grace and Sylvia, who were also right out of college. They attended college together and included me in their a wonderful group of college friends for dinners, bridge, skiing, social parties and generally hanging out. Our house was open, welcoming and always full of much-loved friends.

I worked a few miles away from our house and one winter day, driving home in a huge snowstorm, I had almost every electrical item running in my little Honda Accord: the headlights, the windshield wipers, the front and rear defrosters, and, of course, the radio.

In the standstill traffic, I spent more time singing along with the radio than stepping on the gas pedal, so my battery eventually died. I wasn’t alone – many cars were abandoned along the side of the road. I figured that I should get my car out of the way as well.

While I stood outside my car to assess the situation, two guys jumped out of the pickup truck behind me and helped to push my car into a nearby parking lot. When they generously offered to drive me home, I accepted.

We spent a long time together, chatting in the car in that slow-moving traffic and, after dropping off one of the guys (because his stop was on the way), the driver and I arrived at our house. Grace and Sylvia were already home and dinner was cooking. Without thinking twice, I invited him to join us for dinner.

Because we always had friends around, Grace and Sylvia welcomed him as a friend of mine and, after he left, were shocked to learn that I had just met him on the street. Slight culture clash:  They assumed that I wouldn’t invite a stranger into our home and I didn’t think to tell them that we had just met.

Twenty-five years later, we still laugh about that.

When I read this article, I realized that my invitation to this gentleman came from something that got planted deep inside me, growing up in PIttsburgh. It helped me to realized that this is was just what we do.

The article, by a Pittsburgher who now lives in LA, is short, but I excerpted part of it here so that those of you who don’t like to click through will still get the idea:

My dad died last month. This has nothing to do with that.

What I have to tell you is how I pulled up in front of my childhood home the day of the funeral and the woman who lives there now stepped outside, looked at me and said, “Are you OK?”

I said, “No, my dad died.”

She tilted her head. “You used to live here?”


“Do you wanna come in? I’m just going down to the market, but no rush, come on in.”

And she proceeded to let me walk around her home, asking if I needed anything, asking who had lived in what rooms, what doors to the porch we had used, and was my mother the one who planted the perennials, and how has it changed? All the time smiling and encouraging me to stop when I needed to, cry if I had to, she said,

“Please. Go upstairs. Which room was yours?”

To read the rest of that article:

We recognize our connections as humans. We take in stranger-friends. We shift our plans to make room for them. We feed them. We try to figure out what it is they need. And hopefully, take care of them in some small way.

And while you may not be in Pittsburgh, I feel like I found that in you. You take me into your heart (and sometimes, your homes), you shift your plans to help us out, you feed us, and you try to figure out what we need, and you take care of us. Thank you.