One point on the journey

I can take any moment, magnify it, and project it into the future, even if my life is a testament to unpredictability. I’m constantly reminded that it is hard to imagine the end of a journey based on any one point along the way.

About two weeks ago, I brought my car into the dealership for service. Getting into the loaner car, I immediately noticed a chewed up pen in the console and a few little candy wrappers on the passenger seat. Yuck. But it was only a loaner and I was in a rush so I drove away without complaint.

Awhile later, when I got out of the car, I glanced into the back seat and saw something sticking out from under the driver’s seat. It was a $20 bill. When I pulled it out, a $5 bill came along with it!

Judging by the cleanliness of the car, it probably belonged to whoever used the car before me, or maybe even before them.

I considered keeping it. I thought about handing the money back to the dealership and asking them to find the previous driver. Maybe I should just give it as a tip to the guy at the dealership.

What I knew was this: It was fun to find, and it wasn’t mine. I decided to give it back to the dealer. Then it is their responsibility and decision to find the owner or keep the money. And if the guy at the dealership kept the money, well, maybe he needed it more than I did. Who am I to judge?

When I returned the car to the dealership, I was greeted by the same very nice man who gave the car to me. I told him that I found $25 under the seat and joked that, if someone had cleaned it, they would have gotten a nice tip. He laughed and said that he would look up the previous driver. I handed the money to him, and I went on my way.

Later, I told the story to my sons. The younger one said, “Why did you give him the money?”

“It wasn’t mine,” I replied.

He looked at me quizzically. “It was once you found it.”

Hmmm. That is another way of looking at it. We let it rest there, though of course I wondered about the rest of his morals, how they were developing and what kind of man he would become.

About a week later, our family plus a friend drove through a giant snowstorm and wandered into an empty Bertucci’s restaurant. As the host led us to our table, I noticed a dime on the floor. (Does NO ONE clean anymore?)

I tapped my son and pointed down to the dime. He looked at me, then picked it up.

We returned to our place behind our group, marching to our table, but he veered off. I figured that he had gone to the bathroom and would be back.

When he returned, I asked, “What was up?”

“I went to give them the dime,” he said. After a pause, he added, “It wasn’t mine.”

Again, no one step can predict the end of the journey, but that one sure felt fine.

Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you are feeling fine, or are on your way there.

Love and blessings,
Marie

Outside the restaurant:

Lexington Center in the snowstorm - recycling

The swirl and the puddles of life

Time passes with crazy, unbelievable events occurring all around me that often stun my heart. I don’t always feel calm, but if I can be still for a bit, I am lucky to find the calm center. The current calm I feel is not a peaceful calm, but more like a calm in the middle of the storm. I’m mostly watching and waiting – not sure for what.

Last weekend, a friend came to visit. She and I have been close for about 45 years (showing my age here!) and I love her through and through. We have experienced a lifetime of events together, such as our families moving during our childhood, our crazy teen years, romantic relationship stories, figuring out careers and how to live on our own. Our very different personalities gives each of us a different perspective on life. Among other traits, I admire her spirit and the swirl of activity that seems to surround her. I can talk with her about anything and her heart is generous enough to receive it in love, so we talked about how the swirl can be tiring for me at times, especially then, right after chemo.

On Monday, the last day of our visit, we were driving the kids to camp and a huge thunderstorm broke.

The rain was hard and fast, and we soon came upon a large puddle in the road.

I know the danger of these puddles. About 15 years ago, I drove my new Saab through a seemingly innocuous but deep puddle in the middle of a road. The water went into the air intake valve, causing the engine to seize. When my boyfriend (now husband) opened the door to get out and push the car, more water came rushing in. The car was totaled.

So on Monday, driving through the storm with my friend, I had flashbacks to that episode. I considered that this puddle might total my new car. I also considered that without my husband in the car, I myself might have to get out to figure out the situation and ruin my cute favorite sandals in the process. I considered waiting out the storm, but it didn’t look like it would end soon and I felt a need to get home. So we drove carefully in low visibility (holding our breath) through the large, deep puddle, and we exhaled when we made it through.

The rain continued and we were surprised to come to another deep puddle, then another. Each one looked harrowing, and after each one, we thought that would be the last and plowed ahead. We did this through countless puddles, each time navigating it carefully and then thinking we were in the clear.

My friend lives in California, which currently has a record drought. She marveled at how green and clean everything appeared, so I took a look around. Our slow driving enabled us to notice some of the beauty. For example, what we initially thought was a waterfall was actually someone’s front steps.

Waterfall steps

We were still navigating puddles when the rain stopped, so we took pictures.

Cars in the puddles

Once home, we briefly wondered what we would have done if we ran into trouble and laughed with relief that we didn’t have to worry about it. We learned that a tornado had been passing through a nearby town, causing the intense rainstorm. We were amused by the thought of surviving another crazy new adventure after so many years, and happy that neither of us had to get our shoes wet. When we heard about the damage to the town where the tornado touched down, being in the rainstorm didn’t seem so bad.

Sometimes, it seems like I am in the center of the storm when really, I am just experiencing the side effects. And, like a tornado, events move along, even if it is at a snail’s pace and only changing slowly.

I appreciate your company through the many storms that happen in life. At each deep puddle, when I think that this is it, we somehow make it through and assess where we are. I like to think each is the last one and we are then in the clear, but then another seems to come along and we take a deep breath and navigate that.

I’m so glad to survive these all with you, and I appreciate that you help me to see the beauty in them.  Thank you.

Much love,
Marie

This post is dedicated to my friend Kathleen, whose spirit went soaring this morning. Fly high my friend. Blessings to you.

Setting goals

We set life goals, tangible and intangible, such as achieving a level of professional success or creating a certain style of life. We also set near-term goals. For example, when I used to run, I would decide to run three miles, then along the way, set mini-goals of running faster until the next lamp post. These smaller goals helped me in reaching the larger goal.

Since my diagnosis, the tone of my goals has changed to sound more like, “How long can I live?”  I set out for 20 years and the mini-goals, so far, look like this:

– See our older son make his First Communion and be able to host family
– Attend his fourth grade poetry reading and listen with my whole heart
– Help our younger son transition to his “real” school (from preschool)
– Celebrate another wedding anniversary with my husband (I reset this one every year)
– Prepare for and attend the First Communion of our younger son

I feel so lucky to have attained the first four, and I have the fifth one in my sights.

In the meantime, as other goals pop into my head, they get added.

For example, last week, I was loving my 10-year-old car. Yes, it has given me problems here and there, but lately, it felt reliable and like it would go on forever.

Goal: I would love to outlive my car.

Immediate gut response: Careful what you ask for.

The next day, I started the car in our garage and slowly backed out. The engine felt sluggish, but I attributed that to our crazy-cold weather. As I backed up further, the ABS and BRAKE warning lights flashed orange on my dash. Then the BRAKE light turned to red.

I checked the handbrake. I’ve driven with that on before, but it was not set. Halfway out of the garage, I thought, maybe I just needed to restart the car?

I turned off the ignition. Instantly, I realized my mistake, but the deed was done. I could not start it again. It wouldn’t even turn over. Not a click.

I looked over my left shoulder and saw the side of the garage door right next to me. I tried to open it, but there was not enough room for me to get out. I was effectively locked in the car. Sigh.

What were other options? The backseat doors were clear of the garage! I climbed over the seat. Not so easy to do with a colostomy bag, sore abs, and generally under-used muscles, but I did it! Once out, I felt thrilled with my little physical manipulations. One problem solved. Now to worry about getting the car started.

Just then I realized – it was FREEZING cold outside and the garage door could not close with my car in the way. We would be heating the outside for hours through an opening the size of a garage door!

Call to hubby, my salvation in all things that I cannot handle on my own.

Yes, I see some parallels to my body. Sometimes it feels a bit unreliable, but I can go for such long stretches of feeling good that I feel like the problems are gone. And then suddenly, they crop up again. I can feel trapped, but I luckily have been able to climb out. Maybe a little awkwardly and with some effort, but it works. And much of the time, I look at my situation and realize that I need help. Fortunately, help arrives.

My husband came home, pushed the car out of the garage, and charged it. He charged the battery, but it wouldn’t hold a charge. Because this is the fourth battery in 10 years, and we had countless mechanics say they can’t find a problem, it feels more like some obscure electrical problem.

It became clear that, as much as I loved this car, it was time to move onto another one.

So, check that goal off my list. Next!

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.

Stranger-friends

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?”

“Yes.”

“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: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/morning-file/local-dispatch-its-hardly-polite-to-be-outside-pittsburgh-294839/#ixzz2Ptpbi1IG

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.

The best laid plans

Chemo tomorrow (Tuesday). I still have a lingering cold so a part of me hopes that they cancel it. Who am I kidding –  most of me hopes that they cancel it. But I do appreciate your prayers and positive thoughts – they carry me through. Thank you!

I’m not sure how to plan for tomorrow, but I hold onto this thought: Some days work out even when they don’t work out according to plan.

The adventure begins when everything goes wrong.
–  from the movie 180 Degrees South

On the Monday before my last chemo treatment, I finished teaching religious education at our church and headed for the door with massive amounts of materials in my arms and my six-year-old son in tow.

A group of folks began setting up for the monthly church dinner, but I had other plans. I promised my older son that I would pick him up from swimming, and I looked forward to an amazing dinner at home. However, as friends filed into the church hall, my younger son lobbied to stay for the pasta and pizza dinner and to play with the other kids.

I, on the other hand, wanted to leave now, pick up my older son with a minimum of futzing, and go straight home. I didn’t want to swing back to get this younger one, no matter how fun it sounded for him.

By now, though, I risked being late for the swimming pick-up. When Deb generously offered to watch him, I rushed out of the church and into my car.

After loading everything into the car, I turned the key. It wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t even try to start.

After a brief moment of “okay, now what?,” I left messages for our sitter and my husband, hoping that one of them could pick up the swimmer and that my husband could come to jump-start the car.

It felt cold and dark both outside and inside the car, but when I lifted my head and looked through the car window, I noticed the warm lights shining through the windows of the church hall. With a surge of gratitude. I returned inside, joining my friends in their conversation and watching the kids run around. While it wasn’t the dinner I had been craving, we were warm and having fun with our friends.

Something spilled on the floor, and John, one of the husbands, took the lead in cleaning it up. I had seen him earlier as well, fixing a lock on a door while waiting to pick up one of his sons. Obviously a guy who can make things right.

“Hey, John, you do everything. Can you jump-start my car?” I was half-joking, but he answered me seriously.

“Sure. I have jumper cables in the car. Just let me know when you are ready.”

His wife looked at me. “You’re serious? Your car won’t start? You seem to be so relaxed about it.”

I don’t typically come across as relaxed so I spent a moment basking in this compliment.

Just then, Tiron called. He was back in cell range, had our swimming son with him and would be right over.

John and Tiron arrived simultaneously at my car and, between them, determined that the car would need to be towed. So, that was settled.

We gathered the boys just as the church dinner wound down, piled into Tiron’s car and headed for home. I felt strangely content.

Yes, we stayed at the church longer than I planned, our family didn’t have the dinner we anticipated and my car broke down….again.

On the flip side, I felt gifted that the car died in front a warm and welcoming place where we could eat a dinner that my kids really enjoyed with friends we don’t often get to see. I felt awe and amazement that someone was ready and willing to help us take care of the kids and someone else was ready and willing to help us with the car. And I felt lucky that I had the energy to flow with it all.

Throughout the evening’s events ran a calm assurance that every problem could be handled. The boys would be taken care of, food would appear, there would be time to visit and time to repair.

In my life, so many situations feel unresolved or outside my control. Having manageable problems and – this was huge – having others also believe these problems could be managed felt like basking in sunlight.

The evening didn’t go as I planned, but we received everything we needed in the exact moments we needed them. It was all perfect. Now I think I need a more reliable car….

I hope that you are finding that you get what you need in the moments you need it. That you are enjoying the longer hours of daylight, the friends who step in at just the right moment, and even a calm knowing that some problems can indeed be solved.

Love,
Marie