Monday, February 23, 2015

I have a pile of Poetry Books

I love words.  Turns of a phrase.  The sound the taste, the images they present to our mind.  I love how complicated our language can be and how there is a never ending coming and going of words.  It flows and ebbs, a living thing.  

My Dad read me poetry.  Until recently I did not know why.  Mom hates it.  Surprising isn't it given her love of words and books and all things curious. 

I think the English Teachers of the world are partly to blame.  I ran across this poem a couple of months ago.  It made me laugh and made me a bit sad.  Words are such a gift and in many ways they can be limiting. But they are to be enjoyed. 

This is the apology to all the students I asked to tell me what someone said.  I should have been a better hungrier listener.  

Poets have a lot to say, they only use fewer words.  

The Effort
Would anyone care to join me
in flicking a few pebbles in the direction
of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
“What is the poet trying to say?”

as if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson

had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts-
inarticulate wretches that they were,
biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.

Yes, it seems that Whitman, Amy Lowell
and the rest could only try and fail,
but we in Mrs. Parker’s third-period English Class
here at Springfield High will succeed

with the help of those study questions
in saying what the poor poet could not,
and we will get all this done before
that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.

Tonight, however, I am the one trying
to say what it is this absence means,
the two of us sleeping and waking under different roofs,
the image of this vase of cut flowers,
not from our garden, is no help.
And the same goes for the single plate,
the solitary lamp, and the weather that presses its face
against these new windows-the drizzle and the
        morning frost.

So I will leave it up to Mrs. Parker,
who is tapping a piece of chalk against the blackboard,
and her students-a few with their hands up,
others slouching with their caps on backwards-

to figure out what it is I am trying to say
about this place where I find myself
and to do it before the noon bell rings
and that whirlwind of meatloaf is unleashed.

Billy Collins

Random House 2008

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mary-Elizabeth has become a great writer.

In my life time I have been through cancer twice and spent 10 year dealing with it and its effects, but I am still standing here. I am lucky. I call the time spent dealing with cancer as being in  Cancer World. Unfortunately, ever day new people are thrown into this world, floundering trying to figure out what has happened. It is this reason that my mother started a nonprofit called The Wishing Rock Project. This is a small, but growing group of people reaching out to families, at Seattle Children’s Hospital, who’s child have been touched by cancer and who’s families are struggling to survive being part of Cancer World. We create and deliver bags filled will essential and special items that might help as the new families begin their pain staking battle.  We found the items really helpful and while the collection is sort of weird on the surface, each item has a deep meaning.  

My mother has been delivering the bags, but I knew I should be the one delivering so that the parents can see that surviving is possible. Despite my knowing what was right, I was terrified because I wasn’t sure how seeing a child in the same position I was in just 2 and 3 years before was going to affect me or how many bad memories it would bring back.  I finally  summoned up the courage to deliver a bag to a family that had been in contact with Wishing Rock.  I arrived and introduced myself to the parents and the look of hope on their faces when they saw me will stay with me forever. I talked with the mother sharing my wisdom of what to expect and answering questions on how to deal with various situations that might arise. The healing power of Honey Nut Cheerio, Metro Mint Water and cheese cake can never be under estimated.   I also sat down with the 6 year old girl and told her despite how yucky she felt right now, things will be better. Showing this family that there is a light at the end of the darkness was the best feeling I have ever had. I learned I was strong enough to help others in the same situation I had been in and make their scary situation a little less scary. I now deliver bags when I am able and do not plan on stopping anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What a Difference a Moment Can Make

So, I have been dealing with some issues with some "kids" .  They are in the Millennium  generation or better known as the ME ME ME group that we have raised. This group was given way too many participation medals and pats on the back for mediocrity. Their tool box to deal with life in seriously deficient. 

 I remember my dad being upset when I mentioned there was not a dishwasher in my new apartment.  He was shocked that I would even notice.  I heard the lengthy "When  was a boy we lived in a Chicken Coop" recitation.  I then mentioned to him that we had never lived there and we always had a dishwasher, and electricity and plumbing.  He sort or looked at me funny and smiled.   He had not thought of that before. 

So now everyone has a cell phone, most of them "smart".  There are cars that are more than transportation.  They have a million I-things and flat screen TVs and fast computers and faster WiFi.  And we wonder why they are so flummoxed about hard work and responsibility. When and where would they have learned? We never gave them a chance. 

They want it all. They want it now. Everything is not enough.  And when that does not work, they are a bit miffed.  That is their bad press.  But there is a flip side to all of that.  They live in this moment.  The Dali Lama would be impressed with their ability to only focus on NOW.  Not a moment in the future or dwelling on the past, only the NOW.  Granted they need to worry a bit about kindness and giving back and things like that but they have the NOW thing covered. 

But you can get stuck in NOW. I am having a hard time seeing a future and making any plans.  I am stuck by Cancer World glue.  How dare I be so arrogant and make plans for something more than what we are doing today? How dare I believe there is a moving forward?  I have a hard time making plans very far out.  I know the bridge could go up as I travel over it. 

Cancer World takes lots from us. It also teaches lessons.  I am sort of slow on the patience and acceptance part of it.  Not happy when I don't receive answers of certainty.  I am sure they are not telling me everything and I have come to realize why.  Too much to know, too much to take in.  

Cancer World reshapes our reality and shrinks part of your world view.  You learn to focus on this issue, this moment, this point in time.  There is always a goal you are working toward but your life is peppered with the knowledge the bridge might go up at any moment. Any instant. Any nano particle.  

However, In physicsmoment is a combination of a physical quantity and a distance.  

So I am going to work on thinking of NOW as a step.  A step in the right direction. 

I will work on really thinking about each moment being a step.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Not all Roads Lead to Klamath Falls

As you drive back and forth from Seattle to Visalia California to see your baby brother you seen a repeated sign:  Klamath Falls.  Next Exit  Klamath Falls. Now Klamath Falls is sort of inconsequential place in the middle of Oregon. I don't know if anyone goes to Klamath Falls.  I know very little about Klamath Falls but after you see the sign enough you begin to  wonder if you should go to Klamath Falls. 

It became sort of a joke.  The kind that develops when you have crossed over a river 36 times in a very short period of time.  Sort of like the License Plate game. When you are on a long drive this is how you make the miles pass with alacrity.  Lots of roads and exits lead to Klamath Falls. But I think in retrospect, it is a place to be avoided.  Sort like ICU or Hospice.  It is a better to avoid it at all cost and hope the Exit passes you by, each and every time.  

I just spent a few days driving to and from Visalia with my mom. We drove I-5 and then at Sacramento headed down 99.  Down the center of the San Joaquin Valley.  Rows and Rows of unidentified trees and crops and rice paddies whizzed by as we drove 80+ miles an hour. When the fog cleared we could see from the Sierras to Coastal range.  Flat, fertile, under cultivation.  Almost a cosmic adventure.  Miles and miles of straight rows, small dusty farm towns. Disturbing feed lots, fields populated by field hands and their families.  It makes you think.  It makes you wonder. It makes you appreciate what shows up in the stores.   

The vastness of it all.  I of course want to know how the valley was formed.  As you drop out of the end of the Cascade Mountain range and leave mountains and foot hills behind, it makes you wonder.  How did this all come about?  Or at least it makes me wonder.  

I spent the whole trip wondering where the Sacramento River starts?  When did they built the Lake Shasta Dam?  How many people live in Myrtle Creek?  What was Happy Donut before it became so happy?  When did the first settlers realize they could grow Oranges?  Who brought them to the valley.  Why do we dye ripe olives black?  When did Zinfandel Wine become dark read and not a Rose?

My list of questions goes on and on.  But then travel does that for you, even a short jaunt to visit your brother in his wonderful house with an orange tree and never ending closets.   

My time away also kept me away from many things that have filled my life these past few years.  Three years and 5 months.  It was a bit of time not to dwell on the stuff that makes "Klamath Falls" an unwanted destination.  

I realized you can run but you cannot escape. Just like when you first enter Cancer World and watch your life go away, you realize things don't stop on command or when you are not watching.  A child was buried, several were mourned. More were struggling. Some were given hope, some were given guarded hope, some were just waiting to find some hope.  

Hope is a good thing. It helps us move forward.  It often even answers some of my questions.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Different Point of View

Sometimes a bit of change is a good thing. Just a shift in focus.  Drove to Eugene, picked up Mom and headed south.  South through the southern mountains of Oregon and then into the Valley... The Valley where thousands of years ago water filled from one mountain range to the next rich soil was created.  

Sandy, loamy, black, fertile.  Almost every inch is in cultivation.  My favorite was the full grown vineyard in the median.  I am guessing the road grew around it but there it is. 

This is a very special place.  We drove past acres and acres of trees.  All planted by those with OCD.  Perfect rows, all ways. Some have grass in the rows, other's have grass and other vegetation around the base of the trees.  I think it depends.  We had to guess because there was not way to really know.  I am all for signs on the fences so I might be able to understand which is which.  Pecans, Almonds, Walnuts? Fruit trees?  What could it be?  All a mystery to me. But then much of life is such a mystery. 

I drove and realized how much I take for granted about what shows up in the grocery store.  It is just there.  No thought given to the way and the how things are grown and what happens to get them to the store.  I do know that the feed lots and trucks of live chickens are disturbing. Crop dusters and people working in the fields.  I am also sort of horrified at the human cost required to have veggies on our tables.  Everything comes at a cost and a sacrifice for someone. 

Oh well, I picked an orange off the tree and complained of the 81 degree weather. I have helped a bit with the house.  I have sold a couch on Craigslist.  I have opened the windows of the house and listened to birds I can not identify.  I have watched the dogs all run themselves to death.  David and Mom are having a great time.  My big goal for this evening is to convince someone tall they should help me hang the Night Watch.  

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Diagnosis Hope vs Treatment Reality

Someone mentioned to me that their grandchild had been diagnosed with osteo sacoma.  They were obviously upset and the depth of their confusion and pain and fear were very apparent.  It is a very scary thing. Hearing those words sticks with you for the rest of your life.  It is a "Where were you when Kennedy was Shot" question.  (Yes, I am that old.)  The child will be in treatment for 9 months.  The family has arranged to be home for a year because they are teachers and their fellow teachers have given them sick time from a pool.  There is a sister. 

The grandmother is trying to figure out what to do. How could this happen?  Does it matter if the child is 8? This is so rare how can they cure it? Do the doctors know what they are doing?

As I sit here this morning watching the birds gather sustenance from the bird feeder buffet, I just sigh.  Katie Elliot will be buried in a week.  I met her family when they were starting treatment.  Three years later, treatment is over.  She too had Osteo.  She did not make it out alive. 

When you first hear those words, the thing that gives you comfort is the "plan" or the "road map".  There it is, the PLAN.  Yes this is a lousy diagnosis but we have a PLAN.  Something to look at, something to put on a calendar. An end point is sitting there for all to see.  You can plan your live around the PLAN.

I still have some of the calendars and all the Road Maps.  I look a them when I am sorting through things.  I still look and wonder at the amount of hope and optimism contained on those pages.  The PLAN.  

What you soon realize is that the PLAN is kind of a guide.  You know where you want to go and you head West.  Sort of like being on the top of the Continental Divide and heading to the ocean.  There are million ways to get there and the ocean is a vast. But with enough effort and enough perseverance and some luck, you do arrive.

 The journey is not easy. The path is not straight. There are losses of untold magnitude.  Some are secret losses you don't discover for many many years.  It is a journey some have to make more than once.  But it is doable. 

As the family begins on their journey, my first words of advice would be to hang on to all the hope they can.  They will need it as they make their journey and have to face the reality of the bumps on they way.  Second bit, be ready for a wild ride.  Third, remember you are not alone. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Its the "Word" Thing again.

Child having trouble breathing.

Child still in ICU.

Child with a tumor pressing on the end of the stomach.

Child with Relapsed Lymphoma.

Child with tumor growth.

What do we say?
What do we do?

I have racked my brain for days.  I am not one of those "Just buy a gift card" kind of person.  I know on some level it is the best thing.  Some money, a prayer, an encouraging note, a Coffee Card.  Heck I just found out there are McDonald Cards.  I know.  Write a note, put in a 20. Go on with my business. Easy.  I'm done. I have stepped forward and contributed.  The rest will work itself out. 

I want to give something special. I want to give something meaningful. I want to be of help and to take away some of the burden.  I want it all to go away.  But as many of us in Cancer World have learned over the weeks and months and even decades, there is really nothing that helps.   But darn it, there has to be something.  I hate limitations. 

I received news that Katie Elliot took her last labored breath this morning.  Talk about a "no words" moment.  Words won't make a difference to Katie.  Her family will no doubt find words not comforting, for a while because the pain is so excruciating.

I think the reason we are at a loss for words is because sounds don't adequately do the job.  A death is a time for silence, for deep reflection, for gazing out into space to try and connect with the molecules of the spirit.  It is a time to think about the great things the person did during her lifetime and what we learned from her.  

We all die. Some sooner than others.  The only thing that matters is what we do with the earthly time we have.  How many times do we smile, laugh, change another person's life in a good way?  What really matters isn't the balance of the bank account or how many bedrooms and bathrooms we have.  It is what we have done to effect some one's life. 

Everyday a good deed must be accomplished.  That is the important pile of stuff that needs to taken care of and stored and sorted and increased. 

Today we dedicate good deeds to Katie and her very sad mom Darlis