Friday, July 31, 2015

Compartmentalization and Punctuation Marks

Well... it took over two years but it appears the ESPN piece will finally air, there's even a preview. I should say that with excitement but it's mostly relief. While the crews did a fantastic job of being non invasive, there were odd moments. I left when they were setting up and tearing down since your house being set up with many cameras and lights is weird...

There have been cameras in my house too many times (I hope and believe that one last March will be the last). People ask why I don't watch most of the pieces, thinking that me not caring is out of modesty. That's entirely incorrect because while they're highlighting some of the things I corrected but hanging out with my kid in the way I do and running to capacity are things I should have always gotten right. Still the most fascinating thing with working with these crews for me has always been when the cameras are off and how we interact with each other then. There is an old saying that someone who is nice to you but isn't nice to the waitress is not a nice person... I went to eat with all of the ESPN crews; they were all nice to the waitress.

So this process has taken over two years, not because the story has changed but because I inspire people to leave working on E60. The first producer was the one who got me to accept doing this (believe it or not I blew off more people than I accepted back when I won Gusher cause a) it was overwhelming b) the story was already out there so what else was there to tell). It might have helped that someone from Livestrong and one of my Doctors from Duke encouraged me to do so in order to encourage others, the obligation of the cured as we call it in this community (I've given up on objecting because I'm not cured). But apparently the reason it dragged out is that until very late in the process it is the producer who does all the work and if they happen to leave the story gets shelved until another producer picks it up.

There is actually something I like about E60 right from the beginning is that their shows apparently end without any credits to any of their staff, a nod to the idea that the stories are always more important than the story tellers, the subject more important than the author. A simple look at multiple accounts of events or multiple photographs of a single thing would of course reveal that both are important but I think that shows humility on their part. So with that said, well, let's just leave the formal names out of those I worked with but I still want to give the two I worked with most a thank you's in my own way, here in this blog because no matter how the piece comes out, I appreciated their person.

The first producer and I actually met for the first time without Kiana. It was at an appointment in Duke (Kiana's never been to any of those appointments and shy of her going to school there, I'm okay with never going to Duke again). Like each one of the producers, she filmed some things herself with most being the crew. The simple truth is that what came out of her filming were some shots of a race that I would take second in, a friend who passed away from brain cancer when I did the Boston marathon this year. ESPN's 3rd producer (we'll come back to her) was kind enough to edit some of that and send it which the family appreciated and which I previously wrote about. But that 1st producer somehow in the middle of a custody battle about how I shouldn't be the guardian of my daughter because of the seizures, and a man who still had much frustration and disappointment about having gotten left shortly after brain surgery, she still saw that somewhere in a broken heart where the few remnants were being poured into raising a child, there lived a hopeless romantic, perhaps a hopeful one. We sat and talked on the sidelines of medical appointments, races and ultimate frisbee with no cameras rolling sometimes. I had next to no response to perhaps the most personal and yet professional redirect she gave me about how I could do better than the George Clooney approach in an approach to love. The piece would get shelved for a while because she left E60... it would turn out she left it to get married and move far away. While somewhat personally annoyed that meant the media stuff would drag out a little longer since it's a seasonal show and some things would have to get updated, I remembered that conversation when I heard about it and was happy for her that in the scheme of life, she clearly put love over anything else and it was easier to understand why she'd been the one who had talked me to be part of these stories.

I would meet a couple of other producers in races on the east coast but it literally was one meal. One
was covering for another. The other was going to be the one picking up the story but she apparently got accepted to law school and also left the show. I don't know whether the 3rd producer knew all of this but the very first thing I said to her when we spoke was whether she was applying to law school or getting engaged anytime soon... yep that's how smooth of an entrance I make. She stuck out for many reasons and there have certainly been other reporters Kiana's been very happy and comfortable with but none quite like her. She would mention that she helps out in the children's ministry at her church but which one's the chicken and which one's the egg with her skills with kids we just don't know. If anywhere Kiana comes out relaxed in front of the camera during the interview, it's because she was behind it. Kiana and I had some fun during one of the tapings in which I rode her bike while she ran (it's usually the opposite). The last ESPN producer would sit on her bike just for kicks. She made such a strong impression that the last time Kiana talked to her she asked when she would come visit sometime without the camera crew. They both had been kind enough to read portions of this blog and realized that someone else would have to do the scripting for the story to be told properly. The last producer was writing so much during certain times I was wondering if she was writing my entire life story.

There are certain jobs both of which I've held and had to work with that require compartmentalization. The doctors and nurses I deal with, the camera crews, me being a juvenile probation officer, you have to be able to both disconnect to have any level of effectiveness. Still, the doctor I remember the most from when this all started is the only one that came to cheer me on in the marathon I put off brain surgery for. The nurse that struck a thankful cord was the one who came to my house to deliver something because when I had a driving restriction and it was really bad weather; they knew I'd be stubborn enough to try to get it myself. The neurosurgeon I chose said to me about surgery, I might kill you because if I died on surgery day it wasn't cancer, it was human error. Three of the reporters have been kind enough to come cheer at local races long after the official story was done. One of the camera crews insisted on cleaning the dishes after my mom made them dinner. Another one as we awaited MRI results, a guy who described himself as jaded from having done all this type of work, threw up in nervousness that these MRI results that he was about to tape would be bad news.  In my ever brave/cowardly way I go to too many of these appointments alone, one of those crews hugged me at one of those medical appointments and it's the only time I remember breathing during a medical appointment while I relaxed into their arms for a microsecond. If there's any reason these pieces capture any goodness or any humanity, it's because these were incredibly good humans when they stepped out from behind the cameras.

I don't know why other people tell stories to media... I don't quite understand the desire to be appreciated by strangers. I mean that's not exactly correct; I know and understand that impressing strangers matters a lot in certain situations. Some we call college admissions applications, others we call resume. I also know if you're trying to please everyone there's something wrong with you; if you're trying to please no one there's something wrong with you. But strangers across the tv screen... I don't... I don't quite get it for me because I'm doing nothing more than something I should have done all along which was love with all the conviction I've got. Trust me, I get the other stuff E60 does pieces on like professional athletes who should have their stories told both because of their physical abilities and the way they choose to utilize them for the field and often off the field with causes. I am average or slightly above average in any of those areas so when people ask why I have no good answer other than must be a slow news day.

Still, if given a platform, I have one core message, love it out. Showing the people who you love exactly that is a lot more important than impressing strangers in my book. I mean what's the point of impressing a bunch of strangers so that they can go tell the people they love about you if you come home alone? With that said, even with a damaged brain, I am no complete dummy. It is no coincidence that the races any media pieces have been invited to were ones were I was running a race that highlighted some good things and/or where I was running with a team that mattered. Four of the races where I have helped raise money for brain cancer research were ones they filmed, four of the other ones are entirely local races that benefit good things (this is the first time it occurs to me but of course they filmed 8 races). And every outfit of mine picked for the video was at least a wink or a nod or a smile (Kiana wore whatever she wanted).

So I hope this will be how I keep living... The title of this blog comes from that hopefully this is the end of the media stage since there will be nothing left to cover. It will go from being one ellipses to another. The compartmentalization of parentheses of when the cameras are or aren't rolling... the ellipses of when is this going to end (much like anyone whose gotten this far is thinking about this blog). I actually like Spanish punctuation better than English equivalent (apologies to Donald Trump?). There the question marks and exclamation points right at the beginning and the end of sentences ¿, ¡ because there are parts of life and communication that you are aware you want an answer even as you start saying it and other's you're excited long before the final word. The question mark of the ESPN piece is finally coming to a conclusion... It will air August 4th and be online three weeks after that. The question marks of cancer will likely keep hanging on but we will hopefully keep having some good periods, ellipses, occasional compartmentalization and definitely some exclamation marks. It is perhaps how I deal with the question marks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not So Lonely At The Top

Once several years ago, I woke up in an ambulance and a few weeks later I'd be heading to Duke, a place I'd never been, to get brain surgery and stay with strangers all because of how relevant cancer had become in my life... So when an opportunity came to travel with First Descents, I questioned it. I mean here was an opportunity to be in a place I'd never been, New Hampshire to do something I'd never seriously done, rock climbing with people I'd never met because of cancer... I've not really felt the need for a vacation ever but a trip that would suspend the cancer label for a bit would have been a way to catch my breath and this seemed like that opportunity or the complete opposite. But perhaps I dared dream it would be one of those moments where the universe dares to balance itself out.

So arriving and getting transported to the airport the first thing we had to do was figure out a nickname since at camp you have to be too cool to use your real name. Nicknames are always a fascinating thing for me... it's a way that we make things slightly more our own, sometimes out of affection, sometimes out of fear. I've met people on this journey who have named their tumors with names that range on the deranged to the sad to the comical. I thought about using one of my existing nicknames but in the end took on the drink I've only ever drank in reaction to cancer, since when getting out of the hospital they told me I should give up caffeine or alcohol, I asked if I could have rum and coke since they'd cancel each other out. Anytime some significant good or stable news comes about the tumor, I go and have one (always with Mexican coke for the record). This worried one person that thought the nicknames should be away from the diagnosis but rum & coke is exactly a way to be reminded I was away. 

There would be nicknames far more clever, from Vienna to Maps to Ruh-Ruh to Helix. The group had a variety of diversity in backgrounds and personalities but it apparently had some exceptions that were comforting to me. Apparently the camps are often primarily or entirely female and we had 3 out of the 10 participants as males. Brain cancer is a rarity in the community and yet 4 of the 10 participants were in my camp, with 2 of us still having some of the tumor present. This information made me nervous on that first day because I hadn't come here to climb, that was just a side benefit, I'd come here to feel normal in someway for at least a few days and wondered if these factors would make it less so.

Still with over a dozen of people staying in one house, sharing every meal, and campfires, there would be concerns shared. The youngest participant was 18 and was worried that with a bunch of cancer survivors their idea of rock climbing was going up one big rock that you could step off... I wondered about the physicality challenge. There were jokes and tears about losses, gains, realizations, reflections, some of which I shared, some of which seemed to be simple attempts at trying to make sense of the senselessness of cancer. There would be new coping mechanisms I'd not seen along my cancer journey but it was refreshing that almost no one had ever really been rock climbing before which made them my kind of people, people who sign up for new challenges consciously make the ones they didn't sign up for a little easier to rise up to.

Three awards were passed out everynight, a pair of wings for whoever had been nicest so that they could spread their anti-douche dust, a little skirt for off the wall accomplishments to show how to be impressive on their, and a superman cape to show who had accomplished the most on the wall. I was the first recipient for the superman cape which meant I had to wear it the entire next day during climbing and pass it on. Climbing is not my forte but with a cape it was a whole new game to be doing that and keeping an eye on who it was. But somehow between the climbing and the camaraderie, it was really on the second day where cancer diagnosis fades further into irrelevancy as we got to be normal climbing rookies, sharing a wall, ropes, hugs and high fives.  Smiles and tears often spoke of facing fears of heights and falling and for all of us literally going above expectations. I passed on the cape at the end of the day to someone who had gotten higher than she expected, cried at the end of going hallway up but immediately after going down helped belay (some fancy word for holding someone's rope as security while they climb). She finished the day by going all the way to the top. The Superman cape had been given to me for climbing the most but when passing it on I remembered that what made him a hero was that he was helping others even as he rose higher. She exemplified that incredibly well. 

The third day was a "break day" where we'd take a steep hike up to a mountain top but all walkable. It was the slowest of all the days, not my typical style, so I tried to calm it down by having it be the only day I started with a speed running workout. Still as we climbed and chatted, it was the day with the biggest variety of one on one stories I got to hear. And individually in a more full way I'd hear about people's jobs, relationships, dreams and that one on one humanity was very much appreciated. In my book, it was a good reminder that being just human makes you extraordinary if you enjoy those ordinary moments a little extra. When we all got to the top, we took a group picture reminding me of where today's title comes from, that sometimes going up together at each other's pace or with stops to let each other comes up, that it never really has to be lonely even at the top. 

The 4th and 5th days were by far the hardest physically with steeper and longer climbs. It would be over a thousand feet of climbing one day and the steepest climbing the other. We were partnered up with one other camper and one guide continuing in a different tone, more one on one time. It was incredibly physically challenging and the only time I fell with a rope there to catch me... my heart was pounding and it took other''s encouragement to keep going up but we got to the top.  

Between those two days there was actually an exercise where we went to a creek and wrote down on two rocks very different topics. On one it was supposed to be what you wanted to leave behind that you'd carried for too long and throw it in the stream. On the other what you wrote what you wanted to make sure to take with you. This exercise was very personal with no one, there at least, showing what they wrote. I personally wrote nothing on either rock because there really is nothing negative left in my life I'm ready to discard... I'm competitive and the few negative things still remain fuel the fire that keeps the fight going. For me those things are sometimes the rocks you kick on your way up to stay afloat on a hard rock. The positive rock was also left blank but it wasn't because there are not many good things in my life that I wanted to take back with me... I'm not sure a tablet the size of the ten commandments could have held that in place. I took an empty white rock to simply serve as a reminder that I came with little knowledge to continue to be open to first experiences, new experiences, perhaps in new places you'd never been with people you'd never met, where for at least a few minutes you remember there's still so much more, so much more that you can do and that on any given day, life may just be a tabula rasa, a place where you're just getting started. 

On the last day we finished on the mountain top together at different speeds but all finishing on the same spot. Some people were chatting, others were playing hacky sack, others quietly taking in the view. I did some of all that while mostly reflecting at one particular moment on the staff. There were the cooks who with health issues of their own had made ridiculously good meals, a song and dance in the kitchen, the house mothers who had cancer connections but would serve in memory. There was the photographer whose wife had died of cancer and used his vacations to volunteer to remember her by catching other people's memories. There were the guides who had a huge range of personalities and paired appropriately among ours, keeping us safe, challenged, some with zen like approaches, some with humor and heckling, some how able to guide sometimes from above, sometimes from below, and sometimes side by side. There were the two counselors who had a way of being connected and connective, both building a relationship you while nurturing the ones that were being built quickly. Still, I couldn't help but reflect that it was all but impossible that we would all or even most us all ever be in the same place again and even if we'd had different speeds, different arrivals, and different departures, it was a special moment or few that we had one all together there. I can't say I wasn't feeling emotional about the goodbyes but in my stoic coping mechanism, I chose to focus on the gratefulness that the hellos had ever happened. 

First descents has a logo in these camps whether they be surfing, kayaking or rock climbing of "Out Living It." I love the double entendre of finding a way to outlive a disease but also that you literally have to be outside to live. I don't know if I'll ever get to do anything again but I am very fortunate to have spent one week living it out there, up there, sharing a rock and life where we'd started together at the bottom and rejoined nowhere near lonely at the top. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

I know where I've been

I got to give the speech that I referenced here yesterday evening. I talked about those awesomely awkward first kisses... someone even caught my duck face that is how I start kisses (this may explain many many things). I tried to use that as a connection point that the first set of medical appointments but how it wore out a little bit of my spirit to sit through a lot of bad firsts that I started to taking too many things and my last. While I handled those intensely and that was commended, between that approach and memory issues, I was missing life because to see things as your last chances there's less desire and capacity to pay attention about learning. As always there a few jokes along the way and I think they were laughing with me, not at me... right? right?!?

I talked about a girl who was the first, honestly the only, girl who kind of resparked an appreciation of some new firsts. Perhaps it was because the romance started shortly after a stable MRI, perhaps because she is an actual writer in her own right (much better than these ramblings on one of those real websites), perhaps because she had heard of me before through the internet and wasn't so convinced that the idea of me needed to be as polished and was nice enough to the actual me, I don't know but I fell for her. She is absolutely the girl who I wish I'd asked and gotten a yes to my old fashioned way of getting a girlfriend for the first time since high school. With that said by any modern standard though it was never done in that official way, if I am honest with others and the man in the mirror, she absolutely was the first and only girlfriend since high school. I'm sure she's too polite or modest to think of it that way but somewhere she figured out she was out of my league and unlike the majority of George Clooney girls, this girl was the one who realized it was better for her to keep her life without us being together. I've tried to figure out how she opened up things in me that I barely knew existed but I just accepted that she is one of those people who bring life to life, who give hope a new ring. It was a good bridge for me to start appreciating firsts again as a place to learn. I think she realized her place in life was better with her on her own path and while there's no bad blood, I honestly don't think we'll ever be actual friends since, for me at least, that might be lonelier. Anyone who thinks I shared this much detail at last night's event thinks there's even more wrong with my brain than there is since that was a room full of strangers and only my friends read this blog ;). 

Still, the event itself was great. It was actually 5 of us speaking with someone sharing about their first time to first base (actual fist base in softball), another sharing about their first time in Indonesia, I was 3rd and shared about how bad I am at first kisses. Oddly enough while I was introduced as a good running dad (and I love both those aspects of my identity, neither of those made my story much. The last two speakers spoke about the parent child relationship or the child parent relationship. The reason we have 5 different speakers is because there's so many different types of people and different types of stories. The old idea, taken from a film oddly enough, that there are millions of people in the world but none of those are people is an extra. We're all the leads of our own stories. 

I imagine different ones spoke to others at various level but the one that struck with me was the person after me, who talked about their first cigarette alone, their first cigarette with their mother who once had discouraged her to not follow in her footsteps, her mother's diagnosis with lung cancer and her literally being there with her mom on her deathbed, facilitating her smoking on the way out. It was an incredibly human story about connections with faults from someone who was there and caused your beginning and you were there for them till their very end.

I actually love story telling events though most of the ones I can relate to are ones told at parties or at meals not at formal story telling events. But the human soul is alway a story teller, even when the rest of our system is shuts down the human mind stays up all night telling itself stories. Perhaps, it was in thinking about a girl so much as I got ready for this speech, perhaps because I went to go see the musical Hairspray for the first time recently, the last couple of nights I'd been dreaming of myself singing. The first time it was cross country music (I'm not sure whether it would be me or the audience who should consider that more of a nightmare). The second time it was me singing to her in Grease. You know it was interesting to realize that John Travolta was in both Hairspray and Grease but the line perhaps that maybe I should have stolen outright about firsts and last that when I got cancer I thought it was the end but it turned out to just be the beginning.

Still, this week, like far too many weeks of my life, I watched someone die of cancer. There are times, many times, where I think about bowing out of being the cancer guy. Sometimes it's because I'm tired of the reminder of what's likely going to be my death. But most of the time, by and large, its because this journey has caused me to meet a ridiculous amount of good people dying of cancer. There have been many cancers but it has been those with with brain cancer, especially those who are younger than me and each of them has had more potential than I could dream of, being robbed not just of life but of youth being exhausting and never recovering. That was one of those kind of deaths this week... Because of sharing my story, other have shared theirs with me but because of the connection point, I've watched more people die in the last 2.5 years than I ever expected to have happen. Let's just say this week, I flipped more tires that day and threw spears harder and carried a bucket longer than I had in a while. And then I went and downloaded a song from Hairspray and realize as long as there's a need and I can help in anyway, I should not, cannot bow out. While the song there is about race, there is a distinct echo in the human spirit about things not being fair due to biology we so often had no say in the matter that keeps us believing that while death may be inevitable and perfection may not be achievable, we still haven't found the better way. 

There's a road 
We've been travelin' 
Lost so many on the way 

But the riches 
Will be plenty 
Worth the price  
The price we had to pay 

'Cause just to sit still 
Would be a sin 

So that's what keeps me going because I know where I've been. This is a far broader approach to life than just cancer or first kisses but those are the ones life has currently handed me to learn to be better at. 

There's some rest spots on the way though I'm not much good for being a bum or taking break. I head to New Hampshire tomorrow. But before I do there's a meeting for the BrainPower5k at my house (if you can find it in your heart and in your pocket to donate, please do so here). And when I arrive I meet with a Livestrong friend who survived cancer but buried his wife from it. And then I head to go rock climbing with some other cancer survivors. There are many many times I miss the concept of me, the guy who never had cancer, whose brain didn't have gaps. And there are times where I find that escape in being Kiana's dad, plenty where running is the therapy but I've never done a trip like this but I hope, I hope that in the longest time I've been only with cancer survivors continuously, you find a slight respite in being oddly normal because even we know to keep going because we know where we've been. I think the legs may well need a rest from racing a few weeks before I turn 35 but I am not the kind of guy that can sit on the beach so my vacation will be trying to go up rocks with friends ahead of me, besides, and waiting to catch me if something goes wrong. The way I'm dreaming that up, my vacation sounds like my life. 

There are people who choose to believe that where we're at is where we're supposed to be. I don't believe that and find it a bit off putting because that suggests things like choices are irrelevant if whatever you got right or wrong leads you to where you're supposed to be. I take responsibility for my choices that got to me where I've been. But I am also dealing with a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental connections. So I will try to keep appreciating, keep dreaming both in the night and day (is it more likely that I am going to be singing and proposing to girls two days in a row in my dreams or in real life?).  But I hope I keep moving. 

There's a dream, yeah, in the future
There's a struggle that we have yet to win
Use that pride in our hearts to life us up to tomorrow
'Cause to sit still would be a sin

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Back in February of 2013 I would repeat the Livestrong marathon championship win for the cancer survivor division. It was perhaps the most beautiful trophy I've ever received because it was clear on "leaves," a very classy and yet classic look. It would be the last race report and trophy that would be heard about only by friends because the next race I would sing up for would be trying to fulfill, a simple dream, to run a marathon pushing my daughter in a stroller. I would turn out to win that one outright and that would change a few things.

Still the trophy from my home course had set on my shelf and  if I am completely honest, it would get cleaned more often than the TV or the pictures that hang on my wall, both as a reminder to be grateful and as a reminder of what life was like when cancer was an abnormality mostly known about by friends. It accidentally got knocked down a few months ago and broke into a few pieces. I take pride in the fact that I'm not materialistic but somehow that one really hurt... I sat and looked at it, left it on the kitchen table. I took a picture and sent it to the race director; they weren't using that company anymore. I thought about supergluing it but didn't trust my capacity because it's pretty heavy glass. I spent almost as much time researching and finding a company who could fix it as I did finding the right brain surgeon once upon a time. And well, while generally frugal, this one was just going to be chalked up on the medical bills column to get it restored. It took a while since apparently it has to be done piece by piece and they warned me it wouldn't look quite the same which it doesn't. Perhaps like it's owner, it's not quite as sharp in some ways and sharper around the edges from being repaired than when it was original, but the scars of survivorship help me notice and give thanks for both the damage and the restoration to a new level.

Perhaps it's apt that it was repaired at almost the same time that I finally finished the first book I've finished reading since brain surgery. I still read Time magazine regularly but books can be complicated with a  faulty memory about names and faces. Still, my counselor when we broke up, gave me a book to read, called Unbroken. I had heard about the movie but said I wouldn't watch it till I read the book through (Almost all the movies I watch are true stories which set up the joke of what does that say about me, that I'm too lazy to read). But to sit there and read a book about a runner who survives being on a boat for almost 50 days, who survives a war camp but eventually returns home and life is kind enough to hand him a family, forgiveness and a chance to carry the olympic torch was one of those stories that messed with my emotions. Like any other time I've taken in both, the book is better than the movie. 

The world would change slightly after that marathon trophy when the next one came, the one about me winning a marathon with a stroller due to a few media pieces and many reporters. Some of those reporters have become good friends, one of those could be argued by the way our lives have intercrossed may well be my soulmate. An ESPN feature filmed which started being worked on in April of 2013 and we filmed in March of 2015 (and a few times in between) is theoretically coming out sometime in August (let me know if you want me to let you know when I've got a few more details). They have said thank you with graciousness for letting them tell my story but while I trust they will do good work, this blog is my story, they are just capturing a 10 minute sliced and well edited version. Like most of the media pieces I won't be watching or reading it cause that just feels too weird. And like all of them, they'd have to do some great editing for the piece not to show me talking about other people because that's the only reason I'm ever in them is to hopefully point people to good doctors, good friends, good teammates, people whose story genuinely deserves to be told. 

But somehow the media pieces and the speeches, I'm starting to feel and perhaps come across as more unbroken. Spartan races have a band comparable to the Livestrong band that I've been given twice which reads unbreakable. I like the spirit of it and it actually does rest in my car but it doesn't apply to me. I am not even unbroken in the sense that I never cracked or defaulted or failed... I did plenty of that. If there is anyway I can remotely echo unbroken it's that I've tried to sit as things were getting glued back together, knowing that some of the surfaces that hit my sensitive areas were stronger than me and created some serious cracks and massive permanent scars. 

Whether it's life or me letting myself know which is truly my emotional state, it's often reflected in the song that Kiana cries out, "why won't you stop listening to that song?". There was a time where the media things and speaking engagements scare me... So when talking I'd go with a companion, realizing that I was talking to a friend I cared in the crowd, or to someone well behind the interviewer who I loved, sometimes intentionally and internally singing from Dave Matthew's the Stone:

I was just wondering if you'd come along
To hold up my head when my head won't hold on.

But I had a New Year's resolution to not use any notes on this year's speeches or interviews, to try harder before and risk my memory more.  Thus far I haven't; I have one on Thursday and don't intend to use any there either.  And the song I'm listening to these days is Rockappella's cover of I'll walk with you

I walk this road, dodging the wind and the ground
Why am I still surprised my feet make no sound?
My love, my friend, if ever the road breaks in two
If ever you're drifting and the hoping wears you down
I'll walk with you

And I think hope, dare, dream that I'm being there for more people and asking less for theirs. I'm not much of a hugger but it's perhaps those people who declare that they are and hug you anyway that help you appreciate another line from the song that surely applies  "my soul was poor, a babe left at your door but now I'm grown, I'm strong from your embrace." Being hugged is a solid way to start healing to getting unbroken. 

So perhaps this is why I've done more Spartans than any other type of race since winning that marathon both in number and in number of locations. It's the only type of race that I've gotten far more friends and family to do anything else. I've never come remotely close to winning one on my own despite winning many road races since then. Because I take it aggressively, they've left me with more scars than brain surgery at least externally. But it keeps challenging me to new things and if you sign up for challenges the ones you don't sign up for are easier. Perhaps it's no coincidence those and the Boston marathon are the only courses that I've ever stopped to hug and kiss people I love both in the middle and at the end of it (and yes like too much of my life it's been in pictures or on videos on the internet). Last year it was the Christmas ornament that represented the most important event of the year or it would be in contention for this year. Still, it should tell you something that my mom has always read what's important to me (my first stroller race was to get her to do one, the first marathon she watched was the Boston marathon, the first Spartan race I did with company was with my little brother with her cheering). She's shown up for two Spartans already and this time when my parents came to visit they showed up and delivered hay for me to keep practicing my spear throw. When your parents love you, it's so good that they bring you spartan hay. Before this year I was 50/50 on the spear throw. I've only missed it once so far this year in 7 spartan races. Appropriately enough my 8th one this year on 8/8 with my family.

Still the song I've been listening to starts with walk with me and after brain surgery well that's all I could do. But it talks about the healing process that when you walk, I'll be  your ground and just like it was once done for me, I always feel an honor when someone literally steps on my shoulder to get through the next obstacle. And the song ends with flying together which I've only done once in a Spartan flying over a fire with someone but that was an amazing moment.

The trophy is back on the shelf and I'm back on my feet realizing that being unbroken has some great possibilities. I changed my social media profile picture to one of me in the cathedral of junk, smiling among unbroken or properly used broken glass, looking up, dreaming, smiling at things more important than a camera. I rarely like pictures of me but it was a moment that captures a connection, one of those moments that leaves you speechless. It is those moments that make you understand why we try to communicate with writing, with songs, with pictures but perhaps the only adequate way is to give an unbroken smile. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Everything Else is Just Subtitles

One of the shifts in my neuropsychological evaluations from pre surgery to post surgery is that my
auditory memory isn't what it used to be and that I don't hear the range of voices that usually belong to women as well... if that's not a set up for a good joke or a good excuse, I'm not sure what is. So on the occasions that I watch tv, the subtitles are always on.

That was the entirety of thought I'd ever given subtitles until recently. Kiana and I have been having a great summer the last couple of weeks. We've been doing the disciplined stuff of running for a long time, getting some exercise in where she's joined me for running and shown me up in cross fit. She climbed all the way to top of a rope in a gym without hesitation. I've often said that the fact that she's fearless scares me plenty and that was one of those times (If it's any indication on these things whether it was that or the first time she learned to ride a bike or anything like that, I never quite have the confidence to take a picture the first time because I am trying to be there to catch her when she falls which has never happened but still).

But it's a summer of exploring new things for her so we're going from new activity to new activity. While there is a plethora of first time activities that we do that are typical, like going to Inside Out where it makes me teary eyed to hear her announce that she's always going to be joy, there are also some things that she's getting to join me in for the first time that I've had a chance to be there before. I took her to the Lady Bird Johnson wildflower center, trying to combine two things she loves and reminding her of the concept I love that butterflies are self propelled flowers. She loved all the different flowers and trees and the squirrels and the butterflies. With eyes wide open, she sat there and took it all in while asking a million questions. There were a couple of points where it was obvious she was my daughter, the place where she struggled the most was with the concept of mediation. She concluded (and I agree) with a pensive face something was insurmountable. When I asked her what she was thinking about, she said she was trying to think about nothing but it was impossible to do so. I'm sure there's an argument to be made about clearing your mind but I'm all right with her always thinking about something and dare to dream that she keeps it a positive thing. I'm not a guy whose big into flowers but count me in to go to that wildflower center or give flowers to get a smile out of a girl I love.

That certainly was true as we pursued happiness on 4th of July. We went to a party with the running crowd where even a little after a year I've been driving I realized how lucky I was to be part of this group because it was hosted by a guy who regularly gave me rides and there were 4 other people who were way better than uber or taxi's for all that time I couldn't drive. There was a magical moment where she was talking about being in GT program and someone asked, oh are you gifted and talent. With more humility than perhaps I ever showed at any point in life, she responded gracefully and humbly, well that's what the program I'm in is called. I was so proud of her for being humble :).

Then the evening finished up with some friends as we went for my first time ever to catch fireworks while having kayaked out to a lake. The friend we spent the most time with was actually Pamela Leblanc, a reporter whose become a friend, and her husband Chris. Kiana had a thousand questions about many things and I couldn't bypass the joke that perhaps with all of Kiana's curiosity she might become a reporter but I suggested that it was perhaps better if she had a more honest job. Still, as we sat there we kept having to row because of a tailwind to get back to where we'd not have a bridge in our view. Kiana had color explanations about beautiful explosions and declared it the best 4th of July ever. At the end of kayaking back over a mile back to the starting point against the wind, she still said that was the best independence day ever but she also asked if that counted as a workout. It obviously did but it was good to see her smiling at the end of realizing that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness sometimes takes some hard work in order to get it all done.

There is one title I didn't feel the need to defend that still I ended up signing up for. Last few years
our church has had a pie eating contest that I joined only in 2014 but I won it. This year for some reason they decided to make it a rib eating contest so I'd tried to bow out since it's not exactly defending a title if they change the event and I've never won a duathlon so... Still at the service before the picnic they had a child dedication service with several families. The family pastor as he talked about it twice said something which I couldn't quite figure out if it was a slip of the tongue or a conscious decision. He said that were challenges to raising a parent correctly. Some of the stories Kiana and I share together sure make me hope she's doing okay. Still, when the rib eating contest came, I questioned it when she insisted that I partake in it. With a crowd that echoes Ecclesiastes idea that whatever your hand finds to do, you do it with all your might, I couldn't resist. And I won. I've won races from a mile to a marathon but the two biggest trophies I've ever received have been for the pie eating contest and the rib eating contest which is fitting because they may have been the toughest to earn.

Still, it was the next day that had where today's title is from (notice title, not subtitle). Kiana and I
went on the longest walk we've ever gone on a little over 4 miles total. The point we went to was a natural spring which was the first and only time she's ever drank natural water. We caught some swimming on the way there and back. We saw insects, squirrels, a snake and caught some beautiful scenery. When we got to the water, I told her this was the point of today, for her to drink some natural water for the first time.  Showing that she's stepping up to the challenge of raising a parent, she said, "No the point of today was for us to have a fun day together. The water, the swimming, and everything else was just subtitles." She's doing a great job raising me.

So we've continued the summer adventures and I took her to places that I thought she was too young for not too long ago. There is a place I've only gone with cancer survivors and people I love. I'm not sure why but every time I've gone to the Hope Gallery, an outdoor spray paint park, people have landed in those categories (not that they're always mutually exclusive). It's open to the public both for visiting and for doing anything they want with spray paint so not everything is exactly kosher. Still, most things are and so I finally decided to take the child I love most to it, to let her know that a black and white world is not the world I want to live in. It's not even one that's grayscale but one that has a bigger range of color than even the fireworks had over the lake. So many things caught her eye and if it was any of the questionable ones, she didn't mention those or take pictures of any of those. We hadn't even left yet when she had already announced we should come back with more time and with a spray paint bottle... I said yes and then went into a small lecture about how there are appropriate places to do that... but not many.

Still in what has been a very good year,  I had to take the cue from Robbie Williams and swing while I'm winning. So the next day, yesterday, we went on a slightly shorter walk along the same river where I told Kiana that the point was to have fun but the subtitles this time included a swing. She laughed at me remembering her point and then we spent the better part of 3 hours going into a lake over and over and swimming. The first one I had to count down for her and tell her when to let go. The last one she climbed up on her own, jumped higher, went out further and let go the furthest. I had video taped and taken pictures of the first couple but the last ones I was in the water just mesmerized by how fearless she got. How fearless she is sometimes scares me but someone else we met there pointed out that maybe I shouldn't worry so much because the people who seemed to be struggling the most were those with more fear, nearly falling off the tree or letting go to close to shore. My parenting philosophy has always been first you gotta give them roots then give them wings. At eight years old, I'll take it that she's climbing up trees for some solid tree rope swings. Cause it was really about a fun time together with some very good subtitles.