Tuesday, January 5, 2016

When Life Flashes Before Your Eyes

It's questionable whether or not I've had a near death experience. The first time I woke up in an ambulance, the one that would lead to the cancer diagnosis, I didn't really see it coming. The nights before the two brain surgery and the subsequent collapse, seizure and waking up in an ambulance on side of the road, I was too calm by many people's description. In fact my first Facebook status between the seizure and the MRI was "I had a seizure, why is everyone making into such a big deal?" (if anyone thinks that I became an oversharer after the diagnosis, there's evidence there to the contrary though you could argue it showed something was always wrong with my brain). I did not have a moment like some people describe where they feel like they're entering heaven (here's where if you're preachy you could make the argument that I better really avoid the void anytime soon or make some serious changes if I'm not seeing heaven at near death moments). Nor did I have life flash before my eyes though I could make the case that time seemed to slow down as I remember the moments before clearly if not painfully.

However, I recently did have life "flash" before my eyes in a certain way. I am a minimalist and this year in addition to cleaning out my "stuff" around the house I noticed that my computer by far the biggest memory usage was pictures. I had over 50,000 pictures taken over a dozen years of digital photography. There was plenty of storage space left on the computer and the iCloud etc but I realized looking through many that I'd gotten lazy with digital photography. In the days of film, I would never have developed that many nor kept that many in a picture album. Sure digital photography lets you keep more but that many more gets in the way of going through memories because it becomes cumbersome to catch every second along the way of a facial expression rather than that proverbial "thousand words." This may be why I've never quite understood videos despite being in way too many of them. A slice of time is my favorite.

So Kiana's on a new kick of crafts that are done one pin and one string at a time. She has the patience for doing it and I like being there but completely watching it was... well dull. So I sat on the computer and worked one month at at time deleting pictures. I started back when I was actually 22 years old not just dancing like I was that age. There were college memories, summer memories, work, family. I was married then to a gorgeous woman who was my high school sweetheart and life was just starting even as college was finishing. There were friends who we'd bond over academic debates, lots of wedding pictures that I attended. There was that time I grew out my hair and one look at it made me remember why I never did it again.

There were memories of the time that I volunteered immediately after college teaching in the Marshall Islands. A place where I taught high school in a "3rd world" country and made friends with many of students. It's also where I took in a stray dog almost at birth that would become my "puppy." It's been almost a dozen years with her. I've never lived in Washington but Truman's truth about friendship might be more spread out. We're two foreigners that have made Austin home.

There were moments of friends and family, the vast majority of which I am proud to still have as contacts from all stages. It was amusing moments to see pictures of when my nephew and niece were still shorter than me. In fact I texted many of the pictures and shared them and looking back made me find a way to reach out and communicate again. Love is a many splendored thing. There were pictures of sporting events, trips, flora and fauna. Since forever I've preferred being on the back side of the camera... when you've got my looks that's the side you belong on.

I actually got through it on many emotions. I once again saw the pictures of a relationship that I literally thought would be there till that death came. To my credit(discredit?) I didn't erase those pictures either and Kiana knew what I was doing and asked to see those. She asked how I felt about her mom now and I responded with the truth, "That I loved her, that I intended to be with her until I died and that I was sorry for the mistakes that had broken that up." She softly hugged me and said I love you, dad. I sat and stared at the very last picture of Kiana and I a few days before I found out I had a tumor... I was at a preschool function with her... I was always trying to be a good dad, it was in simple honesty a lower priority or at least a different vision.

The years since then had a lot of very low lows and very high highs. Less than a year after brain cancer I was being interviewed for a Livestrong video 4 years ago where I said I think the smartest thing I've ever said, you have to work on the relationship you want to keep. Perhaps because it's been on too much media, perhaps because it's the oldest printed picture hanging in my house (there is a frame I update regularly and that picture is the only static one and the central one), the picture from so long ago popped out on my computer again. Once again perhaps because she was the one who gave her the original jacket and loved it then and is a fan of the picture, my mom had given her the exact same jacket this year for Christmas. I still have the jacket from then (still the same size?) and we went and took the picture again. The first time the photography session was supposed to happen after the video but the photography guy just took pictures of us while we were playing and he said we were so natural that he didn't need to take anymore picture. This second time as we were trying to replicate that moment if for nothing else wondering how time had aged us, it was about as close to taking a selfie as we get. She was 5 then and 9 now and am I grateful to have caught all those years and so many moments in between. I am thankful to have focused enough to have never lost the mentality of working on the relationships I want to keep.

So as 2016 sets in, that's the goal again. There were those who always thought that running in a
stroller was a way to keep my hobby but it was always just a way to have fun with Kiana. Now we're doing the races side by side and while I imagine they will come the truth is that right now in 2016 I am registered for exactly zero races not with her. On January 1st this year was the first time I did a New Year's run with her rather than on my own. I got us lost and Kiana did the steepest longest run she's ever done of 7.6 miles, a longer than that I had done till I was 29 when I'd signed up for our first marathon. Then two days later we did 3.5 miles. We were going to do 3.5 miles again last night but I got lost again and we did just under 6 on another very hilly course. I was very apologetic to Kiana (she might have gotten a cookie in addition to breakfast today) and said I am so sorry I got us lost twice in 3 days. She's done 16 miles in 3 runs over 4 days; I don't know whether I feel more guilt or pride about that. I told her I was so proud of her for not giving up when we were lost... She responded with a wisdom I wasn't expecting "well you shouldn't quit when you're lost, how will you ever get where you're supposed to be?" Remind me again who is raising who?

But perhaps that has taught me to go up. My dad is doing his first 10k this Sunday at age 70 (last year he did his first 5k so he keeps being one year behind Kiana). When someone heard this, which was shortly after they heard I got Kiana lost, a friend asked me what are you trying to do to your family!?! I timidly responded, "make them healthier." Kiana's doing the 10k too and I'll be running with her hoping its a PR. But with a few days perspective, and believe you me I'm proud of Kiana, I am far more proud of my dad for doing this.

It's like people being proud of me for beating my high school or college times in my mid 30's after a cancer diagnosis. That's all great and all but running is my therapy, who brags about being good at therapy? I'm far more proud of taking on things I'm not good at like the Spartans (heading to the gym tomorrow for the first time in too long). But well above those, I cooked two meals today, I ironed, I did laundry and more importantly I enjoyed them all, things that too many people from my generation at least in my country of origin thought was of women work. They might have fixed more than a few things in my heart and brain during that surgery.

So as I look ahead to 2016, let me be clear as has been the case for years, running nor being in shape is anywhere near my top priority. Relationships are. There are people who try to say well 'that's you.' In most things I am happy to say to each his own beliefs. I don't think running is better than basketball or football or crossfit or yoga etc. I don't get into gigantic debates about the different diets. And in a town that I've seen signs from Trump to Bernie, I honestly think there are legitimate reasons to be both a republican or a democrat with their different emphasis (though not to scare anyone, I don't think all of the candidates are legitimate contenders or representative of America). I subscribe to one but I can see how different religions have different windows into the soul that might reflect culture. But the one thing that I can't, won't accept is that people are better on their own than in good relationships. In plenty of physics and chemistry you can make the argument that somethings are better isolated even if most others  are better in conjunction. There are creatures that are like that but humans literally would not exist, could not be born without joining. Community is what we're wired for from birth. Sometimes damage makes that wiring tough but trust me my wiring is off and damaged but I still want to work through the damage and keep working on the relationships I want to keep.

I got the pictures down to under 20,000 over 10% of which were of Kiana. This led into me creating a slideshow for her 9th birthday party this weekend. I made it primarily of ones of her actively doing something. I'd share it on here in video format but it's got songs she picked out that make it better. If anything this blog or my Facebook statuses show I seem to live life in lyrics, so as I watch it and during the party, I'll be glad to watch her life flash before my eyes. As I keep taking pictures of her and other things, I'm glad whether or not the flash is necessary that even with a damaged memory I get to keep taking some. And just like my dad doing races with my mom and me and Kiana, or the cousins or friends that I've gotten to do new things, or the ones that have gotten me do new things like my first trail races last year, I hope I keep living actively. That life and love are a flash, memories worth smiling and crying back over are better than sitting on the couch. Perhaps to quote a song by a band called "The New Pornographers" (what kind of porn but lyrics could I possibly be into) called 'Go Places' I am glad to have a kid and a life and enjoy it for the run of it even if a couple of wrong turns made it harder and longer than I had imagined. 2016 is going to be good.

Yes, a heart should always go one step too far
Come the morning and the day winding like dreams
Come the morning every blue shade of green
Come with me, go places

Come hell or full circle
Our arms fill with miracles
Play hearts, kid, they work well
Like magic, play aces
Stay with me, go places
Once more for the ages

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