Friday, May 26, 2017

Strangers Like Me

"Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." Margaret Mead

What is conscious or subconscious is always a mystery to me, not every aspect of which I hope is ever solved. The dance between our natural wiring and our will power is fascinating. Nurturing our nature or fighting against it... like so much of the beauty of life is a fair question for most if not all of us. It occurs to me that we do it well individually but sometimes struggle with it in larger group settings.

Life continues for me. It must be getting near an MRI  because I've had formal events every weekend for over a month and then have at least 4 maybe till June 10th. (June 8th is when I get the results of one a couple of days before that). They've varied from road races to Spartans to bike rides. Therapeutic use of muscles to try to show the system that I am still alive no matter what's going on in my left temporal lobe. I've been taking this approach for over 6 years now and where it's hurting may be simply as aging. I still do it all and am still staying pretty competitive but the legs and system stay sore longer. It hurts enough to where I've had to start listening to country music to laugh it off, reminding myself that I'm not as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was. Still the kid born 8/8/80 got a faster 10k recently than the exact same Sunshine run course a year ago and finished 8th over all. It may tell you the subconscious of me not accepting aging well that I've put away all age group winner trophies and now am just holding on to the ones I have placed outright.

One weekend event though that was tough on the second weekend of May wasn't because it was physically tough, thought it was its own challenge. I spent a weekend with First Descents, a great organization that I raised money for the last time I did the Boston Marathon. They help young adult cancer survivors have great, primarily outdoor adventures since their motto is out living it. We were out windsurfing, for most people it was their first time. They actually have regular adventures around Texas but this was the first time I joined them on a rare weekend without a race. The windsurfing was great but it was nowhere near my favorite part. There were moments where we laughed at silly things right from the start. Our intro was from a graduate student who had us all introduce ourselves and say what chore we didn't like and why. It's a group where we go by nicknames not proper names so my intro was 'my name is Rum and Coke. I don't like cleaning up my dog's poop because I don't do it often enough and then when I do it I wonder if I should do it less often or more often." Before you read the next sentence try that with your least favorite chore. Then you're supposed to do the exact same thing except replace the name of the chore with sex... Man did I pick the right 'chore'.

But there were moments were people talked about the physical struggles of cancer, some people who were actively going through recurrences. A couple of us who shared with each other how we talk about it with kids, how it affects relationships. Anyone whose ever spent a few minutes with me knows I talk too much but in these situations I talk less than anywhere, mostly making jokes to
alleviate the tension of the emotional reminders of it all. Humor remains my coping mechanism but so does running when emotionally uncomfortable. I ran pretty hard on the beach both days I was there on that relaxing weekend. But in both of the first descent events I've been to they have this ritual where everyone shares emotional things one on one with someone and then with the group. There's a phrasing that came out of several people, that what they appreciate about these weekends is to feel normal. It's something I often hear in cancer survivor groups, the places where to feel normal. I understand at some level... normal's a rare place for me, usually while I'm running or taking care of chores. But I personally never want to feel normal among cancer survivors. Perhaps it's because I so thoroughly despite having cancer that I want people to always fight it for it not feel normal. I may be like a solider who constantly re-enlists where the battle is the normal feeling while most of us, in that scenario, would much prefer the domestic life as to where things feel normal. My favorite people and moments on the trip were ones where no one was on their phone and we remembered that present company was very important. I lied a couple of times that weekend in the lie me, a guy with facial recognition issues tells the most often, 'yes I remember you.' Oddly enough a person who I spent a fair share of time talking to and who I have apparently have met more than a few times, I still wouldn't be able to pick out of  a crowd because they aren't on social media (this is where I usually study people's faces to remember them, something that if I did it in person would well creep anyone out). It was a reminder that even with a damaged memory and imperfect recollection, some people give you impressions to reminisce about. When we did the emotional sharing thing after everyone had genuine kumbaya type moments around a 'camp fire' and it got to me I was honest and said I hate this emotional stuff because it makes me face my humanity, something I struggle more to face than my mortality. I struggle with acknowledging the emotions and reality that an intense and yet relaxed weekend like that makes me focus on but I think I always come out physically and emotionally challenged, healthier and stronger for it. How can one not be grateful for that?

But I got back to home... and the room that had never had anything done to it, my previously unshared bedroom, continues to get better. I'm still amused that the nicest door in my house is a closet door but that led to the bathroom not looking as cool and it got some upgrades. The short version is that there's been more done to my house since Elaine moved in than had been done in years and there's a couple of things already planned. I'm a fan of the fact that most of them are things that are invisible to most people but primarily practical even if a little more polished. I joked with a  couple of guys while I was running about all this and they said well that's the cost of a woman's touch... with the double entendre fully intended.

But speaking of double, I did something I'd never done before. There have been several times where I have done the elite heat of a spartan and then headed back and done the finishing obstacles with
friends and family. I am intrigued by the fact the activity I've shared the most is one that I'm at best mediocre at in my viewpoint. But I've gotten to do it with cousins, my brother, my oldest friends, friends from crossfit, running, ultimate and of course Kiana. She's done two adult sprints where I did the elite heat and then went back and did it with her again. When she did the super last year, I just did it from start to finish with her. But this year, I did the men's elite heat competition (spatial orientation caused some issues and a few extra miles of running) and then went back and from scratch did it once again with Elaine. Perhaps because I didn't get lost, perhaps because her heat didn't have any lightning delays in the middle of it, perhaps since she was in front and I had a good view to chase, but ultimately the second joint wave was faster than the first one on my own. I guess that settles the argument of which one is the better half. I often make fun of the song 'one call away' about that superman has nothing on the guy since he's only one call away... wasn't the great thing about superman that you didn't have to call him? I feel alien enough but I am glad that during an entire Spartan Super we were never even an obstacle away.

I've also been asked to sit on a committee that's helping develop some things for the cancer institutes at the new medical school at the University of Texas, the first medical school built in America since before I was born. They are definitely open to a whole lot of new and innovative ideas and one of the things they are working on is a young adult cancer's clinic. The pediatric world has a few good places (as we should watch out for children more than anyone else). The older crowd does as well (while all are true, I've wondered if it's because there's more resources then, because cancer is more common at that time or because the fear of mortalities rises in most of us as we get closer to the end of life). But the young adult crowd is still much neglected. There are issues for young adults where they're trying to figure out life period much less when life throws a gigantic cancer curve ball and its hard to distinguish which is part of what. I never quite know why I get asked to help with these things because I certainly don't go in as a rubber stamp or a yes man. They obviously realized they still had more perspective to add because this was the second meeting and at the first they had no survivors on the committee; they had fixed it by the second meeting. Their was brilliance and compassion in there, genuine questions and genuine care. The ideas  flowed well. My contribution was sometimes speaking for the things that were under represented. There were 3 men in the room to a dozen or so women. This is often the case in cancer care events, the only place I see is more disproportional is at mom/dads events helping elementary kids events. It may say something about my gender in general but I've pointed it out at enough cancer events. It's gotten one CEO to say that I'm a good manbassador for that. I put minor energy into having an influence on that at school events but a lot more in cancer events because it's not like the people affected by cancer are that disproportionate neither in diagnosis or contacts. I pointed out as we talked about surveys that there are many people who will never fill out their survey, who should actively seek them in a place of their own.

I spent over 6 years as a juvenile probation officer where I did more home visits than were required legally speaking because there is something about recognizing what someone calls home and how much of it they make their own and how much of it is just a place to sleep. Most of the juveniles involved in the system are ones from single mom homes. Correlation doesn't mean causation in any aspect of life but I think that as I've found ways to show and share my manliness at home and not just in sports, I've become better at many things from family to cancer survivor to those sports themselves. I've got a long long way to go but what do you know even when I'm lost I keep moving and the moment I recognize I'm lost I try to get back on path.

While running with my bro-mance partner, I've wondered out loud about this imbalance of people wanting to feel both special and normal. He joked back that it was fine, I was never going to be
someone who was normal. Perhaps it's why I'm drawn things like the quote this blog started with that a college professor used to use a lot "You are unique just like everyone else." People who sign up for marathons, single fathers, brain cancer survivors, Spartans, heck my favorite sport is one that felt the need to show its inferiority/superiority complex by naming itself Ultimate. In an age where social media, regular media, and friendship circles have become far more enclosed echo chambers than I thing is good for any of us I keep trying to hear more voices. Perhaps it's because I see a gorgeous rainbow after hill repeats in the rain that I think diversity is a good thing. Like in nature there's some danger and some destruction in thinking it can be all encompassing but I think it has a much bigger range than I've dreamed up.

I got my first ticket in over a decade recently and went to driver's ed. Not knowing much about it I decided doing it in person was better than online for 6 hours. In simple honesty is the first time I've had to sit in a room for 6 hours with a diverse crowd where the common point is speeding. It's become an even more conscious effort to hang out with more people who we don't just have common interests like the parents at Kiana's school. Neither the defensive driving or those parenting events
have I wished I hadn't opened my mouth to answer certain questions. Kiana once in a a while gets in trouble at school for being condescending. Many of her great qualities I have no idea where she gets them, like having won all 3 of her UIL competitions this year, all improvements from last year. But her bad ones it probably comes from the person she literally looks up to most days during meals. But with her and with myself, and in an age where a person who disagrees with my political views is 'evil', we've been focused and I hope never lose that focus, on seeing beyond ourselves and our interests. Cancer, a huge and upcoming part of my life with a few medical appointments in early June. The reason it is so destructive to the system is because it only wants to take care of itself no matter the expense, ultimately killing the very host. There's a reason we want to and should get rid of it in all of it's forms. In seeing the uniqueness in everyone else. I try to teach both her and I that sometimes the things that make us feel strange which we try to feel normal should just be embraced because we really do all have more in common than we do apart. Feeding that healthiness is how you feed life and defeat abnormal growth, right?

'I want to know, can you show me?
I want to know about the strangers like me
Tell me more, please show me
Something is familiar
About the strangers like me'

So in cancer events or school events or sports events or defensive driving events, I hope I keep finding ways to like strangers and help strangers like me. Because I've learned that helps us get them closer to feeling like family.