Tuesday, August 22, 2017

But Every Now and Then I Fall Apart

We can take it to the end of the line 
     Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time 
I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
     We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
I really need you tonight
     Forever's gonna start tonight

Yesterday was one of those spectacular events, a total eclipse... if you were in the right place at the right time with the right weather. Otherwise, it was another day/night and even in places, like here in Austin, it wouldn't be hard to miss since its peak was about a minute at 65% at 1:10. I got out there, set up my iphone to take a picture of it and it was pretty cool (hot actually since its Texas August). Its not like I was nerdy enough to watch other views and reactions to it on TV and social media and the internet before and after my own personal experience. (Also, in case anyone asks, there's no way I started an astronomy club when I was in middle school or decorated my daughter's room with glow in the dark star constellations or named her after the Hawaiian moon goddess, oh wait...).

But I sat out there on Kiana's first day of school with a little extra time to spare and reflect which is where most of this train of thought today is coming from. I'm almost at 7 years of cancer, the median for people with my type of brain tumor. Is that almost a passing grade for a kid who who liked straight A's? But the grade that was messing with me the most was that morning I had dropped Kiana off for 5th grade, the last year of my dear's elementary. Hadn't it only been 5 minutes since Kindergarten started and I was the one making pancakes, plain old ones, not the blueberry and chocolate chip ones that she had made into smiley faces that morning? Everyone else was thinking about the don't look at the sun without proper eyewear during an eclipse (by the way isn't that just good advice on say any day?) but the advice I keep giving myself as Kiana grows up also has to do with my eyes but it's even more basic, just don't blink.

We had just returned from a trip to Alaska Friday. Without exception we took a hike and adventure into nature everyday. There were boat, helicopter, train, bicycle, off road vehicle tooks you could purchase but if you're in the last frontier, it just felt right to do it on our feet (though to get to the different adventures it probably was the most I've driven in one week). It will go down probably as the one week of my life that without any injuries or impediments, I was walking more than I was running. We climbed up Glacier Exit for a 9 mile round trip where Kiana was shouting and singing snow and threw a snowball at me. We climbed Mt. Marathon, a hill so steep that when they do a 5k on it people like me who do a 5k at almost a 1/4 that speed can't break an hour on it. I kept insisting to Kiana that she had now done her first marathon, a premise she rejected since it wasn't 26.2 miles. We finally compromised and said her first marathon was a mountain climb. Elaine had put together the entire trip and we realized that this 10 year old had enough energy to where there were times we were struggling on keeping up with her on some of the hikes. On one of them she literally would run to a section and come back to our walking speed, run out again. We ate a variety of local foods from salmon to reindeer to picking wild blueberries (sorry mom we ate them right off the vine without washing them, neither they nor the salmon, gave us salmonella).

Due to the nature of often needing your hands on some of the climbing, that a lot of it was on rainy days, and that there was no reception on mountains, my phone was away from me most of the time, social media tucked away with great landscapes in front of us. A week with each other showed clear natural, organic connections on so many levels. It was never lonely at the top, the middle or the bottom. On the way back down from our last and most dangerous climb, I took a serious fall and slid down some rocks and let out a string of swear words that is rare for me. I am not sure I've ever sworn quite that many times in a row but I'd certainly never done it in front of Kiana. When I got to the bottom, I looked up at Kiana, semi apologized and told her if she ever thought she was about to die in a bunch of rocks slide and she let out a bunch of swear words that even if everything turned out all right, she would not be in an ounce of trouble. She said okay and who knows if it was out of relief or reflection she said, well if you did die, you always say you want to die in the middle of an adventure. I laughed internally and externally smiled and said, that's true but I'd rather it not be one that you and Elaine are having to watch and remember. Maybe just maybe that fall and the thoughts immediately around it shows something about the way this kid and I are raising each other. Kiana would often shout when we were in certain areas because there were solid echos and she was amused by them. I encourage people to generally not live in echo chambers but that one was okay by me and perhaps the resounding of my approach towards life was at that mountain top when someone had laid out in rocks, 'love life' and I think each one of us at the top reaffirmed that we did.

There were things we'd hoped to catch up there that didn't happen. Mt. Denali, the great one, was not visible in any of the 3 days we were near it. The Northern Lights or even any stars were hardly visible because of cloud coverage (we did get to see the Northern Lights on our way out because it was a midnight flight out of the plane window). We got rained on the majority of the hikes and even when it wasn't raining every one was muddy and wet. But it was an absolutely incredibly great trip.

Okay perhaps not absolutely or at least not perfect. This is something that always percolates in my mind how much we strive for perfect or absolutes or totality. (There was an amusing moment in Alaska of a business building that was for sale but on the sign that had it for sale they had "John 3:16" and underneath "for sale by owner.") There were people here expressing large disappointment in that we weren't in the totality zone and I've already got facebook events for when it's total in Austin in 2024. I'm still not placing high best on whether or not I'll get to 2020 but either way I don't know that I think quite that far ahead on looking up into the sky.

In an age where it seems political or too much discourse is so black and white, where if you disagree with my wedge issue or candidate or favorite color then you are evil, it was comforting that a day that had started with rain, had great sunshine in the middle ended with the biggest rainbow, I've ever seen. There are hunters and hunted out there in the wild and Alaska has decided to leave them in place and not protect one from the other. There are other not native things like rats they are trying to eliminate but it is a minority of things that they take that approach, that attitude with. With most of life, it's live and let live and also die when the time comes. On most of those hikes if something had gone wrong, well we were on our own.

With John McCain being diagnosed with a higher grade of the same type of cancer that I do, there has been something floating in the news, the cancer communities, social media etc that I'm not quite sure what to do with. A basic google search will say that tweets of support from people like the who guy who he ran with against President, should not happen, "Cancer doesn't know what it's up against, give it hell.since plenty of people who try hard and give it all they got, well many of those still die. With this type of cancer, most of us still die from it. I've been trying to balance that with one of the mantras from Livestrong, 'attitude is everything.' Ours is a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental component but even the ones that have cleaner causes or cleaner treatments, there's none that have a 100% batting average or perhaps strikeout average is the better term. Even if you have cars with every safety feature and always do the speed limit with your seat belt on, random luck can happen and you can die in a car accident. Actually, no matter what, aren't the two certainties in life death and taxes (that's why I headed to Alaska to relieve my nerves on Texas tax free weekend)?

But does attitude matter? Should we dismiss it or dismiss the discourse of fighting against something within our system that is betraying something else within it? I think so thought it's not black and white and in the last 48 hours I've heard total eclipse of the heart more than I had in the last several years, even kareoked it to Kiana last night. I grant that Partial eclipse of the heart probably would not be as catchy of a song. Maybe why Livestrong go with "attitude is a high percentage change effector or at least it makes your mind and friends capacity better in the short and long run' (yeah I should never become a marketer). To dismiss attitude of fighting as irrelevant... isn't that somewhere not too far from dismissing medicine, hope, faith etc? Aren't they all ways that have given us tools to navigate life even if none are absolutely successful? A lot of life from conception to death is random but many of the things in the middle don't have to be and I believe attitude is one of those.

Neither life nor cancer is a clear journey for me, perhaps for anyone? It has had some well publicized messes and successes. My tumor isn't fully removed, it's just stable. These days the medical appointments are the exception not the regular occurrence of each month but there are still twice a day pill. I see and cheer for the people who get the NED, no evidence of disease, markers and mourn with those who it gets worse or with those who pass from it. Mount Marathon didn't have a clean trail for us on the way up or down (there apparently was an easy trail that we skipped and the tougher trail we made a wrong turn and didn't go up it). This was the only hike in which after a while Kiana had any complaints and I offered her to turn around early but she stated unequivocally no we've gotta get to the top. And we got there, with conviction and turned around with the same. We had some funs and some slips and cuts on the way down. I looked up the speeds and names of the Mount Marathon 5k runners and thats a way I thought of climbing to the top back on 4th of July when the event is held but ultimately decided that I'd rather do it at a family pace rather than a race one. Partial eclipses may not be as easy to write songs about, non absolutes may not be easier proclamations but I'm thankful to love life and find beauty in their presence. So maybe that's why there's something I can do as I continue to turn around to find bright eyes and why there's still light in my life.

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