Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Make You Feel My Love

When the rain is blowing in your face 
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace 

To make you feel my love

There is a wide variety of ways we deal with life and death... we talk more about the first from comparing validity of diets and politics and hobbies and habits. Perhaps its our way of avoiding or dealing with the latter. Sometimes we make them connected and people point you to studies that show that if you eat healthier or if you exercise more or if you go to church more or if you... you'll live longer. My standard response because so often it's a give up this or switch to this to expand your lifestyle is a simple joke, "Do vegans/church goers/married people/marathoners really live longer or does it just seem longer?"

We support each other in hard times as best as we know how and I'll be the first to admit that at 30 when I got cancer I was wholly inadequate to know how to deal with it (I'm now only mostly inadequate). I went on a life tour visiting as much of where I was from to say goodbye to everyone finishing meals with them with the sadly eloquent line "I don't know if the guy going in is the same one coming out but this one loves you guys." I did those trips on my own; that aspect was a mistake. 

Since then, I have realized life, life is better shared. Whether it's been the highest mileage week of my life where I did 88 miles, zero of them alone or the quiet moments where Elaine, Kiana and I are just sitting across a couch watching a dumb movie together or having long conversations about a range from the ridiculously insignificant to the as Kiana used to call it 'phisolophical,' I try to make people feel my love. I'm not always great at it, I'm not affectionate by nature but I try to show love and get better at doing it adequately. The simplicity of 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' or concepts like the five love languages show that there's a range of things. I try to not have it too complex or too simple, with no artistic capacity, there are 3 different places in the house where Kiana can draw too. With no real care about how fast I'm going or mileage, I just do some of Elaine's long runs with her. With both I talk smack about how they couldn't do better, something I would not do if it hadn't regularly resulted in their attempts to prove me wrong worked on their self improvement. 

I invite my parents to hang out at Mexican Independence Day and we all share some good things with music and food and of course we make sure we arrive at post racial bliss by just changing our outfits (nobody need not worry, we have fancy chopsticks and I have a Chinese style shirt for when I gotta celebrate my better half's holidays. In all seriousness, I've traveled all over the world with Elaine and there are very few places where one of us doesn't get looks and most places the fact that we're together gets us looks and it makes me appreciate that the world has gotten small enough to where I got to meet her and marry her). 

Despite my antimaterialistic approach, we indulge Kiana's cheesy halloween ideas by
buying a few more Halloween decorations. Some of the house remodeling was put in place so that all pantry shelves could be reached by Elaine. Some of it was so that my 14 year old dog had an easy path in and out of the house. But there is a small occurrence with her and a medium one with my wife and a large one within the cancer community that inspired this blog. I had her on a walk and was realizing that this dog who I've been with all her life and posted something to it on social media. For some reason a few people read my displaying of affection towards my dog somehow showed my sadness at her passing. If anything I was just impressed that she still had moments here and there where she was passing me to chase a squirrel in her old age. 

The large incident was of a brain tumor connection, Mahoney, who was a cyclist. He lived in Chicago so our in person connection was intermittent but we kept it mostly on social media cell phones and the internet. He was intent on beating this with this diet, that meditation approach, this cycling approach on fasting at this many watt. He shared with me ideas that he'd research about making yourself profoundly cold to make your system more resistant to this bacterial infection. A couple of days before the Livestrong 5k last weekend, he passed away. I've lived in different countries and how we mourn has a variety but in the modern age, social media is a way. So several of our connections share happy memories, some heartbreak, just a way to release, to respond, to share. I had sent him a message not too long that I'm not sure if he ever had time or opportunity to take in as he never responded. These tumors that have no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental components and he more than any other brain cancer patient I'd known had seemed to attack it with each of those components along with medicine. He lived with it almost the exact median average of 7 years. I saw his name in a few shirts and in the in memory wall at the event as well. 

I'm never quite comfortable at funerals and these all feel like digital funerals. I personally have avoided going to most funerals these days and have avoided speaking at all but one of the people who I've met through the cancer connection. For a guy who gets paid to make speeches, amusing stories or heartbreaking ones are extended ways to say, 'I'm going to miss you' is more than I can personally hear or deliver gracefully. I try to avoid going altogether even as I honestly think about Yogi Berra's old comic maxim, 'go to your friends funerals or they won't go to yours.' I hope no funeral is thrown for me but if someone is silly enough to put one one on, feel free to skip it. I mean I guarantee you I won't be there. 

So now, when I take my medication or these moments, I take the approach that got me married and the approach I took to my wedding guests which is an active effort towards relationships. Before I wrote this blog as I was thinking about it, I put it off to text, call or set up meals some with people it had been a lot too long or a little too long. Even in tough moments, I choose to say that life above ground is always good if you count your blessings. I said that in the middle of seizures, financial messes and personal good ones. Perhaps, it's just a coping mechanism but it's not the worst one I've utilized. 

I still run races with my daughter cause she still likes that even if she doesn't think it's cool for her dad to come have lunch anymore at school. It's a heartbreaking moment but I realize that raising her to be independent in case I'm not around has made her better for her but tougher for me that I am around. I listen to her about her race costume and her Halloween costume not out of any obligation but simply because if she cares about something, I try to as well. I don't bat a thousand but I had no objection to Wakanda Forever. 

But the family and friends are still going strong. Without exception, everyone in the family has won and/or PR'ed in a race since the marriage so we're starting on the right foot. I've been beside or at the finish line for these girls and after their PR's they collapsed into my arms and there's something special about those sweaty hugs. Elaine won the Livestrong 5k and I was proud of her but it's a distant second to the fact we keep finding ways to all be there for each (or maybe I was the one in a distant second place, I get confused). I loved that the announcer, who is a friend of mine, a few months ago introduced me as Kiana's dad and pointed out she beat me as I got across to the finish line. I was equally happy that when he announced my second place, I'm not sure he used my name and just introduced me as Elaine's husband. I get a little too much of the coverage for whatever reason but unemployed single dad with brain cancer gets hot woman with engineering degree, anyone whose focused on the first part, you're misfocused. The Livestrong MC and award presenter was not. 

But we've hung out with other friends too and realized that the closest connections are the best but there's enough room for other friendships. There are foundations and structures but there are other things that aren't as critical to upholding a home but they make it better. 

I realize I can't give anyone advice on how to deal with death; I'm not good at it. But I hope that the way I keep dealing with my mortality has some adequacy of just staying in contact and doing what I love to do with people I care about has something. I hope continuing to say hi and I love you to them and checking on people as often as I can remember with this damaged memory is more meaningful than an eloquent speech at their funeral about them would be. I know it would be to me, just a simple hello here and there even if by text, I promise you I will hold more sacred than anything you say when I'm gone. Is that not true for everyone since well... we'll hear it? 

I've been listening to the song quoted at the beginning and that this blog entry derives it's entry from. It's the sentiment that is getting me to prepare for ultra race by doing my long runs next to my wife. It's also a Spartan so it may be literal when I'm starving and bruised under barbed wire:
I'd go hungry; I'd go black and blue
And I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love
That's how I show my wife and I hope if your my friend that there's some way I've shown it to you that is adequate. If I haven't feel free to guide me. And if there's one thing you take away from all this rambling it's go pick your people in a way that is meaningful in life that makes them feel your love. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Consultin' With The Rain

There was a path I found on my first birthday after brain surgery due to an email that went out to my running group. It was simply an invitation to Austin's first ever brain cancer research race, the Brain Power 5k. I would go on to win it and be the top fundraiser for it. Somewhere that said to me that it was not yet time to hang up the shoes.

It would be the race that was home. On the 2nd year, I would meet the guy who to this day is my neuro oncologist. It was also my mom's first 5k and in an era where it had yet occur to me to race with my daughter in a stroller, she was the one pushing her as she walked it. On that 2nd year my spatial orientation issues became clear as well, I got lost. 

On the 3rd year, I would come back to win it a second time but also continued to build a team, a team I named the Scarecrows, a playful nod to my wish of if I only had a brain. Some of the people on that team have stayed friends 'till now but on the 3rd one there was a girl I met at the pool team after party (she'd officially been part of my team but it was because of a mutual friend). She naively smiled questioned whether or not to believe my story that my skin was so smooth because of the salt water in my friend's pool and when she went to test my skin, she ended up testing the waters. I suppose it worked out because two years later we'd be going on our first date and five years later, we'd be returning from our honeymoon in time to not miss it. This was the 8th year of it and I am one the few, if not the only person who has been there for all of them. Elaine has not missed one since she moved to Austin. Our engagement was at a start line but it only felt right that the honeymoon end at a race finish line and I'm not sure what race would have worked better than this one. 

International travel is at best shaky with time change so coming back from Greece ended up having issues with our flight literally redirected to San Antonio at midnight instead of Austin at 10. You know you have good friends when they come get you and you get home at 2 am. That we aren't afraid of commitment or jet lag was reaffirmed when we got up at 6 am to go get this race done. We had great weather on our honeymoon but when we arrived back in Austin it would be pouring. 

Having named my team the scarecrows it is a ritual to listen to "If I only had a brain" when I do this race and somehow, it was the first time I'd ever noticed the lyrics nearing the opening that I'd be 'consultin with the rain.' In 8 iterations, the first 7 were reasonable 5k weather if not downright great. On season 8, it was pouring and wet and a soaked ground. The parking lot was full but very few people were out and about delaying getting out of their cars as long as reasonable. Elaine and I headed out there and I love that girl, she's not a fair weather girl in any form. 

When it was game time, our teammates got together and talked and encouraged each other. I had a goal of breaking 18 minutes after the trip but that was a secondary goal to being there, being present. It's an out and back and at the turn around it was good it was raining because it was a fair question what exactly was causing the moisture on my face was it rain, sweat or something else. Because there on the way back I would see teammates who had been part of most of these, all of these since we met, people who I had met because of this. Like the scarecrow of old, I'd realized the path and the journey were better shared. With about a half mile to go, the sadness turned into the intensity of a kick and a strong finish. But the angry look was because I recognized too many of the signs. If they had just been the "In Honor of" that would be maddening enough because for a disease that's supposed to be rare there were just too many. The In Memory caused the bigger frustration because I wish there were none but when I saw those the people I remembered were two from last year. One was the person I had pushed, a brain tumor survivor who would not make it to this year's race or her daughter's graduation. The other was someone else who had been in a stroller because they were too young and unable to walk and died before making age 3. She was my old boss's daughter. There were others of both signs but those were the two that came to mind as I closed and I closed with conviction. I hadn't won the race in 5 years but I won it in the fastest time I've ever hit on that course. 

I immediately starting cheering my teammates in. We would have people get back to racing for the first time in too long, the winners of the women's 5k, men and women's 10k, masters were all personal friends of mine, multiple age group winners, and people who were just there to show support by sometimes the only thing you can do, being there with one foot in front of the other. Elaine would get her fastest 5k by 8 seconds, taking 2nd overall woman and of course 8th over all. I love that girl and everyone else I knew and each person crossing the line helped the guy with memory problems remember that we don't run for some theoretical cause or someday where a disease doesn't exist but we run with and for each other, in this case no matter what the weather, no matter what the conditions. 

Unless it comes later today, the cure for brain cancer is too far away but I hope we got 5k closer that day. For just a little while on the drive home, I thought the same thing I had thoughts seven years before that maybe this was the time to hang up the shoes, to go out on top. But I know that's not coming because we're not there yet. While it's not true of all races, each one of the brain power 5k the start and the finish line has been the same whether it was a loop or an out and back. It was the start of my daughter's first road 10k, the start of my journey back, the start of a friendship that would become my marriage and I hope a continuous start to where this race eventually goes away because we have figured out how to get rid of brain tumors. Yes some of those finish lines had wins and trophies but it turns out it was just a way to keep going. Elaine and I created a photo album from the wedding pictures, a simple 8 by 8, no captions or cleverness, just moments. It starts with the proposal at a start line and finishes with the pictures in this blog. It's how the honeymoon finished but it's how marriage began. We'll keep the love going at home and  until the day where those tumors are irrelevant, could we start again please? 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Happy Philospher

By all meansmarry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher. -Socrates

Where does a couple who meets training for a marathon and who bonds so much doing Spartans together go to honeymoon? Greece of course. I've been thinking about Socrates quote as a guy who blogs philosophically on occasion and wondering if I'll blog less now that I'm married as well almost a full month into it, I am happily married. That will play over time and perhaps that quote says more about Socrates or his wife than it does about marriage but this blog is less about philosophy but it says it's how I hope and hope with life changes and marriage is by far the biggest hoping and coping life change I've chosen in the last several years. 

I can't say that this blog will be gigantically revealing but it's always been my intention to write here what I intend to read when my time comes and how could I not try to remember some things about my honeymoon (which by the way in my odd life was covered by Runner's World; we didn't even have a videographer but they decided to compensate for us). What did I learn or have reaffirmed on our honeymoon? We travel well together. It was a trip where we spent every waking moment and most sleeping ones together (I sleep less than most people including her) and we bonded well over food and drink and adventures. We take the roads less traveled where we're trying to find the paths of the locals and sometimes the things that are big to everyone else match (we loved the Acropolis) but we climbed up to it and around it in places where everyone was and others were we were the only ones. We watched sunsets and while we both have self consciousness about healthiness we managed to make sure to get alcohol and dessert in every single day. I definitely lost some weight for the wedding and got well on my way to finding it. We take history in stride and I thought of Greece that I know from the days of the ancient gods that we still have named so many things after but now has a Christian Cross on its flag and entire version of it called the Greek Orthodox Church. I took Greek in college and it turned out a fair bit of it is still in this brain with a hole and a scar. Elaine was impressed. Our first run on the honeymoon was on the original marathon course and of course we stopped to take a picture at kilometer 8. We ran it side by side and a friend from Greece was a little behind us. 

Out favorite place was in the middle, Meteora. It was a place where we were staying was away from most of the tourists and where we got more of Greek culture, at least country culture than anyone else. We found trails there that we were literally the only ones. We had formal hiking tours and an outdoor climbing one but there were ones where it was just us. There were places where I would have hiked and climbed on my own literally risking life and limb but my wife was nearby and somehow, the brain cancer patient whose never been too worried about death in any form since it comes to us all, passed those up so that she didn't have to watch and so I could live a little longer by her side. There were monasteries and we tried to go to two, each on a separate day but on the first one, they wouldn't let me in due to shorts that were too short (they didn't cover my knee caps) that was a nunnery and I couldn't help but be amused and joke that yeah these knees would have made them rethink those chastity vows. The wine later that night with Elaine made me glad she hadn't taken them (hey if that offends you, well, you might want to get educated on part of what honeymoons are about). On both the first and the second one we were shocked that there were nearby trails with gorgeous views of both the mountains and the monasteries themselves that literally no one was on. Standing up there or in Athens made it fairly easy to imagine to me how they would feel that God or the gods lived up there and they'd want to be close... Standing in line didn't match up but Elaine and I matched up in how we shared it, perceived it, hiked it and well... let me be clear no Greek Goddess has anything on my wife. 

We continued to Santorini where tourism was thick in a town that has 15 thousand people but 1.5 million visitors. We found off the beaten path trails and hikes where again we were the only ones or one of very few. On the areas where its crowded and everyone wants to catch what is a gorgeous scenery tour, it amuses me how people will post to look philosophical against the white buildings or the ocean and then they'll go back to looking on their phone for more time than they look at that to get the right filter or they'll get their company or stranger to take it again from this angle. Life, life is full of us projecting how we want to be perceived but social media in beautiful places has made that easier I suppose. I quipped about it on social media and we even posed trying to mock the idea but like a lot of my sarcastic jokes it was funny more to me than anyone else but Elaine laughed and if the people you love get you, I'll take that over anything. We had ridiculously good meals and wine there too. One of both of our favorite moments was that on a 10k walk at sunset there was a local guy who was sitting there with a girl and just as the sunset was about perfect he kneeled and proposed. She looked shocked and out of pure instinct I caught what was one of the top 5 pictures of my trip. After a few minutes, I walked up showed him the picture, got his email address and then walked away. Obviously the guy hadn't felt the need for an audience or a capture but he ended up appreciating it and send me a very thank you email. That picture will not be one I ever share anywhere because it's their moment but it was a picture in contrast from the 4 couples we had seen getting married in town. I wish them all well but somehow if I had to pick he's who I'd cheer for the loudest as the engagement cycle was starting just as our honeymoon was wrapping up. It's the circle of life and it moves us all. Marriage ultimately succeeds or fail in the private moments and I loved the way he started his. 

We reconnected on this trip realizing that we were on pace with each other on walks and runs (she walks faster than I do, I run faster but every once in a while we do it side by side). We realized we're both more mountain people than beach people but could enjoy either. Her taste in food is great even if she doesn't like sweets as much as I do and her taste in wine is improving. Her taste in this man is questionable but too late too change easily and I trust she won't. But you know what, I said to the groomsmen before the wedding was some memories with them from winning a tournament to a trip that I'd gone with one of them to qualifying for Boston while they cheered, at many moments in my life, I thought this is going to be the coolest moment of my life. I was wrong, those have all been surpassed. The wedding was the coolest party of my life... so far. And this honeymoon has been the best trip and private party of my life... so far. But on both, I choose to believe and believe to choose that both are still going to get better. The best days are still coming. We bought absolutely nothing back of permanence, no permanent souvenirs  we had each other. 

One of the conversations we talked about was about how I thought marriage wasn't in my future; that's well known. What's less well known is Elaine also for some reason thought she'd never marry. A couple of the wedding guests who came were glad to see her abandon that train of thought because they said marriage was the highest expression of love. It's the right idea but I think the highest expression of love is the fulfillment not the keeping of the vows. That played through my head I ran the last morning at 4 am there and the moon had just a tiny sliver of night against a black sky with lots of stars. I'd point the moon out to my honey as we were headed to the airport thinking about Plato's old remark: We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when adults are afraid of the light. The grey matter in my brain was a huge reason why I was afraid of the dark and I still have no idea how it will go but the happiness that comes from being married is a huge light in my life and in Greece I was reminded that I'm no longer living by fear. And the way I'm enjoying that light is nowhere near platonic ;).