Saturday, December 31, 2022

Letting Go (Life and Death and Life, Pt. 2)

(Meandering long post below. Either settle in or come back to it. - jrr)

 It's New Year's Eve, 2022. We're fast approaching 2023, which means that a noticeable segment of many media channels will be filled with self-proclaimed pundits bemoaning the past year based on their politics, aesthetics, social life, financial situation, or what have you. But I'm okay with giving 2022 all the time it needs.

My mother died this year. 

This was an unexpected turn. My mother's side of the family has been blessed with longevity for generations, particularly its women. I fully expected that Mom would live long enough to see her potential great-grandchildren. At least another ten years, with fifteen seeming utter reasonable.

Then she started having a pain in her side. It's important to note that my mother had quite an extensive medical history, and hearing about various maladies was just part of the territory. I don't want that to sound cold or insensitive (although maybe it is; I'm still working through that), but merely that a doctor's visit wasn't a particularly big deal on its face. And then suddenly it was...kind of.

Her examination revealed a mass by her liver as the source of her pain. Even then, I still wasn't particularly worried as they scheduled a biopsy. This would be another in a history of problems that weren't as big as they could have been. Life would continue.

The diagnosis said otherwise. It was bile duct cancer, stage four. Google it. It's not good.

How bad? The best case scenario at her age was chemo and radiation, with a fifty per cent chance she would be around an extra six months. But six months from when. Her oncologist said it would be a coin flip on whether she would see Christmas.

We received this news in July. She didn't see Halloween.

I wrote a post in September about the act of burial. Obviously, my mother's remaining time was weighing heavily on my mind, and I wrote that piece with a plan to follow it up here. QED.

Today is my mother's memorial service. I will eulogize my mother, as I did my father. I may or may not bury my mother. She donated her body to science, and my sister and I haven't fully decided yet whether to intern or scatter her remains when they're returned to us. So I can't really extend the burial discussion I opened in my September post, at least not yet.

I have a bias toward profundity. Words mean things. They have always meant things even before they were a meme or a slogan or t-shirt or coffee mug. I grew up with an acute understanding of this concept. My father reinforced this concept throughout my childhood. That's probably another post worth of material at least. I say this to emphasize the effort and precision with which I choose my words, and to underscore the personal importance I place on communicating in a very deliberate manner. Particulary when I perceive the stakes as high. Like now.

The remembrance I wrote for my mother has to serve a number of purposes. It's intended to honor her, and celebrate her as a person. But there's more going on. It's meant to comfort, and explain, and contextualize, and clarify, and synopsize. And then get delivered both in written and oral form. For audiences who both knew her and never met her. It's meant to be sufficiently respectful, considerate, honest, and reverent. It should hold the interest of the audience, but shouldn't be self-serving.

People use words for lots of reasons. They use them for attention, for release, for reward. They use them to encourage, to harm, to incite, to calm, to explain, to obfuscate. They use them to record, to entertain, to agitate, to heal.

I wrote my mother's eulogy to say goodbye. And I failed. Because there was no way I could succeed.

Time marches on, whether we participate or not. I can't keep 2022 around anymore than I could accomplish any other feat of futility. And I can't have my mother alive anymore than I can have my father or the other friends and family I've lost back.

But I can say the things I'm saying for all the reasons I've stated. And as a testament to a point in time.

I want to have just a little more time in 2022. A little more time with Mom. A little more time before goodbye. 

But goodbyes are inevitable, just like time. And I'd rather say goodbye than miss the opportunity to do so.

I was lucky to actually say goodbye to my mother. Some people don't get that chance. If you're one of those people, my heart goes out to you. That's a wound that's hard to close. I know. But as time continues apace, we need to close those wounds. We need to apply balms and ointments and bandages, and heal. We have to prepare ourselves to bring joy and happiness and love and mercy to the other people who are still here, who need us, who deserve smiles and hugs and laughter. And that has to start somewhere. 

And what better time than New Year's Eve?

May your day be full of celebration and reflection. May you lay down old hurts, and reach out for new joys. May you be filled with gratitude, and released from regret. I'll join you in the effort. Tomorrow. 

For today, I still have to let go.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Micro Graces

 Friday afternoon, and I’m on my way to do something I’m conflicted about doing (that will be another post). In a moment of weakness, I stop at a convenience store and grab a soda.

I’ve largely cut out soda from my daily life. I was once a mass consumer of Diet Coke, but I stopped (mostly). Partially out of health concerns; partially because of the cost; and partially because I lost my taste for it.

However, when we’re under stress, we’re often prone to falling back into old habits (at least I am, more often than I care to admit). One soda won’t kill me, I reason. And if it gets me motivated to accomplish the task before me, so much the better.

Inside the store, I make my way back to the fountain. As is often the case, the Diet Coke is coming out oddly. I try it, and the mix is off. I go to the counter, apologize for the ask because they’re a little busy, and ask if they can change out the syrup. One of the clerks heads to the storeroom.

While I’m waiting, a lady is struggling to get lids on her drinks. She makes a comment about the universe working against her. I thought she was perhaps using the wrong size lid, and suggested a different one. When she tried the new lid, it wasn’t the right size, which then sparked her to fit the original lid on her cup. “See?”, I responded. “The Universe just needed me to come make a mistake so it could take you back into it’s good graces.” We laughed, and wished each other a good day.

A few moments later, she came back and handed me two dollars. “Your drink is on me. Have a blessed day.” 

Now ordinarily I would protest something like this. But I’ve learned over the years that if someone wants to give you something, the motivation is often more about them than it is about you. So I said thank you and accepted the gift, because I didn’t want to rob her of the desired context for her act.

I hung out for a bit and got my soda. It was still off, but the problem was likely the nozzle instead of the soda itself and I told the clerk so. I then went to the counter to pay. Behind was someone with several items. I paid for my soda with my phone and then gave the clerk the two dollars. I asked her to put it on the person’s bill behind me, and left the store.

What did the person behind me do? I have no idea. Did they need the money, or even acknowledge it? Again, don’t know and not the point.

I went my vehicle with my soda.

This was really not a big deal, but it made me consider what if we all intentionally tried to train ourselves to do and say little positive things. What if it were natural for us to do nice things, not because of what we get but because of what it might do?

You could argue that I’m extrapolating too much out of this event, and you might be right. However, I’m less concerned with my unwanted task. I feel pretty sure that the person who gave me those two dollars left in a better mood than when I encountered, and I’m thankful for that. And I’m not kicking myself over a soda.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Annual Orbit Musings, Vol. 54

First, thank you to everyone who sent me greetings and well-wishes for my birthday yesterday. Even if the "lift" of making a social post is small, it provides a nice bit of happiness to one's day. Happiness, for at least some of us, is underrated.

I don't need much of an excuse to engage in philosophical musings, as my long-suffering family and friends can attest. Birthdays have always been an occasion for me to indulge those predilections. Yesterday, though, I was coming up empty. I can always say SOMETHING, but these days I prefer to SAY something.

So today I was plugging along at work, and I circled around to a video that caught my eye yesterday that I had intended to watch. Its creator is someone I follow (I have a thing about music theory, even though I'm a rank amateur), and I assumed it would be about a figure from the music industry. Instead, I watched a very personal tribute to a man who could easily be deemed both ordinary and extraordinary.

I catch myself doing a lot of giving these days. That can be tricky, the giving biz. Sometimes we give away more than we should and save nothing for ourselves. Sometimes we give to strangers and come up short providing for our friends and loved ones. Sometimes we place the wrong value on what we give (in both directions). And sometimes we give the wrong things.

Some things, though, should be given in abundance and without reservation.






Enjoy the video. Contemplate the legacy you want to leave, then "Begin With The End In Mind". Be thankful for the people in your life: past, present, and future. And know that I am grateful for each of you.