Home > Uncategorized > The Year That Was And The Questions of Who, What, and Where

The Year That Was And The Questions of Who, What, and Where

I needed, I wanted, some way to escape and for most of my life, books have been my means of escape.  The desire to escape arrived when I was sitting in a wicker chair, my back growing stiffer with every passing hour as I watched my Mom sleep in a hospice-provided hospital bed.

To think of anything other than sickness and cancer and death would’ve been a relief.  In the weeks since Mom’s diagnosis with an aggressive, advanced form of stage IV stomach cancer, nearly all my thoughts dealt with disease and dying.  Her cancer was deemed untreatable.

I wanted to escape and think about places and things far away.  I’d been hearing about a particular book, one in which a woman chronicled her hike along the Pacific Coast Trail.  Having read and enjoyed similar books before, I thought this book would be the perfect escape.  I could read about someone being outside, walking along a trail, having new experiences, and encountering nature and other people.  I downloaded the book to my Kindle.

After the first few pages, I put my Kindle aside unsure if I could continue with this book at this time.  The author, Cheryl Strayad, opened her book, Wild:  From Lost to Found On The Pacific Coast Trail, by describing the precipitating event for her solo hike along the Pacific Coast Trail.  Her mother had died from cancer.

***

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Frederick Buechner, Now and Then

I first read this line from Buechner nearly twenty-five years ago.  I’ve re-read it numerous times,  written it down at others, googled it a time or two when I didn’t have my copy of the book handy, and quoted it often.  With every passing year and every new experience, Buechner’s admonition takes on new meaning.

In 2012, Mom died, an F2 tornado wreaked a bit of havoc on our house as it bounced down our street, another friend lost a fight with cancer, a relative died after a long life, and another friend died suddenly.

***

Throughout 2012, I kept stumbling across books that dealt with death and the loss of loved ones.  I’d read books on the topic before (A Severe Mercy to name one) but not with as much frequency as 2012.

In addition to Wild (which I continued reading that morning), there were Joan Didion’s two books, Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking, one dealing with the sudden death of her husband and the other dealing with the illness that claimed her adopted daughter.  Most recently there was The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe about his mother’s fight with cancer and Brain on Fire by Susannah Callahan, who didn’t die but came very close.

When 2012 began, I couldn’t have foreseen that I would be contributing my own words to the subject.  In addition to a few posts about my Mom’s last month, I gathered my thoughts about my Dad who’d died the previous year into a book about our relationship and our unfinished conversations called One Last Word.

***

As a college student on summer break, I walked out of the movie theater’s cool air conditioning into the hot humidity of a San Antonio afternoon.  I squinted into the sun while walking to the car as my friend and I discussed the movie we’d just seen.  Dead Poets Society.

Carpe Dieme.  Seize the day.  Be mindful of your time here.  Live for today.  Don’t take things for granted.  Life is fragile.

A week later all those things were forgotten.  It was back to playing basketball, begging for more hours at work, worrying about a speeding ticket, and wondering how I was going to pay for the next semester at college.

***

So was the solution to head over to REI and buy myself a backpack, to pack up and disappear along the Pacific Coast Trail for three months?  Or to read more books?  Or to join a group of ten guys who were planning to ride their bikes from one end of Texas to the other?  Though tempted by all of these, I figured the answers wouldn’t be found in a place or an activity.  They might help, but places and things weren’t the answer.

I’d learned, finally, that life was and is fragile and short and temporary.  But what did that mean?  What was I going to do with such knowledge?  Did that change who I was, what I was doing, or even where I was going?

To those questions of who and what and where, I’ve discovered some answers.  I might still have more questions than answers.  If I’ve discovered anything, it’s been in the willingness to honestly ask these questions.  To not be afraid of the questions or even of the answers I might find.

Where are you going?  Will you stay here or go there?  Are you content in this place or will you chuck it all to go there?  Do you even know where you’re going?  If you don’t, are you okay with not knowing?

What are you doing?  Is this how you want to spend your days?  Do you want to do something different?  If you want to do something different, what is it?  Are you okay not even knowing what you want to do?  Will you pass on one opportunity to pursue one that seems more right?

Who you are?  Who do you want to be?

“Listen to your life…”

***

If you’d like to read the posts about Mom:
The Day of Mom’s Diagnosis
One Week After Mom’s Diagnosis
Two Weeks After Mom’s Diagnosis
Three Weeks After The Diagnosis
Four Weeks and A Day

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