Thoughts: A Surprising Anniversary

You ever start something having no idea where it might lead? This is one of those.

Last night, my wife reminded me that we had an anniversary. I was dumbfounded. I ran over my head the anniversaries I could think of. First date? Nope. Wedding? No, that was May. Her birthday? No, that was May too. I am sure my confusion showed on my face.

It was the third anniversary since my cancer surgery.

We spent some time talking about all that has happened before and since. The discovery of cancer, then the race to surgery (It went from stage 1 to stage 4 in three months). The surgery itself. The recovery. The exultation when the first test came back as no cancer. The depression when, a few months later it had returned. The radiation over months of time. The kidney stones that popped in just to make life painful whilst still recovering.

And that is not all. Our lives are like many other people’s – things happen. We have three kids and something is always happening with at least one of them. Our life the past few years has been chock-a-block with struggles and surprises. And just as hard in some cases, the lives of many of our dearest friends have been struggles that make our own pale in comparison.

The recovery has been slow. Three years in and I am just getting to a place where I have the energy and drive I had before. The treatments saved me, but they also did damage. Parts of me will never work right again. You learn to live around it, and be grateful. But being only in my late 60s and not working as well as I once did took some mental/emotional adjustment. I am still adjusting.

And that’s OK. I get to live. I’ve seen some of my kids find good relationships. I have seen them explore new careers and grow into real adults. I have been able to do good work and help people. I’ve written a few good poems. Painted a few good pictures. I’ve discovered how much so many people care for me. (somehow a surprise.). There have been good meals. Conversations to remember. Nights with my wife. Love experienced. A lot of good cups of coffee. Just this week, I have savored the most glorious fall with all the spectacular color that comes with it.

A good trade-off, I think. And most things in life are a trade-off.

It also put a pause in my life. That is not something they tell you. For a year, I was in a place where I could not work, first not at all, and later less, only slowly increasing. I lost clients. I did less at church.

The pause was exacerbated by the coming of Covid. When much of America went on pause. As we came out of the worst of the Pandemic and I came out of the worst of my recovery, I was in a place where I could, in many ways, start anew.

It’s not the first time I have been in that place. When I moved to Vermont thirteen years ago, there was a starting over. That time, however, I had a plan. This time, I did not.

And to my surprise, it has taken me forever to reclaim a direction. To sort through what I am good at and love to do, and what I am not good at, and don’t love so much. I am brutally aware that my time left is limited. People in my family live long lives, but the bout with cancer made me aware that things can just show up that change everything, That can take things away from us. Even our lives.

I only have so much time left. And I want it to matter.

My mom instilled that in me, the mattering part. She believed that we are on this earth to make a positive difference and she was always doing things that mattered. A lobbyist for a non-profit for a time. Charities. Church. Her work at the seminary. She set an example for us as kids that seems to have taken.

I am in a place now where most of my work matters. Not in a big global way like my former work in television. But in dozens of small ways with individuals. It is far more satisfying than I deserve. But there is still room. I can do more. I know I can. Even limited, I can do more.

The cancer, I am learning, three years later, had its own blessing attached. No, I would not have chosen it. I still wish sometimes it had never happened. But it did, and in arriving in my life, it forced me to pause. Rethink. To take that pause without guilt for not working. To consciously look at life over time and consciously try some things (which did not work out so well), and to revise and rethink. To let prayer and God work in his own time. To put things in the cabinet and pull a few new things out.

I’m still not certain what it will look like, my life, in a few years, but I am grateful for the chance to live in a place where I am more aware of love and its power to heal. A place where I can explore and try and even fail a bit on the way. In some ways, it’s like being young again. A little limited, but with possibilities beyond the failure and broken parts.

I am, as I look back, grateful.

Be well. Travel Wisely.


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