Did you ever lose someone in your life and realize that you didn’t really understand them while they were here? I lost my eldest sister Marie in May of 2022, and I understand her better and better every day that goes by. I wish I could talk to her and tell her, “I get it now. I know how you felt.” Of course, I do talk to her, but it isn’t like having her sitting across from me at the kitchen table, something that happened on a weekly basis the last year of her life. I’m so thankful that I had that time with her, even though our talks weren’t always happy or enlightening. Sometimes, it could be tough to get her to open up. But when she did, so much was revealed.
Our conversations would inevitably wind up on our family. Herein lies the biggest hurt of Marie’s life, one that I totally get now. When she was alive I always had her to fall back on, so the backlash from the remaining members of our immediate family didn’t matter as much to me. I tried to ease her pain by reminding her that she and I had each other and our sister Jeanne, and nothing else was all that important. We had to leave the past behind and count on one another. Now that she’s gone, the loneliness of not having anyone to talk to about the inner workings of our shattered brood is deep, and likewise, not having someone of my own flesh and blood that I can trust without question is disheartening. Though we didn’t always agree, Marie was the only one in my family that really kept on top of my medical concerns, and dealt with the ups and downs of our sister Jeanne, who is disabled and has nonstop health issues. Other than our parents, I have likely never met anyone that could be counted on unconditionally to keep her mouth shut and be a support system, even when the chips were down, like Marie could be. And in the final years of Marie’s life, the chips were usually down. I get it why she wanted to fade away, and did.
Don’t take this post the wrong way. I’m not suicidal. I’m not looking to check out, or to elicit sympathy. But my heart has been broken so many times by people I love and who are supposed to love me that I’ve lost count and I just keep moving further away from them. Marie’s heartbreak was tenfold to mine. So I have that to live with. I’m shattered for my parents too, who were the best people in the world, and deserve a better legacy than the one still playing out. We should have all been success stories. They gave us everything. We have no excuses. Yet we are unfixable at this point. There isn’t even a “we” anymore.
I’m also not jealous of anyone’s family. I don’t want yours. I want mine, the way it used to be before some poor examples of human beings were invited in and came between us. I want family members that, instead of celebrating those who trample them, celebrate those who celebrate them. But I know that this is impossible; the damage has already been done.
So, what is there to do?
Marie was never able to build a circle of friends outside of our family, and I haven’t done so well either. We were both born introverts. And with six girls, we didn’t so much need friends, because we had each other. I realized long ago, when we started to crumble, that a lot of my failure to have long-term friendships is because my sisters were my best friends. Now that they have either moved on to the next life, or have stayed stuck in place in this life and I’ve moved on, I’m at a terrible loss. Instead, for years I’ve been removing myself from situations that simply hurt too much, and counting on friends, and traveling, and writing, to get me through. Marie couldn’t find ways to cope the way I have. But she has found the peace she wished for. Whenever I miss her too much I have to remind myself of that.
New Year’s used to be my favorite holiday, a pivotal day when everything is seemingly shiny and fresh. New pursuits, new goals, new, new, new! This year the day passed like any other. I had to remind myself on the eve of the new year that it really was the eve of a new year. I don’t know about anyone else, but the so-called “holiday season” didn’t feel like a holiday season this year, in fact it didn’t feel like much of anything. Maybe it’s because of what the past couple monthsof my life have been like. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it’s gone for another year. Please take down your trees and lights and save on your electric bill.
I got caught up in the Southwest Airlines mess. Instead of flying south to see my niece on the 23rd I received a text at 4:00am telling me to stay in bed because my flight was cancelled, along with 7,000 others. I didn’t make it to South Carolina until Christmas evening. After a couple of good days with my niece (and a big, beautiful turkey feast at 9:00pm on the 25th!) I got dreadfully ill with a sinus infection, made my first out of state visit to an urgent care center, and spent the next three days in bed. A fitting end to a year of many gains that failed to make up for a crushing loss.
No matter how many trips I took or successes I had they can never make up for the loss of my sister Marie. I miss her so badly, wish she could share in the good things that happened to me in 2022. Purchasing my beautiful little house and finally finding domestic peace, resuming international travel, surviving a deadly disease for yet another year; having Marie here to be proud of me would make all the difference, would have made 2022 a different kind of year. No matter what I do now the losses that I’ve dealt with always outweigh the good.
Sorry for being so depressing!
Yes, the traveling was great, I love my home, and I continue to beat the odds of Stage IV Lung Cancer. Perhaps the best thing that happened in 2022 is that my incredible sister Jeanne survived a potentially fatal surgery to remove a huge staghornkidney stone. Click on the link and read a little about them. Look up some images. They’re disgusting. Jeanne had been fighting infection, sepsis, and constant hospitalizations that only worsened as time went by. Her surgery was a last resort, and she got the best care possible. I’ll just bet Marie had something to do with her success. What a bright spot that I still have her.
I have not formally made any resolutions for 2023. But I have something nagging at me that really is kind of a resolution: to get serious about writing again. Before cancer, all I blabbed about was writing, traveling and writing. Since my diagnosis I’ve managed to pen a book about my journey back to life, and I’ve blogged here all along. Yet I lost the passion and the hunger, and I have not gotten it back to date. It’s time to regain it. I once wrote two extensive books at the same time, and self published seven books in a matter of a few years! Recently I read through my “cancer journey book,” sent it to a close and brilliant friend of mine, and his interest has given me back a glimmer of the ambition I once had. I’m changing my in progresspage to reflect my renewed interest in “Destination Life.” Have a look and tell me what you think!
I’m also making lists of publishers of memoires, short stories, and articles on health and wellness, hoping to kickstart my interest again by doing a variety of writing, and maybe even putting some of my old but worthy stuff out there and seeing if anyone bites. So many times I’ve vowed that I would put myself to making a part-time career out of writing. Vows and lists have to be backed up by action. Instead, I play with my phone or watch Hulu. I guess I’ve earned my right to do that. But I feel like I’m cheating myself. No time like the present to light a fire under my own butt, right?
Hey! I just changed the whole appearance of my website, yet another thing that has been on the to-do list for months and only got done now. Yay, me! Could the thirst to write again be just around the corner? My fingers are crossed!
Until then, please enjoy some of my favorite memories from 2022!
Having a Bucket List is pretty much a given thing for most people, but did you ever think about the right time to start chipping away at it? I’ve spent so much time traveling and hiking and doing other things that I love to do that I feel like I’ve been barreling through my Bucket List for quite a while. However, less than a year ago I really started to narrow things down and decide what it is I still must do. Because…
*COVID19 changed the world for me and a lot of other people.
For all those reasons and more, I find that there are a lot of things I don’t want to do any longer, so I’m happy that I did them before now. For example: I have no real desire to sit on an airplane for twenty hours to get somewhere. (Though, given a few items on my list, I may find myself doing that at least a time or two more!) There are also things that I want to start doing, like experiencing cruises, which I have hardly done at all. I took these wishes into consideration when creating my list. My choices are truly a mix of old favorites and new interests.
Without further ado, let me share my personal Bucket List, including my progress at getting the items done. I eliminated a few this year!
* Cruise to Antarctica. Yeah, this is top of the list, baby! I really wanted to see my seventh continent early in 2023. I’m ready. But wait! The two cruises that I narrowed my adventure down to are booked solid. No joke! Who knew that a legion of people around the world would be plunking down between $10,000 and $50,000 to board a ship for two weeks or more to see penguins and seals? Not me! But you can bet I’ll be first in line in 2024!
* Greenland Cruise. One of my travel friends and I have been talking about this one for a couple of years now, and we came oh so close to booking it for next July. Then…she backed out. I’m crushed. But I will find a way!
*Alaska Cruise. I’ve road tripped the Last Frontier twice, but have never been to southern Alaska, where there are no roads. Must get there. Not sure when this will happen, but this one will definitely be easier to pull off than the two above. Glacier Bay National Park will be part of the package. More on why below!
*Hiking in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Over and over again I see St. John touted as an amazing place to hike, always as sure sign that I’ll be interested. Not sure why I haven’t jumped on this one yet.
*Australian Outback. Uh-oh, twenty hour flight! But I know it will be worth it. I’ve been Down Under once already and must go back before I leave this world.
*See the Pigs in the Bahamas. I kid you not! I’ll spend the whole trip on the beach with the pigs then come home happy. Probably another cruise. Do you see a pattern here?
*Hiking in Hawaii. Oh, and I just figured out how to get to American Samoa, so add that to this particular adventure.
*Costa Rica. I was scheduled to go in December of 2021 when COVID19 was still a hot topic. I couldn’t risk getting stuck in a foreign country, so cancelled. No plans to reschedule, but not giving up.
*Brazil. I never wanted to go here until I saw some pictures of Rio on Instagram, then it shot to the top of the list. And I want to see that big waterfall while there too. Likely to be a part of my Antarctic adventure in 2024.
*Return to Portugal. This one tugs at my heart strings, because I had to cancel my third trip to one of my favorite countries due to cancer. But there is hope…
*Switzerland. Woo-hoo! I found this really cool rail trip online and put a down payment on it for June. Let’s roll!
* Return to England. Did you ever go somewhere and not do something while there, then it sticks in your craw for, like, twenty years? Me too! Here’s the thorn in my side: In 2002 I went to London, Liverpool, and Canterbury. And yes, the journey to Liverpool was for the obvious reasons: Fangirling before the word was even part of the English vernacular. I did everything I wanted to do with regard to my beloved Beatles…except one thing: I didn’t go to the cemetery where Eleanor Rigby is buried. Can such a thing bother you for twenty years? Yes, it can. And it has. So that will be taken care of, put to rest once and for all. And just for kicks I added four days in Portugal to the end of the trip to see how much more it would cost. Turned out to be so insignificant that I’ll do it. This will all be my retirement present to myself. I intended it to be Antarctica, but this will more than suffice.
*National Park Hiking. I started working on the goal to hike them all a decade or more ago, after I had already visited many of them. The 2022 count is thirty-eight down, twenty-five to go. Many of the locations I have left are remote and tough to get to, but I’m not giving up. Every summer I hike more. In fact, I knocked off a load this past summer.
*ClimbThe Edgein New York City. Have you heard about this? Another excuse to go to my precious Big Apple.
*Concerts. Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, Elton John, Harry Styles, and Ed Sheeran.
*Buy My Own Little Piece of the World in a 55+ Community. I came of age not so long ago. Working on it.
*Buy and Road Trip in a Small RV. Not working on this one yet, but once other things are settled I will.
*Last but not least, I want to spend as much time as possible with my beautiful niece in South Carolina and my amazing sister Jeanne nearby.
I knocked off five national parks this summer, and also saw Sir Paul McCartney and Elton John in concert. Chipping away.
Please enjoy photos from some of my recent Bucket List events!
Hey, is fangirling a word? Well, if it isn’t, it is now!
I’m not normally a gushy, shivering mess when it comes to celebrities. But on my current road trip (I’m starting this post from Cleveland, Ohio, almost at the end of my drive home,) the past two days have been spent paying homage to some of my all-time favorites, namely James Dean and The Beatles!
When you live with a chronic diseaselike I do, you always have to wonder if you’ll get another chance to do what you love. Then again, life isn’t guaranteed for anyone, so we all might as well be doing what we want when we can! Which is how I ended up in Fairmount, Indiana, again after a twenty-eight year hiatus, and at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the precise time that the “Get Back to Let It Be” exhibit is running…
For whatever crazy reason, on this year’s trip I seem to be revisiting places that my beautiful mom and I first saw in 1994, on our very first cross country road trip, which spanned 9,400 miles, seven weeks, and twenty-four states. You know, that trip that is supposed to be “once in a lifetime” but turns into a yearly occurrence? (Smile.) That was the first time I was in Fairmount, Indiana. James Dean was actually born in the small city of Marion, Indiana, a few miles north, but spent most of his childhood and teenage years in Fairmount. When we first arrived in town I was, quite frankly, obsessed with Jimmy, even though he died in his Porsche Spyder eleven full years before I was born! I may have calmed down and grown up a little since then, but I’m still a big fan.
Much of the same can be said for my “thing” for The Beatles; I totally missed the Ed Sullivan experience by nearly three years, and when my dearly departed sister Marie saw them at Suffolk Downs racetrack on August 18, 1966, I was a few months from departing the womb. But I crave my Beatles lore almost as much as I do their music; seriously, what could be more interesting than being a Beatle?! From what I can recall, my first real brush with my four cherished boys was when I asked Marie to buy me Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for one of my birthdays in my teen years. And yes, I still have it! Side note: I’ve been to Liverpool (2002) and am hoping to go back later this year, have walked the “zebra crossing” and written on the wall in front of Abbey Road Studios in London twice, have gone to the Imagine memorial in Central Park, New York City, several times. Just recently I saw Sir Paul in concert at Fenway Park in Boston. Another one off the Bucket List, and another piece of the homage completed!
Getting to Fairmount again meant adding an extra hundred miles of driving to my day, so I had my priorities set. The town is so small that it isn’t such a hard thing to drive the whole length of it, which I had to do anyway, as the items on my list were, naturally, on opposite ends. I would have liked to spend time in the James Dean Gallery and the Fairmount Historical Society (filled, of course, with more Dean memorabilia!) like I did in ’94, but what was most important to me is probably what most super fans would want to see: the grave and his boyhood home, which are very close together. I remember Park Cemetery being quite small the first time I was there, and the grave being very easy to find. Now, the place is huge and signs have to point the way or else no one would ever find it. Dean’s boyhood home has also grown considerably in the past twenty-eight years; his cousin Marcus Winslow, who was just a boy when Jimmy was making his way in Hollywood, now runs a full-fledged farm, and it is a beautiful landscape of rolling green fields and white picket fences. Marcus was out on the riding lawn mower the day I was around, and I’m happy to say that he waved to me. My brush with greatness was complete!
Interestingly, “Get Back to Let It Be”was only a small part of director Peter Jackson’s extensive documentary of the Fab Four and was skillfully inserted into the Level O exhibits of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was concerned that I wouldn’t have enough time to see the best of the hall, but because of the location of the exhibit I was able to take in most of the rest of the floor on the way to The Beatles. “Get Back to Let It Be” consisted of long-shelved excerpts of the tapes made of the recording sessions for the Let It Be album, including the famous “concert on the roof,” as well as instruments used, and other memorabilia. Because it was compact, it wasn’t overwhelming to see the entire thing, and to see it well. I was very satisfied with the entire floor!
Pilgrimages have always been included in my travels. Part of the fun is finding what is sometimes a needled in a haystack. Yeah, I think it’s about time to book that return trip to Liverpool!
Hey, this will be my last post for a few weeks. Vacation time is nearly here, and I’m heading back out on the road again. Which makes this the perfect time to write about one of my favorite subjects, for the first time in a while: Traveling!
I always find it so weird when people make it sound like there is some “right” way to travel. That you, as the subject, have to travel in some certain way to be a “traveler” and not a “tourist.” That there is some time frame that you have to spend in a place to make it worth your while and to satisfy others that you successfully “saw” something or somewhere. That one person’s way of traveling is superior to another person’s way of traveling. Last thing I knew, travel was supposed to be fun, like an ice cream sundae, with a learning experience on top, like a shiny red cherry, if you so choose to have one. Then again, maybe a trip is simply an escape from the rat race.
Social media is full of “influencers” who will have you believe that their way of traveling is not only better than yours, but that it’s easy and they’ll show you how to be like them, for a price. You can trot the globe while taking odd jobs like bartending and teaching English as a Second Language. Thanks, I got over working in bars when I was twenty-five, and I teach people’s kids every day and love sending them home at 2:15pm, no questions asked. I like my good paying job with paid vacations. I’d pay to see pictures of those “influencers” doing one of their real jobs in between the glossy shots from the pristine mountain top in New Zealand and the beach in Mexico. I want to see the “influencer” mixing a White Russian and looking picture perfect. Really.
Thank goodness for the unfollow button! I recently had to use it on one of the better known globe trotters that I had been following for a couple of years, because she was being pretty insulting to someone else’s way of life. What the heck happened to live and let live?
The other thought that I don’t agree with is that in order to travel in a worthwhile way you have to go to a foreign country. Make no mistake, I love exploring places outside the United States. I’ve done more than my fair share. But in a pinch, and let’s face it, we’ve been in quite a pinch since March of 2020, I’d take a road tripto the American West above all other traveling. I’ve ticked off forty plus countries thus far and have every intention of ticking off more in my own fashion once I deem it safe for me, but give me that road trip every time. It should come as no surprise that I’m heading to the American West this next trip too! I can’t WAIT!!
Here’s a secret about me that makes me different than the garden variety social media travel giant: I love coming home and I love being home, too. The pandemic gave me an excuse to stick close to home and explore my own backyard more. I always said that “someday” I’d do that more and, well, I didn’t expect cancer and COVID19 to give me the opportunity, but I’ve had a heck of a good time! I’ve always scoured New England in between bigger trips, but not like I have in the past two years. In my favorite movie of all time, Dorothy Gale went to great lengths to find out that her heart was in her own backyard. My heart is still and always will be in the American West, but New England is pretty cool too.
Before my cancer diagnosis I spent the better part of twenty years earning my keep as a special education teacher and traveling on school vacations. Maybe taking an extra day or two on either side to make my time away longer, or even escaping on a long weekend. Now that I haven’t done it for a couple of years I realize that it was exactly the way I wanted to travel. Make my money, pay for a trip, enjoy where I was without having to worry about work, and come home to earn money for more fun. After my diagnosis and through the COVID19 storm I continued my exploration as best as I could. Slowly, I’m getting my travel life back on track, though I’ve decided I want to do things and see places that I didn’t take the time to do and see before. Cruises and islands are of high interest, while twenty hour flights to the other side of the world are not really a priority. Oh, and more road trips, of course! Always more road trips!
In short, the Bucket List is officially made. It was time.
And so, I continue to explore as I see fit, and I am unapologetic.
I feel like I’ve covered this subject in at least one other blog, but it’s worth discussing again.
The subject? Blame.
Whenever I turn around I hear someone else trying to get out of taking blame for anything, even the smallest mishap. As a teacher, this happens countless times per day, and it isn’t always my students denying wrong doing. I’m sorry hasn’t gone down with a fight, it died a quiet death when my bad and I didn’t do it came along, hand in hand. I’m sorry went so quietly, we didn’t see it going. We couldn’t give it a proper funeral. Rest in peace, dear words.
I’m sorry does make an appearance every so often, like a portrait of a long gone family member or lover, but it is usually not very satisfying. Unless it comes from someone whom is an upstanding and sincere person, it reeks of contamination and denial. In this case, I’ll take silence. Even the middle finger works better than a fake I’m sorry.
What’s the hardest place in the world to get another human to accept blame? I’ve been a lot of places, and in my opinion, there is no geographic location where an individual is more likely to say the two golden words. There are decent people everywhere, and there are crappy people everywhere. But I do believe this: if you are fortunate enough to be one of the aforementioned upstanding individuals out there, you live your life and treat others in a way that make it unnecessary in most cases to apologize. Sure, there will be times when you make a mistake (everyone does) because no one, as the saying goes, is perfect, and you will have to speak the calming words that you still have at your disposal and didn’t forget like most have. But you aren’t in the business to need them on a regular basis. You’re better than that. Precious people like you are everywhere in the world. The rest of us just have to find you.
One day several years ago I started to wonder when people started to dislike each other. Was it after World War II? The Civil War? The Industrial Revolution? When? Or was it in my lifetime? The 70’s, 80’s, 90’s? Perhaps it was my childish mind, or the fact that I had a lovely childhood, at least until my father died in 1977, but the 1970’s were still good years. Maybe it was the 1980’s, which were crazy fun, but also brought in technology that would eventually separate us and make us feel safe sitting behind a computer or later, a cell phone, treating each other badly. Whenever it was, we’re in big trouble now.
I try not to live my life around the news. I don’t watch TV and have not for years, but I do read headlines. I don’t read statistics either, but those headlines tell a lot of stories. Crimes against people based on skin color are well publicized. But has anyone taken note of the fact that crimes against helpless children of any and every color are skyrocketing? And against women of any and every color? Mass shootings are nearly an everyday occurrence, to the point that they’re easy to scroll by to get to something more gory. Can you hear the “I didn’t do it” ringing out through the bold print?
I’ve been around the world and around the country largely by myself. I’ve survived cancer and the deaths of the people I love most in the world. I’ve never lived in fear. But let me tell you: the things that I see going on around me make me not want to meet new people. I love and have big appreciation for the intentionally small circle of family and friends that I trust with my life. I plan to keep things just the way they are.
After several paragraphs of complaints, the question must now loom: Do I know how to apologize? Yes, I do. Do I apologize when I’m wrong? Yes, I do. Do I apologize when I feel someone has wronged me just to make peace? No, I absolutely do not. Shouldering blame for something that someone does to us doesn’t help anyone. It makes us feel like dog poop, and it makes the guilty party feel vindicated, and like they can continue their sucky behavior. Don’t do it. Because you already feel wronged over something you didn’t do, and the actual wrongdoer now has an open door to do it again and again. And will.
Let them. Save your honesty and integrity for someone who knows how to return it. You won’t be sorry. You won’t have to be.
I’ve been kind of quiet on social media as of late. Busy, yes. Holidays are like that. But there’s another reason: My aching back.
My aching back started its aching in September, shortly after I started my teaching year. The first week of the school year was glorious. I felt great for the most part, then the pain started and has not let up for months now. I’ve been in physical therapy for a few weeks, and was supposed to get a cortisone injection before the holidays, but the insurance company said no, I have to do six weeks of PT first. Let that sink in: I have to live my life in pain for weeks before they’ll let me have something that will allow me to get back to my normal activities. It’s an old, old story. Pay for insurance every month, whilst being at the mercy of the faceless suits living pain free existences in some hidden office, who knows where.
This isn’t a rant about insurance companies. It’s a rant about another old, old story.
It’s always something.
Hey, as far as cancer is concerned, I’m doing great. And you know what? I’d love to be enjoying it right now. But I really can’t, because of my aching back. This pain has been worse than anything cancer has inflicted on me in the past two plus years. I want this to be the worst thing that I have to deal with. I’m not without hope. Somehow, I’m not depressed. But unlike cancer, my back is holding me back from keeping up my level of hiking, walking, and fitness. It has taken a big bite out of what keeps me going.Herein lies the real reason that I’ve been so quiet on social media: I have not done a real hike since late November, and most of my posts are about hiking or traveling. Okay, the New England weather is involved too. But this cycle needs to be broken. ASAP.
I’ve come to accept pain as a normal part of my existence. This realization hit me a few days ago. A real WTF??? moment in my former semi-charmed kind of life.So I carried my new acceptance around briefly before I stopped in the middle of everything and said one word.
I absolutely, positively DO NOT accept this pain as part of my life. This pain has to go buh-bye, and it will. If I can survive Stage IV lung cancer, believe me, I will get through this back crap, too.
Is this a play for sympathy? Another big NOPE. I’ve shunned sympathy from the get go. Not interested, any more than I am interested in being a hero or a warrior, or getting sad face emojis on Facebook. In fact, I have done everything I can to appear myself, even as I struggle to get up a flight of steps or carry things without feeling like I’m breaking in half. I’m well aware that there are people out there who have to deal with this kind of disabling condition for the rest of their lives, who have dealt with worse for longer. Same with cancer. I’ve lost several friends and acquaintances to this hell that I’ve managed to survive in spite of statistics screaming out that I wouldn’t. Truth be told, in a chapter from the “life isn’t fair” department, one of my former students is living his last days on this Earth because of this beast. By the time you read this, he will likely be gone. No, not interested in sympathy. Because many people have it a lot worse than me. And not much is going to stop me from believing that my fun isn’t over yet.
Am I done adventuring? NOPE.
I’m going to get through Round 2.5: The Bad Back. If I can get through Cancer Rounds 1 & 2, I can emerge from this too. Scary thing is, all this struggle for survival is getting sickening. But what’s the alternative? Nothing that I’m interested in. Yet. I wonder though, does the human spirit just finally say, I’m done? Admittedly, I’ve whispered it to myself a time or two, but that lasts about ten seconds. If only I could just get to a point now where this back of mine allows me to enjoy my physical pursuits without pain and exhaustion.
Hey, I can still walk and think and read and write. I’m killing my PT exercises. I sleep like a pro. My house is still clean and my teaching job gets done. The bills are paid. I could name many other blessings that make me keep fighting the fight. Yet after all is said and done, I have to accept that it’s always going to be something. Could I maybe just get a rain check for a month or two?
Happy New Year! Yeah, I know I’ve been absent for a few weeks and am a day late and a dollar short as usual, but like mostly everyone else, my holidays were darn busy. For Christmas 2021, I was supposed to resume traveling internationally by enjoying a trip to Costa Rica. Yet as the day got closer, I knew it wasn’t the right choice. I’ve been experiencing some pretty intense back pain for several weeks now, so that was the first issue that made me question if I was doing the best thing for me. Add the possibility of getting hung up in a foreign country due to COVID19, and the cost of being tested to have the privilege of boarding the plane home, and all arrows were pointing toward exercising my cancellation insurance and waiting until circumstances are better all around.
The decision was still a tough one. I wanted to resume my life of seeing the world, and this was a huge step in the right direction. My last trip out of the U.S. was summer of 2019 in Sri Lanka, before my cancer diagnosis, and I’ve been struggling to be me again since then. Cancelling anything, especially trips, is just not like me. Still, the gnawing inside me said that it wasn’t what I should be doing.
So I cancelled.
Then, a golden opportunity arose.
Even before that, something pretty incredible and highly unlikely took place: no cancer showed up on my last scans taken December 20th! Does this mean that I’m cured? That cancer will never be a part of my life again? That cancer is no longer a part of my life now? That treatment changes or ends? No, it doesn’t mean any of that. It “only” means just what I wrote: cancer cannot be seen. Meaning: it’s probably still there, and will likely come back, but the medication I’m on is controlling it very well for now. How long it will last, no one knows. I can only hope it will be for a long time. This doesn’t diminish the miracle that brought me to this, from where I was a year ago. If you know anything about metastatic cancer, I’m damn blessed. If you knew anything about my cancer specifically, well, I’m a long way from where I was in December of 2020. Read about my roller coaster journey hereand here.
The table was indeed set for that golden opportunity.
As soon as I told my niece that I was thinking of cancelling my trip to Costa Rica, she invited me to South Carolina to spend Christmas with her. Yes, this was exactly what I needed: a familiar place where I could rest if necessary, a faithful black dog for quiet company, and maybe even some warmer weather. Not perfect Costa Rica weather, but South Carolina would do! And Costa Rica doesn’t have my niece and her dogs!
I just had to come up with reasonable airfare. From years of traveling at Christmastime, I recalled that December 24th to the 31st are usually the cheap dates. This remains true! I got a great fare and would soon be on my way! But not before wrapping and distributing many presents, falling on black ice, receiving as many presents, seeing friends and family before I left, battling crowds in the stores, starting PT for my back, working full time…
My last two posts are a short story I wrote several years ago. Titled “The Real Meaning of Christmas,” it’s a tale about a woman who disdains the holiday, yet finds her own peace in the season. Hmm, sounds like art imitating life! Because of course, that’s just what I did.
Long before cancer, Christmas was a tricky time of the year for me, and remains so. For more than twenty years escaping has been my way to combat ambivalent feelings about Christmas and what it has come to represent in our culture. Most of the time I would run off somewhere and spend the holiday alone, sans blinking lights and jolly men in red suits. South Carolina is my new favorite escape, and I’ve even learned to appreciate my niece’s special brand of hospitality.
We have a routine whenever I go and visit: bowling, a local farm, ice cream, Chinese food. I’ve gotten to know some of the local people and am always made to feel welcome. That naughty blond pup above vies for my attention with her darker brother while her mom spoils her rotten. Usually when I show up the weather gets thirty degrees colder. Not this time! It was in the 70’s all week. My back started to feel a little better, I got lots of sleep and lots of love, collected and gave more presents, and had turkey dinner left over from Thanksgiving, when I couldn’t be there. I found the real meaning of MY Christmas, and made the correct choice for me.
Perhaps I’ll never really love Christmas again, but I’ve made progress.
I had a great holiday, but I’m glad it’s over for another year! Bring on 2022!
Last week I posted the first part of a Christmas tale I wrote back in 2006. It was more popular than expected, leaving me to think that maybe I should continue to make more of my old fiction writing public. You can read the first half of the story here. What follows is part two. Enjoy!
THE REAL MEANING OF CHRISTMAS (CONTINUED)
Christmas morning came. Toni awoke to the sound of Hannah rummaging around in her room; when she opened Hannah’s door, she found the six-year-old filling a white tall kitchen garbage bag full of toys: stuffed animals, Barbie dolls, musical toys.
“Honey, what are you doing?” Toni asked.
Hannah looked like a little grown-up as she turned to her mother and said, “I’m findin’ all the toys I don’t play with no more to bring to the kids less lucky than me.”
Toni was so taken by her little daughter’s gesture, she did not even correct her iffy grammar. Instead, she asked herself, Oh, how have I done so well with this child, how, in spite of being a single mother literally left at the altar when I was five months pregnant?
Toni backed away from the door, realizing that her six-year-old knew more about compassion than even she did. Her daughter was outdoing her! This thought made her rush into her bedroom and throw open the closet door. She looked with derision at all the clothes that she was saving because she might wear them “someday,” when she knew very well that that day would never come, and that there was someone out there who could be wearing those clothes that just hung there, going to waste. She went to the kitchen and got her own tall kitchen garbage bag and filled it with clothes. She was thrilled by the exhilarating feeling of unburdening herself of the clothes and filled another bag.
“I’m ready, Mommy,” Hannah’s voice came from her doorway. She turned to see that Hannah had her full winter gear on and had a bag over each shoulder, like a mini Santa Claus.
“I thought we were going to have breakfast and open one present?” Toni reminded her.
“But Mommy, this is so much more important. Can’t we get there early and be waiting for them?”
“If that’s what you want, honey. Let Mommy get dressed.”
“I’ll be waiting out front.”
“But it’s so cold! Maybe you should wait in the kitchen.”
“No, it’s okay. I’ll wait out front.”
Toni knew that this was Hannah’s way of saying that she was ready and didn’t want to wait for her mother to waste time. So, Toni didn’t. She jumped into some warm casual clothes and met Hannah on the front steps ten minutes later. There was only a little snow on the ground but it was bitterly cold. Hannah’s nose was red, but she appeared unfazed by the weather. Obviously, the child was on a mission. It was Toni who complained to Hannah about the cold as they defrosted the car, whose backseat was piled with their garbage bags full of “gifts.”
They hardly spoke on the drive to the shelter. As they neared, they saw a small line of homeless people had begun to form, their breath almost freezing in the air, their clothes not nearly warm enough to battle the elements.
“Mommy, they look so cold! Do you have any winter coats in those bags?” Hannah asked, her little nose wrinkled but warm-looking.
“No, honey. No winter coats,” Toni answered, distressed by the memory of the two down-filled jackets she had left hanging in her closet because she had made a split-second decision that she would wear them again “someday” after all.
It was then that Hannah reached under her coat and took out her piggy bank in the shape of Eeyore, the sad donkey from Winnie the Pooh that they had bought on a trip to Disneyland the previous year. It was their routine to fill it with spare coins and bills until they couldn’t fit anymore, then they transferred the money to Hannah’s small but growing bank account. Toni knew that Eeyore was close to being full. Usually, they had about twenty-five dollars in it by the time they made the transfer.
“I didn’t want you to be mad at me for bringing this so I hid it ‘til now. Can we go and buy somethin’ warm for them? It’s full and I wanna share it.” The child shook the bank for effect. It was all too much for Toni at that point; tears started rolling down her face and she grabbed Hannah and squeezed her tight. Hannah hugged her back, though Toni knew she did not understand her mother’s tears.
Toni put the car in drive and told Hannah to find her wallet in her purse and see how much was in it. Hannah did as she was told, though Toni felt her reluctance; Hannah knew better than to go into her mother’s personal belongings unless she had permission. Hannah took out a handful of small bills and announced that her mother had twenty-two dollars. Toni made a deal with her daughter: they each would spend ten dollars to buy some nice, hot coffee, tea, and hot chocolate for the people less lucky than them. That way, they would both still have some money leftover. Hannah agreed and they proceeded to the nearest coffee shop and bought as many cups of hot liquid as they could for twenty dollars. Then, they went back to the shelter; several more people were gathered, waiting for breakfast.
Hannah was out of the car with the flat box of hot drinks in her little, glove-clad hands almost before Toni could get the keys out of the ignition. Toni only watched from the driver’s seat as the old men smiled like she was a tiny angel sent from heaven and the women patted her head and took a warm drink. Pride was hardly a sufficient word for what she was feeling as she watched her baby; she was learning something about compassion that even transcended what her parents had taught her so many years ago.
Not wanting to steal Hannah’s spotlight, she waited until the girl had handed out all the drinks, then she pulled the bags of clothes and toys out of the back seat of the car and brought them over to the gathering crowd. Together, she and her baby girl handed out second-hand gifts to the spellbound poor and homeless that truly looked like they were seeing Santa Claus. Watching their faces, Toni knew that she had not seen sincerely thankful people since those family Christmases so long ago. Suddenly, those days seemed closer, and the real meaning of Christmas was evident for her again. Just as she knew, it had nothing to do with SUVs or Super Soakers or even a million tiny lights on a fabulous tree. She had found the real meaning of Christmas again and a six-year-old girl whom she had given birth to had helped her to do so.
Long before they entered the shelter to help serve breakfast, they had won the hearts of the people less lucky than them. Other volunteers pulled up in shiny SUVs and ran in at the last minute, laughing and talking about the warm fireplace they had left or the piles of presents waiting to be unwrapped. In those final moments, another small miracle took place: Marcy showed up with a huge platter of delightful, homemade pastries. She was dressed to the nines and was in a terrible rush, but Toni hugged her, seeing the satisfaction in her friend’s face for doing a good deed.
It was a perfect morning now, with the presents and Marcy’s kindness and the hot coffee and the fresh food on the shelter’s stove. Toni and Hannah giggled and joked and felt good about the miracles already performed, while French toast and bacon sizzled and the aroma wafted through the air and the doors were finally opened and the homeless folks entered the shelter already smiling, with toys for their children and warm drinks in their bellies and the smile of a little blond angel on their minds. And mother and daughter waited, Toni with a spatula, her daughter with a stack of paper cups to fill with orange juice, while bells chimed and carols played and real, true Christmas joy filled the rooms of the shelter.
While writing my last postI was reminded of a short story I wrote long ago, and decided that I was going to post it here. It took some searching to retrieve it. It’s that old! The title? “The Real Meaning of Christmas.” I wrote it in 2006. What a long way I’ve come as a writer since then! Yet, for the sake of posterity (or something like that!) I’ve decided to publish it largely as is, other than removing some annoying spacing issues. Because it’s nine typed pages long, I’ll share it in two parts. Look for part two next week!
Without further ado, here is an old story that’s short on style and long on meaning.
THE REAL MEANING OF CHRISTMAS
Not everyone loved Christmas, especially Toni. She shuddered every fall when the end of November approached because now, for six unbearable weeks, she would have to deal with all the things about Christmas that she hated. Her friends would be chattering about what new toys and gadgets they would be going broke to buy their children. People in their shiny SUVs would be stressed out and driving at breakneck speeds to the next shopping mall to whip out a plastic card and add to their already enormous debt. Christmas trees would be on the tops of cars and in the beds of pick-up trucks, only to be unceremoniously dumped in a hidden ditch in the backyard once the finest balls and light strings were removed and the expensive presents unwrapped. Some people would light up their homes until absurd dates, well past New Year’s in a silly, futile attempt to keep alive a holiday season that most people had forgotten the meaning of anyway. She refused to be a part of it all, falling out on the mania that surrounded the holiday that was supposed to represent the Birth of Christ. Instead, she longed for the Christmases of her youth when her parents were alive, when her sisters still talked to her, when people still cared about each other enough to know that love and happiness could not be bought. Still, she had to keep up some kind of front, because now Hannah was old enough to be excited about the holiday. Somehow, some way, regardless of how much she dreaded the season, she had to make it worthwhile for both of them, to make it special in some way.
“Why don’t you spend it in Aruba?” was the worldly suggestion of her friend Marcy, who thought all problems on earth could be solved through the spending of money and a call to Carnival Cruises. Toni did not know whether she was serious, being that Marcy was in a pile of Super Soakers and video game equipment when the suggestion rolled off of her tongue, likely without previous thought. In fact, Toni almost knew that Marcy wasn’t thinking by her harried, pre-occupied tone that accompanied a certain annoyed look.
Toni wished that Marcy had not mentioned Aruba. For a split second she wished, too, that she had not visited Marcy at all, as Marcy was one of those people who “loved” Christmas and equally “loved” to spend money on material comforts. Marcy had always been a bit pretentious and since marrying a self-made millionaire she had only gotten worse. But Toni knew that deep down inside, Marcy had a good heart and Toni still loved her dearly, even if she had to put up with a ridiculous comment every now and then.
“Actually, I was considering volunteering to feed the homeless,” Toni said.
“Oh, that’s nice baby. Hannah can stay and play with Amber and Jim-Jim,” Marcy grinned, speaking of her spoiled children.
“Oh no, I’m going to bring her with me.”
Marcy was stopped in the tracks of her Super Soakers.
“Baby, you’ve got to be kidding. You’re going to bring that perfect child to feed dirty, grimy homeless people?”
“Maybe you should come with me and bring Amber and Jim-Jim,” Toni’s tone was slightly condescending in that she pronounced the children’s names in the same baby-talk way that Marcy used whenever she spoke of them.
Marcy didn’t even notice. “You know I have a huge lunch to plan. I don’t know how I’m going to do it without going to that awful shelter.” Marcy rolled her eyes with silly self-importance. Toni knew that Marcy loved her role as town hostess and savored it when her guests bragged about her parties until the next one.
“Well, we’re going just the same.”
“You should give Hannah a choice. If she doesn’t want to go, she can stay here and help me cook. She loves to help her Auntie Marcy cook, you know!”
Toni was relieved that Marcy had finally said something that made sense. She was right: Hannah should have the choice. Toni would talk to her daughter.
She tentatively approached her flaxen blond daughter while she was in her room playing dolls. Lovely Hannah, who Toni was trying to lead through her first years of life with compassion for other members of the human race, looked at her expectantly. “Go ahead, Mommy. What do you want to talk about?”
Toni was comforted by the patience of her little girl. Sometimes, Hannah was so serene that she made Toni feel like she was the daughter. She began: “Christmas is coming. Next week it’ll be here.”
A shadow fell over the little girl’s face. “Mommy, do you have enough money to buy me presents? Because if you don’t, it’s okay. Some kids in my class aren’t gonna get many presents ‘cuz they don’t have no daddy like me and their mommies can’t ‘ford nothin’ for them.”
Toni didn’t know whether to be horrified that her daughter was thinking such thoughts or to be proud that she was so unselfish. Hannah had everything within reason that a child needed and wanted, and Toni would always keep it that way, but Hannah was not spoiled or unappreciative. Toni had simply taught her what her own parents had taught her: to not take anything for granted.
“No honey, it’s not that at all! I wanted to ask you if you wanted to do something special on Christmas morning.”
“I want to go and feed homeless people at the shelter downtown. Do you want to come with me? If you don’t, you can stay at Auntie Marcy’s.”
“You mean feed people less lucky than us?” Hannah’s eyes widened.
“Yes.” Toni had used that line on Hannah many times when they had passed the shelter and had seen people out front or on their way there.
“I wanna go Mommy. We can open presents after?”
“How about we open one before and the rest after.”
Hannah smiled widely. “Yeah!” She tossed her arms around Toni. “Mommy, I can’t wait to feed the homeless people that are less lucky than us.”