Tag Archives: Inspiration
This is a story of renewal, perfect for the Spring.
This tree you see endowed with so many glorious orange orbs was, not so long ago, a barren and unhappy thing. She was planted in the area of my yard most welcoming to citrus. By that I mean it was hot, sunny most of the day, and protected from the wind. It was also right inside the front gate, so every day, many times, I would walk by my little growing mandarin orange tree and mentally entreat her to “please grow.” I put her on the drip system, I gave her citrus food, good earth, and I infused her with doses of iron and fish emulsion. You know, I paid attention to her. And she responded. Grew into a fine-looking specimen. But she never, ever set any fruit. Year after year, strong green growth, zero fruit.
The value in a fruit tree is … um … fruit. Without fruit, it’s just a nice shrub, and in my little patch of warm, sunny yard, if a fruit tree was simply going to be a tree, then she had to make room for someone else who would provide. But she was a healthy tree, and I’m a pushover when it comes to ending the life of a sturdy grower. So we banished her to the backyard, in an afternoon-only sunny spot where the earth hadn’t been amended with all manner of lovely soil but rather had a clay-like consistency. We gave her a nice hole twice as wide as deep, put her on the drip, and said a prayer.
She proceeded to drop each and every leaf, as if she was hot and needed to expose her branches to the fresh air. Or she didn’t care anymore. In the short order of two weeks, she went from a green, robust citrus bush to a craggy looking old lady. The move killed her spirit. Feeling like I had failed her, I took some consolation in knowing that I hadn’t simply ripped her out by the roots and dumped her unceremoniously into the compost pile. We had at least given her a second chance.
But when, after a rain fall, I took a walk out the back door towards the compost pile, I noticed that my naked mandarin orange tree was adorned with delicate white flower buds. Somehow, after jettisoning every bit of exterior life, this cagey tree was going through a re-birth. And not just a few fruits on the maiden voyage. Oh no, she was covered in flowers that I knew, weather and wind and birds willing, would turn someday into precious fruit.
So you see. Sometimes we just need to find the right patch of dirt for us to fully flower. And it might not be the patch of dirt everyone thinks is perfect for our growth. Yet if it feeds us, then all is right with the world.
The train tracks from Alaska into Canada.
I am lucky enough to now be blogging for Facing Cancer Canada, which gives me an outlet to talk very much to the cancer community. “It won’t always be about cancer,” I told Chantal, my contact there. “My life is not all about cancer.” She understood, and actually encouraged me to simply write what moves me, as they want to show all sides of the cancer experience. In it, after it, through it.
This is my second blog post.
We’re a posse that understands the meaningfulness of firsts. First time in the infusion lab. First tug and eerie release of your here-to-fore sturdy hair. First time hearing the solid “thunk” of the door closing as everyone flees the radiation room, yet you are left behind.
So many firsts. So many difficult firsts.
But life has a way of evening things out. The pendulum swings back. The trick, it seems, is to catch it and go for a new ride. Take a chance. Try something new.
I am now on the side of more pleasant firsts, thankfully. Like this past weekend, I was part of a gala event called Truth Be Told for the Premiere Oncology Foundation in Santa Monica, California. I was invited as a storyteller, along with 10 other cancer survivors, to put a face on this disease.
I grabbed, and I swung. I mean, I’m not a professional speaker. I like speaking. Do it a lot, actually, every day. But not on stage. And certainly not alone, without notes or a podium. Terrifying? You bet. But so amazingly juicy to force myself to push through my comfort zone.
Not only did I get to simmer for 2 days with some soulful people, but I got to share my work with the audience, and ask them to consider the importance of including our kids in our cancer treatment. In other words, saying yes to opening myself up to strangers allowed me to further a discussion that I am passionate about.
Life is just a series of firsts, punctuated by long stretches of the same old, same old. For cancer patients, saying yes is part of the treatment. We have to agree to some protocol and move forward. But having an enthusiastic “Sure!” to what comes after we’re all finished with our doctor visits, that is part of the wisdom borne of a cancer diagnosis.
He was a whistler and a whittler, and I miss him so.
Most nights, after we ate dinner, dad would sit in his chair, pick up a piece of wood and, depending on the point in its creation, would either sand or whittle with sharp as a razor knives. Whales. Birds. Strange objects. To my right on my desk is a interlinked set of ovals whittled out of some light wood. His knife strokes are right there for me to see.
These links are symbolic. I was born on my dad’s 41st birthday.
He was a fisherman and a tinkerer. He taught me both. I can still picture in my mind all the different fishing holes we visited. Our neighborhood had Square Pond, arrived at after a walk through the Connecticut woods and across a simple, open meadow. While he would go fly fishing for Big Mama, the bass he was sure lurked in the deep, I would flit along the shore, trying to catch bullfrogs or successfully catching tennis ball-sized Sunnies. A longer car ride away was the place where we tried for carp, one from an overpass and another down by the river. When I grew to be in middle and high school, we would try for salmon in Washington State, a long windy drive out to Fox Island until the road dead ended, and then an equally long windy walk past the blackberry and raspberry bushes down to the huge dock overhanging the Narrows. Instead of the light poles with a red and white bobber, we used long, heavy salmon rods laden with herring that took all you had to whip it out there into the current. We’d catch dog fish (which I believe were a kind of shark) that the Vietnamese fisherman who squatted for hours while they fished would take home, and every so often we would land a salmon. On every fishing trip there was a lot of casting and reeling in. Casting and reeling in. “Something’s out there, Sue,” he’d say. “Just got to be patient.” He was ever the optimist when it came to fishing.
He showed me the value of working hard. Of trying to fix things yourself. Of being creative in your down time. Of telling good stories. Of reading.
He could carve a beautiful turn down any ski hill, and perhaps his greatest gift to me, other than making me in the first place, was teaching me the same love for skiing. He started me at 4, as I have done with my son, first in between his legs going down the almost flat hills, then watching as I shusshed down the slopes and doing the inevitable sweep of the hill behind me.
He carved me a small wooden mouse with a tiny leather tail that was pinned to my jacket or hat when I skied. He told me it was a mogul mouse, that would help me navigate through a mogul field and not fall down. There was nothing, he admitted, to be done about the snow snakes. You just had to carve those turns and hope for the best.
We worked together to bring back to life a 1971 MGB-GT. That meant many evenings after school and on the weekend, after he had played his round of golf with his buddies, we would attack a certain part of the car with the Chilton’s manual by our side and a whole heap of good intentions. I learned to gap spark plugs. Fiddle with duel carbs. The crazy make-up of a disk brake system with all it’s little “shoes” and moving parts, and how to apply Bondo. I learned with him that the electrical system on a British car is a thing of mystery, no matter what the pages of the manual say. And that the simple touches, like the rear view mirror affixed to the right front fender, are both necessary and rakish.
He called me Chatterbox and Finella. And George, sometimes. You see, I was the son my dad never had. How I wish I could hug and kiss him today.
People say things all the time. Others write a whole hell of a lot of words. Pablo Neruda, the poet, loves words as much as I do. Probably more, I’d reckon. From his Memoir, the last sentence has stayed with me since the moment I read it close to 20 years ago.
Savor this morsel:
“You can say anything you want, yessir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend … I bow to them … I love them, I cling to them, I fun them down, I bite into them, I melt them down … I love words so much … The unexpected ones … The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop … Vowels I love … They glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew … I run after certain words … They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem. … I catch them in mid-flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives… And then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go … I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves … Everything exists in the word … An idea goes through a compete change because one word shifted its place, or because another settled down like a spoiled little thing inside a phrase that was not expected her but obeys her.”
At 30,000 feet, coming home from St. Louis
You’ve heard the phrase: going from Point A to Point B. For humans, the path of choice is always a straight line. It’s the quickest, after all. The most efficient. It expends the least energy, and allows you to move on to the “next thing” on your list.
Right. The excruciating reality of life is that the straight line between Point A and Point B only happens in geometry homework and highways in Nevada and the Nullarbor Plain in Australia (one stretch of road has no curves for 87 miles). And so the desire of doing something quickly and effectively is clobbered by the cold hard fact that life doesn’t work that way.
I mean this literally. The act of life, whether it is manifested in a tree or a river, does not do straight lines. Life is organic. It meanders.
I heard a woman the other day say something that really stood out to me. She said that we can’t force our business into a mold. Because the marketplace will know we are trying on someone else’s clothes. That we need to find our own voice, and make our own way in an organic fashion. True success, she repeated, is organic.
Writing this post is another step in fully believing and processing this fact. It comes on the heels of having a conversation with the man responsible for starting Camp Okizu, Dr. Mike Amylon. He is a family friend, and I’ve had many conversations with him over the course of 20 years. Mike, with the prestige of his position at Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford as a pediatric hem/onc, wanted to start a summer camp for families who were dealing with childhood cancer. Maybe the child with cancer. Maybe the sibling. Maybe the whole family.
What he thought would be an easy sell to the oncology community turned out to be harder than he could ever imagine. You see, many offices didn’t want to even have Okizu brochures in their waiting rooms, because then they would have to talk to patients about the tricky and poignant issues that arise from a cancer diagnosis in the family. And precious few oncologists knew what to say on this topic at the time.
His idea, bubbling up organically from the work he did, was new. He was forging his own path. And he, like every other entrepreneur with an idea, had to hack his way through the deep brush to get there.
Today, 30 years later, Okizu stands ready to welcome yet another summer filled with humans trying to wend their way from Point A to Point B and have some fun while doing it.