My hot cup of coffee feels good in my hands. I close my eyes and feel the first sip rapidly warming my body. It’s not something I think about normally, but I missed it, because I had taken a break during recent medical tests.
Moisture in the air on the back porch is so thick this morning it might as well be raining, as it has been for the past couple of weeks. Yet the sky is clear, the sun is bright, and it almost feels as though the rain may be over. Sometimes it’s nice to have a little hope from a bright sunny day, which somehow makes the rain more tolerable when it comes back. Little rays of hope are all it takes.
For me a little ray of hope is a day when I’m feeling normal again after a few weeks of not feeling great. I had a great night’s sleep, awoke with my normal energy, and feel like today is the day I’m supposed to conquer the world. Not that the world needs to be conquered.
A Bad Day
Though I’m having a good start to my day, there are others this morning who don’t want to roll out of bed to face what today may bring. This morning I’m thinking about the 30-year bride of my friend Sean, whom I mentioned after he had a stroke, six months ago. He passed away last week. Her days for the past six months have been about being brave for him, giving him a ray of hope, being at his side, dealing with doctors, lawyers, insurance companies, and trying to cope with the financial issues all of it brings. (His GoFundMe page is still up if you want to help her.) Now she has to deal with her grief, and perhaps feelings of guilt about a sense of relief that he is no longer suffering, and the fear of how she will survive without him. There is a line in the movie Unbroken saying that marriage is like two trees that grow side by side and get intertwined over the years. Those of us who are the other trees in the forests of their lives need to step in and do what we can to fill the unfillable void.
My Own Space
When my friend of 40 years passed, I went out to my little art studio back behind our old Texas ranch house, my equivalent of a man cave. Instead of a big screen TV and football memorabilia and beer signs, I’m surrounded by the things I love … paintings friends have sent me, paintings of places I’ve been around the world, and my art books. I sit in the old rocking chair — it belonged to my wife’s grandmother — and just rock and think. I was wondering how I should react to his death.
Though that seems like an odd question, I think we get to a point in our lives where we can control our reactions to some extent. I’m not talking about stuffing our emotions, but making good out of a bad situation.
Funerals Can Be Fun?
Though I think my friend would appreciate that his friends are saddened by his passing, knowing his gleeful personality, I think he’d rather I found something funny in it. You know, put the FUN back in FUNeral. He would be cutting up, making jokes, and being filled with life about his own passing because he was that kind of guy. And in it all, he would find some depth and meaning, some next steps. I simply don’t think he would want to see us wailing about him uncontrollably, which is why I shed some quiet tears to myself, and had a lot of smiles remembering where the tree branches of our lives intersected. How can I make the best of a bad situation?
I came to a few conclusions, the first being that I need to do more things with my family, my kids, so that they have memories. It’s too easy to let them sit reading their phones or playing video games, but those are not meaningful memories like a hike together, or something fun. And with college two years out, there is no time like the present to schedule memories.
Get My Own House in Order
Seeing what my friend went through because of a stroke was also a reminder to clean my own house. There is more I can do to lose weight, to get exercise daily, to control my diet, to manage my attitude and reduce my stress. My recent illness was not only a surprise, but a wakeup call that maybe I’m not a superhero after all, and maybe I’m just trying to do too much. It’s something I don’t want to admit, especially because I’ve had a vegan diet for the past 13 years and thought that would keep the wolves away.
The day before Sean died, I was having a discussion with my wife about whether I should get on an airplane to go see him, since it had been several months. She appropriately reminded me that though the thought was good, I just had my own health scare, and getting on an airplane and adding one extra trip might not be in my best interest. And as I was still pondering it, he passed away. The good that came out of that is realizing that I need more time with the friends I cherish, not just visiting them in hospitals, but having fun with them while they are filled with life. So I plan to do that, somehow, without adding more trips.
Same Time Next Year
Each year I hold a big radio conference at the Harvard Club in New York, and each year one of my closest friends, Jackson, flies into town. We room together at the National Arts Club, and we spend two or three days catching up over breakfast and dinner, sitting up late nights, laughing. We’ve done it for probably 10 years, and it’s a way to take advantage of a trip I’m doing anyway, to spend time with a friend. And it sure beats being in another hotel room alone at night.
When I did my recent painting trip to Cuba, my old friend Mitch roomed with me, and it was like two schoolmates telling jokes till two in the morning, laughing a lot, and reconnecting. And in a couple of weeks I’ll be rooming with Rick Wilson, a painter from my home state of Indiana. I suspect we’ll sit up playing guitars till the wee hours. I cherish those moments and regret that I never did anything like that with Sean while he was full of life. Though we were both busy, there was no excuse. We could have found a way. So my plan is to do this with my best buddies in places I’m already going, whenever possible. Not adding extra days of travel, but making good use of the time I’m there.
What about you?
Who are you not reconnecting with that you need in your life?
What excuses are you making for not spending time with them?
What can you do to take advantage of something you’re doing anyway, where they can be woven into the fabric?
What needs to be done to make more memories with your kids, grandkids, parents, and friends?
What’s stopping you?
Moments like these force us to think about things that need to change in our own lives.
It also makes us realize what we need to do for ourselves. I always say that you have to give yourself oxygen before helping others, because without it, you can’t help others as well. What do you need for yourself that you keep thinking about doing, but you find all the reasons you can’t? What old stories are holding you back?
There is a mountain you must climb. It may be Everest. There will be a time you can no longer climb it and can only dream about what could have been. Don’t look back in regret. Focus on today because we don’t know what tomorrow brings. Don’t just exist, fight to create memories and live dreams. It’s worth fighting for.
PS: Last week I told you why I was unable to go to Africa. They are sending me photos and messages, which I’m reposting on my Facebook page. It’s a missed bucket list opportunity. I want to publicly thank everyone on that trip who was expecting me to be with them, and thank them for being so gracious and understanding. I don’t like to disappoint, and this is the first time I’ve been unable to attend one of my own trips.