Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas Spirit

On Tuesday, three days before Christmas, my wallet was stolen at my work between the hours of 2-4pm. Inside my wallet was $225 of my hard earned money. I don't LOVE my job (although I do love my co-workers) and I definitely don't want to be a server for much longer, but I work hard and I earn every penny I make. Those pennies weren't for me and I didn't plan on hitting the bars or buying expensive new shoes, although both are things I used to be able to afford. This new life, this meager life that is the result of a poor economy, lay-offs and circumstance, doesn't allow for much "fluff" or extravagance. This is alright with me. After all, since my then-husband decided to live in 2008 I have learned to live with little material belongings, small paychecks and in physical places I never wished to be. No, material things don't float my boat and they are not a deal breaker for a happy life. I have had far more and far less than I have at this particular moment in time and I find that both humbling and scary.

What I do hold dear to my heart, over designer handbags and a condo of my own in the city, are my family and friends. Many people only think of loved ones and truly show them how much they care around the holidays. This is not my case. As anyone who knows me well could tell you, I am extremely close to my family and friends. I take pride in working hard at staying in touch and my feelings for my loved ones are usually found right on the sleeve of my non-designer shirt. Perhaps, because this year I began to emerge from the darkness that is divorce or maybe because cancer came knocking on our family's door, I felt the need to shout from the rooftops and put on the big screen how much these people mean to me. And the thief almost took this possibility away.

It is no surprise to anyone in the real world how little servers in a restaurant make. Sure, tips can really add up, but I work minimum hours and haven't been trained to work the busy dinner shifts. I can put in a twelve hour day with only one break and barely make over $100 in tips. Depressing? Sure. What I have to do right now to stay afloat? Definitely. I'm not embarrassed to admit that I spent much of Tuesday night in the upstairs bathroom at work crying my eyes out over the lost cash. I wanted to get even, I wanted to know who took is and I wanted revenge. It took all my training in Buddhism (this consists of the reading of several books upon the commencement of my divorce) to calm down and LET IT GO! Letting go can sometimes be the hardest part.

The details are not important and I will leave the names anonymous, but by the time I left work the following night, co-workers and managers alike had "gifted" me much of my lost money back. I was overwhelmed, honored and humbled. Just when it is so easy to believe in the bad in people, others show you that the human spirit is indeed good and kind.

With my meager amount of cash to spread between my immediate family members, I struggled with what to buy such amazing people, especially my parents. The day before Christmas Eve my dad found out that the pathology tests on the tissue taken from his second surgery was clear of cancer. How can a new tie or a gift card suffice for someone who is battling, and apparently winning, the fight against cancer? And for that matter, what do you buy the woman, the wife, behind the man that has always been the rock in our family even though we may not see her in that light. Impossible gifts for remarkable people.....

Below is what I decided on for the two most important people in my life. Of course there were functional gifts given like books and clothes, but these gifts spoke to the true essence of family and Christmas.
Willow Tree wooden angels are a beautiful collection of collectible angels that cover themes from friendship, to motherhood, to grief. I have received two Willow Tree angels in my life as gifts; one was for the spirit of a teacher when I got my first teaching job and one was for new home owners when my ex and I purchased our first home. They are faceless, but they speak volumes. Each one comes with a story and a quote, depending on what angel they are.

On the left is The Angel of Courage, "Bringing a triumphant spirit, inspiration and courage". This, obviously, I gave to my dad. I believe in the power of prayer, the importance of diet and the effect that a positive outlook can have, but I believe mostly in courage and spirit. Courage to face the demon of disease, courage to be okay with things looking differently in life and the courage to press on. Dad loved his angel, and it sits, as it does in the above picture, on his beside table.

The Angel of Serenity was for mom and the quote said "Calm the soul, free the spirit". This angel jumped out at me first mostly because my mom loves the Serenity Prayer and I have grown into adulthood hearing it often.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The Courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

I've always loved the prayer and have turned to it many times in my own life. I also like the fact that the angel is kneeing, arms crossed. It shows a sense of submissiveness to life's twists and turns and a freeing of the spirit in order to "go with the flow". Something mom sometimes has a hard time doing. I felt no need to give her an angel of strength, or courage, or gusto because cancer has definitely showed me that she is strong enough for all of us. :)

After a huge dinner and lost of present unwrapping, Lucy enjoyed a nap with dad on his favorite chair. I love the relationship they have built and as silly as it sounds, it gives me a glimpse into what an amazing grandfather he will be!

My mom insists on getting the pets of the family gifts for the holidays as well. This is Lucy's and, needless to say, she hates it. It was slightly too big, but the hood was still tight and she refused to move in it. It was a great photo opportunity, but I think I will refrain from torturing her by making her wear it. :)

As I sit here on Christmas night, belly full and gifts still strewn around the living room, I am struck with how simple and unexpected the Christmas spirit can be. I found it in the generosity of co-workers, in the impact of a simple gift that speaks volumes, in the words "cancer free for now" and in the time spent with loved ones. This year was the first year since 2008, or maybe before, that I felt present, alive and happy. As I fall asleep in the room I grew up in, I will not be haunted by past mistakes or unfortunate changes in my life. I will smile and dream of the possibilities that lay ahead for all of us. Jobs, new adventures, spaces of our own and health. That is what the Christmas spirit is about, the hope of a better tomorrow and the kindness to help people get there.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

This Place is Like Outback!

After sleeping in late on accident and battling lunch time traffic, I finally made it to the hospital this morning around 11am. Entering the newly built Surgical Wing is reminiscent of entering a fine art gallery instead of a hospital. There are floor to ceiling windows and a huge glass fountain standing below a lovely atrium. The only thing that reminded me of my surroundings was the smell. What is that smell that all hospitals have?? Is it bleach mixed with bodily fluids or a combination of starched bed linens and the cheap stale coffee they serve in the cafeteria? I have no idea what it is, but the smell instantly brought me back to reality. Not even a beautiful fountain can distract people from both the illness and the healing that is taking place behind walls and closed doors.

I met my mom in the lobby and was informed that not only could I go and check dad's status on a large flat screen TV, much like you would see at the airport, but we were going to be "buzzed" when the doctor was ready to talk to us after the surgery. I had to laugh out loud when I saw the contraption she was given to hold until we were "buzzed". "This place is like Outback!" I chuckled. I know many restaurants use a paging system when keeping track of people that are waiting for a table, but I always think of Outback Steakhouse when I see one of the square pagers that jump and light up when its time for your turn to sit down to a blooming onion (insert bad Austrailian accent).

Mom and I polished off an above average lunch of turkey chilli and bread in the hospital's cafeteria and I have to admit it wasn't horrible. After what seemed like hours sitting in the lobby analyzing how comfy it would be to wear scrubs all day at work and trying to figure out everyone's "story" around us, we started to get a little anxious. After all, waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery makes each minute seem like hours. I checked the flat screen TV that doubles as a message board that lets family members know the status of patients and found that dad was labeled as "turnover". "Oh good, they turned him over and are doing the other side" was my first thought until I remembered that his surgery included only one arm, not two. :) After some digging, I found out that "turnover" means that the patient is in recovery and the room is being "turned" for the next patient. This reminded me a lot of how tables at the restaurant I work at are "turned" after being wipped down and re-set.

I will skip the boring details about the pager and its buzzing, but lets just say there were a few false alarms, a doctor missing in action and a sweet hospital volunteer at the front desk who feared for his life when my mother and I started to complain. Don't mess with women with sick loved ones!

Twenty minutes later we were face to face with Dr. Burke, sporting his scrubs and white coat and all. Is was a little like what you see on "Grey's Anatomy" minus the really hot hospital employees and great lighting. The details of what happened in surgery pretty much went over our heads, despite the research we have done regarding Melanoma (I am still confused as to what a lymph node looks like and what it does). What I did take away from our brief talk was something you can only read on a person's face.....optimism!! We asked how he felt about the surgery, but we really didn't need to. His eyes showed cautious optimism and strong knowledge. A great combo when dealing with cancer. "We will be watching him for a long time, but things went well." Burke mentioned regarding yearly PET scans and follow ups. I had a strong urge to hug him and tell him how precisious it was to me that he had swift hands in surgery and the brains to know what to do, but I settled for a hand shake.

For an Outback, the hospital's food doesn't compare, but for a hospital, our experiences have been positive. Caring nurses, trust worthy surgeons, fancy technology to keep us informed and that beautiful fountain. Now, if we could just work on that smell!

Mile Six

My dad was diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma only a few months ago in September. To say that I was planning on running every step of my 10k race for him would be an understatement. I can't begin to put into words what it feels like to learn that a loved one has cancer, but I'm hoping this blog will help me to start to form those words.

The morning of the race my dad woke up with a bad cold and we all knew that standing in the cold and the rain to watch me cross the finish line would be out of the question. His second surgery was just a week away and he couldn't risk not being healthy. Healthy is such a relative term when it comes to cancer, isn't it? Although I was dissappointed, I completely understood and knew I would still have the smiles from my mom at the finish line.

The race started well and I felt strong, determined, persistent. Mile one always proves to be the hardest for me, but once I hit mile two I had found my stride. Miles three through five were kind of a blur, but I kept pushing through. It wasn't until mile six that I was struck with not only fatique, but emotion. The race wasn't raising money for cancer, nor was my dad even in the crowd of spectators, but for some reason I felt his presence and a huge desire to finish strong. I felt that each time my feet hit the pavement I was passing on some kind of strength and support to him.

I finished the race in 65.04 minutes (a time well beyond any expectations of myself) and I got pretty choked up, overcome with emotion. I learned a couple of things during mile six. I learned that I am so much stronger than I give myself credit for, both physically and emotionally. I learned that people you carry in your heart can help you meet goals even when they don't know it. And most of all, I learned that if I can't beat cancer for my dad then I will at least run a million steps if only a fraction of that strength will help him.

Days later, my dad told me that I had inspired him to start running and we are planning on doing a 5k race this spring together. Imagine that....I inspired Him! Maybe its about time since he's being inspiring me my whole life. :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

So much more than just a book about food....

I stumbled across this book while watching, you guessed it, Oprah! When a book is even mentioned on Oprah, let alone the author appears on a show, the world watches and rushes to the nearest book store to buy a copy. I'm always skeptical of this madness, but I also couldn't keep my eyes off the TV screen when author Geneen Roth spoke of her recent piece of literature. Months later, after I found it on sale at Borders, I bought the book and can honestly say that parts of it have changed my way I view myself, the world and every bite I put in my mouth. Is it a gripping, page turner? No. But, if you are patient and read it with purpose you will find several priceless lessons between the pages.

My First 10K Run!

When I thought about what I wanted to have as my first post on this new blog, it seemed like a good idea to start with the 10K race I will be doing in two days. This endeavor is both terrifying and exciting and I think it symbolically marks the start to a new road I will be running down in my life. I have never covered 6.2 miles on foot, but as the date draws closer I find myself trusting that my body can, and will, carry me farther than I give it credit for. In a strange way, I have begun to think of this race as a gauge to what other dreams and adventures I can pursue. If I can take off, leaving even just a little of my baggage at the starting gate, and successfully reach that finish line.....then anything is possible! I know it will take both mind and body and I hope a little peace finds me at mile 6!