Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July, Hopespotters! Don’t be alarmed by the double header this week. This is what happens when I get a few days away to clear my head.

 

Throughout my life, I’ve had a love / hate relationship with the Fourth of July. Growing up, it was a wonderful day, marking the middle of swim team season. We would shower and wear “real clothes” to get together and watch fireworks and dance. It was indescribably magical. When that tradition went away, nothing could compare and the day became a drudgery of where would we watch fireworks and get eaten by mosquitos. As a married person, my first Fourth was terrifying as our golden retriever puppy nearly ran away from terror of fireworks. I’ve never really gotten in the spirit, to be honest, from that day.

 

That isn’t to say that my whole heart isn’t behind what the day represents. The Fourth of July is Independence Day. The day that marks the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the all time best (as twitter pointed out today) break up letter. I’m no historian, but any American worth citizenship could tell you that it was this document, signed in Philadelphia in 1776, that inspired the holiday we celebrate today. It was the grand and clear message that made us America. And that document, contains wisdom for the ages.

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…..”

OK, hold my beer while I do this without getting political.

The Declaration of Independence, written by a group of white men, in wigs, in a hot room in Philadelphia provides a worthy road map for us today. And while we could easily apply it to arguments on both sides of the Congressional aisle, I’m not interested. I have ears for our forefathers in the battles I face daily.

For example,  “a necessary for one people to dissolve political bands” is the right on message to dump toxic people from your life. Doesn’t need to be a British monarchy forcing taxation without representation for you to grab your own inner hero and say, “I’m out of this relationship”. The sooner each of us could do that, the healthier we’d be.

“...a decent respect to the opinions of mankind…” may be part of sentence out of context but should be a social media law. Can you imagine John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson tweeting about #largesignature or #gotslaves.  We relied upon these men, and their assumed shared respect, to establish our country. Undoubtedly, they had feelings about each other’s lifestyle but “respect to the opinions” still existed.

I’ll skip the portion of declaring these truths to be self evident, because I have no right to get to preachy. And I want to get to the juicy part of the rights being, “...Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness..

I love to live in the United States of America for one hundred million reasons, but in the top ten has to be that in our founding document we discussed “Happiness”.  Pursuit of this condition was listed as a right in this document. A. Right.

I’m no historian so honestly I have no idea if any other countries preach Happiness in their core values. I just know that my country does and I think that is awesome.

Here’s why: Happiness is hard to come by. The right to pursue it is a blessing. Declaring Independence from the thing or things that prohibit that pursuit is a battle that exists for all of us today. While flipping off the King of another country seems grandiose and untimely, facing down the evil that keeps us from “pursuing happiness” is here for all of us every day.  

And just as our forefathers stepped forward with bravery in their Declaration, each of us has to summon an equal amount of courage. To say no. To say yes. To ask for help. To pursue happiness. Get out of toxic relationships. Leave bad jobs. Tell your loved one you need more. Ask for forgiveness. Or grant it. Frankly, live like you are dying.

For me, as fireworks are already whistling out my window, I am going to embrace this Fourth of July holiday as many of us do the New Year, with resolutions. Hopespotters, join me in Declaring Independence from any and every thing that prohibits you from the pursuit of Happiness.  


 

 

Blessings

Good evening, Hopespotters! It has been awhile. Is there no greater equalizer than the passage of time and the inevitable busy-ness of life?

 

I bring you greeting from Hilton Head Island. My husband, boys, and I had the opportunity to get down here for five days leading up to the fourth. It has been extraordinary.Yesterday, I returned to the lovely home where we are staying. To be clear, it is a gift from the best friends I’ve ever had: right on the beach and with a pool. It is luxury beyond our wildest dreams. And we are so grateful for the kindness of our friends who share this home with us.

I returned after a “training run” which I was ill equipped to do in the 90 degree heat. My run was more like an attempt to avoid calls to 911 from the others on the trail. But I persevered and made it home. To the chaise. Where there was a breeze. And I had a wonderful book. My boys were playing in the pool and I was intoxicated by all the blessings around me. It made me very sleepy. Very. Sleepy….

 

“I DID!”

 

“NO, YOU DIDN’T!”

 

“SHUT UP!!”

 

“YOU SHUT UP!”

 

I awoke to a “spirited” sibling dispute. Ryan and Sean were having a dunk contest in the pool hoop Kevin built and there was a “disagreement” about Sean’s last attempt.  Foggy, I reminded myself that they needed to work it out. Ten minutes later, I was in full on Mom-psycho mode. The banter continued, neither retreating, and ended with Sean full on crying about hating his brother. While these scenes play out universally and daily, I lost patience for the interruption of peace. Both boys were sequestered and clear that Mom was angry.

 

With expletives deleted, a truce was reached and an agreement to go to lunch in South Beach. Knowing I still needed to “chill”, I opted to ride my bike and meet the boys there.

 

Allow me to explain: I love to ride a bike. I’m no cyclist, but give me a beach cruiser with a basket and I can really take on the world. When I was a little girl, I had a bike called the “Ramblin’ Rose”, complete with the Shop Rite flag, daisy adorned basket and horn. I would ride that girl up and down the streets of Chatham, New Jersey, pretending I was Wonder Woman and my invisible jet was in the shop. Even when I would visit my grandparents in Arizona, and the adults would be enjoying cocktail hour, I would be tearing up the flat terrain, attending to a “very special out of state mission”.

 

So hopping on the bike was an act of power on my part. I needed to channel my inner Wonder Woman after the hideous brother battle. As I pedaled through the Sea Pines bike trail, I calmed. Then I heard them, long before I saw them.

 

What I heard was wailing crying, and a Dad scolding. As I rounded the corner, I came upon the family. Dad, two beautiful blond girls, probably 7 &9, and Mom pulling up the rear, I didn’t know them, but at the same time, I did.

 

This gorgeous family, in a time of momentary upset, was less recognizable from their social media profile. I could have bet that the beautiful blond girls, crying with open mouths and shooting tears, have matching Lily Pulitzer dresses that they will wear for a Friday evening family photo at the beach. Parents will wear coordinating plaids and the perfect product will wind up on their Christmas card. The accompanying letter may even reference the family trip to Hilton Head, but for sure, it will not mention the trail of tears bike ride. The card might even say #blessed.

 

But my encounter with them was brief and I was only able to make a very few real observations. Girl #1, for example, wore a t-shirt that said, “Sunshine Girl”. Girl # 2, the louder crier, wore a shirt saying, “Sun-day, Fun- day”.  As I smirked at the irony or their shirts, I was delivered a double dose as Mom pulled up the rear. Carrying the inner tubes and beach bags, the stoic faced Mom biked along in a t-shirt that read, “Blessed”.

 

BLESSED.

 

As I chuckled at the ultimate irony of her t-shirt message, I started to think more about its meaning.

 

BLESSED.

 

Over the years, many of my patients in hospice have helped me reframe the meaning of blessed. As a young nurse, I couldn’t understand families that I met on the pronouncement of their loved one who could only tell me how blessed they felt. Really?, I thought. Your loved one is dead in the bed upstairs and you feel… blessed??

 

Those experiences, with the ironies of yesterday’s bike ride, led me to the following thoughts:

 

Maybe blessed is not the absence of disruption? Maybe blessed doesn’t exist without conflict or doubt? Maybe blessed, in its best form, is imperfect but coupled with a hearty dose of resilience?

 

As I thought deeper, blessings are originally from God above. God, taught us best about blessings. God understood that loving his children was difficult, followers would waver in support of Him, and maybe blessed is just enough to support and belief to endure suffering.  

 

BLESSED.

 

JUST ENOUGH.

 

I’m humbled tonight as Ryan and Sean play amicably and imagine the family on the bike path is preparing for their Friday night photo.

 

And the rest of us… may we be blessed..with perfect and imperfect and resilience.  AMEN.

Nostalgia and a love letter to Mountain Park Elementary School

The Yard Signs came today.

Yard signs were not a thing when I was growing up in the Northeast, so I am not sure if they are a Southern thing or a new thing. Yard signs, to be clear, are congratulations for students matriculating from one level to the next. Each May, neighborhoods around my community, will have yards with signs congratulating students graduating from elementary school, middle school and high school. While some may view these signs with the ‘participation trophy eye roll’, they are happy indicators of an achievement. A milestone achieved.

 

Those milestones, however, can be bittersweet for parents and the signs spiked in the yard can serve as the pointed reminder of the passage of time.

When the yard signs for elementary school came out today, many of my friends posted on social media with apologies for the nostalgia they were feeling. One friend, with sons finishing elementary and middle school, like mine, invited people to hide her posts for the next few weeks as she was “in her feelings” and would be sharing a lot of memories.

Friends in your feelings, share away. Each of us know the sting of time passing too quickly and the burn of leaving a safe and loving place. I think it is only through sharing that we can move on.

Sean’s yard sign, indicating his graduation from Mountain Park Elementary School, was the one I spiked in the grass today. Mountain Park has been an integral part of my life for the last ten years and I am in my feels about leaving.

April 9, 2008 was the first time I entered “MPES”. I remember because it was my birthday and Kevin and I were bringing both boys to see the house he was building. Ryan, four years old at the time, had barfed in the car and I needed to stop to get something to clean him up. Schools weren’t locked at that time and I walked in to find kind people happy to give me paper towels and water. Having two boys in car seats that day, the children in the cafeteria seemed huge, mature and capable!   

Approximately twelve months later, Ryan and I were back for kindergarten round up. This child who I felt was fresh out of my womb was practicing getting on a bus and touring a “media center”.  Surely the surreality was unique to me!

When I met his teacher at the “sneak peek” that summer, I really introduced myself with a bang. I can remember, with the embarrassment one feels when recalling a fall where you know you showed your underpants, telling Ms. Nicol, “Ryan is very smart. If he isn’t challenged appropriately, he is likely to be disruptive in the classroom. What can you tell me you will do to keep him challenged and on task?”

Insert universal teacher eye roll. I should have wound up in a red file cabinet labeled “A-hole parents”, but to my knowledge, I wasn’t. If I wound up in any special file, it was one called “first timer - loves her kid”. Ryan thrived in Kindergarten and in every class, every year for his tenure at Mountain Park.

Bringing Sean to Kindergarten was a different experience. I cloaked myself in experience. I knew the drill. I tried to ignore the fact that I was bringing a TOTALLY different kid with unique needs and talents. But that was ok. The faculty and staff didn’t ignore that. The best teachers in the world met Sean where he was, for who he is, identified his ADD and got him help to give him the best chance at success. I didn’t have to do anything but trust them. Which I did. Wholly and completely.

Looking out at the yard sign is so much more, however, than an inventory of Ryan and Sean’s teachers (each of whom were truly extraordinary) while at Mountain Park. It is a remembrance symbol of all the growth and change that has transpired since that first day I walked in needing paper towels.

For example, on that day, I was in my thirties, I was a full time Mom and I was sure of a lot of things. I didn’t have an iPhone (because they didn’t exist), Kevin was a builder and my dog was my beloved, Lillian.  I had no idea about the tearful thrill of spelling bee success (Ryan) and the tearful horror of early spelling bee defeat (Sean). (First timers who love your kids: beware of the spelling bee).

Today, I’m LATE into my forties. I work full time and I don’t know shit. I have two smart phones and a different house. Kevin’s building business and my beloved Lillian have died. But we have new things. Different things. Good things. Especially Bella.

But it isn’t just me that has evolved in these last ten years. When Ryan entered Kindergarten, Obama was president, we were carrying Blackberries and Oprah was still on TV. Epic events have occurred.

December 14, 2012. In Newton, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 children and six staff members were fatally shot by Adam Lanza. At the time, Ryan was a third grader and Sean was in Kindergarten. I remember the news breaking while I was at work at Piedmont Hospital. I thought about those babies at Sandy Hook who got on the bus that morning with Christmas presents and expectations for a fun day. I thought about those staff members who went to work every day with love in their hearts for the students but never having ANY idea how that might be tested. I thought about how Sandy Hook could easily be Mountain Park or Roswell North or any other vulnerable place of innocence in the United States. I thought about the children who were on the airplanes that flew into the Twin Towers. My heart broke in an irreparable way. Evil exists in this world and it is indiscriminate. Seeing the families in Newtown and their pain has never left me, even six years later. Because I would be willing to bet a lot of those Moms and Dads were in a file labeled: “First timers - love their kid”.

January 27, 2016. Snowmageddon. I remember being at work that day and telling my boss that I thought we needed to send our staff home because the roads were getting bad. My boss, my friend, now admits she “poo-pooed” my concern. Canceling a patient visit after observing the worsening road conditions, I headed straight to Mountain Park to collect Ryan and Sean ( 5th and 2nd grade). It was a harrowing 1.7 mile drive home but we made it together and sat in front of a fire before sundown. Many parents in the city weren’t as fortunate, however. Hundreds of parents were stranded on highways and side roads unable to go anywhere and get to their children. A nightmare. Mountain Park, however, handled it with its typical love and calm. A few staff members and our wonderful principal stayed at the school - OVERNIGHT- until each student was picked up and safe.

As a community, we’ve had to endure loss and grief. In Ryan and Sean’s years at Mountain Park, we’ve lost too many students. Sweet Creed Campbell died in Kindergarten and is remembered in a beautiful mural outside the Media Center. Finn Dana died suddenly in fourth grade and has his own reading corner in the Media Center. Another tragedy when Tristan Shupbach, fifth grader, died before his performance as Captain Hook in 2017. Other schoolmates have battled cancer, lost parents and siblings and one has to ask why? I can only say that for both of my sons, their exposure to grief and loss, which are inevitable life lessons, has been handled at Mountain Park with the highest level of empathy and healing. For that I am infinitely grateful.

Many times, when I speak to patients and families about hospice care, which is the next step in their journey, I can be admittedly impatient when they resist what I think they need. I know there is good in the next step. I know there’s nothing left for them in the level where they are. I can be quick to put them in an “A-hole” folder and not one more appropriately labeled, “First timers”.

Mountain Park and my sons’ elementary school experience has been more special and life changing than I can possibly explain. I am beyond blessed by every single educator that encountered my sons and changed them for the better. I say that without hesitation. I have SINCERE gratitude for the Mountain Park leadership/ administration that fosters this environment and I thank you all for raising me.

Mountain Park Elementary School has been my special and safe place for the past ten years. Unfortunately, my stay there is coming to a close. Age and time wait for none of us. I’m no longer a “first timer” but I’m still in a folder of “loves my kids”.

 

Tonight, I am offering thanks to which I can’t put words for everyone at Mountain Park. But I am also extending kindness and empathy for everyone who feels scared to leave a place that has provided care. There’s no yard sign that can make that feel a whole lot easier.

 

 

And to be clear, May 24 is Sean’s “graduation” from Mountain Park. To my other Moms “in the feels”, come find me in the fetal position at the back of the playground. To my other deeply loved friends facing their own ‘next place’, I’ll come find you.

 

“Never Stop”

I woke up this morning wondering why I do these things to myself. 

It is a beautiful Saturday and I have a fairly open schedule today; sleeping in and a leisurely start to the day were definitely possible. But no, not for me. I decided to sign up for a 4.2 mile “fun run” in honor of the Pat Tillman Foundation. People, I am six weeks away from a college reunion and I need to kick my fitness game into high gear. So with that in mind, when I heard about this event, I registered.

Today was race day and I was apprehensive. Did I really have it in me? Could I go this distance -which for me was not insignificant - without running out of gas? There was only one way to find out. 

I arrived to find the typical pre race activity. Music playing, tents from different sponsors spread around, people stretching and warming up. I felt the feelings I typically feel at these events: I don’t belong here. These other runners look strong and I don’t look or feel strong. But. I’m here. So let’s do this. 

The race began and I worked to find my position in the pack and keep my own pace. I had my music and I found my rhythm. Many of the other runners were obviously active or formerly active military. There was a lot of evident patriotism and camaraderie. I began to think about Pat Tillman, the man in whose honor we were running. 

Pat Tillman is a hero. He was football star for Arizona State University and went on to a successful career in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Mr. Tillman sacrificed his career to enlist in the military and trained to become an Army Rangers. He served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before he was tragically killed April 22, 2004. Posthumously, he received the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals.

I have always admired Pat Tillman’s story. While many of us watched in open mouthed horror the worst terrorist attack on American soil and felt helpless, Pat took action. He left a life that he worked hard to earn, but provided him wealth and fame, and chose to fight for our nation and defeat Al-Qaeda. Brave seems too small a word for his story. 

His mantra, “Never Stop” was emblazoned on all the runners T-shirts around me. The mantra represented his belief that carried him through two a days in football training camp and basic training when he enlisted. His number, 42, just like Jackie Robinson, has been retired by ASU and the Arizona Cardinals and is why today’s race, and the ones like it around the country, are 4.2 miles. 

So I ran thinking about things like bravery and sacrifice and fear and choice and I remembered someone I’d met yesterday at Northside Hospital. 

Yesterday, like so many days, I was called to Northside Hospital to speak with a family about hospice and palliative care. Not their best day, to be sure. As I walked to the elevator in the parking garage, I noticed him, next to the “YOU ARE ON P2” sign.

Let me explain this: the hospital is under construction. It is always under construction. When one arrives, you enter the parking garage on P4, but typically need to go to P2 or P1 before you can find a spot. Then you need to take the elevator to P5 to get to the main floor of the hospital which is ‘G’, not 1. How could anyone possibly be confused?

So when I saw him in front of the “YOU ARE ON P2” sign, holding a bright pink terry cloth duffle bag, and looking like he’d missed the chance to comb his hair that day, my spidey senses told me he was going to need some help. We got on the elevator together and my instincts were proven correct when he got off on P4, looked around and said, “this CAN’T be right” to no one, in particular. 

“Are you lost?” I said (a really loaded question, in hindsight…)

“They said she was on 4, but…”

“Right. We have to get to the hospital first. I’ll show you. I’m going there.”

My new friend got back on the elevator with me and the doors shut in front of us.

“425,” he said.

“OK,” I said.

We got off on P5 and began to walk towards the main hospital elevators. And then without any question from me, he said just one word.

“Leukemia,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

We walked some more in silence (it’s quite a trek) and then my friend seemed to awaken for a moment and he asked me if I was here to see someone or did I work at the hospital. When I started to explain to him that I’m a nurse that works with a hospice organization he recoiled as if I had opened my purse and pulled out a snake. I attempted to recover by explaining what an excellent hospital Northside is. As we arrived at the elevator bank, I happened to see his face as he looked at the directory on the wall and realized the fourth floor, where he would find room 425, was the medical intensive care unit. My new friend stiffened. His wife, the owner of the duffle bag he dutifully carried, was in a battle.

As we stepped on the elevator, I thought what a perfect place hospital elevators would be for a basket full of puppies because the tension can be thick. People wordlessly come on and off and ride up and down awaiting their deployment when the doors open and they are back in the fight. 

We stopped at the third floor and I explained it was my stop. I turned and touched my friend on the arm and wished him good luck. We made eye contact for just a second and I saw the look with which I’ve become awfully familiar.

It says I’m going to need more than luck. I’m scared. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t feel strong. I don’t have a choice. 

“KEEP GOING!!” “YOU’VE GOT THIS!” “YOU’RE AWESOME!”

I’m snapped back into my race as the volunteers who awoke today equally early, just to cheer us, provide the needed and appreciated encouragement for us runners. So very grateful for them. I kept running.

As I ran, I thought about Pat Tillman and my friend in room 425 at Northside and about all of us. 

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Pat Tillman awoke just like the rest of us- blissfully unaware of the horrors the day would hold. He was a remarkable competitive athlete, but he was just a man. But as an American, he was attacked that day, through no fault of his own, and nothing would ever be the same for him again. When he went to bed on September 10th, Pat Tillman had no idea he would be in Iraq or Afghanistan within a year and he certainly didn’t think he would be dead in the next three. September 11th he was called to battle, brought to unknown places and asked to be braver than he probably ever thought he could be. As he saw it, he didn’t have a choice. 

My friend I met yesterday isn’t all that different. His wife’s leukemia diagnosis was his September 11th and Northside Hospital is his Afghanistan. He, and his wife, are in a battle they didn’t ask for and they have to be braver than they ever thought they could be. And while my friend appeared somewhat disheveled at our encounter, who’s to say he isn’t the Pat Tillman of his field? Maybe he’s a captain of industry, maybe he’s an accomplished musician or published author. I have no idea  what he used to be, but I promise you that up until recently, he didn’t picture himself wandering lost in a hospital parking garage carrying a pink terry cloth duffle bag.

And what about the rest of us? What battles do we face day in and day out that may not be as dramatic as a terror attack or a devastating diagnosis, but tax us nonetheless? Whether it be challenges you face in your relationship, at your workplace, as a parent, don’t we all find ourselves lost on the battlefield of life at times, wondering if we’ve got what it takes to keep going.

Never Stop. Just like Pat Tillman said. And repeated. And reminded. Never Stop.

He also said, “Somewhere inside, we hear a voice. It leads us in the direction of who we wish to become. But it is up to us whether or not to follow.”

For Pat, the voice led him to fight for our country and he paid with his life. His everlasting legacy is legendary bravery. For my friend at Northside, I think the voice was leading him to do his very best to put one foot in front of the other, show up for his loved one, and take the hit. It’s really no less brave.

And for me, today, the voice led me across the finish line. I did have it in me.