2014 In Summary: 12 Months, 12 Pictures

The premise is simple:  Present 12 pictures to describe the highlights of your year.   No using pictures from previous blog posts.   It doesn’t have to be one picture per month, but try….   Go!

January - Tinkerbell Half Marathon with Natalie.  First race after being on crutches 8 weeks earlier.
January – Tinkerbell Half Marathon with Natalie. First race after being on crutches 8 weeks earlier.
February #1 - A Day with My Dad
February #1 – A Day with My Dad
February Shoe Selfie in France.  Early morning run before work.
February #2 – Shoe-selfie.  Early morning run in the light rain before work.
March - Along the  route of a run near Nyon Switzerland
March – Along the route of a run near Nyon Switzerland. Note the hidden Mickey
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March #2: Earthquake! Motorcycle saved the car from being hit by the bookshelves

 

Big Sur Marathon
April – Big Sur Marathon
May Billy Joel with my Uptown Girl
May Billy Joel with my Uptown Girl
June in Century Park, Shanghai
June 5- Run in in Century Park, Shanghai
July - Chicago:  Notice how adjacent flags blow opposite directions
July – Chicago: Notice how adjacent flags blow opposite directions
August - Ironic Mom was in town to try our California Tea
August – Ironic Mom was in town to try our California Tea with lime
September - The Child on Long Beach, New York.  Visiting Grandpa
September – The Child on Long Beach, New York. Visiting Grandpa
December: Resting up for Xmas Excitement
December: Resting up for Xmas Excitement
2014 In Summary: 12 Months, 12 Pictures

December 7, 1941

The names of the men who went to their death aboard the USS Arizona
The names of the men who went to their death aboard the USS Arizona

Of the 2,402 Americans killed during the 3 hour attack at Pearl Harbor, half were aboard the USS Arizona.

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

I really cannot write anything more poignant that what is presented in image below of the crew of the Carl Vinson arriving in Pearl Harbor back in 1999 as they were about to salute the crew of the Arizona.

Crew of the USS Carl Vinson 1999
Crew of the Carl Vinson coming Into port in 1999

God Bless the soldiers of our military.  Whether you agree with their politics or not, pray for the men who direct them.

December 7, 1941

Big Sur Marathon 2014

To Quote Meredith:

“I think there are two types of people in this world:

People who run marathons, and people who do not.

I do not think you actually have to run or have run a marathon to be the type of person to run a marathon.  You simply have to be the type who believes in the possibility of going the distance.  You must have stamina; endurance; a belief in things greater than yourself.  You must have faith.”

 

Me of Little Faith
Prior to the Big Sur Marathon, a series of injuries left me with little faith in my abilities to run 26.2 miles.  I tested my body a few weeks before the race and my body unambiguously demonstrated its lack of readiness.   The smart thing to do would have been to skip the race. The problem with giving up before you start, “in the name of being smart” is that it creates a slippery slope wherein one can become so smart as to never do anything ever again. Better to fail than be too smart to start; far better to fail than live afraid of failing.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
Jack Kerouac

I can’t write words to describe the beauty and majesty of the Big Sur Marathon.  Very simply, there are 5 miles of running through redwood forests and then about 19 miles of this:

IMG_4578

As beautiful as God made this race course, he also made it brutally difficult with a series of small hills that go on and on and on.   There were a total of 2200 feet of climb throughout the 26.2 mile course.  That’s about 1 foot of climb for every word in this blog post.  About 500 feet of that climb came in a single unrelenting 2 mile stretch.

Elevation Profile for the Big Sur Marathon
Elevation Profile for the Big Sur Marathon

Getting There
The man sitting next to me on the flight up the California coast was going to Monterey to golf.  As we chatted, I explained that most of the flight was filled with svelte athletes who had run the Boston Marathon just days before as part of a coast to coast challenge.  When the guy realized I was running the race as well, he looked me the eye and said, “You’re a runner?  You don’t look like a runner. THEY look like runners“.  I smiled and kept my response to myself.

IMG_4498Within 30 minutes of touching down,  I claimed my bib and was walking the streets of Monterey shopping for food and fluid stocks to get me through the next 24 hours. I sat in an empty English pub for a while watching the owner cut what seemed to be a hundred limes for serve with days drinks.  I ate, and nursed a Smithwicks while reading Kerouac and taking a physical and emotional self inventory.  I flashed back to the Santa Barbara marathon 5 months prior when I injured my knee.  Self-doubt not only took up residence in my mind, but it refurnished the place and spray painted the walls with the words:

You don’t look like a runner.  THEY look like runners

I hailed a cab to my hotel and held up there until it was time for bed. At the appointed hour of 2:45 in the blessed am, my sister called me from England to find me already up and hydrating.   I sat in a hot bath for about 30 minutes as I had all week in hopes of getting my calves loose.   By 3:45am I was on a shuttle bus to Big Sur.

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The race staging area was dark, chilly and crowded. It was all rustic without basic creature comforts like cell service. I socialized with the other runners but after a while, I pulled out my copy of Kerouac and started to read, if only for the bohemian novelty of reading Big Sur in Big Sur. I looked up at the early morning sky and tried to filter out all the noise of the generators and the runners in hopes of just feeling the native energy of these dark woods. I got nothing.  Either they weren’t transmitting or the noise inside me was too loud.  Eventually, I packed everything away, checked my bag and made my way out onto the starting line on California’s Highway 1.

I can totally do this!  Maybe
I can totally do this! Maybe

I stood near the back of the crowd of 4,000 runners, filled with both anticipation and dread. Six weeks prior, I couldn’t complete 4 miles and now there were 26.2 in front of me.  This race could end very quickly for me. Before I knew it we were underway running through Redwoods.

The Big Sur Marathon reminded of a trail race, not only because of the hills, but because of the immersion in nature.  Through most of the race there was dirt strip off each side of the road.  My wife describes the benefit of running on trail is that the earth absorbs the impact.  Although it’s more work, running on dirt is much easier for me mentally than is running on asphalt.   Marathon running is in fact, as mental much as it is physical, even more so when one is injured.

IMG_4521
Near the end of the Redwood Forest

The other way this race reminded me of a trail run was that there were no spectators for most of the course.   Highway 1 was shut down while this race was underway making this the antithesis of the famed First Avenue of the New York Marathon.   There were no spectators, no signs, no cowbells, no cheering, only runners, horses, cows, the ocean, the occasional bridge, breathtaking views and God.  Lots and lots of God.

The Transition
Beware of Flying Cows

At mile 4, I pulled over to slow down and walk a bit.   My right calf quivered, spasmed momentarily and started barking at me like a crazed neighbor in a tenement, “HEY!  I will seized up!  Don’t slow down! MOVE! “;  on the plus side, I had a really fast (for me) first 9 miles.

The Mile 5 marker signified the end of the protection of the redwoods. Beyond the sign, the world changes from  redwood forest to exposed Pacific coastline. On a bad day that could mean a miserable headwind.   This was a good day with overcast skies, cool temperatures and no cows blowing by.

On the Ragged Edge of the Western World
On the Ragged Edge of the Western World

The Big Sur Marathon is accurately marketed as a race “on the Ragged Edge of the Western World”.  When the redwoods gave way to the sea, things shifted for me.   I was grateful to have made it that far.  I started to feel like my old running self again.   The worry passed and I started to enjoy myself.   I started to believe there was a chance I could do this.   My knee hurt a bit, my calf hurt a bit, but I was bee bopping along pretty well (bee bopping, that’s a highly technical runner term).

Running the Trail
Off Roading

I was moving in a crowded cohort of runners.   There was an older Irish lady with a sign indicating she was running her 99th marathon.   We kept passing each other as I was generally faster, but she was more consistent (think rabbit and the hare).   There was also that young couple in the maroon Minnesota Golden Gopher shirts.  Evey time I would come up behind them, I had to say “Go Gophers” in my best Minnesota accent.   The very last time I saw them he was standing guard as she was taking a bathroom break behind a big bush.   I couldn’t resist yelling out, “Going Gophers!”.  He laughed.

Look Back
A GPS can tell you the distance you’ve traveled but looking back shows you the beauty of where you’ve been in a whole new way.     This race is beautiful both forward and backward looking.  You miss half the views if you don’t look back.

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Remembering to Look Back
Remembering to Look Back

Miles 5 to 10 went joyfully for me. Then came the 2 mile climb to Hurricane point at 15% grade (that’s serious).  The memorable thing about that transition to the long hill was that the song Sweet Caroline came on my running music right at the start.  I had asked one of my Scotland tweeps, Barbara to recommend a song to add to the playlist.  Her contribution interrupted the usual order of my marathon music and I found myself singing Neil Diamond as I started my climb.  I sounded like an idiot, at the Sweet Caroline crescendo, but I just didn’t care. I was taking the hill….until I wasn’t.

“The only truth is music.” ― Jack Kerouac

IMG_4544
The view when Sweet Caroline Came On.

I ran as much as I could up that 2 mile hill and then I walked and then my calf tightened and then my knee tightened.   Things turned ugly really quick.  The next 3 miles took me 45 minutes to complete. I used this time to eat the nuts and chocolate I carried with me.  I normally wait until later in the race, but I was moving so slowly that this seemed the perfect time. When I finally got over the hill, my leg was too tight to run and I had to walk down the hill.   I was angry, but I had the Bixby bridge, half-way point in my sites and to me, that was like water in the desert.

IMG_4596The Bixby Bridge
Most marathons have a sign that show you when you have reached the halfway point.  This race offers the unusual highlight of a serenade by Monterey’s own composer/pianist, Michael Martinez.  Michael’s music marathon greets all the runners from first to last as they cross the bridge.   He was playing Paul Simon as I approached the line for a picture with him.  After I got my photo, I wanted to wait and listen and take the scene in.  I struggled, because I was in the middle of a timed race and taking videos of the ocean with Michael playing in the background was not conducive to a personal best race time or in my case, finishing before the course closed.    I  make peace with the delay, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish this race, so I might as well enjoy this moment of my life.   I wondered if the people in first and second place stopped to enjoy the music and take a picture.   I wondered if they got any good selifies as they pushed each other along.   Did they just zoom by the piano and did Michael play the William Tell Overture?  Who knows?   I am just glad that wasn’t my experience.  I was just out for a long run, with a time limit.  Next time though, I will ask him if he knows any Grateful Dead.

On the Bixby Bridge
On the Bixby Bridge

Big Sur Marathon Part II
After the intermission on the Bixby bridge, I was moving slowly, but moving.   It struck me that I had no idea what waited in store the rest of the race.  I am a planner, I usually have my long races well scouted and researched.   Not this time.   I had been so focused on getting to the half-way point, that I didn’t have a plan for the rest of the race and the rest of the race was all hill after hill after hill after hill after hill. I withdrew deep into myself and  kept going.  For the rest of the race, I only interacted with runners I saw needing of encouragement.    As I ran I thought.  I realized that all four of the marathons I had participated all touched the Pacific Ocean, none so much as this one.

IMG_4595
Pacific fury flashing on rocks that rise like gloomy sea shroud towers out of the cove – Kerouac

Walking Blues
I had set my GPS to display only distance and total pace.   I didn’t want to be distracted by the time, but I needed to be aware of my pacing  in order to stay ahead of the course closures.    About Mile 17, my head started doing the math and I realized that had enough time banked that I could walk at a 18 minute/mile pace for the next 9 miles and still finish before the race closed.    I didn’t like entertaining this idea, because it gave me an excuse not to try my very best.   That being said, I was having trouble maintaining any kind of sustained run either up or down the small hills.  By mile 19, I redid the math and gave in and started power walking/limping the rest of the race.  Walking went against what I believed I should be doing, but I was just going to frustrate myself trying to continue running, as had no kick left.   Eventually, I settled on the idea that as long as I finished, walking the rest of the marathon was just an alternative way to succeed.  Acceptance was the answer to all my problems at that moment.

I have been fooling myself all my life thinking there was a next thing to do to keep the show going and actually I’m just a sick clown and so is everybody else…” Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

The Race Marshals
The Race Marshals and the CHP

Death on the Race
About mile 21, I came across a scene.  Paramedics were working on the side of the road on someone.   The runners were diverted to a narrow single lane and our view of what was going on was blocked.  A blocked view is never a good thing; I’ve been around enough races to know that this was out of the ordinary and I’ve been in enough Emergency Rooms to recognize that blessing and a prayer was in order.  As it turns out, though a nurse and doctor were immediately on scene one of the volunteer race marshals collapsed and died at that spot.

O why is God torturing me, that’s it, be a loner, travel, talk to waiters, walk around, no more self-imposed agony…it’s time to think and watch and keep concentrated on the fact that after all this whole surface of the world as we know it now will be covered with the silt of a billion years in time…― Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

Best Strawberries EVA'!
Best Strawberries EVA’!

Strawberries
I had heard about the strawberries on the Big Sur Marathon.  I had heard that they were fresh and delicious.  Given that I have strawberry fields around my home, I didn’t take much note of it. I had passed on the orange stations during the LA Marathon in observance of the rule that one should never eat on a marathon what one hasn’t eaten during training.   As I was at mile 23 and they were there, I indulged and I am so very happy I did.   These were great strawberries. The flavor exploded in mouth.   I wanted to only have two and I ended up finishing a good half-dozen before leaving the station.   It was a highlight.

“In Strawberries, take note of best producing runners—cut down the others.”- Jack Kerouac in a 1953 letter to Carolyn Cassady  (Note: by Strawberries, he means marijuana)

Post Race Selfie in the Race Shirt
Post Race Selfie in the Race Shirt

Results
I crossed the finish line in a marathon personal worst 6 hours and 3 minutes.  To be fair, this was the hardest of the four marathons that I have run, San Francisco included.  I also started in the worst shape of any marathon with no training runs exceeding 15 miles and virtually no running in the final weeks. I was happy to have found a way to finish.   I was tired, limping and I had strained my abdominal muscles and a quad muscle power walking, but I finished.  In truth I was disappointed, not so much in the performance, but in the shape my body started the race in.

The course officially closed about 15 minutes after I finished.  I sat, stretched, ate and called as the volunteers began to take down the tents.  The show was definitely over.   I made my way out to the shuttle bus area and waited in a small group.  A lady recognized me from the race and jokingly commented to the small group how at the start of the race I was chatty and happy and at the end of the race I was laser focused and dead serious.  I smiled and in my mind, thanked her for the feedback.

There were only two of us on the full length bus back to my hotel.  The bus driver was released for the day now that we the stragglers were done.  I showered, soaked my legs in the cold pool, and went for lunch.  I hung out in the hotel the rest of the day because I had another early wakeup call the next day.  The travel home was another full adventure.

Aftermath
Although I deeply enjoyed the experience, I spent about six months being disappointed in my performance at this race hearing those words again, “You don’t look like a runner.  THEY look like runners“.   This past week I finally decided to check out my certificate of completion.  I finished 222nd out of 433 people in my age division. That’s a whole lot better than I would have guessed (I suspect they count those that did not finish).  Overall, I finished in the bottom 26% of the race participants, that was better than the bottom 3% I would have thought.  I guess to be a marathon runner, stubbornness will suffice in lieu of faith.   It also helps if one sanity checks with the actual statistics.

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“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”
Jack Kerouac

Bound to Cover Just a Little More Ground

Big Sur Marathon 2014

Comments From the Dead

A few days ago, I recycled an old Facebook profile picture.   It was a no big deal, something I did on a whim.   When I looked at the picture on my phone today, I realized that there was a comment there from last May from my half-sister, Liz.

My New FB Profile

Liz has since passed away.   Then this morning, there she was again.  Out of the blue, her avi showing Jesus knocking on the door.

I’ve come across a few of Liz’s comments in other posts in the six weeks since she died.   I’ve also come across a few cards and letters.

Sometimes they pop up out of  no where like little reminders from her that she was here.
Sometimes they pop up like little emotional ice-buckets challenges, shocking me to the reality that she is gone

…..and yet her words of encouragement live on.  What a blessing.

Comments From the Dead

Double Plus Tweetup

Enrich your life with family and friends who will be there for you in good times and bad.   Meb Keflezigh et al., Run to Overcome

I had to fly to Minnesota in October for a 6-hour meeting.  Loathsome was the idea of the travel days, yet the silver lining was the opportunity to catch up with Tweep Kat and her husband, Marcus.

Definition Tweetup: When two or more people from Twitter meet up, usually for socializing usually involving the consumption of food or in some rare special occasions, beverages.

In the odd confusing world that is social media, Kat is a tweep most dear.   She has a down to earth, joie de vire that just makes her a delight to be around.  She also is the author of  Tenaciously Yours, a blog which among many other things every Friday features Kat’s latest culinary creations.  As much as I detest the practice of defining a person in terms of another person (e.g.  Julie is Karen’s mother), Marcus, despite being cool in his own indefinable way, can best be described as the perfect life-mate for Kat.

Air travel these days being like an old, mishandled box of chocolates,  you never know what you are going to get, but the downside risk exceed the upside.  I contemplated all the options to get from Southern California to Minneapolis.  The smartest choice was to drive to LAX and fly to Minneapolis directly.   There was also an option to fly out of Orange Country airport through Denver.  The day would be longer, but there wouldn’t be that annoying drive to LAX, the worst major airport in the civilized world.

Side Note: All travel is about risk mitigation.  Carry bags  mitigate the risk of a lost luggage.  Direct flights mitigate the risk of missed connections.   One never wants to have unnecessary legs without a good reason, especially in winter months.

Every major petty decision in life requires a tweet.  As I was deciding how to get to Minnesota,  another valued Tweep/blogger, Piper Bayard offered to drive out to the  airport for a quick tweetup should I decide to fly through Denver.  I would also describe Piper as unique. She and I are different on many levels, yet we seem to resonate on the same frequency, if you understand what I mean.  I think that’s more a function of her nature than it is of mine. She is a recovering lawyer and now author of two items on my Kindle, the book Firelands and a very imaginative piece in the Risky Brides collection of novels and novellas.  Both books are available on Amazon.

I had to think about Piper’s offer for a few days, weighing the unnecessary risks of flight delays and the potential delays related to clearing security in Denver.  Having made the commitment with Kat and Marcus upon my arrival in Minneapolis, I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk being late.  After I finished over thinking it , I simplified it down to , “someone was willing to come out and see me at the airport, I should be grateful”.   And with that, I scheduled two tweetups within 5 hours of each other in two separate states. “Crazy Making” is what my wife refers to this desire to fit as much into as little time as possible.

With Author Piper Bayard in Denver Airport
With Author Piper Bayard in Denver Airport

The flight from Santa Ana to Denver went off without a hitch.  I caught up with Piper for tea.   We had about an hour to catch up on her recent travels, having teenagers, being children of the 60’s in the modern world.   We also talked about an upcoming book that she and her partner Jay Holmes  are writing involving a special protagonist. Before we knew it, we were taking the requisite selfies and saying goodbye… for now.

The flight to Minneapolis was also unremarkable and I quickly found the location of our tweetup.   I was an hour early so at Kat’s advice I took a walk down to the Mississippi River.

One of a Dozen Pictures of Trees I took in Minneapolis
One of a Dozen Pictures of Trees I took in Minneapolis

It was a short 10 minute walk toward the river and I marveled at the turning leaves in the neighborhood. It was important to me to see the Mississippi again.  In my life have seen or crossed the Mississippi river at ground level in 6 of the 10 states it flows through, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee , Iowa, Illinois and Louisiana.  I don’t think I will ever forget looking up at the Mississippi river when I was in New Orleans.

The Mighty Mississipi in the North
The Mighty Mississippi River in the North, “when it is still clean” as Marcus pointed out.

I met up with Kat and Marcus at the designated eatery.   The place was a clear winner from a food perspective as it had good beer, fried veggies, and cheeseburgers with the cheese contained within the burger (and they think Everything’s up to date in Kansas City!).

The Cheese was inside the burger
The Cheese was inside the burger

I think social media confuses my brain.  I hadn’t seen Kat and Marcus in over a year, yet through tweets, Facebook and Instagram, it felt like just a couple of weeks, although that could just be the whole life moving faster thing.   We caught up on the things one doesn’t necessarily tweet or post about and shared a meal and a beverage.   It was just good to be around them again.

Post Tweetup Pic with Kat and Marcus
Post Tweetup Pic with Marcus and Kat

 Accomplish something every day and give thanks for the ability to do it. ~ Run to Overcome

After leaving the two coolest people in Minnesota (and possibly all the mid-West), I headed for my Holiday Inn Express in Chanhassen.   I checked in a very  comfy, clean (sterile) and spacious room.  After calling home to check in and putting all the devices to charge, the available options were to check email or watch TV.

There is an emptiness about being in a chilly hotel room when there is nothing left to do in the day, not even eat.   It’s what I call a “now what do I do?” moment.  The feeling of being alone is magnified ten-fold when there is nothing to get done and there are no travel companions to hang out with.  I suspect there is a madness that comes from being in that place for too long.

I sat in the comfy hotel chair with just a single light on in the room and put The Dream Academy’s Life in a Northern Town on repeat (see video below).  I thought about the people I was lucky enough to catch up with today, both at home and on the road.  I thought about the role some of these dear and other people on Twitter hold in my life.  There’s that lady in Scotland, and that guy who just ran his first NY marathon following his multiple hip surgeries.  He has a new girlfriend and she’s a Yankee fan! There is that one lady who recovered from cancer and the one training for the marathon in a few days.  There’s that doctor in Canada, trying to match up for a residency and that other Canadian lady who after finishing her P.h.D. married and just had a baby.  Then there is that certain one in Bahrain and the newlywed who married that special lawyer, FINALLY!  These are all real people and their stories and struggles are better than anything television can dream up.  In social media as in life, there are opportunities that one lets pass by and those one creates time to share a beverage with.

Double Plus Tweetup

13

I ran 13+miles today.   Because of calf and knee problems, I haven’t run 13 in the last six months and very few times in the months prior.

I am a Marathoner and I will not be stopped
I am a Marathoner and I will not be stopped

Not lost on me is the fact that this Veteran’s day weekend  marks a year since all these problems started,  during mile 4 of the Santa Barbara Marathon.    After the race, I couldn’t walk and spent the next week on crutches.   I couldn’t run on my right knee for about 45 days after that.

By late January, I was back on the road, able to slowly run a half marathon, but not able to run consistently.

Totally Faking It
Faking it (kind of) last January, during a Disney Half.

In April I ran the Black Mountain trail run and my calf cramped up about 1/3 the way into the difficult 9 mile trail.   Then later that month I willed myself through the beautiful Big Sur Marathon.

Since then, I’ve been impatiently healing.    I’ve tried running with little success and my tennis game has been limited by what movements my knee will and will not make.  Some nights, I haven’t been able to bend down to pick up the tennis balls, let alone stay low to hit groundstrokes.

But I started running again last month.  It hasn’t gone too well.  I’ve had shin and knee problems with all my musculature being out of whack.

I’ve tried to limit my runs to 3 to 5 miles max with time to recover in between.  I used to hate 3 miles runs, because they weren’t long enough for the requisite shower afterwards.   Now I am grateful to be able to run at all.

So much is made in running about always getting better and only competing with yourself.  My truth is that I am not as good as I was a year ago, but I am damn sure better than I was nine months ago.

My tennis legs were really strong and fast last Friday.  I didn’t really recognize myself.   Today I went out for my 3 to 5 mile run and again, my legs were strong and my cardio was better than it had been in quite a while, so I kept going.   At the end of mile 6, I stopped for an ice tea and a bagel, mostly because I didn’t bring water or gels for what should have been a short run.   After I came out from my break, I had a choice between running into the hills of Yorba Linda or taking the easier, flat 3 mile run home.   I chose the former and was so very glad I did. I hadn’t taken hills that easily in years.

Chris Rock was on Saturday Night Live a weekend ago and he commented that the marathon distance of 26.2 miles is a long way to drive, let alone run.  Truth be told, the first prerequisite to running a marathon is the belief that one can run a marathon.  That first prerequisite being met, one must have the proper equipment to handle demands that 26.2 miles puts on the body.

I only ran 13+ miles today, but I believe that had I brought gels, water and eaten breakfast, these legs could have taken me 20 miles easily.  If the good Lord never gives me another day like today, I will be disappointed, but I will always be grateful for today.

13

A Morning of Mourning

Wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a hockey jersey, I sat out in the morning air waiting for the sunrise.  I gave myself that hour before I would wake up my family and give them the news.

One of my earliest memories was my dad driving us down the Long Island Expressway on a cold, dark, night in the late 1960s.   My half-sister, Liz was sitting on the middle (hump) of the back seat of the black Cadillac and I had my feet up against the side of the car and my head rested in her lap  (that tells you how little I was).  I laid there as Liz stroked my hair, comforting me.  It had been a long day and I was “little kid” tired.  I remember dark sky discolored by the reflections of the lights bouncing off the snow laden clouds and then I fell asleep.
As I sat reflecting this morning, I checked my iTunes and couldn’t find the Doors, so I had to go to Spotify to put “Waiting for the Sun” on repeat.  I thought about the lady I sat next to last Friday on a flight from Minneapolis to Denver.  She told me of the medical problems that her son had since birth.   I told her about little man with the beautiful smile we lost to cancer back in 2010. Then  I told her about Liz and her bout with cancer.  I told her of the aggressive tumor and how my father, now in his late 80’s was taking her for chemo.  It was the first time I really spoke about Liz’s condition.  This lady’s compassion for my father was striking.
Probably 15 years ago, after not seeing Liz for quite a number of years, I stayed over at my Dad’s house.  Liz was always an early riser and I found her sitting on the side of my bed waking me up to ask me if I was a Christian.  Dazed, I remember telling her, “I’m a good little Catholic boy”.  Christ was very important to Liz.

I woke up early this morning about 4:45am like someone had simultaneously turned on all the lights in the house.  I got up and made my way to the living room.  I had called my dad a few times yesterday to check on Liz but wasn’t able to reach him.  She was hospitalized after an infection set in following her last chemo.  I knew my half-brother had headed to see Liz, so I sent him a message on WhatsApp before I went to bed.   This morning there was a message from him at 2:56am saying that “Liz passed away just now“.

I went outside to feel the cool air on my skin.  I negotiated with myself for a while, but once it was irrefutable that  the sun was up, I went in and told my wife.   Then we told my daughter.  That was when I lost it.   We just saw Liz less than a month ago on a visit to New York. We arrived just after she completed a chemo session, so we didn’t want to stay to long, but we got to say hello, or goodbye as it turns out. I had to go into work today, not out of any obligation, but I needed something to focus on and focus I did though I found myself struggling with my role as a half-sibling.  I struggled with the memories that came back.   Siblings, you know them your (or their) entire life.  

My wife checked in on me later in the day.   Last week I saw a really neat card about Angels being all around us.   I picked it up and made a point to mail it to my daughter before leaving for the airport.   Was it coincidence that the angel card arrived on the day Liz died?   It just reminded me that everything happens according to God’s plan, and even when we don’t know, we know.

Rest in Peace Elizabeth Marie Herrera.

A Morning of Mourning