Monday, September 19, 2011

Play in the Light

I could complain that I'm coming down with a cold, and that I feel lousy, blah blah blah. But honestly, who cares? It's a cold. Just a cold. And even though I feel hot and cold, with a scratchy throat and one plugged nostril, I'll survive. It just seems so lame to complain about something like a cold, especially when overall, knock on wood, I have my health.

Colds don't scare me. But you know what? Cancer scares me. It scares the bejeezus outta me. And just last week, New Haven lost one of its own--a dad, a husband, a friend to many--to that evil disease. He was in his mid-30s. He had started to feel better. But the cancer spread. And that was that. I didn't know him all that well, but Ian sure did.

So cancer scares me. Accidents and mishaps scare me, too. And addictions really scare and upset me (some people I know in recovery describe alcoholism as being beaten to death by bunnyrabbits). Basically, I'm a kind of afraid of all progressive and/or terminal illness in anyone under the age of, oh, 80. It scares me because THERE IS SO MUCH LIFE TO LIVE. It seems cruel and unfair that some of us get a bigger slice of the pie when it comes to longevity in this awesome world. But then again, some people live eight or nine decades and spend most of that time complaining. While others are given far less and yet enjoy it so much more.

But a parent leaving too soon? Or a parent out-living a child? These things just seem so cruel. And so unfair. And scary. Because we don't know what the future holds. That uncertainty, that mystery is both frightening and exhilarating. It's what makes life...Life. It inspires us to live while we can (or at least it hopefully inspires that in people). There are no guarantees. And while logically I know that and, for the most part, celebrate it--for that's what makes life such an adventure--I also have a hard time accepting it. Maybe I'm just a control freak. But I just don't like the fact that human life is so, so fragile. I don't like the fact that at some point I'll have to go, and I will miss out on the next smiles and laughter of loved ones. I will miss the next baseball season, the next summer of sand and surf, the next fall of apple picking and baking, the next Christmas, the next spring and its promise of rebirth.

But I guess that uncertainty is what motivates most of us to get all Carpe Diem on life, right? Rage, rage against the dying of the light! To be truthful--not morbid, just realistic--that light is dying for all of us. So instead of cowering in the face of darkness, celebrate the light. Live in it. Don't just exist.

When I was a kid, I had this obviously misguided idea that once I was an adult, things would go my way. I would carve out the life I wanted to live, and I would live it. And nothing would get in the way of that, and I would be happy. Nothing could make me sad. Life would take its course, I would have used my talents to the best of my ability, and then when it was Time, I'd head up to that Big Cloud Party with St. Peter.

Hint: That's not the way it works. I didn't count on the times I'd be disappointed or that I'd disppoint others--and myself. I didn't count on losing friendships, and I definitely didn't count on burying some people so soon.

But guess what else I didn't count on? How resilient I would be in the face of change and uncertainty. I also didn't count on how self-reliant I would prove to be. I didn't expect to accept the loss and sadness that steamrolled my way for a little while there, but I did. I accepted it. Because the only way around stuff is through it, right? It's the only way we grow. It's uncomfortable and icky. But we are always stronger for it.

If we curl up in a ball on the couch and lament all the things that have gone wrong, rather than look at how we've perservered though those things, we'll become depressed. If we curl up in a ball on the couch and lament all the things that CAN go wrong rather than look at all the life there is to live despite the inherent risks in living, well, then we'll become anxious. And if we're depressed or anxious, we'll miss out on Living. I don't want to miss out on anything.

This week there is a memorial service for our friend who just lost his battle with cancer. Also this week there is a family picnic at my children's school, my first night of classes for my teacher certification program, my 20th high school reunion, a wedding, and a birthday party. It's almost comical the range of emotion and celebration of life's stages we can go through in a single week--or even in a day.

And it doesn't end there. Next month, there is a fundraiser for my next-door neighbors and good friends, the Kellehers. Jimmy, Mary's husband and father of two young boys, was diagnosed with MSA last year. The financial and emotional toll that diagnosis has taken on the family is pretty brutal. And yet, they smile through it. Why? Because every day is still a new day.

The day after that, we're participating in an Alzheimer's fundraising walk with our next-door neighbors on the other side of our house. Florence, who is 82 and my beloved neighbor, was just moved to a home that can adequately care for and manage her disease. Her daughter and son-in-law, who also live next to me, did all they can and then some for a few years. So together, we'll walk. Mary's going to join us. And at some point that same weekend, we'll celebrate my little brother's 15th birthday.

The ups and downs of life are more easily navigated with a little reassurance from faith, at least for me. Yesterday at Mass, Deacon Marty--former NHFD Chief and current professor at University of New Haven--said the following: "Whether God calls us early or calls us late, He still calls us." We have to trust that when our time is up, it's up. And that it is all good because it is God's plan.

As I get older, I am increasingly grateful for my faith. Truth is, I wasn't always there for it, but it was always there for me. My mother made sure I had the foundation I needed. If I walked away from it, at the very least I would walk away intelligently, with basis for a difference of opinion. But just as easily as I can walk away from it, I can come back to it. And, dogmatic differences aside, I came back to it.

Tonight, I'll gather my first-grade CCD class in a circle on the rug in the center of the classroom. We'll start the class with a Hail Mary. Then we'll go around the room and each describe one thing we saw or experienced today that reminded us of God's love. And then we'll talk about the changing leaves on the trees and the cycle of seasons, all illustrative of cycle and beauty of Life.

There is no better way to honor our own lives or the memory of others who have gone before than to savor every moment, to recognize it all as a gift. So unwrap it. Tear into the box. Play with it until there's nothing left.


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