"It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubborness of the inorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed." - Albert Einstein

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I aspire to a stubbornly incorrigible nonconformity. The degree to which I have achieved my aspiration I leave in the capable hands of those whose wisdom and humilty exceed my own.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Go Fly A Kite

My birthday was Monday August 13. I am fifty-six. I can remember a time when I thought that fifty-six was really old, like almost dead old. Now I think fifty-six is just about right. My body feels like I’m fifty-six but often my mind and attitudes are more like a six year old; in all the positive and negative manifestations you might imagine.

My wife and daughter asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. I have spent a disproportionate amount of my time the last few months thinking about what I can’t do. I try not to but it has been a struggle. There has been so much that my cancer has forced me to give up.

I also have a hard time asking for what I want. I find that I readily agree to do things I do not really want to do, don’t ask for what I really want, and then feel resentful about it; just like a six year old.

When my wife and daughter asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday I thought it might be a perfect opportunity to try something different – think about all the things I can do. It really just took my intention to make this happen. I actually found it much easier than I had expected.

I narrowed the options to two; play Frisbee golf or fly a kite. We decided that we would fly kites, since Frisbee golf is tied to a specific place and kites can be flown in a great variety of places. Of course, we had no kites on hand so it necessitated a kite shopping trip. We decided that we would go kite shopping and celebrate my birthday on the Saturday before the actual date.

On the Friday before my birthday celebration my wife reminded me that the people who are going to house sit for us while we are vacation are coming by on Saturday and perhaps we should go to a baseball game to celebrate my birthday instead. My first reaction was to revert to six year old mode. I was disappointed and a little petulant. My wife seemed a little too ready to abandon my birthday plans; I was resentful and on the verge of becoming unpleasant.

Then I remembered my Buddhist teacher’s instructions for dealing with my anger and frustrations, which have seemed to dominate my emotions for a while. I took a deep inhalation and I exhaled all of my anger and frustration. And it worked. I had another opportunity to do something different. I had an opportunity to problem solve and ask for what I wanted.

I suggested that we go kite shopping on Saturday morning, meet our house sitters in the afternoon, and since it is staying light out so late, fly kites on Saturday evening. Problem solved. I was free from petulant six year old mode and asked for what I wanted.

We went kite shopping on Saturday morning. I had previously notices a sandwich board out on Cascade Ave. advertising that a specialty bike and hobby store sold kites. We decided to go there first. I was a little shocked. The kites they sold were in the $300.00 to $400.00 range. I don’t know who spends $400.00 on a kite but not me.

Then we went to what has become my favorite toy and hobby store, where we probably should have gone first, Hooked On Toys. They had a nice selection of kites ranging from $3.00 to $30.00. At that price we got three kites, one for each of us.

Later that evening we went to a local elementary school with a large open field to fly our kites. Now you need to understand that we typically have breezy evenings. But this evening there wasn’t any wind at all, not a breath. I tried and tried but I couldn’t get my kite to fly. A six year old’s petulant temper tantrum was threatening; but I remembered to breathe.

“Oh well, we will take our kites on our vacation. We are going to be right by the beach and we’re sure to have wind there.”

I can still surprise myself. Even at fifty-six I can learn to do some things differently. I am proud of myself. And I will be flying my kite on my vacation.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Remember To Live

Saturday August 4, 2012 was a special day for our family. Alice, Becca, and I all got tattoos of the same phrase,"Ricordati Di Vivere," which is Italian for "Remember To Live." we all got the tattoo on different parts of our bodies. I got mine on my right forearm.

This was all initiated by Becca. Becca told me that she chose this phrase after looking for something suitable on the Internet. Becca said that she had been thinking of "Remember To Breathe" because Alice and Becca both periodically remind me to breathe. Then she came up with "Remember To Live." Becca was insistent that the phrase be tattooed in my handwriting so that she would always have a part of me with her.

I like to believe that I had at least a small part in the choice of phrase. Becca and I have had conversations about deeper and more spiritual issues over the last few months. We have had several conversations with me defending my desire to stay involved and active in my different things like Toastmasters or church committees even when I am not feeling so well. I have often said that I don't want to get to the end of my life and find out I haven't lived. What I mean is that I don't want to give up things that give my life meaning and purpose.

So much has been taken from me including, and especially, my own free will in so many decisions. I have lost my career as a social worker, which also means I lost my identity as a professional who was respected; I have lost the ability to eat or drink though I sometimes indulge myself with coffee; I have lost my ability to tell stories, at least the oral tradition of telling stories; I have lost the ability to speak forcefully and clearly; I even lost the ability to play golf. I really don't want to surrender my involvement and engagement with the different activities that make my life worth living.

Alice and Becca are quick to remind me that I am not going through this alone - every time I have to be hospitalized they have to go through it too. I am sensitive to that and I don't know how to resolve this dynamic tension. I don't think that I can satisfy my need for a meaningful and rich life with their desire to keep me safe and healthy.

But when I can stop and think, without all of the anger I have, without all of my anger and frustration at the unfairness of it all I can see that the only time I have is now and that it will be what it will be. I may intellectually understand and agree with that but I have not fully integrated that knowledge into my life and practice.

Just today for example my doctor put me back on antibiotics for yet another pneumonia and advised me not to participate in my Toastmasters meetings tonight and tomorrow morning or my committee meetings tomorrow. I came home with a lot of frustration and anger. My Buddhist teacher has given me a simple exercise to deal with my anger and when I tried it today it worked, for a while anyway, until I started thinking again. It's always that thinking that gets me. 

At least now I have a permanent and unmistakable reminder on my right forearm, remember to live.