I’d Like to Get to Know You

My daughter, Lindsey, and I made a quick trip to the grocery store and went our separate directions in search of the few items we needed. As I headed toward the checkout stand my daughter found me. She had a look on her face that I couldn’t quite figure out. I asked her if she had found what she needed and she responded, “Kinda, and I just had the weirdest experience.”

“I was looking for something and this woman walked straight up to me and said, ‘Those shirts are ONLY for survivors!’ At first, I didn’t even know what she meant and then I realized I was wearing my Relay for Life Survivor’s shirt. I just looked at the woman and quietly said, ‘I am a survivor.’ ”

I immediately asked, “What did she do? What did she say?”

Lindsey said “She just mumbled, ‘Oh, . . . sorry,’ and walked off.

The protective mother bear in me wanted to hunt the woman down and give her a “How Dare You!” speech.

Lindsey broke my mounting fury by saying, “It clearly never crossed her mind that kids get cancer too.” For some reason that immediately softened me. I realized how quick I am to judge based on assumptions I’ve made and realized I’m right there with that woman.

It’s a lot easier to group people together and make broad assumptions than it is to get to know people as individuals. She could have asked Lindsey about her connection with Relay for Life in that moment. Just as I can take the time to get to know people rather than make broad, sweeping assumptions about people because they’re Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Buddhist, White or Black, Young or Old.

I believe the labels we put on people blind us. You see, Lindsey was wearing shorts that day along with her Relay for Life Survivor’s t-shirt. If the woman had looked at all of Lindsey rather than just her shirt, she would have seen the 15 inch scar that runs down her leg. She had already decided though that young and cancer don’t go together, so she completely missed the scar. What may have been a beautiful opportunity for connection was traded for a moment of embarrassed silence.

I’d like to open my eyes, open my ears, open my mind and open my heart and get to know you. What do you say?

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Is It Me or Is It You?

Why didn’t she understand me?  I was clear – crystal clear – in my communication.

I repeated myself again and she said “I’m sorry Lori, I don’t understand.”

I repeated myself a third time, more forcefully, and yet she still didn’t understand me.  This time around though, her tone sounded snippy in accusing me of not being clear.  Not clear?  Are you kidding me??!!

I thought “Why are you being so difficult??!!”

Suddenly, I realized I was having this exchange with SIRI, the voice recognition software on my phone.  I started to laugh.  I realized I was little grumpy (OK, maybe a lot grumpy) and impatient because I was running late.  Soon, a wash of embarrassment came over me.  How often had I been so absolutely sure it was the other person who wasn’t communicating well or who was being difficult?

As I finished my laugh at my picking a fight with SIRI, I tried my request once more with SIRI.  This time around . . . she understood me perfectly.  I think I understood perfectly as well.

I Bought Gratitude at the Grocery Store

I was wandering the aisles of the store occasionally waking up long enough to wonder how I’d moved from the food section into hardware.   I fell asleep again only to then find myself in sporting goods.  I was in a daze – a complete fog.  I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not – oh please, tell me I’m dreaming I thought.  I was getting little snippets of things running through my brain – our daughter, cancer, chemotherapy, surgery.  Could this really be happening?

We had just finished a whirlwind of appointments.  We met with oncologists and we met with surgeons.  A plan had been put in place that meant our only child, our 13-year old daughter Lindsey, would begin chemotherapy for the treatment of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in a matter of days.  There wasn’t even time to make the 4 hour trip home to gather our things.  Our journey had begun and I was terrified.  I was trying to apply my usual logic to something that wasn’t logical.  I was lost in fear as I wandered the aisles of that store trying desperately to make sense of it all.

I wandered until I felt I could wander no more. As I pulled my cart into the checkout lane and began to load my few items on the belt, I looked up and glanced at the magazines and tabloids.  My eyes fixated on the news of Marie Osmond’s son committing suicide.  In that instant, my fog lifted.  My mind became clear as I thought about the things she’d probably love to tell her son if only she had the chance.  I thought about what she might give for just one more hug with her son.  And I knew in that moment – I had been given a gift.  I had this incredible sense of gratitude knowing that even though the future was uncertain, I had time with my daughter.  I didn’t know if that time would be weeks, months, years or a lifetime.  All I knew was I had been given the gift of enough time with my daughter to say all those things I wanted to say – the time to truly listen to the things she wanted to say – the time to melt into her hugs and notice everything about how they felt.  I had been given the gift of time and  the awareness to savor and soak in all the little moments knowing they may not be there forever.

As I became immersed in this intense sense of gratitude, my fear disappeared.  It was if someone had flipped a switch – the darkness was gone and I was suddenly standing in the light of gratitude.  I played with that switch a lot during the course of Lindsey’s eight months of treatment.  I would start to walk in the darkness of fear, sometimes journeying far into the darkness.  And then something would take me back to that moment at the checkout stand – that feeling of gratitude and that shift in focus to the many gifts in my life – and I’d be standing in the light once more.

Recently I heard Tony Robbins say it’s impossible to feel gratitude and fear at the same time.  I realized that’s it.  It really is that simple.  Fear simply can’t survive in the light of gratitude.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

– Meister Eckhart

Where’s Your Piece of the Puzzle?

For a long time, I believed I had nothing significant to contribute – nothing to say that was of any interest.  I tended to sit back and watch – convinced it didn’t really matter if I didn’t fully show up in life.

And then one day, I realized it was all an excuse – an excuse not to try, an excuse not to put myself out there.  I realized it was also incredibly selfish.  I’ve come to believe we each hold a piece to the puzzle of life – a piece that is uniquely ours.  When I withhold my piece or try to pretend I’m a different piece than I really am, the puzzle is incomplete.  We can tell ourselves our little piece doesn’t matter and yet anyone who’s ever done a puzzle knows this simply isn’t true.  There’s a hole in the puzzle when even one piece is missing.  Every piece matters.  Show up and bring your piece to the table.  We need you.

An Agenda of Love

We stood in a corner of the restaurant near the door waiting for a table to clear.  The space was small, so people passed directly in front of us as they left the restaurant.  It seemed liked your typical Friday night restaurant scene.  And it was until . . .

We noticed him as the family was paying their bill at the cash register.  His body was very stiff in its movements and he appeared to be non-verbal.  The person we were guessing to be his mom was moving him through the line of people to leave the restaurant.  He walked along and then suddenly stopped – right in front of us.  He reached out his hands and arms to touch my face and looked directly in my eyes.  He had both arms on my face before his mom could reach to take them down.  As she took his arms away from my face, she said to him “You don’t know her.”  She then turned to me and said “Sorry. He thinks he knows you.”  I simply responded “No worries.”  Though his body moved in stone like motions, his touch was incredibly gentle.

He then moved in front of my husband, Joe, and brought even more of his body in contact with Joe. They were cheek to cheek in a sideways hug before the mom again said “You don’t know him” and tried to pull him along.  Joe said “Hi buddy.  You’re a sweet boy.” As the mom moved him towards the door, the boy continued the direct eye contact with us as if to say “She thinks I don’t know you, but I do.”

As they left the restaurant, a lady with three small children who stood directly across from us said “That was the most beautiful thing the way the two of you responded to him.  Some people would have reacted so differently.  It brings tears to my eyes.”  And in fact, she did have tears in her eyes.  She was right – it was a beautiful thing.  It was beautiful to be greeted with such absolute love by someone who stepped through that awkward space of too many people/too little space and reached out to us.

Joe and I continued to talk about the experience through dinner.  What was communicated in that brief moment of wordlessness is something we won’t soon forget.  In that experience, it was as if life was brought down to its simplest of terms.  I said to Joe “What if each of us were to greet one another in love the way we experienced tonight?”  Joe smiled as he considered the question.  He said “Yeah, what a world that would be.”

I believe our teachers are all around us.  And, often, our teachers are the people we least expect.  In that moment, we were shown what life is like when love is the only agenda – and it was very sweet indeed.

Where Are You Right Now?

Really, where are you?  I know you can quickly give me the physical location of your body.  The question though, is where is your mind?

For me, many times my body is one place while my mind has “left the building,” often as a forward scout in search of worry.  This became a particularly big issue when my 13-year-old daughter, Lindsey, was diagnosed with bone cancer last year.  I found myself letting my imagination run wild with concerns and speculation which took me away from the one thing I wanted most – time with my daughter.  Oh, I was there in a physical sense and yet I was miles away in terms of being present with her.

It was a conversation with one of Lindsey’s nurses that started a shift in my ability to stay truly present.  This pediatric oncology nurse shared with me how different it was to care for children with cancer versus adults.  She said “Kids, especially the younger ones, stay so in the moment. They don’t hang on to things the way adults do.  Kids will have moments that are awful and yet when the experience is over, they quickly move on from those moments.  You’ll find them out playing.  Adults on the other hand relive those moments over and over again either keeping them stuck in the past or jumping to future worries.”  Shortly after that conversation, a four-year-old cancer patient came by our room riding a tricycle. She wanted to know if I had met her best friend who was in the room across the hall.  Her enthusiasm and joy are something I’ll never forget.  She wasn’t telling us stories about having cancer or explaining her worries about the future.  She just wanted to ride her tricycle and talk about friendship. In that moment, I realized a pre-schooler had just taught me one of the lessons I most needed to learn.

As Lindsey and I each found ourselves wandering off into the land of borrowed trouble from time to time, we took a page from the book of our four-year-old friend and we’d ask each other a simple question:

Where are you right now?

When Lindsey would begin to anticipate her next chemotherapy treatment days before it was scheduled, asking her “Where are you right now?” would remind her she was snuggled in bed at home, safe and warm, free of needles and chemotherapy .

As I would slip into the land of overwhelm with worries about the prognosis for Lindsey’s future health, Lindsey could bring me back in an instant with the question, “Mom, where are you right now?”  I immediately knew to be anywhere else other than completely present was to throw away a precious gift – time with my daughter.  This lesson was powerfully reinforced as we encountered numerous parents who would now give almost anything for just one more moment with their child – one more smile, one more conversation, one more hug.

Strange as it may sound, I can tell you some of the deepest, more meaningful times in my life occurred while Lindsey was actually in the hospital receiving treatment.  As I lay next to her as chemotherapy slowly dripped into her body, my mind and body came to a complete rest next to her and I realized for the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to be fully present and alive.

I’d love to tell you I’ve maintained that sense of presence since Lindsey’s treatment.  No, I still take my many journeys into the past and into the future. I have found a shortcut back home though.

Where are you right now?

There is Another Way

“If I’m at war with my cancer, then I’m at war with a part of myself because right now the tumor is a part of me.”

Lindsey Bouquet – age 13

When my daughter first said this, I think I asked her to repeat it three times.  I then said it slowly to myself another three or four times, taking it in word by word.

I had always heard you fight cancer; you go to battle.  In fact, the American Cancer Society’s shirts for this year’s Relay for Life have the slogan “Fight Back” on them.

Clearly, Lindsey saw it differently.  She named her tumor (Gerald).  She talked with her tumor. She said funny  things during treatment like “I’ve told Gerald he’s not getting any roommates.”  Lindsey said before surgery “You know I’m going to kind of miss you Gerald, but it’s time for you to go.”

Lindsey wasn’t passive or aggressive with her cancer.  It’s almost like she negotiated with her cancer.   I’ll never know how this approach impacted her treatment, recovery or her prognosis for the future.  What I do know, is Lindsey’s approach brought us peace.  And, she taught me there is another way – in facing cancer and also in facing all of life.