Monday, October 24, 2011

Life and How to Live It

It's been a while. Sometimes life throws a few extra balls into the mix, and one of them just has to get dropped for a while. Here I am, though, bending at the knees, keeping the other balls going with one hand as I pick this one up.

Good to see you.

Bike riding has been at nil for a couple weeks. I went down, hard -- I mean very hard -- two Saturdays ago, riding the Vaya on trails that were, in fact beginner-level. That was, in fact, why I'd driven down there. A beautiful place, but let me tell you, I learned a lesson about riding in the fall: Leaves are treacherous. One second I was up and enjoying, the next thing I can remember, I am on my back, pulling hard for air, but only making this horrible sucking sound. No air. As in, none. For a good 30 seconds or so. I tore muscles in five different places around my shoulder and ribs, and haven't slept a normal night since. At first, a lot of "sleeping" sitting up on the couch; lately, I can actually lie on the bed.

Meantime, my body is so busy trying to patch itself back together that I catch my first head cold in a year. It was, let's just say, a humdinger. All the more fun because I couldn't blow my nose -- ribs hurt too much -- and coughing or sneezing produced such a blast of pain, you could hear my whimpering all over the house.

All of this would have been par for the course if my Dad's fight with cancer hadn't taken a serious downhill turn. A couple weeks ago, he made the decision to stop treatment, because it simply wasn't working. The cancer had spread from liver to both bones and lymph system.The Hail Mary treatment they offered him seemed like a cruel joke. Another round of chemo after four or five months of it with negative results? Um, no. Basically, at that point, you try to make the end as clean and dignified as possible. Your ticket has been punched, and you have to sit back and experience the ride. It's all over but the waiting and decaying.

As soon as I heard that, I picked my tuchus up out of my sick-bed and hauled ass down to NYC. Dad and I managed to have a conversation that, I now realize, will be our last real one. He's still talking, but hardly. It was an intense and wondrous and excruciatingly difficult talk. I went down knowing what I wanted to say, and I said it. I had no idea he was going to say so much -- it shocked me, really. I'm so grateful to have had that chance. But I was brain-dead for a good few days afterward.

There's even more big stuff going on elsewhere in my life, but I'll spare you. You get the idea.

As recently as few weeks ago, I'd just run my first 5K, with a decent time, and was getting stronger every week. I was riding like a champ, strong and true. Today, I went "running" and barely made two miles, with lots of walking breaks. I'm off bikes until my shoulder and ribs can support me more reliably. I'm very grateful to be running at all; I went down so hard, I'm pretty blessed not to have broken something.

I have good days and bad days. A bad morning can be followed by a great afternoon. I'll get a decent few hours, and then hear from family that Dad no longer can get out of the bed, can't really see anymore, and isn't making much sense when he talks.

I take it as it comes. My practice right now is to say a big "YES" to all of it -- the periods of clarity at work, the hikes with my wonderful wife, the bad news, the frailty and decay of my beloved dad. It's all YES. It's all life. Life is the middle-of-the-night doubts and pitch-blackness, and life is the surreal beauty of a technicolor morning run in the brilliant foliage, sun caressing the hills in the distance. I remind myself that I am not the one dying, that in fact, I have a great life, a better life than I ever imagined possible. That tends to work pretty well.

Maybe tomorrow I can even go for a ride. The one ride I've had recently gave me goosebumps -- 25 minutes of flat terrain that was more scintillating than the 50-mile charity ride I did back in September. I remembered, "Yes, this is how I experience the beauty of life."

No time to waste, man -- gotta stay busy living. When Dad needs me, or his wife needs a hand, I'll be down in a flash, and I'll try to live all of that, too. And I'll bring my running shoes.


Herringbone said...

Hi V,
I associated with your voice a while ago... soak up the vitality in that valley and go...I wish I had something monumental to say...hang with your wife...hold his wife's hand...beautifully written...

Velosopher said...

Thanks, H-bone. You do a good job, like I said in your comments section. You say all that needs saying right there, in words and images. "As soon as I got on the bike, I felt better." That one sentence could sum up my whole blog. ;-)

Human Wrecking Ball said...

It is the cruelest joke of fate that when you are really tested it happens on many levels. For non believers it is impossible to understand how a bicycle can heal, but it is magic, (running too I bet). One thing is certain we all will crash, so enjoy the upright time. Saying yes to all of this change is a highly evolved solution, and I so admire you for being that aware.
Your father obviously did something right.

Velosopher said...

So true, WB. And you bet he did something right -- he did a lot of things right. (Along with a lot of human frailties.)