Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Liminal Space

"liminal space is the time between the 'what was' and the 'next.' It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us." (Google)

My father has perfect pitch. When I was learning the guitar a few years back, Dad listened to my new pieces and could identify a chord or a note instantly, in-person or over the phone. Dad's talents and complexities are legion - he learned how to drive early and stole his parents' car out of the driveway when he was thirteen, only to take it straight to church to confess because he felt guilty.  Dad hiked his five kids up mountainous ravines, somehow willing us to crawl up through narrow cracks despite our fear of heights. He drove an RV alongside steep drop-offs (with Mom leaning inward from the passenger seat, yelling "Jules!") from Montana to California.  We all know him as a proud, intelligent, loving and daring man.

My throat swells and my glasses fog as I type now, reflecting on my recent visit to Montana. Daniel and I went to see Nana and Papa, as well as my brothers Michael and James and their families, for a few days last week. The house was full of laughter (and crying - we had seven children aged nine or younger)  and Mom's smiles blossomed throughout the day as delightful tableaus formed and dissipated on the back deck or the front lawn. Dad sat in his special recliner chair when he wasn't resting in the bedroom, and just took it all in.

The parasupranuclear palsy (PSP) that has Dad in its grip has now taken his ability to speak, and largely, to swallow. Since I last saw him, in December, his weight loss and his difficulty with communication have advanced, and I struggled to find words to greet him that wouldn't betray my shock.  After the first long day, he beckoned me toward his wheelchair as he and Mom were headed to bed.  "Thank you for coming," he whispered with difficulty, and then he made the sign for "I  love you." Tears fell on his head as I returned his hug.

I don't know if it's reassuring or heartbreaking beyond belief that the man I love as my father is still there, holding fast out of sheer strength of will and my mother's amazing care. My brothers and I went out on the golf course  on my last evening, and Michael asked "Why? How can a proud person be content in this situation?"

I have no answer - I only know that Dad doesn't want any extreme measures taken to save his life and that he wishes to die in his sleep in his home in Montana. None of us know what lies between the present moment and that wish but it's torment to navigate through this liminal space.

Dad has always had a healthy dose of humble as well as a hefty sense of gratitude for five healthy children and a wife beyond compare. I wonder if - in his growing wisdom, patience, and humility as he gets closer to a God that he believes in - that he is content to adapt. Dad watched the grandchildren play in the living room, helped me find my shoes on the table when I couldn't see them, and generally proved that he was present and alert. When James tried to pop a wheelie from Dad's wheelchair, my father laughed soundlessly, and when one of the 18 - month - old twins looked his way, Papa could still wave. 

Though this version of my Dad is new and different, I find so much to admire even now. The grace with which he has met the disease astounds me and my mom's diligent care provides a daily example of love and sacrifice which seem rare in this world.  So we smile and even laugh through our tears, and we pray to be transformed, along with Dad, in this liminal space.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Delusion, Denial and Luck

It's my last week to drive William around, as he gets his license on Thursday at the DMV. He already took and passed his on-road test at MasterDrive, so I know this is a done deal. I'm happy for William but nostalgic already for the conversations we've had over the past year as he drove home from practice with my heroically resisting the impulse to slam my foot on imaginary brakes. It's a double whammy; as William becomes more independent and most likely spends less time at home, his older sister prepares to move up to Boulder in August.  And like water swirling faster and faster down into a toilet bowl, my time with them slips away.

Yesterday I drove the driver-to-be to a friend's house out by Cherry Creek Reservoir and we saw a magnificent double rainbow herald the end of yet another afternoon thunderstorm. Even as we skirted the suddenly deep puddles at the side of the lane and hit dismiss on the flash flood warning on our cell phones (the non-driver did that) this rainbow was extending across the water, shining so brightly that it created its own echo.  A sign of luck and good fortune, I thought.

Which reminded me of a lovely early morning walk I had shared that day with good friends who also have teenagers and parents struggling with illness.  Our shared stories took on the theme of parenting in our late forties and early fifties: delusion, denial and luck.  We delude ourselves that we're as strong, flexible, and fit as we were in our thirties, that our children will be home for a good while yet, that our parents will live forever. When truth seeps in via injury, obstacle or news delivered via difficult phone call, we push it aside and deny factoids that threaten our equilibrium and ability to manage our families through another week of summer.  I'm in this phase of denial with Aden's imminent departure to college. I pushed her box of of new, coordinated bedding and towels behind a large chair in the living room, not to be washed or even looked at until reality must be confronted.

When delusion and denial finally flee or are moved aside in moments of brave clarity, we pray for desired outcomes and hope that we get lucky. I hope that William drives safely and intelligently - and that he gets lucky, that Aden uses common sense in  making good friends and choosing her classes - and that she gets lucky It helps to recognize that luck, or God, or some universal force, provides us with moments of grace and opportunity and joy. When I appreciate even small moments of luck (William passing his driver's test, rainstorms canceling out conflicting events last night), I am filled with a sense of gratitude that sustains and comforts me, even when denial and delusion eventually fail.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Please Mind the Gap

Several people asked me why we pulled up stakes immediately after graduation and flew 4,000 miles to visit England and Scotland.  I had many reasons.  First, after such a difficult semester (see previous blogs regarding terrorist threats and suicides), I desperately wanted to gather my family around me and take them far away.  Second, the trip was a joint celebration of graduation and our twentieth wedding anniversary, and I have long hoped to take the children to Europe. I wanted the kids to see that they could manage international travel, that the world is so grand - amazing and full of adventure - that they should prioritize study and work abroad programs.  As to the choice of countries, the family all voted on London and then split on Spain, France and Scotland for our second choice, and I went with Scotland because I'm 42% Scots-Irish and, well, Outlander.

One of the stories I heard overseas was that a certain percent of Americans voted for a mock petition to abolish Arabic numerals. I assume the respondents were alarmed at the thought of immigrating digits, and failed to recognize that the 1,2,3,4, etc that we all learned in pre-K are, in fact, Arabic. A cringe-worthy narrative, but I couldn't help but chuckle. Here's our trip by the Arabic numbers:

22,489 - Number of steps we walked on our busiest day in Edinburgh (over ten miles)
1,900 - Age (in years) of the Roman column we saw in York which was part of the original city
257 - Stairs to the top of St. Paul Cathedral in London, also very similar to the number of narrow, winding stairs required to get to the roof of York Minster Cathedral
24 - Hours of travel to get home from London
10 - Hours spent on trains between London, Edinburgh and York (delightful!)
8 - Times we spent crossing Abbey Road trying unsuccessfully to mimic the Beatles' famous album cover
6 - Hours of sunshine we had in Edinburgh out of the three-day visit
5 - Number of roller bags wheeled through countless city streets from tube or train station to hotel/air b'n'b, usually in a single-file line led by a clueless parent
4 - Number of times we almost got hit by a car after looking the wrong direction for traffic
3 - Number of nights to (mostly) recover from jet lag
2 - Happily married parents, even after 9 days of travel
1 - Picnic in Kensington Gardens with dinner from Whole Foods

The numbers can't adequately express either the shocked joy I experienced when William and Daniel bonded unexpectedly under their umbrella in Edinburgh, or the horrific smell of feet in our small hotel room after five days of walking.  Nor does it evoke the delight on Aden's face as we bought groceries in the M & S near our London B'n'B, or the children's awe at seeing the historical graves in Westminster Abbey.

Though we were surprised and pleased to survive a trip in such close proximity, we all longed for home at the end of the trip and have spent the last four days recovering and rejoicing in Colorado and our friends and routines here.  It was hard for Aden to leave her coaching job, for William to leave his swimming schedule and friends, and for Daniel to be separated from his baseball team, and I know that the difficultly will only increase in the future as summer jobs evolve into internships and the bonds of friends / significant others requires us either to travel without a family member or bring an additional one along.

As the London Metro announcers said without ceasing during our countless rides, "Please mind the gap between the train and the platform," and we thank jobs and teammates for minding the gap between our successful graduation in wintry weather and the start of a pleasant summer in a suddenly green Colorado. I'm so grateful that we went, and that we came back.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A Fractals-filled May

Fractal - a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales. (Google definition).

Start a challenging task, struggle, complete, celebrate, start anew. Our family life contains this pattern, repeated at both the macro- and micro- levels in a kaleidoscope pattern run amok.  In May, specifically, we danced through a confetti pattern of completed major efforts on both grand and smaller scales. For instance, we celebrated high school graduation for Aden, sharing in our joy with Bill and Connie, Sean and Carol, who all came to visit from the Midwest. A snowfall the day before graduation combined with plummeting temperatures threatened to blow us off course, but with much shoveling on the part of the district, and many warm clothes on the part of graduate guests, we triumphed. The colors that day were high school royal blue and red, mottled with the grey of the sky and the white drifts of snow on the football field.

We celebrated further with a joint graduation party due largely to the generosity and planning of Aden's friend Hannah and her family. It was rewarding and emotional to see so many neighborhood friends that day. Many of their sons or daughters graduated with Aden, and since we have had the luxury and privilege of living in the same house for almost fifteen years, our bonds with friends here means that each Willow Creek name called out at graduation resonated and sparked both joy and sorrow for time's rapid passage. Colors there were black and red for Hannah's college of Northeastern and black with gold for Aden's new journey at CU.

On a slightly smaller scale we rejoiced with William and his high school swim team as they marked a win at the boys' state championships (the first such win in twenty-five years).  After months of two-a-days and exhaustion, fluctuating times and minor health crises, it was awe-inspiring to see the team pull out amazing performances and win all of the relays as well as place many individuals in finals. William didn't have his best meet but delighted in cheering for teammates and sharing in the celebration. His goal is to produce points next year as they pursue a repeat. The boys were resplendent in their bleached blonde hair and royal blue and white jerseys, happy faces and fist thrusts of muscled and shaved arms.

We then embarked on an eight-day tour of the United Kingdom which contained extended stays in London and Edinburgh and a brief stop in York. On vacation, each day contained the smaller fractal of effort, completion, reward and celebration, as we struggled to revise and follow an itinerary, find our way via underground or walking the city streets, eat food both affordable and allergen-free, and then stagger back to our room (s) at night, exhausted but still too jet-lagged to sleep through the night. Many smaller patterns with a mix of many different greys (rain, streets, rivers, old buildings) blue for the sky in London, green for the countryside as seen by the train, black for umbrellas and a rainbow of flowers in the late-May gardens. More on the trip in the next post.

For now we rest. Our photo galleries of the last few weeks startle me as I flash review all of the events that occurred, the people we saw and shared good times with, and the amount of effort that went into the triumphs. The rest will be brief, for new journeys start soon, but we will sweep up the confetti, take down the signs and mail the thank you notes, tying up the last loose ends of our magnificent May.