Monday, December 30, 2013

New Years: Goodbye 13, Hello 14

I apologize for the length of this post... I really did intend to break it up, but it all just sort of poured out at once, a little like pulling off a band-aid. Anyway, if you choose to ride along to the end of the track, I hope it's worth the trip.

Lessons learned are like bridges burned
You only need to cross them but once
Is the knowledge gained worth the price of the pain?
Are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt?

Lessons Learned
~ Dan Fogelberg

Some pretty important bridges burned for me in 2013. And to be honest, I've stared at the places where they used to be for just about long enough. It's time to turn my eyes away from the shadows and back toward the light. But first, one last long look. There are a few pearls I don't want to leave lying in the mud.

January - New Year, new goals.
Get that personal trainer certification. Run a thousand miles this year. Raise $6000 for LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. Grow the program into new locations. Take Martha on a real vacation. Get faster and stronger. Finish my second marathon. 

I learned the joy of knowing where you want to go, and sticking to your plans to get there. 

February - Goodbye old man
Brady, the majestic old Golden Retriever who greeted us when we first moved into our new house, who started staying with us one rainy day when his dad had to work and wasn't home to let him inside, who had been growing a little more stiff and tired with each passing winter day, turned and snapped as me one night as I tried to comfort his aching hips with a gentle massage. He was in so much pain that he couldn't stand. I lifted him in my arms, and carried him across the yard to his dad and we wept together for this old friend who had so touched both of our hearts. Brady was never "my dog," but he took a piece of my heart, and left a bit of himself in its place. 

God bless you, old man. You taught me dignity and friendship, even in suffering. I was going to need those lessons sooner than I could have known.

March - Living Strong
After training hard with Coach Carrie for months to build core strength and increase my speed, I launched my Fundraiser and my spring racing season with a bang. Lowered my time in the Shamrock Shuffle 3K by a ridiculous 3:40. Finished the month with another PR in the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon in the best shape of my life. Accepted a new position as head trainer of the first LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program in Scott County. 

I learned how perseverance and commitment could make me better than I ever imagined I could be.

April - It all goes to shit
I notice my Blood pressure readings are steadily increasing. The doc sees me right away and orders me to stop running until we can learn if the new meds will stabilize me. I'm running a marathon in three weeks. 

At a YMCA workshop I overhear a conversation that was not meant for my ears, and learn that my friend, mentor, and beloved Coach Melissa is leaving for a new job. In two weeks. I go home, tell Martha the news, and begin crying, almost without interruption for the next month. I increase my therapist visits from once a month to twice a week.

Once the doc gives the go ahead, I'm back on the road. piling up miles, my pre-race training schedule shot to hell. 

There are tearful meetings at the Y. Attempts at business as usual. Attempts to say goodbye. Attempts to teach a new class. All dissolve into tears. I ask for, and am granted an indefinite leave of absence from the best job of my life, afraid I will never be able to return. 

At their annual banquet, the YMCA of Central Kentucky gives me an award for service. I am so ashamed.
Coach leaves. 

The marathon is a blur. I cry as I run in the rain, feeling as lonely as I ever have in my life. Mrs P is trapped in traffic, and doesn't get to see me finish. I wander the streets of Cincinnati, feeling as if even God has forgotten where I am. 

The next day, Martha tells me the family suspects I must be having an affair because I'm so upset over Coach leaving. She hasn't felt me caring about her that much in years. She's had enough, and says we need to separate. It's been a long time coming. 

I don't learn a god damned thing in April.

May - Numb
The crying jags get a little farther apart. I desperately want to return to the Y, but the boss and the shrink both think I need more time to recover. 

Packing. Drinking. Weeping. Begging. Posting painful, inappropriate, damaging blogs.... Taking them back down. 

A few tearful phone calls. Tell Mum. Tell my sister. Tell my best friend. Tell Coach. Our last real conversation. 

Apartment hunting, praying for one that will let me have a dog. 

Coach Carrie calls to tell me she's taking another job and leaving the Y. She didn't want me to find out from someone else. I am so grateful to her for her kindness, that I weep: this time for joy. I contact the boss. So ashamed of failing the program. Without Carrie, they are going to need me back. I need them more than air. He suggests I try to work my way back into things slowly, starting with the LIVESTRONG session that has already started. For the second time that week, the tears are for joy and gratitude. I swear to myself that I will not let the Y down again.

I learn that the people I work with - with their gentle,loving, forgiving spirits -  are among the greatest gifts God has ever given to me.

June - Bachelorhood
So, this is my apartment. Nice view of North Broadway. Nice neighbors. A little loud, but kind and welcoming. So close to the Y, I can walk there. No pets allowed. Haven't slept without a cat in years. Keep seeing Jake in the corner of my eye. 

Less crying. Less drinking. 

A chance to teach SilverSneakers, an aerobics class for seniors comes my way. I leap at it, studying the choreography furiously. I will not fail my coaches this time. 

Martha and I settle into an amicable separation. We talk. We visit. We consider the possibilities. I lie in the bed we shared for so many years. staring at the empty walls. What just happened? What comes next? I thought I would die without my wife. 

I learn that I won't.

July - Funerals
It has been a season of death for the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA family. More funerals in the a few months than the first two years combined. Some I never met. Some I loved like sisters. The dark suit is in and out of the closet every couple of weeks, it seems.Coach Marian and I are asked to say a few words for our friend Becky. A joyful warrior. She survived her first encounter, but not her second. She loved her friends, her family, and the Y. The paper says she "lost her battle with cancer." I am furious. I tell her loved ones, "don't you believe it." Cancer took her life, but never touched her spirit. I saw her without energy, without strength, without connection to the reality around her... but I never saw her without her joy. I never saw her without love. Cancer killed my friend. But it never won. 

I learned that no challenge, no matter how relentless and cruel, can take away our heart if we refuse to let go of it.

August - Reality sinking in
The fifth would have been our 24th anniversary. The papers haven't been drawn up, but already, it's starting to feel like the chances of going back are fading. 

Mum makes her annual summer visit. She has her poodle, Cujo with her, so she can't stay with me. She is at what I've already started thinking of as "Martha's house," and I go over for uncomfortable visits. It's difficult for all of us. Mum is confused. Wants to help. But there's nothing for her to do except to love us both. It's what she does best. The morning of her return to Pennsylvania, she and Cujo visit my apartment. We both cry a little, and she hugs me for a long time. 

Late in the month, I get a letter from Social Security telling me that my Disability Benefits will end in October. I try to kill myself, but chicken out at the last moment, thinking about how someone would have to call my mother and tell her. 

It took me too damn long to figure it out, but my Mom is the most faithful friend I've ever had. 

September - Lights on the horizon
At lunch with Eric from Actors' Guild, he tells me he wants to produce King Lear, and he wants me to play the king. Looks like a November opening. At the Y, a job is opening up for a water fitness instructor. I speak to the Aquatics Director, and send him my resume. 

Therapy is going well. We've stepped down to meeting every two weeks. 

I run what will be my last race of the year with my friend LaDonna and an infuriatingly pokey kid from the Y's Run This Town program who seems to have chosen this morning to decide that she doesn't want to run, hates running, and will never run again. I am even more stubborn than she is. I refuse to leave her behind, and we finish the 8K with her sprinting angrily ahead, and me trotting in as the very last finisher of the race. I skip the awards ceremony because I have to rush off to a rehearsal, and a few weeks later, I receive a medal in the mail. I finished third in my age group. 

October - An Actor's life
Two mornings a week I teach in the pool and in the Aerobics studio. Two nights a week, I coach LIVESTRONG.... And the rest of my waking hours are all about King Lear. 

There are so many lines. More than I've had to learn in years. More than ever, maybe. I work through the play twice, sometimes three times a day, trying to get them to stick in my brain. The cast is young. So very young. I barely know any of them. A couple of old friends, and the rest of them are young and beautiful and talented and I feel like a visitor from another planet among them. They know music I've never heard of. Speak in language I don't recognize. They smell like youth and life and sex and joy. And they work their asses off. Once, when I was touring with the National Shakespeare Company, for just a few months, we found an ensemble, an organic company that fit together so tightly that i wanted to act together with them for the rest of my life. That's what this company is starting to feel like to me. I can't wait to get to rehearsals with them. I rush to be early, just so I can sit back sagely and enjoy their laughter and stories. 

Holy shit. Out of nowhere. I'm an actor again. 

And somehow, in spite of all the changes, I learn that I always will be.

November - Riding the bi-polar roller-coaster
A long interview in the paper about the play. The writer was very generous and kind. Just a brief mention of our separation and nothing about my recent nervous breakdown. 

As opening night approaches, I am exhausted, and a nervous wreck. 

I'm going to suck. I'm going to let the kids down. A dear friend tells me she won't be attending the play because she saw a great production of it once, and doesn't want to ruin the memory.

Mum is coming. Martha is coming. People from my classes and my running group and my LIVESTRONG family and God knows who else - class mates from grad school who I haven't seen since 1985, for God's sake - and I am playing the role of a life time and I have absolutely no business doing it. 

I become irritable. Mumbling under my breath. Bitchy in the dressing room. I'm an asshole during notes after rehearsals. 

And all around me, these beautiful young actors, for whom I have tried to set such a good example.... they remain positive and focused and supportive. The believe in the show. They believe in me. Their courage gives me courage. We open and run for two impossibly short weeks. 

After strike, I'm inconsolable. I feel as if I've lost my family again. Deep, deep depression this time. A bad one. But I will not give in. I say my prayers. I sleep. And I teach at the Y. I will not fail my people again. I have promises to keep.And I keep them. 

Thanksgiving alone passes without the pain I feared, and I learn that I'm stronger, more loved, and more blessed than I knew.

December - Advent and redemption
So then, here we are. I've called 2013 the worst year of my life, and I'm sticking to it. If you'd told me what was coming, and given me the choice between that and a relapse of my cancer, I would have taken cancer. Absolutely. But here I stand. The devil missed me again. 

In December some pretty wonderful things happened. I made some new friends, and reconnected with some old ones, both online and in real life. 

The people in my classes offered me much kindness and love for Christmas. And I enjoy them with an affection that is both devoted and professional.

I've heard a lot of words about myself over the years, but this month, for the first time I heard these two: "Mentor" and "Father figure." I was shocked and humbled to imagine that people saw me in such a light. It just never occurred to me. But to be considered someone who is safe to talk to, who can be trusted, whose life has given them something like insight or wisdom... It really rattled my cage. I'm still sorting it out, but I think it's going to be the catalyst for some positive changes in the way I look at the world, and myself. 

Therapy is helping a lot. I'm starting to make more and more sense to me. My shrink needn't worry about his cash flow, though. I have a feeling we're gonna be together for a long, long time. 

My physical conditioning is shot to hell. My first line of defense against depression is always food, and I have loaded on the pounds this year. It's going to be a long way back, but I'm gonna do it. I know I can. I've done it before. 

Christmas alone wasn't easy. I'm not going to lie to you. Several people invited me to join them and their families, and I gratefully declined. I chose to go it alone this year. I figured if I could get through this, I could get through anything. And I got through it. Not as gracefully as I would have liked, but not nearly has badly as I feared. Santa didn't come to my house this year. But Jesus did, and we spent the day together. We had a long, serious conversation. Both of us had a lot to get off our chests.

There are good days and bad days. That's just life in the Bipolar Nation. Today is a good day, and the future looks full of hope for me. I've started gettingt back into racing shape. I'm finally reading Great Expectations. I'm using more tools in the kitchen than the freezer and the microwave. And someday, when I'm ready, and the time is right, I'd like to be in love again. But in the meantime. I've got work to do. some wise person posted on Facebook one day and I'm paraphrasing: 

"Don't worry about finding the right woman. Work on becoming the right man." 

God has saved my life again, from yet another fatal disease: depression. He keeps doing that.I figure he must have something in mind. Whatever it is, I want to be ready when it comes. Whether that's love, work, a marathon, or just being at the right corner at the right time... I want to be ready. And for all the grief it's caused me, this year will have made me more ready than I was before.

I don't think I'll ever look back at 2013 and laugh. But today, with just one day left of this annus horribilis, I can still look to heaven and say "Thank you." 

It's good to be alive.

Peace, and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fear not.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. ~ Luke 2:9,10

Fear not.
Life is terrifying sometimes.
Fear not.

You will find yourself at the mercy of things,
Beyond your control.
Fear not.

People will hurt you,
Often on purpose,
Usually not,
Fear not.

Things will flow past in the river of your life. 
Storms will rain down,
Broken branches will block your way,
Currents will change and hide the channel,
Troubles will wound your lonely little craft,
Fear not.

Though the world  laughs and judges,
Offers you shame, not acceptance,
Though the ones you love doubt you,
And the mystery of things seems to bury you
Let it be,
Fear not.

You are not alone,
You have love in you,
Life that leaps inside you,
At the sound of your name.

Like a weary companion trudges along beside,
With no knowledge or understanding, to guide the way,
You have love around you,
Peace, for which there are no words,
Truth for which there is no proof,
Fear not.

There is a place for you,
Shelter from the cold and the dark,
Not what you might have chosen,
Not what you expected or hoped for,
But a place where you belong,
A place only you can fill,
A task only you can do,
Fear not.

There is a story to tell,
Your story,
A story many will hear, 
And many will not understand.
It is as simple as a box of straw,
And glorious as a choir of angels,
No one else can tell it for you,
Much as they may try,
They will need your voice,
Your heart,
Your song,
The ones who hear,
Will not be the ones you expect,
They need to hear you sing,
Even if you sing off key,
Fear not.

An pregnant girl,
A confused fiancee,
A harried innkeeper,
Shepherds, terrified,
Magi, laden with useless tribute,
A puppet king filled with jealous hatred,
And there among them,
A baby,
The innocent creator of the universe,
God in the straw,

That's what Christmas is all about, Linus.
It isn't about trees and paper and bags,
It isn't about angels and virgins and shepherds,
Not hymns,
Not bells,
Not turkey,
Not pies,
Not doctrine or dogma or history or theology.

The meaning of Christmas,
The true meaning of Christmas is in you, Linus,
It's the love that wraps around you like a blanket,
It's the courage that keeps you going,
The compassion that lets you care,
Christmas is the joy you feel for the blessings you have
And the strength to overcome the blessings you lack,
The meaning of Christmas,
The true meaning of Christmas,
In the face of all logic,
In spite of good sense,
No matter what yesterday's failures have taught you,
Or whatever tomorrow's dangers might be,
Is reckless

And if you can't believe in that, Linus,
You can't believe in anything.

Fear not.

Happy, Holy Day.

Merry Christmas.