Sunday, October 19, 2008

"The American story has never been about things coming easy – it’s been about rising to the moment when the moment is hard."

This past Saturday night, I stood in line with 75,000 of my closest friends to see and hear Barack Obama at the Liberty Memorial. Or, as Mom said 'to carry on the family tradition'. 

I went alone, but under different, better circumstances, I would have had both my parents with me. This was of course, not possible, which made it even more important for me to attend. I've spoken about my parent's love of all things political, and about how they have instilled in me the importance of being involved, and knowledgeable, and above all, exercising your right to VOTE! 

When Dad was first diagnosed, and things were so uncertain, Bryan said to me 'he HAS to make it to the election!' And I truly could not fathom going through an election year without him. With two weeks to go, I can't begin to tell you how thrilled and excited I am that he's here, he's still fighting, and he'll be with me on November 4th when we go as a family to cast our ballots. I know there will be elections and holidays and milestones that he won't be here for, but I am thankful right now for this moment, because beyond that, nothing is ever certain. 

My Mom took me to my first rally in 1988. Michael Dukakis at... Avila College, I think? I was 17 and not particularly politically saavy, but I was excited nonetheless. I remember standing in a long line talking with those around us, everyone was jovial despite the cold and the long wait. It's a memory I will always cherish on a sentimental level - but I'm sorry, Mom, this trumps it all. I couldn't feel my feet by the time Obama took the stage, I had a weird old guy with a wispy grey ponytail invading my personal space, I couldn't have moved if my life depended on it - but I didn't care. I was alone, but my family was with me in spirit. Health Care is, and always has been, one of my #1 issues. I have watched my parents struggle with medical bills, even before Dad was diagnosed with cancer. You can imagine my crumbling composure at this part of the speech:

"If I am President, I will finally fix our broken health care system. This issue is personal for me. My mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 53, and I’ll never forget how she spent the final months of her life lying in a hospital bed, fighting with her insurance company because they claimed that her cancer was a pre-existing condition and didn’t want to pay for treatment. If I am President, I will make sure those insurance companies can never do that again. "

It was waterworks. Change for our broken health care system may come too late for my Dad. But I am passionate in the belief that NO ONE should have to worry about paying hospital bills when they're sick. Health Care is not a privilege for the wealthy, it is a right for all of us. 

I don;t mean to get up on my soapbox, but on a normal day, this is an integral part of our family dynamic. We all cried when Tim Russert died. We often watch Countdown together. We debate, we discuss, we speculate, we monitor polls daily. This is our last hurrah, our last big Election Year as a solid family unit. Two weeks from tomorrow, I'm not just voting for change. I'm voting for my Dad.

Monday, October 13, 2008

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”

First two photos by Scott Hoober

There are two things that my Dad has always been passionate about (not counting politics) and that is photography and the outdoors. Both illustrate my Dad's ability to be a passive observer, a witness to things that maybe the rest of us don't see. As our lives get busy, and busier still, very few of us stop to take in the world around us. We rush from one job to another, to picking up children and bustling them to their various games and lessons. We're entertained by a myriad of gadgets - that in many ways connect us, as evidenced by me writing this and you reading it - but in some ways seems to make us also disconnected. 

As a child, Dad tried his best to make Steven and I appreciate the world and all it had to offer. He made us look at birds, at trees, at clouds. He wanted us to know the different names and properties. He would point to the night sky and which stars were out in summer, and the ones that would make an appearance in winter. I don't think I fully appreciated his passion until I was older, until I realized that most people don't.

I remember a few years ago, driving through Mission Hills, and the shadow of a Very Large Bird flew over my car. I looked up, and a few feet above me, soaring gracefully, was a Great Blue Heron. Not something you expect to see in suburbia. I pulled over and got out to watch it as it landed in a pine tree. A man rode his bike by, and I excitedly pointed it out to him. All I got was a strange look.

He didn't look at the bird. 

I called Dad and he was every bit as intrigued as me. Where did it come from? Where was it migrating to? After that, I began calling him about all my sightings: a wild turkey in my neighbor's yard (the bird, not the bottle), a red tailed hawk eating a squirrel, a grey fox crossing my path during an evening walk, a possum hissing at me before ambling away, vega in the summer sky, a full moon so low in the sky, you'd swear you could touch it, a chorus of frogs in the creek late at night, a family of mallards waddling down brush creek. I find myself doing the same thing to my kids: I once walked home from a long evening stroll carrying a toad to show the kids. It was dark and I carried that thing for about two miles. I woke up the kids to show them and determine if it was a frog or a toad. I have caught snakes in the backyard for the kids to look at. Picked up cicadas so they could touch their shells. Hung preying mantis eggs in the garden, and watched as hundreds of tiny baby mantis' hatched out and scattered in a few minutes. As a result, my kids are as fearless as I am: every creature, every part of nature is beautiful and curious and interesting. There are lessons to be learned in all of it.

I got a bike the other day, and I have covered a lot of ground in the last few days. And I think what I have enjoyed the most is how it makes me observe the city around me - a city I have lived in my entire life - with more clarity and focus. As I came coasting down Ward Parkway today, I reached up and grabbed a leaf off of a maple tree for Addie and her nature collection. I had a brief thought of how lucky I have been to had a Father that gave me this deep appreciation for the Earth. This is probably more deeply rooted in me than any religious dogma ever could be. It makes me feel more connected to him, more like him. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Day the Whole World Went Away

As of yesterday, it has been six months since Dad was diagnosed. It's a day I will never forget, because it's a shock and pain I never knew possible. I can still see myself, in the parking lot of Whole Foods, getting the call from Mom. "It's lung cancer. They think it's in his brain. They're admitting him." It was like my soul cracked wide open, and I cried in  deep, wrenching sobs. I held my cell phone absentmindedly. I knew I needed to call someone. Anyone. Who would calm me down? Who would know the right thing to say? Diana, of course. What is it about the sound of her voice that is so calming? I don't remember what she said, but I do remember I was able to collect myself together and get home. 

It was a bad day, followed by a succession of very bad days. But as days wore on to weeks and months, this has become my new normal. It's surprising to me how a life absent of cancer can become one consumed by it. There is nothing else in our lives that eats up so much of our energy and time. If not in day to day activities, but in our collective thoughts. All of our lives in this family are held hostage by this disease. And it sucks. 

Another part of 'the new normal' is that my Dad is not the same. He is forgetful. He has trouble processing simple things. He is often confused and hard to understand. There are good days, too, but we never know from one day to the next what the day will hold. Today was chemo day, and I took the morning-to-lunch shift, Mom came in for a little bit, and Steven took the afternoon-to-end of the day shift. It's easier to split it up. They'll do another round of scans in a few weeks, and then decide whether to keep doing treatments without a break, or, if things look good, let him have a break from the chemo. They seem to be scanning him fairly often - every six weeks- which is good, I guess, because I think we'd all be worried and wondering if it's working. But I also know that it's a sign that they're concerned, too, and that doesn't do a lot to assuage my fears. All in all, he is doing remarkably well, considering the first Oncologist we saw told us it ' wasn't worth ' doing treatment. Well, he's still here, so I guess that moron with a God complex was wrong. 

I meant to get a photo of the outside of my parent's house, it looks so nice now. Mom's friend Debbie came over last week and worked for days sanding the front door and shutters - they hadn't been painted in a decade or more - and repainted them black. She's quite the perfectionist, and did a bang up job! She also got a new light for the outside, helped Mom pick out new, updated door hardware, and painted the house numbers black to match. It looks so sharp, and I know Mom and Dad are thrilled. I continued to be amazed at what good friends we all have.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An inappropriate glimmer of the old Dad

We're driving down the street and he says: "There's this old man's 90th birthday, and his friends get together and send him a hooker. He answers the knock at his door, and there's this gorgeous woman who says 'I'm here to give you super sex' and he thinks for a minute and says 'I'll have the soup.' "

My Dad is King of the off color jokes. When I was younger, I would cringe when I'd hear him say to someone "have you heard the one about....?" Now, it's just nice to see flashes of who he used to be, because most of the time, he seems like a stranger. Everyday is a balancing act, a tightrope walk. For him, for us - there's no certainty or routine. He has really good days and really bad days, and days in between. 

And that's all I know for now.