In less time than it takes to make a cup of tea

My brain has no filter. All of the things that pass before me, from the earth shattering to the inconsequentially trivial, just seems to get lodged permanently in my brain. I don’t make any special effort to memorize things, it just happens. I have often pondered why this is. I think it all has to do with some subconscious process of cataloging by association. Everything is connected somehow. This is all well and fine when studying in school. It was easy to remember lectures. But can you imagine being in a relationship with someone for thirty plus years who remembers every word you ever said to them? Every movie you ever saw, who you were with, which theater. That being said, having a good memory is really all a matter of perspective. Rae says having a good memory means knowing what to forget.

April 18th, 1988. Kibbutz Matzuva, Israel. At the time, we were about two months into an intensive Hebrew course on Kibbutz Matzuva in the northern Galilee. It was an average morning in class spent wondering what on earth the teacher was talking about. I never understood why they made us start class at 6:00. I was always too busy thinking about food and watching the clock to learn anything. This morning, I recall time was going particularly slowly, it seemed that the hands of the clock were on strike. When 6:30 finally did creep around, I ran back to our room, but Rae had not gotten out of her class yet. Rather than going to the dining hall for breakfast, I thought I would prepare a couple of bowls of fruit salad from what we had left in the fridge. Rae arrived a few minutes later and we sat on the steps outside our room to eat in the balmy early morning sun. By the time we had finished with breakfast and had cleaned up, it was 6:55. We had five minutes to spare before class started again. I don’t recall if it was my idea or Rae’s, or whether it was one of those times when we just looked into each other’s eyes and had the same idea at the same time, but a few minutes later we were running down the path to the classrooms and yes, we made it to class by 7:00.rarray israel

Nine months later in London on the morning of January 20th, food was the last thing on my mind. Rae was curled up on a beanbag in front of me. Neither of us had slept a wink the previous night. All I could think of was that, maybe, she would go through just one contraction without asking me to massage her back so that, maybe, I could get ten minutes sleep, or five minutes, anything. I had begun to wonder if  she was doing this to me deliberately. That if she was going to “suffer” she wasn’t going to do it alone. Finally, at 1:26 p.m., after 13 hours of hard work, as if by magic, a head appeared where a second ago there wasn’t one. Shortly there followed two arms, a body and two legs. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would never have believed it. Actually, even though I did see it, I still don’t believe it. Rae was reaching out with both hands, tears in her eyes, to hold the baby: “Come to Mommy, come to Mommy.” With those simple words, a curtain was drawn in our lives separating all that had gone before and all that would come after.10593160_10152754382232009_6112881346206256268_n

Have taken the trike for a spin a couple of times since coming home. Normally at this time of year I’m exercising indoors but there’s this whole Ride for Ray thing that’s still going on. So am trying to do my part. I hope he appreciates it. I’ve ridden these roads countless times but the vantage point from the trike gives you a different perspective. Or maybe it’s just me that has a different perspective. Last time I rode here the corn was being harvested. Last time I rode here I had more functional body parts. I have spent the entire year training for this one huge event. Becoming acquainted with and working within limitations to achieve a goal. But now I find the limitations becoming more absolute and there is increasingly less leeway when it comes to working within them. My body has taken to defining its own limitations and I’m not being consulted. A cyclist pulled out onto the road ahead of me. Generally I would have watched his or her riding form for a few minutes before deciding whether or not to make the effort to catch up with them. But now it seems that watching their form is just a token gesture as they disappear off into the distance ahead of me. IMG_9186 (1)

To say that we were apprehensive about having a child would have been an understatement. I often hear people say they are not ready to have kids. Starting a family is probably the most insanely impractical thing we ever do to ourselves. Those of us who think we’re ready to be parents are clearly delusional. That’s the Catch 22 of parenthood. Knowing you’re not ready is the first indication that you might actually be ready. Or as ready as it’s possible to be. The arrival of our daughter Lisa obviously had some drastic effects on our life. The focus of our world seemed to turn inwards. Prior to her arrival, we regularly went out to movies, pubs, parties and visited with friends, but after the birth we didn’t feel a need to go out. To play with the baby is all we ever wanted (other than more time to play with the baby). She would laugh, we would laugh back. She would babble, we would babble back. She would sleep, we would watch. When we finally started to go out on our own again, we would regularly phone home to see how Lisa was doing. The first big heartbreak of parenthood was hearing that she was quite alright without us.

Being a parent is like that. When you become a parent that is all you are. For so much time your identity ceases to exist outside of being someone’s mum or dad. Every decision you make involves consideration for multiple individuals. Perhaps initially when the kids are small your family is sort of a big blob that goes along with you. But gradually everyone develops their own interests and schedules that need to be taken into account.  For decades this subconscious juggling act is part of your being. Then as time passes, one by one, the kids disappear off into the distance ahead. And suddenly one night you find yourself making phone calls to friends at three in the morning because the cat’s not home.Untitled copy

When the kids were small if we had no reason to get up, they would join us in bed. Sometimes we would read to them, sometimes they used us as a jungle gym and had a great time. We were all they needed to make them happy. We enjoyed those moments, but as joyful as these times were, there was also a hint of sadness involved. I was always aware that there would come a time when they wouldn’t want to play with us any more, or may not want to have anything to do with us at all. However, instead of letting these thoughts detract from such a rewarding experience, we are just thankful that we had children who, for a period of time, no matter how short it may now seem, let us share in their world.IMG_9040

Our children are part of us. Literally and figuratively. We provide the building blocks that make them. We pour every fiber of our being into raising them and hope that we give them enough to navigate the world without too much pain. I have previously said that I have no clue what goes into making a successful relationship. The same is true of parenting. There is an industry out there of parenting books and advice columns designed primarily, it seems, to make us feel incompetent. But each child is a unique expression of a human being that has never been before and never will be again. Life is too dynamic to be compartmentalized. Just because something works for someone else’s kid doesn’t mean it will work for yours. Our parenting experience is going to be different from yours but if I was going to offer advice I could sum it up in one word. Listen. Sounds simple but it’s not. We ask them why they do things but really we’re not asking to seek understanding. Their answer is often irrelevant. Our questions are too often just a vehicle to interview ourselves about why we disapprove of their actions or choices. Forego the rebuttal. Just listen. I recall spending a lot of time upset with the children when they would try to express their independence. I probably threatened them too. But of course, the only thing this succeeds in doing is driving them further away. Everyone who had been through this before with their kids tries to reassure you that one day the kids will come back. But at the time this helps not one iota.  Did our kids come back as we were assured they would? Of course. Maybe a little more tattooed and pierced than before they went away but come back they do. And the time spent quarreling is such a waste of life. Listen.

Their is no road map to parenting. You do your best and hope you have made the right choices for them. Then one day something happens and you have a “yes!” moment. And you know you did right. I recall an event, many years ago, when Sophia, our youngest daughter, was still in middle school. The phone rang and Sophia who was closest to the phone picked it up. After listening for a moment she asked “Mr or Mrs?” She looked toward me as if about to say something but paused. She then turned back to the phone and said “He can’t come to the phone right now, he’s drinking his tea.”

Peace, love and midwives

Ray

Home

October 22, 1987. Pokhara, NepalOur Nepalese trek started out innocently enough, sitting in a hotel room in Kathmandu reading through a book on trekking the Annapurna Range. Sounds like fun thought I. But sitting there in relative comfort it was difficult to imagine being 17,700 feet up in the Himalayas, in a bleak, silent, rocky landscape, squinting against the blinding glare of the sun on the snow, and pushing on step by step, as if in slow motion, exhausted and dizzy from lack of oxygen. By that point we were living a life stripped to the bare bones. All superfluous baggage, both physical and psychological, had been disposed of. We were unencumbered, free to move as we pleased (local politics permitting) with everything we owned on our backs. It seemed that the happier we were the less we needed. Does it follow that the unhappier we are the more we need? For four weeks we hiked up and down (and up and down again) through the mountains with only our legs to carry us. But all adventures must come to a close.

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The last leg of our Himalayan trip was a water taxi across Lake Phewa. As the small boat neared the shore of Pokhara, our destination, the excitement I had initially felt at seeing the town in the distance was slowly turning to apprehension. Ahead lay all things we had been dreaming about for so long: a cold beer, a warm shower, a real bed. So why the sudden urge to turn back? All too soon, it seemed, the boat ran up to the bank.  I looked back at Rae. I had expected her to be overjoyed at being back in civilization. When we initially got on the boat she had picked up an oar to help row. But she hadn’t moved. Hesitantly we picked up our backpacks, stepped ashore and walked up the grassy bank towards the road. There were so many people, cars, buildings, and sooo much noise. We hadn’t heard a motor in four weeks. It was almost as if we had just set foot on another planet. I looked back towards the lake but the boat had already left. With all other options denied us, and holding each others hands tightly we slowly walked back into the town we had left just four short weeks before, both realizing for the first time that our lives would probably never be the same again.

Rae and I travelled for almost three years on a quest to find the perfect place to live. While in Indonesia we took lessons in batiking. One of the batik pieces I made was a map of the world. We took it on our travels and whenever we stayed somewhere for more than a few nights we would hang the batik up on the wall. We would make a big deal of getting it out and hanging it up. “We’ve been in one place for three whole days, do you think we should put the batik up?” It was our way of saying this was home. A sign of familiarity in our ever-changing world.
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November 24th, 2015Southern Illinois. Prior to this trip, the Annapurna hike was probably the most challenging endeavor (outside of parenthood) that Rae and I had undertaken together. But now, this adventure too was coming to a close. As we drove further North the temperature had been getting colder. I put jeans on this morning for the first time since leaving Chicago last month in anticipation of our return. There was a hole in the knee which I didn’t recall being there the last time I wore them. Then I remembered I ripped them falling on the way to the airport. The ride could have been over before it begun. People keep asking if we’re anxious to get home? I want to say yes. I mean I know I should be. But I keep thinking no not really. This van has been our home for almost six weeks. Rae even decorated it with prayer flags as a sign of permanence.

IMG_8528As the mileage decreases between us and Urbana I find myself getting more apprehensive. Just as I did on that boat trip so many years ago. The names of the towns are becoming more familiar. Yes, there is something to be said about lying down on your own mattress and being enveloped by the comforting familiarity of your own bed. And not feeling the need to quickly pull back the sheets before laying down to check for bed bugs. But how do you know you’re home? The batik map of the world adorns the wall of what used to be my guitar practice room. I find the occasional child, home from college, asleep on the couch. And even though our eldest daughter and her family no longer live with us I still hear the incessant yapping of her chihuahua in my mind’s ear as I walk up the drive. When driving cross country Rae said she would make stories up about the lives of the people and the places we traveled through. But the closer we got to home the more we knew the stories. Here we know the people and places and the stories that go with them. We drove into town on Lincoln Avenue. But it’s not just Lincoln Avenue. It’s the parade route on the 4th of July. Eventually we turned onto our own street and felt the familiar rumble of the car tires on a brick street. Being home is that feeling, like sinking into your own mattress, but extending all around in every direction wherever you go and being enveloped by the comforting familiarity of knowing. 

Every few days Facebook reminds me of something I posted on this day a number of years ago. “Ray, we care about you and the memories you share here” Facebook assures me, “We thought you might like to look back at this post from three years ago.”  Three years ago on this day we were at a Leonard Cohen concert in Rosemont. These memories are a constant reminder of what seemed like a simpler time. Another world when time didn’t matter. But was life ever as simple as we recall? I have fond recollections of our Annapurna experience. But if I think about it I also recall walking a safe distance behind Rae because I was expecting her to turn around at any moment and start beating me with her walking stick for putting her through this. Just as with previous adventures, we know our lives will never be the same again. Now we have no more grand distractions and there are challenges we must face. Perhaps our greatest. But we will face it together like we have with all the others. Many of the scenarios and challenges that we now must face have been playing out in one form or another for countless generations.  The circumstances may change but the challenges are in many ways the same. We have to continuously deal with our own faith and doubts about being up to the tasks placed before us. We have to weave a path between joy and despair, life and death, all the opposites and contraries. The same challenges play out over and over. This situation we’re all in doesn’t submit to a neat solution that you can put into a box and tie up with a pretty bow. The only thing we have any control over is how we face the problems. To say that life isn’t fair imbues it with a certain anthropomorphic sense of personality. Life isn’t fair or unfair. It just is.

But now we are home (locked out because we gave our keys to other people but home none the less).

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Peace, love and midwives.

Ray

Bookends

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You know how it is when you have company for dinner or you’re just hanging and shooting the shit with friends and one of them says: “Have I told you the story about………?” And their story reminds you of a similar experience that you had and you want to share your story too. Well, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to share a story. At least verbally. I speak in short, concise, carefully worded sentences. And then only if there is no background noise and I know the person I’m speaking to. I will sometimes attempt communication with a stranger but only as a last resort. But seriously, does cappuccino really sound like cup of water? This blog has become my vehicle for telling stories. So if you have a moment there is a story I would like to share. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
August 11th, 1980. Tel Aviv, Israel. We got off the plane at Ben Gurion International Airport and stepped in the sweltering Middle Eastern summer heat. I had traveled to Israel with my good friend Brian. We made our way to the volunteer office and were randomly assigned to Kibbutz Degania Bet in the Jordan Valley. When Brian and I first arrived on Degania we discovered fairly quickly that among the volunteers there was a well-established hierarchy. You knew who the veteran volunteers were because they had fans in their rooms. The rest of us had to suffer through sleepless, suffocatingly hot and muggy nights. In England it was always so mild that I didn’t even need to open the bedroom window in the summer. But in Israel, when I got up in the morning my shape would be outlined in sweat on the mattress. One of the veteran volunteers whose fan I coveted was this American girl with the same name as me.  But she resisted all attempts at socialization. Many years later she said that this was because she had a lot going on in her life and didn’t want to get involved in any new relationships. Relationships? All I wanted to do was to borrow her fan. 
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Two weeks later this girl left to meet with her parents who were vacationing in England at the time. I stayed on Degania for another nine months but eventually had to seek gainful employment off the kibbutz because I had spent my air fare home on a new tape deck. 
 
October 18th, San Diego, CA.
IMG_8337When I look back at pictures of our departure from San Diego it seems as distant as the time that I arrived in Israel. We’ve all been on the road together for a little over a month but the west coast seems like a lifetime ago. So much has happened. There has been more than one occasion when I thought the trip was surely over. I have relived the moment of the crash a hundred times over. I do not recall how I got so close to the curb on the left of the path. I may have been looking ahead. A moment of inattention on a clear path. I may still have hurt myself if I’d landed on gravel. But I didn’t. I landed in a small patch of rocks. The only patch of rocks for as far as the eye could see in either direction. The “perfect storm” of bike crash conditions. It was almost as if the rocks had been waiting for me to happen upon them. As we have driven across the country I have given a lot of thought to what might have been. It’s useless to do so I know but sometimes it seems your brain just wants to taunt you. Yet somehow, here we are. 
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When I left the kibbutz I got a job on Moshav Givat Yoav on The Golan Heights.  I herded sheep, weeded tomato fields, fixed irrigation systems, weeded olive groves, built barns, weeded cucumber fields, cleared fields of rocks, so that they could be planted (and then I weeded those too). And all for the princely wage of a dollar an hour. But after nine months of working from dawn to dusk six days a week I figured that I had enough money saved for a plane ticket anywhere in the world that I might want to go and should even have enough left over for a few beers. So I went back to Degania to regroup. And who should have just returned a week or so before but this unsociable American chick. On my first day back I remember standing on the porch of the volunteer building seeing her return home from work. This girl that I had first encountered for just two short weeks, over eighteen months ago. Who, for some reason, had occupied my thoughts in the interim for more time than I care to admit. Walking towards me across the grass between the date palms. Wearing the faded blue, sun bleached workers’ uniform of the kibbutzim. Covered from head to toe in dirt from working in the banana fields and of course, totally oblivious to my existence. This time, however, things were going to be different. Although we had both just returned to Degania, since we had previously spent a significant amount of time there in the past we were both instantly afforded “veteran volunteer” status. So now that we were on the same social strata, verbal communication between us was acceptable. So I said: “would you like a cup of tea?”
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A week or so ago it was just me and Rae in the car driving through Louisiana as Daniel and Andi were riding. Then out of the blue Rae asked “How will I know you’re still with me?” While the question surprised me, I did have an answer. But when I tried to verbalize a response I couldn’t get the words out. The thought that one of us would not be with the other had never really occurred to me. Even if one of us is not there physically the essence of that person remains embedded within the person whose life you shared. So really, how can we ever not be together. I’ve been making movies for Rae for her birthdays for when I’m not around. Rae says I’m her memory so each mini movie is about a certain time or event in our life. How many thousands of conversations have we had? Granted, given my lack of propensity for conversation, even when I could talk, we’ve probably had less than many couples who have been together for as long as we have. But even that lack of conversation is part of our familiarity. How do you measure the essence of what it is to become so utterly familiar to someone? So well known and ever-present that the two of you become indivisible. And then to lose that physical essence. How can you not be there. Ultimately, for better or worse, that absence takes on a presence all of its own. I will always be there.
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November 19th, 2015. St Augustine, FL. When I dipped my rear wheel in the Pacific it seemed a little silly really. There were all these beach goers around us and I was getting sand in my cleats and I imagined everyone looking at us and thinking, there go another bunch of idiots. I just wanted to be done with the silly ritual and get on the road. When I dipped my front wheel in the Atlantic it was one of the most emotionally overwhelming moments of my life. Rae was holding Jack in one arm and gave me my bike wheel with the other. I wanted to hold her hand. It didn’t feel right to do it alone. No matter how much time, work and planning you put into a task, no one ever gets where they are going alone.
IMG_8905 (1)I walked forward towards the surf and the the sounds of our friends cheering was gradually drowned out by the sounds of the waves. As the surf washed over my legs they felt like they were going to give out. Not because of the strength of the current but all my strength just left me. My legs got me this far and they were done now. All there was in the world was the water washing over me and Rae’s hand on the back of my neck. I think I was baptized as a baby. I don’t recall the event. This I will not forget.

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Peace, love and Midwives

Ray and Rae (and Ian, Luci, Andi, Daniel, Ira, Lynny and Bill)

 

The Meaning Of Life

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November 17, 2015. Palatka, Florida. As we near our goal I feel compelled to switch from Eastern time to Leonard time. After our first visit at Easy Street Recumbents Micah set about detailing the modifications that would be needed in order for me to be able to safely ride and operate the trike. That evening he sent us an email attachment of the itemized invoice. There were nineteen suggested options/modifications. The title of the attachment was “The Spoonermobile.” Images immediately came to mind of me riding around wearing a mask with a cape billowing behind in the breeze. When I clicked on the attachment there was a picture of the trike under the banner “Your Chosen Configuration.” When it hurts so much to move that you flinch when someone walks too close to you it’s hard to imagine what it will be like to be pain free. Three weeks ago it took two people to help me out of bed. Yesterday I rode a trike 82 miles.

You got me singing
Even tho’ it all went wrong
You got me singing
The Hallelujah song

“You Got Me Singing”

I can still operate the gear shifters and brake levers with my right hand without too much trouble. Holding the steering steady above 30 mph can be dicey but doable if I don’t put too much power into the pedal stroke. Other things are getting harder though. Brushing my teeth, holding a mug by the handle, opening doors. My voice is already pretty much shot. And I would love to be able to finish a meal before it was stone cold. All that aside, unless something else gets me first I am going to die of respiratory failure at some point. But when you are told you may have ALS you don’t really think of any of that. It’s hard to conceptualize not being able to eat, breath or talk. There are many struggles that lie ahead but the thing that hits the hardest is the knowledge that one day soon someone other than me is going to be wiping my arse.

We find ourselves on different sides
Of a line nobody drew
Though it all may be one in the higher eye
Down here where we live it is two

– “Different Sides”

I may have mentioned (once or twice) that I’m a nurse. And as such so are many of my friends. Many of them, bless their hearts, have said they wouldn’t have a problem taking care of that particular function for me. As honored as I am at the multitude of offers the problem is that I’m a private pooper. I try to wait till everyone has left in the morning before going. I know where all the really out of the way bathrooms are in the hospital. If I’d had a stroke on the pot it would’ve been days before they found the body. Fortunately modern technology has given us some alternate options. There is a device that sits on the toilet seat that with the push of a button can take care of that “Necessity Care Function.” Granted, someone will have to push the button. Not to mention help me on and off the toilet. But hey, who wouldn’t want to pamper themselves with a gentle, warm aerated stream on “turbo” setting.

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There are many mental adjustments that come with riding a trike after a lifetime of riding a two wheeler. Each time I sit on the bike I want to reflexively reach for the seat belt. Then there is the extra width that comes with having two wheels in the front. I keep leaning to the right laboring under the misapprehension that this will somehow make me narrower but alas the trike remains the same width.  And trust me, I never lean to the right in any matter. I have always admired riders who can come to a halt and balance in place without falling. But hey, guess what. I can do that now. In fact, that’s one of the best things about the trike, when I come to a stop I don’t have to get off. I can have a drink, check my phone, take a nap. The possibilities are endless. I have also spent a lot of time pondering my visibility as semi truck wheels fly by just a few feet from my head. In order to increase visibility I now have my own official freak flag.

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When I first considered buying a trike, first and foremost was the worry that no one would talk to me when I got home. I mean, three wheels! The last time I rode something with three wheels was probably 50 years ago. But my future is going to be a clinic in adjusting to regression. Soon I’ll need a sippy cup to drink from, a drape to keep me clean while eating. And did I mention that I won’t be able to wipe my arse?  That being said, after the first day I felt like I’d been riding a recumbent forever. It didn’t take long to adjust. If I can get used to something so different from my ingrained frame of reference in this short a time I think I can adjust to anything. Maybe even sharing the bathroom. In a totally unrelated bonus, Rae and her business partner own a chocolate retail store called “The Bent Bean.” She loves tooling around on the Spoonermobile after I’m done for the day. Recumbent riders are collectively known as “Bent Riders.” To be honest, that alone was reason enough to get the trike.

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

-“Come Healing

On the 19th, if all goes according to plan we will be at the Atlantic coast. We shipped my bike home to make room in the car but kept the front wheel with us. I dipped the back wheel in the Pacific and I’ll dip the front in the Atlantic. It’s not exactly how I imagined the event would transpire but does anything in life ever work out like you imagine? You adjust and move forward. Or sometimes backward or to the side. But hopefully over time, there is forward motion. Even if that involves getting used to going backward.

I’m tired of choosing desire
I been saved by a blessed fatigue
The gates of commitment unwired
And nobody trying to leave

“Crazy”

So I guess you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the meaning of life. As you can imagine, to even think about taking this journey I would have to spend a fair amount of time in the saddle. And you’d be right. Back home I generally don’t ride with anyone. I just commune with the corn. Riding is my moving meditation. But I do believe that over the course of my decades in the saddle I have come to understand the meaning of life. And I was wondering if, by way of thank you for all the support and encouragement, would you mind if I shared it with you all today?

Now, I should emphasize, this is not information that should be sought lightly. While it may be divine in its simplicity, it can be transformative if you accept it as your credo. If you’re in a relationship and both of you like to ride and one of you takes this information to his or her heart and the other does not, it has the potential to lead to great disharmony. So I’m going to give you one last chance to stop reading.

Still with me? Ok, here it is:

If you’re stationary, you’re not moving.

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Peace, love and midwives

Ray

 

 

 

The Failed Divorce

November 10, 2015. Defuniak Springs, FL. Wait, it gets better. Before “Rays Little Fall” I had visited an emergency department once in my life. It was to get stitches. And before you ask, yes it was a biking accident. Yesterday I visited my third emergency department in three weeks and three states. The number of bullet holes in the Alabama state line sign would seem to suggest the best course of action would be to duck and keep pedaling. However, paying an impromptu visit to the Emergency Department here was probably the smartest thing I’ve let Rae make me do.

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The power of the human mind for denial will never cease to amaze me. People are often incredulous at tales of women showing up in labor who didn’t even know they were pregnant. That doesn’t surprise me at all. If you don’t want something to be badly enough then you find a way to make it not so. I have spent the last year or so watching my left upper torso getting progressively smaller and my skeleton becoming more prominent as the muscle mass covering it diminishes. So imagine my surprise when my left arm and hand started to get bigger again. And bigger. We tried many things, elevating it, anti inflammatory meds, sling adjustments, sleeping with a pyramid of pillows stacked on top of me to keep my arm up. But every day my arm and hand became more swollen. Rae described my hand as looking like a glove that someone had filled to capacity with water. My skin even took on a reflective sheen. The possibility of a clot had been suggested by a friend who is a physician. But I just couldn’t deal with one more fucking problem and I’m a nurse so dependent edema it was going to be, damn it. Although I was starting to wonder where my knuckles had gone and why my fingers wouldn’t bend anymore. I hate taking off my wedding ring. But fortunately I switched it to my right hand in El Paso because at this point, if it was still on my left hand, either the ring or the finger would need cutting off.

I came to the United States on a fiancé visa. Rae and I had 90 days to get married or I would have to leave the country. Both of our parents were separating at the time after long marriages and we weren’t too sure about the point of this whole marriage thing. Ours was a marriage of convenience, so that I could get a green card. It wasn’t exactly billed as the most romantic event of the century and we even told people not to bring any gifts. Would the truth be known we had even set a date for the divorce one year later in 1984.1617375_10153123846667009_5348425065662595857_o

Did I mention that in one of my many previous lifetimes I was a jeweler? Before coming to the States I spent a month back in England. I wanted to make our wedding bands but didn’t want to spend too much money because a) I didn’t have any and b) as I said, this wasn’t exactly billed as the most romantic event of the century. So while in England I asked my divorced or separated family members if I could have their old wedding and engagement bands. I took them to one of the jewelry shops I used to work at and they let me melt them down into a bar. I rolled the bar out into one long band which I then turned into two gold rings. And voilá, two free wedding rings. As cheap as my intentions may have been, over time I have come to see the wedding ring as an external sign of an internal spiritual grace, a visible representation of an invisible bond that holds two people together–even when distance separates them. I always know that Rae is at the other end of the band on my finger.

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We had just dropped off Daniel, Andi and Bill in Fairhope on the Eastern Mobile Bay coast and were headed for Pensacola. When on a whim Rae turned into the Fairhope hospital parking lot and said “lets see if they’ll see us.” I’m guessing she knew better than to ask if I wanted to go. After a few hours they finally took us back to an exam room. When the practitioner came in, before so much as laying a finger on me she just looked at my hand and said we need to get a sono to check blood flow to rule out a clot. To which I proceeded to tell her why it couldn’t be a clot because of x, y and z. And by the way, did I mention that I’m a nurse?

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The sono tech spent about 30 seconds on my neck and forearm respectively and about 15 minutes on my upper arm. Rae asked if she could see any clots. To which the tech curtly replied “we’re not allowed to say anything.” Which is tech speak for “you’re fucked.” Technically speaking I was right. There wasn’t “a” clot. There were two. So now I can add DVT’s to my ever growing list of health issues. I’ll be on an anticoagulant for the next 6 months. But more importantly I’ll be on a trike in 48 hours. I just have to try not to do anything that might cause me to bleed for a while. My trike shipped from Easy Street Recumbents in Austin today. We rendezvous with it on the 12th in Tallahassee. My trike is the one in the box, not the rickshaw thingy in the picture. I think.

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With each ED visit I also get a new arm brace. Actually, this is #4 including the one I got from the clinic in El Paso. This one covers my fingers. So if anyone asks how I am, I can say “I can’t see my fingers, so as far as I can tell everything’s fine.” From Tallahassee we will have 8 days left of riding to get to St Augustine. I’ve been looking at the roads as we’ve driven along. Some are narrow. Some have no shoulders. Some are quite busy although we seem to be past most of the logging trucks that filled the roads in Louisiana. I have thus far not been to an Emergency Department in Florida. Depending on when you are reading this you’ll know whether or not I made it to the Atlantic. I hate it when people know more about my future than I do.

A certain amount of denial is required for me to get back on a moving vehicle without seatbelts or airbags. I am supposed to keep my arm elevated to help reduce the swelling. I could put a pile of pillows on my lap on the trike to keep my arm up. That’s the good thing about a recumbent, I wouldn’t need too many pillows to raise my arm above the level of my heart. I might even strap a few pillows to my head too. There’s nothing that cries out “street cred” like riding a recumbent trike surrounded by pillows. This trike, like my Schwinn, is fully operational by the right hand. The hand that now bears my wedding ring.

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Sometimes people ask me what is the secret to a long standing relationship. If I knew the answer to that I’d write a book. Relationships are such a crap shoot. Our eldest daughter is an incurable romantic. She once asked: “Dad, how long did you and mommy date for?” I thought for a while and responded “Oh, about 30 minutes.” “Euwww. Dad!” I’m guessing that wasn’t the response she was hoping for. I was going to add “it would have been less if I could have walked in a straight line” but thought better of it. We’re a one night stand that has lasted nearly 34 years. I don’t really recall if we actually decided not to bother getting divorced or just decided that marriage wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe we just stopped denying we loved one another.

The only advice I have to offer is learn to say sorry–and mean it. Beyond that I would just say treat yourself and each other with respect. When frustration and difficulty assail your relationship, as they will  at one time or another, focus on what is right between you, not only on the part that seems wrong. Remind yourselves often of what brought you together (even if it was a brand of beer).

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Peace, love and midwives

Ray

Learning to fly

November 4, 2015. Coldspring, TX. We are finally leaving Austin. The town and people were good to us. This morning we finalized a plan with Easy Street Recumbents and a trike is being built for me. There is a critical part for the one handed operation of the brakes that needs to be shipped from England (where the trikes are manufactured). This part will get to Austin on Monday then the trike will be sent to wherever we are. There is a learning curve to riding a recumbent but I’ll have time. I hear it is still possible to overturn and crash a recumbent trike but at least I’ll be a lot closer to the ground. Douglas Adams once observed “the knack of flying lies in learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” I have mastered the first part but the second part I’m having difficulties with.

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As I’ve said, I have kept a journal for as long as I can remember. Some of them have been lost over the course of various moves around the world, but at this point, I have an unbroken record going back to the mid-’80s. It started out just documenting our travels. But eventually journaling became part of my post 24-hour-call coffee ritual. I never went to sleep after being on call. It always seemed like such a waste of a day. Instead I would leave the hospital and go to the coffee shop, sit down with a cappuccino and my journal, put Leonard on the iPod and gather my thoughts. One day out of the blue, Lisa asked me if she could have my journals when I was dead. I thought about this request for a while because if they ever made a movie of my journals it would not be PG-13. I asked her why she wanted them. She said, “so I can know you better.” Then I thought, well, I’ll be dead anyway so I said, “sure” and didn’t give it much more thought.

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I don’t do “still” very well. Even when I’m stationary I’m pacing. I can make people very nervous. The thought of waiting a week for my new trike seems like an eternity to me. I have never been this sedentary for this long a period of time. Ever. However, that I will be able to finish the ride at all is a blessing. Well, let me rephrase that. That I will be able to ride at all is a blessing. The finishing part I shall believe when and if it happens. Rae is excited about accessorizing the trike. Since the trike rides low, I need a flag to make myself visible. My “Rays Little Ride” jersey was cut off me in the ambulance. Quickly and skillfully by a paramedic before I could protest. But we still have its tatters. This will now become our freak flag and you better believe we’re gonna let it fly.

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In 2013 while in Amsterdam, I visited the Anne Frank house. The home of probably one of the most celebrated journals of all time. At the end of the tour, there were video screens showing interviews with the surviving members of the Frank family. I sat and watched one of her father, Otto Frank. He said that he and his daughter had lived in very close quarters for many years and he thought he knew her well. But when he was given the journals to read after the war, he was shocked at the depth and insight that his daughter had into life. This led him to conclude that no parent truly knows their children. This got me thinking about the reasoning behind Lisa’s request for my diaries. Not really knowing those you are closest to is something that goes both ways. So for Hanukkah that year I gave Lisa one of my journals. I thought I’d start at the beginning and gave her the one recounting her birth. I said that when you’re done with that one, return it and I’ll give you another and we can treat it like a library. I told her that she shouldn’t have to wait till I’m dead to know me. But of course, this wasn’t the one she wanted. She wanted the ones written during her teen years. Those were some tumultuous times. I hoped I hadn’t written anything too incriminating but handed over the relevant tomes as per her request.

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There are many faces we wear. Amongst them there’s the person we are at work. There’s the person we are with our family. And there’s the person we are when we are completely alone. If anyone knows who I am alone better than even me it’s Rae. Sometimes I wonder why I bother talking because even if I say what I think I should say, Rae will ignore what I said and do what she knows I really want to but didn’t say. As annoying as that can be at times, isn’t that the point of it all? To find that someone who knows you better than you yourself. There are billions of people on this planet laboring in seeming anonymity. Yet if you find that one person to notice you. To witness your life. To validate your existence. Isn’t that the point of it all? When two become so much greater than the sum of the parts. I don’t wish to diminish the value of someone who has not found their “one” but for me this is the meaning of life. I could not have gotten this new trike without Rae. I can talk to people who are used to my voice on the phone, if I use a headset, and they can understand most of what I say. When I speak on the phone with someone that I don’t know, there is generally a pause . . . then they politely bemoan the quality of the connection “I think the signal is breaking up.” Sadly, yes the signal is breaking up but it’s the signal coming from the motor cortex of my brain, not the cellular network. Rae has called recumbent dealers in England multiple times, recumbent dealers in Texas, California and Wisconsin because she knows it’s the only thing that I want to do. If I were Rae I would be freaking the fuck out at the prospect of me getting back on a bike. But, even before I dared voice it myself Rae was thinking about it. When I get back on a bike again it will be as much because of her love as it will be because of my pigheadedness.

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One day I received a text from Lisa. She had been reading my journal and wanted more information about something. She had taken a picture of the page in question in my journal and sent it to me. It was about the night of her junior prom in 2006. I had taken her to the event but she didn’t want me to drop her off too close in case anyone saw that her dad was bringing her. As I drove away she was holding up her dress and walking awkwardly across the parking lot in high heels to meet her date. I must have gone somewhere to have coffee and write in my journal because I wrote, “I bet when I come to pick her up, she’ll be sitting outside alone.” But this was many years ago, and I hadn’t given it anymore thought until Lisa texted that day.

“How did you know I would be alone outside?”

“Because that’s where I would have been,” I responded.

“I love you, Dad.”

Peace, love and midwives

Ray

I do

October 28th, 2015. Fort Davis, TX. We drove over the Emery Pass today. 8,000 feet. There were no guard rails. There were shear drops on every turn. Narrow roads. 360 degree switchbacks. The sort of thing that makes a pile of rocks sound appealing by comparison.

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Have I mentioned that I’m an ordained minister in the Church Of The Latter Day Dude? I have abided over the nuptials of several couples. Amongst them, our daughter and son-in-law Corey. When Lisa told me they are planning on getting married I asked when the blessed event was going to take place. Corey was in the Marines and Lisa said, we think Corey can get leave in 10 days. 10 days? So we had 10 days to organize a wedding that we wouldn’t be sure would be taking place until a few days beforehand.
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At the time Lisa was the manager of a coffeeshop. One of her customers owned a funeral home in a huge Victorian mansion that he offered for the ceremony. There was a small chapel with chairs on each side that he used for the viewings that could be used for the wedding. We put a semi circle of small pillars with flowers on top in the front of the chapel because the chapel was fronted by an insert that was awfully, well, coffin shaped.  There was a big sign outside the building that read “Funeral Home.” A sign was made about the wedding and stuck up to cover the “eral” part of “Funeral Home” sign. So that if you didn’t know the actual purpose of the building the sign just read “Fun Home.”
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One of my work colleagues (the one saving me a seat next to Marie Osmond in the hereafter) is a cake maker extraordinaire and she made the cake. Our youngest daughter Sophia was in band in high school and four of her friends formed a string quartet just to play for the service. To the best of my knowledge this was their only gig. Our good friend Jon owns a photography studio and donated his time to shoot all the pictures. And as I mentioned I conducted the service. I asked Lisa if there was anything specific she wanted me to include in the service. Her only instructions: “Dad, just don’t drop the f-bomb and please get our names right.” Such confidence.
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We had the reception back at our house. Anyone who asked to help we gave an aluminium baking tray with a bunch of ingredients and cooking instructions to bake something for the reception. Lisa bought her own wedding dress and Corey wore his Marine dress blues. I think the wedding cost us about $600.
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Before I would marry a couple we would all meet to make sure of mutual compatibility. For my part I would ask them one question. Do you love this person for who they are and not for who you think they can become? I don’t ask for an answer then and there, it’s just something I want the couple to think about. And I guess I’m asking this question more of the women than the men. The problem is that men don’t change. We think we do. We think we make all these concessions but we don’t. We might rearrange our priorities but with the idea of getting the same end result, not actually changing things. We are not stubborn. We are not pigheaded. We are just who we are. We are the men you fell in love with. I’m not saying men are totally incapable of change but waiting for it to happen is akin to watching a glacier melt (global warming not withstanding). You get involved in a relationship for who the person is. Not what you one day think they will become. To do otherwise is to court disappointment. I can’t change who I am. Even after the fall I’m trying to figure out how to get back on a bike to complete this ride. I have no business doing so for more reasons than I care to count. But that part of my brain has no off switch. I can’t help it. No matter how much it hurts to move I can’t stop planning. I will continue to mend for now, while everyone out there rides the miles I can not. I am humbled by the over whelming enthusiasm from friends, family and strangers from all over the world. But I have to finish what we started. Even if it’s just the last part in Florida. Maybe I need a three wheeler that is low to the ground. Maybe I need a bike like the Pathfinder Mars Lander that is surrounded by airbags so I can slam into any surface at high velocity and just bounce. Maybe I need a lobotomy.
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I dropped my cell phone today. Sadly there’s nothing unusual about that. But I mention it because I was able to pick it up again. All by myself. I haven’t been able to pick anything up from the floor since the accident. Rae is cheering me on when I breathe into the incentive spirometer with the same enthusiasm that she had previously reserved for cheering us as we rode by on our bikes. Yes, I’m a very lucky man. I know.
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If my recovery continues at this rate I hope to be up and falling back over again in no time at all.
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Peace, love and midwives
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Ray