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The Making of a Memory

30 May

I am learning.

Now isn’t the above statement beautiful?  I think so, which is why I choose to give the three little words a line to themselves.  It is a true statement.  And the word, “still”, is blatantly omitted; its implication unnecessary, given the intent of the meaning.  I am learning…


I believe it was January of 2010, perhaps December 2009, when my husband Brian, daughter Esther, and I attended the United States Marine Corps School of Infantry graduation ceremony of my son, Cole.  We took, along with us, the grandmother of my husband.  Granny, we called her.  In fact everyone who knew her called her “Granny”.  She was 83, and for the first time in his 44 years, Brian noticed her mannerisms–walking, breathing, and the like–resembled that of her moniker.  She was a Rosie the Riveter of WWII, a beauty and a powerhouse of a woman.  In her eighties she could out-lift me!  I know this because she would often corral me into helping her move a heavy, solid wood, piece of furniture from one end of her house to the other.  Bad knee and all–hers that is, not mine!  So it was quite shocking to see this grand woman needing ambulation assistance from the car to the bleachers where we sat for the ceremonial debut of Cole, the grunt (the Marine Corps sure goes to lengthy strides in ushering out the pomp and circumstance upon the young grads, only to send them out to the front lines of Afghanistan.  But that is another story, not the one I am telling here!).

Yet to the bleachers we went, though Granny took a trip over the legs of another person who happened to stretch his out just as she was passing by his seat.  Between Brian and myself we caught her, but the increased pressure the near fall caused her, already sore knee, was apparent.  With her discomfort in mind, I sat close to her so as to keep a watchful eye upon the, now fragile, woman.  I confess, I was a bit irritated at her insistence upon joining us, especially as her fragility was now an issue.  In my selfishness, I wanted to only focus on my son without having distractions.  But I did get over myself and took on the perspective of gratitude that this woman, in all her discomfort, wanted to support the accomplishment of her great-grandson.  Cole and his Granny were a special pair, and her being there was absolutely as it should be.

As the ceremony began, as it continued, and as it ended many tunes were played.  I had the privilege, because I was next to the woman, to witness Granny stand up as if on a twenty year old knee and sing every word of each patriotic song, then sit down again as if the call to action was no imposition to her worn out legs.  Not only did she sing, she sang with tears in her eyes and her hand over her heart.  She sang without shame, and a glimmer of something precious was in her eye.  A glimmer I did not possess.  In that moment, I envied the sense of patriotism Granny exuded.  I still do.  And I have never forgotten it as it is my impetus to better understand the motivating gratitude from which it was generated.

Now on Monday of this past week, Memorial Day, Cole requested we go to the Marine Corps Park in San Clemente to pay tribute to his fallen brothers.  So that morning, I took him to purchase the flowers he wanted (the type had been discussed in detail previous to the day so I knew what we were after).  And Brian, Esther, Cole, and I hopped into our 1956 Ford and headed south to the park (not to be confused with the show, ‘southpark’).  To get there we had to go around a Memorial Day blockade and be subject to the rude interaction from one of the traffic volunteers.  We then found the one handicap space available which put Cole’s side of the car directly into the bushes making it difficult for him to navigate his balance, his cane, the car door, the incline, and the shrub all at once (not to worry, we watched–just kidding, helped).  We then made it across the lot to the park.  Cole stood quietly with his cane, his dad by his side.  We placed the flowers at the foot of the Marine statue and then Brian asked Cole if he would like for him to read the devotion of the day from his devotional book.  The answer was, “yes”.  We then read every plaque and name imprinted on the statue and the surrounding wall.  I sat down on a bench with Esther as Brian offered to read the inscriptions to his son–the ones Cole’s poor eyesight kept him from reading for himself.  All the while, I couldn’t help feeling choked up.  In fact, I had to wipe away many a gratitude-filled tear.  And I remembered Granny, her beaming face, her gaze at the USA flag, and her knowledge of every word to every song sung at Cole’s SOI graduation.  I could feel the appreciation for the willingness of a stranger to give of his/her life for the benefit of others–the awe that my son is among them.  And I could feel the sorrow of the loss of each family who had a name on a plaque, while understanding more passionately the miracle of having Cole still with us.

Brian tore the page from his devotional and left it under the flowers; right next to a handwritten note from a Vietnam Vet paying tribute as well.  It was difficult, in our silence and humility, to know when to leave…though Cole helped with that as his stomach was calling the shots.

I am learning, and presently my son is the one teaching.

United States Marine Corps Park, San Clemente, CA

Running From Fear

1 Mar

My title is a little misleading.  The reason being is that I am not wholeheartedly committed to keeping to the topic of fear, for this particular posting.  But knowing from past experience that I could trouble myself for far too long regarding a title, I decided it would be better to land on one and move on.  So that is what I did.

A few updates on Cole.  He enjoyed his trip to Nicaragua.  He mostly ate and rested, but the climate (humidity and sun) did very well for his eyes and body.  And he very much enjoyed, appreciated, and took note of the warmth of character emanating from the general populace.  Which in turn, warmed his heart.  He was definitely ready to come home and he has not wanted to have fish since being back.  Fresh fish and fresh veggie’s, sounds like an eating utopia to me!
We have begun the VA process.  What that means is they are taking over responsibility for his medical care, and we are learning the ropes between our local clinic, the Long Beach VA facility, the West LA VA, and the La Jolla VA.  Why so many locations?  Have a brain tumor and subsequent complications as a result and you, yourself will come to understand all the required specialists who need to be on board–and how the VA has said specialists (or specialist-singular) at one location but not another.  So Cole and I get to travel a lot together and spend a significant amount of days at varying facilities.  Our observation?  Cole’s age group is the minority.  Why?  Because most young military personnel who are injured and released from service are medically boarded and have the private insurance company called, TriCare.  As to why Cole does not have that advantage is another story; a story which I am saving should we decide the press needs to up the ante on the military and the decision making board…there is quite a story here, I assure you!  However, and in the meantime, the VA has been most gracious to Cole.  And everyone who we have been in contact with has been exceedingly helpful.  And the cafeteria in Long Beach is brand new, with lots of glass and a cool industrial architectural appeal.  Cole and I make for good companionship, as I don’t like to talk much nor does he.  We sit and observe, help where we can, and butt out as needed.

Previous to Cole’s surgery, as I was transitioning from full-time mom, to part-time mom and full time student, one of the questions I had hot on my heels was, “what do I want to be when I grow up?”  The question found no real answer because I have truly loved my position as home-maker, wife, mother, familial assistant, volunteer, and friend.  So deciding on a career that could fulfill my already fulfilled self was challenging;  yet I was pursuing the degree because my domestic duties weren’t producing an income.  Then as certain as change itself, my path was redirected back to home (and out of school) when Cole was diagnosed with the brain tumor.  And here I am again in the full-time position which has been the most rewarding of places to be.  Of course, while I was fast upon my road to becoming an educated individual, I did my best to maintain the priorities of my family.  Easy to do in my heart, but challenging when it came necessary to study.  At any rate, thanks to the VA, I am now receiving a stipend for helping to take care of my son.  A blessing that is most appreciated now, especially with Brian being out a regular paycheck (Yes, in theory he qualifies for unemployment.  However, that is yet another story–one I hope will soon have a happy ending.  But in the meantime…uuggg!)

Now to give credit to my somewhat misleading title…

It has been my experience, this past year, that some people are truly afraid of what life has handed our family.  In a covertly perverse way, it is as if cancer (or tragedy-not that they are synonymous) is contagious.  I have experienced people ‘keeping their distance’ because they cannot handle the reality of Cole’s circumstance, our circumstance.  I have also had people afraid to ask me how Cole is doing, for fear the answer will be grave; as in Cole is in one–though he wishes for cremation not burial.  Yesterday, one such person coyly broached the subject and then apologetically said, “I hate to even ask.”  But was then encouraged by my answer, “Please ask away.  And we are doing well…in this moment.  We truly live day-to-day, moment-to-moment.  And today all is well.”  His response was positive and his hesitation to smile (in my presence) subsided.
In all honesty, I am not offended one bit by this not-so-uncommon reaction.  I am saddened a little because, while staying away, they are missing out on hearing of the blessings that we live in, which of course I would love to share; and I am missing out on their friendship.    So to you, the reader (because I do not have the forum to shout it out to the whole world), I say, “Don’t let fear get in your way!  Of anything!  Fear is a robber; a thief.  It will steal away blessings and rob away joy.  If you find yourself stopping short, as a result of fear, push through…and push it aside.  And please, do not fear being our friend nor asking how we are.  Though I realize befriending our family comes with a great deal of risk!”

And most importantly, remember–CANCER IS NOT CONTAGIOUS (though some sexually transmitted diseases, which can cause cancer, are!) …oh dear, that is one of the risks–Rivka-isms! 🙂

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (psalm 27:1)

P.s. I could write an entire study on the Psalms and psalmist…for King David, the author of the Psalms (let’s leave it there for simplicity sake), was one complicated man…yet the Lord saw past his complications, never letting go of David and considered him “a man after G-d’s own heart”.  How is that relevant to me?  Just reminds me that my “Rivka-isms” don’t even scare off G-d, at least not when compared to David! 😉

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