In January, I entered my fortieth year, and notched #39 on the birthday belt. This being the last year I can hold title in my 30’s, I figured then that it may be a challenging one. Little did I know.
In mid-March, my uncle, whom I’ve been close with my entire life, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Stage 4, unresectable. About 3 weeks later in early April, I suddenly, and somewhat unexpectedly, lost my job. And exactly a week after that, I lost my German Shepherd, Maddie, again very suddenly and unexpectedly, to cancer. I had rescued Maddie as a year and a half old pup – she had graciously become the fearless protector of our family and home. She’d have done anything to spare me undue pain – including masking her own for so long that we were unaware of the tumors growing so aggressively inside her.
Here’s the good news! My uncle is fighting the good fight and has made great strides in shrinking his tumor and ameliorating many of the undesirable side effects of both the illness and its treatments. He remains positively focused, and he is confident in the continually advancing medical science of immunotherapy, which comes next in his treatment plan. The science of immunotherapy is advancing so rapidly, he tells me, that his doctors cannot even prescribe which treatments he will undergo next month – it’s too soon to know! For him, the alternative to beating cancer is simply not an option. He has a beautiful, loving wife, two amazing daughters on the cusp of the next phases of their lives – those that involve buying houses, getting married and starting families. He has a mother who’s punching off years in her 90’s like matches on a winning bingo card, and two sisters who know for a fact that experiencing life without him is not even a thought they can entertain for a millisecond. He shares mutual love and adoration with so many people, this being one of his greatest virtues.
I have yet to find my next big professional undertaking, but I remain confident that by persevering and remaining positively focused on the desired end goal, this transitional period in my life will serve out its purpose, leaving me better off than it found me. And as for sweet Maddie, though we constantly miss her dearly, I knew going in what the eventual fate was likely to be - given our respective lifespan differences. Though I wish she had expressed the discontent of her growing ailment so as to minimize her own pain, I respect the hell out of her devout desire to spare me from as much as she could. She was a truly amazing dog, and we are lucky to have shared our home and lives with her for the 8.5 years that we got. She never knew it, but she taught me so many important lessons about life. Just in her existence alone. I am so unbelievably grateful for the experience of being her mama and having her by my side during some of the most pivotal and poignant years of my life (the thirties).
As we’re now nearing the end of June and rounding out the first half of this year, you should know, 2018, that I heard you loud and clear and I did not lose the lesson even when I lost; if you could toss more kindness, maybe far fewer shock-inducing episodes, my way in the second half, that would be fantastic! And even if you don’t, I’m taking a page out of my uncle’s book – I will fight the good fight and continue to remain positively focused. When I look at gold, it’s the shining light reflecting back that I will see, not the metal. And in about 6 months when I greet #40, I will celebrate, with my uncle by my side. Numbers are just characters, after all. The obstacles and challenges life hurtles our way, with the intensity of a storm at times, are opportunities for growth; sometimes you’ve just got to shift your perspective a bit to see the glowing light bouncing back at you.
I’m not a religious person, or an overtly political one. To each her own beliefs and opinions – that is, after all, a huge part of a person’s identity, and it’s our differing identities amalgamated in this world that make the human race so brilliantly clever and unique among all living species. If Evolution is your thing, then perhaps give a nod to our primate ancestors in gratitude of that opposable thumb you use to scroll through feeds and send messages; lest not we forget the ability to walk upright, necessitating only half the quantity of shoes and offering us the ability to hold our heads high with pride. And if your beliefs about man’s ability to walk on twos and manually grasp objects with confidence lie elsewhere, then those are yours to embrace and celebrate. Be proud of what makes you you, and learn from, and be respectful of, those same, but different, beliefs that make another who she is. If the two of you feel like discussing your differences, then more power to you. Treat another woman or man as you’d like her or him to treat you. Plain and simple. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a preference for respect, compassion, intellectual curiosity and honesty.
There’s an old poem by Max Ehrmann titled “Desiderata,” which translated (roughly) from Latin means “these things are desired.” My mom kept it subtly posted in our home while growing up, and I have no doubt that seeing it often during my formative years helped to shape a lot of my personal beliefs today as an adult. Among its wise words are some relevant lines:
“…Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.”
LOVE THY SELF-DSCIPLINE.
In my experience, there’s a very simple way to define the meaning of self-discipline: just because you can, does not mean that you should. I can go buy a half-gallon of Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream, tear it open and destroy it in blurry spoonfuls until my throat and stomach will, “no more!;” but I won’t. I can hop in my car and race off on a high-speed thrill ride with no regard for posted speed limits; but I won’t. There are consequences to my choices and actions, I am aware, and a healthy fear of the possible negative consequences of those specific scenarios is what helps me remain disciplined to act as I should, not as I could. This inherent reasoning ability to apply self-discipline, it too is a trait unique to the human race, though as we see everyday around us, not a well-honed skill for many.
Can you take advantage of the privileges of voice and platform that you wield as a professional athlete? Should you? It is the prerogative of every one of us, as we amble through the daily algorithm of life, to continuously choose one option over another, with a compound effect: Wake up at 6:30am? ->YES or ->NO? YES. Go for a run after rising? ->YES or ->NO? If YES, eat eggs for breakfast?... and so on and so forth. Making decisions is inevitable. We all make mistakes, it is the nature of being human. When you make a decision, perhaps hastily or emotionally, lacking the application of self-discipline, you are rolling the dice; the certainty of the effect of the outcome or consequences of your decision plummets. For some, there is thrill in that feeling, and so they make it habit. The thrill of beating uncertainty is addictive. Overcoming odds to achieve success will make some arrogant and others wise to its limits. Among the large set of character traits we humans can employ, wisdom is generally far more attractive than arrogance, which breeds a false sense of power and security.
“Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
For the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
Many persons strive for high ideals;
And everywhere life is full of heroism.”
Hard-won lessons in life are my favorite kind. The sting, pain, hurt and fear that can accompany them offer a sobering and enlightening effect to the psyche. Sometimes the pause between the pain of the burn, or the sting of the betrayal, and the lesson gleaned is l o n g – by design. Some of life’s lessons, no matter how hard-won, just take longer to learn. It’s the best teacher I know.
“Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”
As adults, the ignorance of youth is no longer a luxury we can afford. It surrendered itself, however ungracefully, the day we chose to take responsibility for our own futures. Have the cake, or eat it, but the two cannot co-exist. You are responsible for your words and actions, regardless of how surprised or off-put you may be by their consequences. Words cannot be unspoken, tweets cannot be unread, and professional athletes can be replaced. If there is perceived injustice and you seek to help right the wrong to the best of your abilities, then do so with civility and discipline; it is the risk-takers who make waves, yes, but it’s calculated risks that ripple positive change.
“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.”