I turned 60 in November so as you can imagine, I’ve compiled a few things that have stood out or stayed with me over the years. One of them is clearly a piece written by Mary Schmich who is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. In 1997 she wrote a piece on advice for youth which I call ‘Wear Sunscreen”. The article starts by saying “inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life.” She shares great tidbits and her one piece of advice is “Wear Sunscreen”. I love this and it makes me think that if I were to pick one piece of advice, what would it be?
I look at accomplishing those pieces of advice as victories. We tend to define victories as something huge, but realistically — a victory is a victory! If I were to inject a baseball analogy here: a win is a win. When you look at the baseball standings or summary, you will see a win. The details don’t really come into play. Was it a difficult victory? I often say one of the things I love about baseball is that ‘close’ doesn’t count. There are no ties in baseball. Let’s break things down so we can share many things and enjoy more victories.
Several years ago, we went to visit Matt’s family and one of his aunts had a great art piece in one of her rooms called Life’s Little Instructions. I loved that piece and I looked for a copy that would be mine. It took me a few years, but I found a copy as a print which we framed and I can see it every day. It reminds me of her and I love the things on it.
Here’s another thing about the stroke. I have always been bi-lingual. My Spanish was as good as my English. (I loved it when people would say to me … ‘but you don’t speak with an accent.’ Of course, I don’t know if they were referring to my English or Spanish.) There are many authors whose books I would read in Spanish before I read the English version. Now it takes so much effort to speak, that I only speak English these days. I understand everything I hear in Spanish or read in Spanish, but I don’t speak it! I watch a TV show called Jane The Virgin on the CW network. Jane’s grandmother on the show only speaks Spanish, so they subtitle her conversations. I just listen to what she says. I can’t read fast enough to follow the subtitles anyway! Rather than beat myself up because I don’t speak Spanish, I think it’s phenomenal that I understand it. Occasionally when I need to respond in Spanish, I do so very slowly.
It’s the glass half empty, half full thing. I’ve said that in October there is a World Stroke Day. One of their points is that one in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime. The frequency seems high. On the other hand, one in six seems rare. How special is that? AVMs are bleeding strokes. Statistically they are even more rare. If there was ever any doubt, let me say that I see myself as special! (We should all see ourselves that way.)
I have three things that I would summarize as the most significant learning about the stroke and I’ve shared them before in various ways. The first is my definition of renewal rather than recovery. I still use the word recover when it comes to skills. That’s one of my goals: to recover those skills that I used to do and have before the stroke. But I see recovery as a way of going back — which is something I will never do. For me, no “there” exists as a place to recover! I use the word renewal to define life after stroke. I will do things but in a different way. Each skill is a victory. These notes are a great example of that. People ask me about these. I do one for the first of each month. (Again, because I can remember that date.) I think of a topic based on things I read or see or whatever. Because of the ataxia, I only type with one hand. I do it as a draft in my e-mail so I can save it. It takes me a few days to type each one. Then it sets for a few days for me to think about and reread. Then I send a copy to Matt to check for typos, etc. (That’s important to me.) Then it is the first of the month and ta da! Twelve victories for the year. There are a few people that I send it to as an e-mail and I post a copy into the wordpress site. For those that print out my messages, you’ve noticed that most messages are around one or two pages long. I have an issue with stamina so it’s easier for me to keep things on the short side. I transfer my limitation to others. For those who read the Doerr book (All the Light We Cannot See), the concept of short chapters was awesome! Last year we went to a Ted conference at one of the local universities. It was a day long event and there was a theme for the day. Each speaker was succinct and kept their presentation brief and to the point. I loved it! It reinforced that concept that we can make our point and be brief!
The second is the idea of staying positive. I say, it takes the same amount of effort to be positive as negative. Make no bones about it, it’s all effort. If I have to make any effort at all, it might as well be positive. The third is how important the caregiver is in the journey. So I have three things about the stroke, but you know my saying that it’s easier to get forgiveness rather than permission!
In the early 90’s, there was a book that quickly rose the best seller list. Everybody was raving about it and as a reader I felt like I should enjoy it too. So I picked up a copy. (I’m not going to mention the title.) I started the book and was not into it at all. I found the story line and writing not to my taste. My first reaction was to not finish the book. My guilt conscience set in and I couldn’t imagine not finishing it. It was a big book, so I realized that I needed to change my strategy. Here’s what I did. I would read a few pages and skip the next 50, read a few pages, skip 50! Before I knew it, I was finished with the book. Ta Da! My ta da may not work for you and likewise your ta da may not work for me. I don’t recommend skipping pages to finish a book. We have to find the key for every situation.
Last month we went to a series of plays and readings at the Magic Theater. We saw one play that stood out in my mind. Lots of things were happening and I loved how it all came together in the end. A lot of people say “we all have different stories.” We do, I understand that. I also describe it a little differently. I say there is one story about life, we just have different chapters. That’s how I saw this play. That’s my ta da. I loved it!
I am a big fan of the Dan Ocean movies. I have a difficult time naming my favorite one. I love the stories and all the actors. I think that’s a big deal for me, how they all have a lot of well-known actors and how they work together. One of my favorite lines is from Ocean’s Twelve, where Frank Catton says (it helps if you do this in your best Bernie Mac voice) “let me break it down like a fraction for you.” I don’t think that we have to break everything down like fractions, but then again why not? I do think we should pick one, two or three things to highlight and when that becomes difficult, break it down (like a fraction) and pick. A victory is a victory, no matter the size.