The title of this post comes from a show that I recently caught on Netflix. It was the title that caught my attention more than anything. It ran for a couple of years. In the last episode one of the main characters delivers her high school graduation speech and here is part of what she said that I really like.

Life is full of unknowns. And when those unknowns are too overwhelming, it’s the constants that we have to hold onto. Like our friends. The ones who are not afraid to tell us that there’s no such thing as normal. The ones who have been in our lives for every minute, even the hardest minutes. Like those who could have walked away, but chose to stick around. Even though they had their own lives, families, their own children.

We all learned what a light year is. And these years together have been our light years. The years where everything became brighter. When we learned that the bright spots in our lives aren’t merely spots, but constants. And no matter where I go, or what I do, you are my constant. May you never forget yours.

My favorite graduation (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/chi-schmich-sunscreen-column-column.html) speech is called “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young”, commonly known by the title “Wear Sunscreen”, is one written as a hypothetical commencement speech by columnist Mary Schmich and originally published in June 1997 in the Chicago Tribune. This piece has stayed with me.

These are United States weather references. (We’ve had plenty of weather related incidents in the US recently.) In early September the Texas coast was hit by a major hurricane, lives were lost and at this writing nobody knows how long it will take to rebuild. Earlier this year we had a flood in San Jose from one of the creeks. Our good friends were impacted by that flood. One of the local TV stations contacted them and said that they wanted to talk to some of the San Jose residents and see what memories they had through all this. Our friend Sandy talked about the empathy she felt as she watched the news. Every year when the anniversary of my stroke rolls around, it is also the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (I was in a coma, so I completely missed it. Hard to believe somebody can miss an event like this.) While we learned a lot from that experience, we have far to go — just like with a stroke.

I’ve said before that the San Francisco Giants are having a rough year. They are probably going to end up with the fewest wins in Major League Baseball this season. As a result, they have taken the season to evaluate the talent they have in the farm system. Professional baseball is one of the few sports which has a farm system where one can keep playing and honing their skills. When all is said that is one of the things that I love about baseball — looking to and planning for the future! It’s not just about what is happening right now but what do you have for tomorrow? (Or when things don’t turn out like you expect.)

In September 2017, we had our 24th Wedding Anniversary. 12 years pre-stroke and 12 years post-stroke = our marriage journey. The same friend that I mentioned above is also authorized to perform various ceremonies. Matt had the foresight for us to renew our wedding vows when I had the stroke. Our friend officiated. We couldn’t have fresh flowers in ICU, so another friend made me a bouquet of artificial flowers. Matt tells the story that when our friend said “Vangi, do you take Matt …” there was no doubt that I would say yes, but when would I say it? They waited … 45 minutes later, I said “yes”. They both know me really well, so they were not surprised at the time that it took me to respond — but to many this is a life unexpected event. (It’s at this time that many are smiling about the 45 minutes and thinking, yep!)

We recently saw Taylor Mac’s opus “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” and in the first segment he says something like “if you must bite the hand that feeds you, at least wear lipstick”! I love that line and the image it gives. It’s theater, but I see the whole thing as an experience! Most of the time when we go to the theater, we listen to the actors and see the scenery. Taylor Mac does a segment where everyone in the audience wears a blindfold for an hour. Our feeling of empathy for someone who has lost their sight is certainly heightened! Post-stroke, I can only do Chapstick, but I figure that’s close enough. That is one way I can have an impact on a life unexpected event. I remember before the stroke, I was driving to work and my vehicle hit the car in front of me. I wasn’t going very fast but my airbag deployed. I had just put on some red lipstick and left a mark on the bag from my red lips as I said ‘oh’. As I said no one was hurt and I can’t help but see the mark of the red lips on the airbag as I think about that car accident.

While I am on the subject of car accidents … do you ever hear nuggets which turn into pearls of wisdom? A good friend recently told a story and she said “the pedestrian in the crosswalk has as much responsibility as the person driving the vehicle”. That is a great perspective to have. I had my AVM at birth. So I can’t do much about that and the stroke, but I am responsible for my happiness/disposition today. You know what I say that it takes the same effort to be positive. Life is full of unknowns!

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“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” Colin Powell

In many ways, I wish I could wave a wand and have things just so! But that is not the case. I’ve said before that I play games on my DS. It’s a handheld gaming device by Nintendo. I think it’s good for my ataxia. I play games which require a stylus which I hold in right hand. I often get frustrated when I get a message telling me that I’ve run out of time and have to repeat the level. It doesn’t say that I have failed the level but rather that I’ve run out of time! So the obvious thing is to go faster. In the words of Matt “that ship has sailed”. Do you know the saying about working smarter, not harder? I’ll spend the bulk of this post telling a story that I heard when I was young. It’s about a farm hand who could sleep through anything.

There once was a farmer looking for a young man to help out at the farm. There were several young men who interviewed for the job and as far as the farmer could tell they were about equally well qualified. He then went and asked them each one final question. “Tell me”, he would say, “why should I hire you above the others?”

Of all of the applicants and their replies, there was one that was really different. One young man said ”because I can sleep through anything.” At first the farmer thought it was just strange, then the more he thought the more he was intrigued and mystified by the response. So he figured, well I might as well give this young man a chance and he hired him.

Weeks went by and the farmer was pretty happy with the young man’s work. He still wondered sometimes what the young man had meant by his strange reply, but he never got around asking him about it. Then one night he was awakened in the middle of night as he got a phone call from neighbor. “There’s a big storm suddenly coming in with lots of wind, maybe a tornado” the neighbor said. “Better get ready for it”.

Indeed as the farmer went and looked out the door he found that the wind was strong and rising and rain had started. He quickly ran and tried to wake the young man up to start getting everything ready for the blow. Try as he might, the young man couldn’t be stirred. Muttering to himself about what a stupid thing he had done in hiring a lazy boy who wouldn’t wake up when he really needed him, the farmer went out to the farm to prepare the farm for the storm.

He went out to tie down the hay but discovered that the hay was already tied down securely. Next he went to the barn and the corrals. Every time he looked, everything had already been prepared. After a while of just wandering around the farm, of discovering that there was nothing that needed to be done at the last minute because it had all been done before, the farmer returned to the house, but instead of muttering, he actually found himself singing the praises of this young man. He had realized, to his great joy, that the reason that the young man could sleep through anything was because before he went to bed each and every night he had already prepared for the very worst. And so the farmer followed the example of the young man, since everything was already prepared, he undressed and was soon fast asleep, with a huge smile of peace on his face.

Now, I am not there yet, but ever since I heard this story, I have often thought about this. Matt and I often tell the story of the project manager who is on a driving vacation, but is going to be late in arriving to a specific destination. So while he/she is driving, they realize that they can just speed up to make up the time! Easy solution, but then they check the fuel meter and see that they will shortly run out of gas.

This is just like with a stroke — it’s not just a simple quick fix. There several things to consider. The Sommer family includes a daughter who had an AVM/stroke at 19. Sara (the mom) has started a website called Therafun (https://therafun.org) to inspire others to try create alternatives to therapy. She shares lots of things. I find it very informative. One’s life really changes with a stroke like this. As Matt says “everything is therapy!” It’s a mindset. He installed a hand sanitizer dispenser near the dishwasher so when I empty it, I can just put a squirt of sanitizer on my hands. One of the things I love about therapy is how the therapists use things we already have to rebuild a skill. I heard recently that life is more about rewriting than writing. The whole idea of working harder or faster is obvious, but as I see it, working smarter makes more sense!

 

“The basic fact is that all sentient beings, particularly human beings, want happiness and do not want pain and suffering.” Dalai Lama

August 15, 2017 will mark 12 years since I had my bleeding stroke. I’m sure lots are saying 12 years! Time flies when you’re having fun. This is a big deal because I have exceeded the expected longevity from my bleeding stroke. Rightfully, this is a Ta Da!

The quote above is from a book called The Art of Living (A Guide to Contentment, Joy and Fulfillment) by His Holiness the XVI Dalai Lama. After I finished the book, I went on-line to do some more research on it. I was surprised to find so many postings about the fabulous pictures in the book. So I went back to look at the pictures. I was so focused on the text that I completely missed the pictures! Now isn’t that a metaphor for life?

There is a Hallmark movie called Moonlight in Vermont (you can see most of them on the computer on YouTube) and a woman says she realizes that it’s not the place but the people and memories that make it a great experience. I like that.

I often ask others how they are doing. I hear “I have good days and not so good days”. This, I totally get. Many people don’t see those “not so good days” … I’m a great actor and for the most part, I figure people have their own things upon which to focus. Matt and I don’t do as much as we used to. We still try to do special things. Matt is great about asking me what I want to do and keenly aware of the things that will provide a fabulous experience. My best time is in the morning, I’m pretty useless in the evenings. There was one day that I went to bed at 8:30 pm because I was so tired. The next morning, Matt brought me my tea in bed and by 8:15 I figured that I better get up because I didn’t want to be in bed 12 hours! I found recently a piece that I wrote in high school that contained the line “sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you”. I now get it!

One of my favorite pieces of jewelry is one made by a talented and creative friend (Elizabeth Weaver). It is a lariat necklace A lariat necklace does not have a clasp or hook at the back of the neck like most necklaces. Instead, you fasten a lariat necklace by tying a knot it in the jewelry itself. Lariats are often described as a lasso. It is a single, continuous strand of jewelry. It’s great for me because of the ataxia. It’s a beautiful piece with a lot of my favorite colors and I can wear it with various things. The reason I point this out is to see that things have differed but it’s the end result that matters. I’ve told a few people this. We went to see the movie La La Land in the theater when it first came out. I had heard an interview with Ryan Gosling where he talked about playing the piano. He said he knew how to play the piano but he took lessons to learn to play jazz piano. I doubt many of us would know the difference!

We have friends who live just north of San Francisco in a cohousing community of about 30 households. We went to spend a weekend with them about a year after I had the stroke. I think I was using the quad canes the first time I went up there. One of the things that struck me most was how the children were curious about me and my status and so they asked Matt and me questions without judgement and were very talkative. The whole experience was eye-opening.

The SF Giants are having a rough year in baseball. Lots of people are upset and looking for a reason for their standing in the division. I’m probably not as upset as others. (I’ve had lots of experience with this!) As I look at it, one can do everything right and still have a difficult time. Just like with a stroke!

In the book the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, the XIV Dalai Lama says “As a Buddhist, I view death as a normal process, a reality that I accept will occur as long as I remain in this earthly existence. Knowing that I cannot escape it, I see no point in worrying about it. I tend to think of death as being like changing your clothes when they are old and worn out, rather than as some final end. Yet death is unpredictable. We do not know when or how it will take place. So it is only sensible to take certain precautions before it actually happens. Naturally, most of us would like to die a peaceful death, but it is also clear that we cannot hope to die peacefully if our lives have been full of violence, or if our minds have mostly been agitated by emotions like anger, attachment, or fear. So if we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well: Hoping for a peaceful death, we must cultivate peace in our mind, and in our way of life.”

That’s what I’m trying to do … cultivate peace in my mind.

 

“How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” Mother Goose

My mother was very good at tongue twisters. I remember when I got to do some in Speech Therapy. I read them, but it was a good start!

I’m sure most people have heard the saying about the light at the end of the tunnel. Some say it’s a train headed right at us and I just saw a sign that stated “due to recent budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off”. It’s about our perspective!

Sometime ago, Matt and I saw a play (can’t even remember the title) where a woman is talking about a dream she had where she is fishing. She is having a difficult time catching anything when in the distance she spots a fish. While she is considering ways to catch it, the fish swims over to her, comes out of the water and says clearly to her “fish somewhere else”. Where are you casting your line?

Do you know the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”? Notice it doesn’t say try the same thing over? Fish somewhere else, but keep fishing!

When Matt and I got married (September 1993), we put disposable cameras on each table for the reception since we figured it would be difficult for the photographer to get all the candid photos of guests and the event. Disposable cameras were the rage then. We searched diligently for a place that could expose the film (cameras required film in those days) and provide the pictures overnight as we had several people over the next day and we thought it would be a treat to see the pictures. Go figure? Today everybody has a digital camera on their cell phone and we go to weddings and other events where they make announcements about an acceptable time to take pictures. The whole concept of photos has changed! We used to use film which was exposed and the process of pictures was costly and timely. It required us to think about what we wanted as pictures. I used to say of people who took many pictures on vacation that they had to wait to get their pictures to see if they had a good time. Developing the film for pictures could be a lengthy process. Today things have really changed. A big deal for me is the whole experience. Having pictures available lets many have the experience with us. Now that whole example is to show you that perspective does make a difference. For me on this, it broadens the ‘those who experience’ circle.

I think I mentioned before that when I came home after the stroke, I had a different version of the house in my mind. We had lived here for about 15 years, but walls and rooms were different than I remembered! I mentioned this to a friend who said “it’s because your perspective has changed”. When I started using the walker to get around then I could see the layout. In many ways I see perspective like brain plasticity. We can change it and we can make use of the changes.

I shared this with Matt a couple of days ago. People know I’m a huge San Francisco Giants fan. They are having a rough year. Someone posted a picture of the standings for their division on Facebook. They are in last place in their division. Each league has three divisions. The picture was posted upside down and the post was “Look, the Giants are in first place!!”

I said that Matt is on the Board for the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. One of the many things I love about them is that they do new plays. You are not going to go there to see a well known play. I typically see each play twice during the run. There is not a bad seat in the house. There are three sections (left, right and center stage). When I had my stroke, Matt changed our seats to more accessible ones. Those happen to be left stage, front row. I love those seats as it has the benefit for me of focusing on the dialogue. As Matt is on the Board, we go to opening night of the play. It is a very different experience. That is the evening when press is present and the whole atmosphere is different. We usually sit in the center stage section for that. Because I know the plot, that allows me to focus on the scenery and the relationship among the actors. The perspective is very different. (It’s like seeing a brand new play!)

That Mother Goose quote/saying above ends “as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.”