"Only those who risk failing greatly can ever succeed greatly." –RFK
Friday, July 08, 2011
More than a name
Several people have asked me if I have given my cart a name. Yes, I have. The name was decided long ago. It came to me on a run. And when it came to me, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. Yes, that will be the name. I knew instantly that it was perfect.
It's an unlikely name.
I had been thinking of "usual" names like "Badwater Bliss" and other plays on my last name. But those ideas never jived. They didn't have meaning, and I wanted meaning.
Then, several months ago while running my usual peaceful country roads, sort of in a zoned-out state, I was thinking of my uncle, the uncle who cancer claimed too early in his life. It was just this past September when I was at his side in the hospital, holding his hand, rubbing his swollen feet and talking with the doctors about easing his pain from the cancer that had metastacized to his spine. He was lucid at first, but as days went by and his lucidity started to slip, we knew there was a chance he wasn't even going to make it out of the hospital.
Then as mysteriously often the case, he had a "good" day, a day I knew I needed to make the most of, and so I took some time by myself to talk with him.
* * * * * *
Let me back up and share briefly a little about my uncle.
He was my mom's brother, only brother, except for the one who died at a young age. He was my "cool" uncle, the one I admired and wanted to like me. As a child, I saw him about once a year when our family made the annual family vacation drive from the Midwest to New Jersey, where my mom's family gathered for a sort of reunion, usually over Thanksgiving.
I thought he was cool. He went to Vietnam, served his country, had long hair, had a thin physique. He was in a motorcycle accident that shattered his femur and had a metal rod in place of bone there but still ran regularly for fitness. He was a vegetarian. That's what I remember.
The story went that he held a couple of jobs after returning from Vietnam and then he decided he wasn't made to work for others.
He loved horses. So, he started raising horses, training them for racing, and winning big races, and he made a good living out of it. He was happy and successful; a self-made person. He built his horse ranch in Ocala, Florida, and then eventually built a bigger and more beautiful one in North Carolina. He named it River Run.
I never saw the ranch...until this September when his wife took me there and we parked outside the gate (it had since been sold as they had just retired their business) and we talked about it. She told me about the horses, the stables, the staff, the racing, the hard, hard work that both of them did to make River Run what it was. It was a gorgeous ranch with a river that ran near the house that hummed to them in the evenings after a long day of work.
* * * * * *
After those early years of the annual family drive to New Jersey, there started to be times went we didn't go. And I lost touch with that side of the family. Not completely but there were long periods of time of no contact. Probably a lot had to do with the fact that that my own immediate family was splitting up. It was a hard time.
It was such a hard time that I left high school - before high school was over - and I went to Chicago. I was 17. Fortunately, however, my school allowed me to complete the class requirements for graduation through correspondence, and I did receive my high school diploma. My overall grades, however, were horrendous.
In Chicago, I had a minimum wage job, a whopping medical bill that I was responsible for paying, and no health insurance. I rented a house with two other people in Chicago for $200 a month. Enough said there! I did the best I could to stretch my income to cover basic needs. I did ok. College, which was something I had always planned on doing, was simply not an option. Still, I often perused the class listings at the university and picked out all the classes I would take if only I could.
So, still hopeful, with each measly paycheck I cashed, I saved. I would sit on the floor with labeled envelopes spread out in front of me, and I would put $100 in an envelope for "rent," $20 for "utilities," $35 for the "bus pass," etc., and $20 for "college."
Finally, I saved up enough money for a class at the university.
I applied and met with the registrar woman. I felt transparent and nervous as she looked over my transcripts. "Can you explain these F's?" she asked looking over her glasses at me. "I wasn't serious about my education then," I said, "but I am now."
"Sorry," she said, "I can't allow you admission."
"You should go to a community college and prove that you are serious now...and then come reapply."
I was devastated. And gave up on the idea. And just continued to work.
* * * * * *
About a year later, I realized that it didn't matter what I wanted to do, it only mattered what I did do. Sometimes a promise "to do better" isn't good enough. The registrar woman was right. So, I went to community college.
I registered for my first class and I was, um, shall I say, proud to be there. I aced it no problem. The next semester I registered for another and aced that one too. School was easy for me. I loved it.
Three years it took me - one to two classes per semester at community college - to get through one college year of credits.
I wanted desperately to go to the university but reality was, despite Pell Grants and some aid, I could not afford it. I couldn't afford the hidden expenses of books and fees, aside from tuition itself.
So, as proud as I was, and as much as I fought desperately the need to ask for help, I realized that I had to at least ask before I gave up on a chance at an education. I honestly loathed asking for help, especially financial help. The refusal from a family member several years prior was still a knife in my gut, and I swore I would never ask for help again. My pride was fierce. But that wasn't doing me any good. My mother would have paid my tuition in an instant if she could, but she was now in school herself readying herself for the work world.
So, I asked my uncle.
And he said yes, he would help me.
* * * * * *
He helped me with some of my tuition and I paid the rest. I was still working full time after all, and by then had been living in a nice apartment in stable conditions. I had a car. Things were tight, but I was doing fine.
I reapplied to the university and was admitted with no need of promising anything. My community college grades were proof enough.
Truly, if it wasn't for my uncle creating that opportunity for me those first years at the university, I never could have done it. It was he who opened the door for me, the door I thought was jammed shut forever.
Nine years later, I graduated from Loyola University Summa Cum Laude, and thenhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif went on to medical school. The rest is not important.
My uncle is what is important. He trusted me, he believed in me, he gave me the chance. He created an opportunity that changed my life.
This past September, on that day in the hospital, I took his hand and I cried and I said, "Thank you, Uncle Paul, for helping me."
* * * * * *
So, when I was out on that run a few months ago and I was thinking of my Death Valley crossing, the teens at Crosswalk who will benefit from the GED and tuition fund-raising, the cart, and my uncle, the name came to me and I was overwhelmed with emotion.
I will be crossing the desert, an oft-thought godforsaken place (though that is so not so!) where there is no water, no less rivers. I will be pulling, creeping, crawling my way forward, sometimes less than a mile an hour up the passes (contrary to all that it means to "run"), and I will be totally unaided, completely self-supported, solo, self-reliant (and yet that is, in real life, never. ever. true.)....
And when the name came to me suddenly and took my breath away, I knew instantly that it was perfect.
I am an ultra runner, physician and have been medical director of some of the toughest ultras. I tend to be a mover and a shaker and louder than my size suggests. However, my Gemini twin is gentler and contemplative, an artist, a writer, and a poet. I am a dog lover, a believer in souls, and have a special affinity for those who struggle because I have been there.
This is my crazy lovable huggable Weimaraner, Steely Dan. I call him Steely. He left us in January of this year at only 6 years from lymphoma that did not respond to chemotherapy treatments. Steely was a total goof. He loved trail running, road running, treadmill running, new experiences, making eye contact, sleeping on his back, me, kids, and liver treats. He was Zappa's best friend. We miss him dearly.
This is Stella. A rescue from the shelter. She's about 6 months old and a Border Collie. She is a joyous bundle of energy and curiosity and now also Zappa best friend. She will make a nice running partner when she grows up.
This is the now the big brother of my family - a rescued Greyhound. His name is Frank Zappa. I call him Zappa. He's 7 years old and has learned all about life beyond the track and crate from Steely when he was with us. It was very rewarding to watch his personality bloom as he settled into the family. And yes, he runs like the wind!
This is Natasha, my dearest friend. She was with me through college, medical school, residency, and she moved with me from Chicago to Spokane several years ago. She was my best running partner for 10 years. My sweet Natasha died from bone cancer in 2006. I miss her still. I hung a windchimes over the deck outside. When it chimes, I smile and think she has finally -- wherever she is now -- caught a squirrel!