This photo was taken almost 4 years ago, and although its true that memories fade, and although you can't see my face in the picture, I'm pretty sure I was smiling. The dirt alone was enough to make a person cry, for heaven's sake, never mind the blisters, but I was grinning from ear to ear. I took this picture of my feet on the second day of the Boston 3-Day For the Cure, a 60-mile walk aimed at raising money and awareness to combat breast cancer. This was the first weekend in August, 2007 and it was 104 degrees. I don't think anyone's feet were made to sweat that much - so, yup - we got blisters - and heat rash - and sun burn. But no one that I encountered over those three days - and there were about 2,000 of us - no one, was whining. Why? Because the people of "The 3-Day" are a rising tide that inspires and lifts us all. I had never before been around that many strong, selfless, gracious and determined human beings in one place. The spirit of The 3-Day is infectious and I hope this blog will continue its spread. Maybe by talking about what I go through to fundraise and train for a 3-Day event, I can help people stay motivated and committed. I am proud to be associated with this cause. I am grateful I have the strength to walk. And I'm filled with joy that I can do it with such a great group of people. So I'll buck up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Feel free to join me. But remember; no whining allowed!

Thursday, January 13, 2011


We spend Thursday evenings at the Knapp School of Music, an arm of the local recreation department where instructors and students spend their spare time in small rooms with scratched wooden floors filled to overflowing with old pianos and benches and sheet music. A vast array of instruments is being perfected in these rooms: piano; drums; guitar; trumpet - all being played with gusto, at once, and completely without regard for whatever may be going on in any other of the rooms.

This past Thursday, the meaning of the word "cacophony" was driven home to me in no uncertain terms. You usually hear that word in reference to a flock of birds or the blaring of horns in a traffic jam. But believe me, the Knapp School of Music at 5:30 PM on any given Thursday is definitely producing a cacophony.

I spend my time there on a long, wooden bench in the hallway of the second floor. It has clearly been stained its natural wood tone during some era of its life but has now been painted deep green. The legs are held together with a tie rod and a long length of wire. It is not entirely uncomfortable, though, especially for people like me, who are not large in stature. (Okay, I'll say it; short) It's a nice height and the seat is not too deep so I am able to rest my feet on the floor and my torso against the back. Nice.

Last Thursday night, I sat on that bench and listened to the kid in the adjacent room play scales. A slightly more advanced piano student further down the hall was giving Chopin's ghost an unmitigated series of cringes, scowls and raised eyebrows. I watched a lanky teenager in not-for-the-faint-of-heart skinny jeans go thru the metal door by the "Exit" sign pulling drum sticks out of his back pocket and pretty soon, he was percussing up the place with vigor. Around the corner, I could hear an instructor repeating "D Minor" but I couldn't discern what her student was doing at all.

Up the narrow staircase, my eldest son had fallen into a nice little chord progression on his stratocaster while his instructor kicked out a complementary blues riff. They actually sounded pretty good together, but in combination with all the other noise, it was enough to give a girl a headache. I tried to focus on my new toy that I had brought along to entertain me. The IPad. My husband had loaded it up with games for just this situation. Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and the like. I poured all of my concentration into trying to beat one of his high scores. Before I knew it, all the noise had faded seamlessly into the background. So seamlessly, in fact, that all the dissonance of the assorted keys and tempos, timbres and styles completely disappeared. After about 20 minutes, it seemed the building as a whole had achieved a kind of harmony. Nothing stood out as particularly offensive on its own and together, it was borderline, down-right melodious. It reminded me of The 3 Day.

As of last weekend, I am officially a registered walker. Again. Atlanta 2011. A five-time participant. One for the thumb, as they say.

Anyone who has ever been involved in The 3 Day will likely tell you that while you are trying to decide whether or not to participate, there is a lot of "noise." You might even call it a cacophony. People will try to talk you into or out of it and will offer a million reasons why and why not. It doesn't matter what level of commitment you are considering; whether it's just showing up to cheer for a day or signing on for a full three or four day stint "on-event." The fact is, Walking, Crewing, Volunteering, Cheering - it's all time away from your regular life. You may have to fund-raise, which can be arduous. You may have to train, which is an almost year-round necessity. Traveling to and from the event, the expos, the meetings, the "shoe clinics," the crew days - it all requires some sacrifice of your routine, your time, even your money. Your feet may get sore and your muscles may ache; your friends may feel alienated or just plain baffled; your children will miss you; you may have to take days off from work. You've been warned that your closet may fill up with pink training gear (not all of it flattering) and you find yourself pre-occupied with things like the wicking efficiency of your socks. Acquaintances note that it's harder to carry on a normal conversation - you're distracted, impassioned, and less and less able to follow thru with your customary habits and practices.

These are all reasons NOT to commit to The 3 Day. They are imposing obstacles. They are persistent and vociferous. They are loud. Deafening, even. And you have never heard a more jarring and discordant set of variables setting up metronomes and music stands in your brain. But while they drum and bang and blow away, there is another sound creeping in. It is just as shrill and piercing. And just as persistent. It represents all the reasons why you SHOULD commit to The 3-day. Not least among them is the fact that you could be helping to save a life while changing your own for the better forever. If you could make the world a better place for everyone you know, and people that you don't, just by putting one foot in front of the other, why wouldn't you? That's some beautiful music there. There's a harmonious melody in there that makes you want to sing along or write a new verse.

So if you need to sit for a while and let your brain play Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja for a bit until the dissonance fades, that's okay. Just jump in when we reach the chorus and do what you're destined to do.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The End of Another Year

Toward the end of last year, I e-mailed an old friend that I only talk to a couple of times a year. I wanted to give her a concise update of what had been going on in my life lately. This was before I was a blogger and Facebooker. I created a list that I felt hit the highlights. She got a kick out of it and also got some good information. This year I decided to do a similar list but found that it didn't mean much without the context of the prior list. I offer them both below for your perusal and entertainment. Perhaps it will give you an opportunity to reflect on the past year and spend a few minutes savoring the moments that meant the most to you. Don't dwell on the moments when you weren't your best self - just resolve to make 2011 an even better year!

2009 Thus Far

1) My 9-year-old discovered YouTube.
2) I have a 9-year-old now.
3) Converted to Catholicism. Officially as of April 11.
4) Wondered, often, if God’s grace is so vast, that he doesn’t care whether I’m Catholic or not.
5) My Mom almost died. (Immunodeficiency; Not the Catholicism thing above - - - at least I don’t think so)
6) Signed up for photography class.
7) Flew to Tennessee for my favorite Aunt's 75th birthday party.
8) When I got back, I committed to my third 3-day, 60-mile walk (first in Boston, then DC, then Atlanta)
9) On the flight to Tennessee, my left eardrum ruptured.
10) Constructed a vertical expansion of the garage to accommodate a lift for stacking cars; yes, stacking.
11) Got a speeding ticket.
12) My auto insurance premium doubled.
13) Learned four chords on guitar. Well, five, but I really can’t finger F major properly yet.
14) Did a happy dance at realizing my Dad had surpassed his “expiration date” i.e. lived longer than at one time he thought he might.
15) Currently in process of applying for a grant to study solar thermal and photovoltaic retrofits on historic and architecturally significant buildings.
16) Registered my youngest son for kindergarten.
17) Lost my equilibrium. Literally. Subsequently there was much falling down, throwing up and passing out. Much better now though. Haven't bumped into anything at all lately.
18) Sought treatment for said equilibrium loss at an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist where I ran into the American film actor and Oscar nominated James Woods. (He was in Oliver Stone's Nixon) This was ironically not my first run-in with Mr. Woods. I previously encountered him shopping at Providence Place Mall with his elderly mother who turns out to be a giant pain in the ass and who probably best explains why poor James has had two failed marriages and has been single for the last 15 years.
19) Treatment for said equilibrium malfunction involved five different medications that, when taken together, produce exceptionally vivid dreams, including a very dirty one about my priest. Try going back to spiritual formation class after that.
20) Was forced to host a “Soupy” - making party. Didn't want to but had the best kitchen counter for the job. Apparently many Italian Americans in Rhode Island have held on to their pre-refrigeration meat-preservation traditions. We made 40 pounds. Soupy is a dry, dense sausage much like soprasetta or pepperoni. Very spicy. Cured in casings as a pair of sticks and eaten - oh never mind. But if you know anyone who needs large quantities of red pepper, latex gloves or natural meat casing material, I've got some lying around.

A Follow up to “2009 Thus Far”

1) Became the mother of a Middle Schooler.
2) My youngest son started first grade and received a record 2 “Caught Being Good” certificates in one day!!
3) Became proud, part-owner of a $300 Jeep that has cost me well over 2 grand.
4) Did some hiking at Natural Tunnel and in the White Mountains.
5) Rescued Rich and Christian in my trusty Toyota Highlander from their doomed Tuckerman’s Ravine trek at Mount Washington when the trails proved impassable.
6) Watched my parents enjoy one of their most robust years in recent memory.
7) The chief “Soupy-maker” mentioned in last year’s tribute passed away. . . .
8) Experienced none of the foul equilibrium-based problems referred to in 2009 and thus experienced none of the interesting med-related side effects.
9) In medical news, though, had surgery to eradicate a cyst on my right wrist, which has worked out fabulously. Heavy duty pain meds did produce one beautiful Opus-filled hallucination and temporarily made the "West Virginia Ninja" the funniest thing on the planet.
10) Zero flights, zero speeding tickets, zero religious conversions, zero celebrity sitings (unless you count the Governor of Rhode Island who appeared at a little league game. His grandson’s team was playing Christian’s team. He spent most of the evening waving off mosquitoes.)
11) Started a blog. Maintained the blog. Found that I enjoyed blogging.
12) Participated in my fourth Susan G Komen 3-Day for the Cure and was honored to be chosen as a flag bearer at the opening ceremony. Genuinely one of my proudest moments.
13) Convinced Grayson to be in the Christmas Pageant at Church. He was cast as an angel. Perfect.
14) Did not receive the grant I applied for last year. But -
15) Did become the boss at work when my former boss retired. Did not want to be the boss but realized I was too good at my job to NOT be the boss.
16) Designed a lovely flyer for the Cub Scout Food Drive. “Scouting For Food” is one of my favorite events and we picked up over 5,000 pounds in our Town.
17) In other altruism-related news, purchased multiple copies of the local newspaper when Christian’s picture appeared on the front page to honor his class’s leading role in a school-wide community service project.
18) Did some reading about creativity and the brain and found that my favorite definition of creativity is, “The ability to abandon the problem.”
19) Turned 42. The ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything.
20) Came to realize that I have been blessed. Trying to now figure out how to retroactively earn those blessings.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Essay on Illusions - Part III; "C" Again

An octave above or below.

Well it took me seven months, but I finally got moved into the big corner office that came with my promotion (don't be jealous, it's in the basement). A new desk accompanied it but then the question arose as to what should be done with the old one. "The old one" is a circa 1980, cheap metal, faux wood-veneered monstrosity with drawers that no longer close and little round ball feet that fall out every time it's jostled. No amount of potted plants or pretty pencil cups or fancy business card holders can conceal its tacky decrepitness. So it was determined it could be disposed of. Poor quality and deteriorated condition aside, that desk was with me through a lot of years and I thought it deserved better than some uneventful hauling away, fading out of view and out of mind with no farewell ritual to mark its transition. So I started dreaming of something a little more. . . . memorable. My initial vision was of some type of Northern-Exposure-style catapulting of it. Our family catapult isn't mammoth enough for the task and the desk is not exactly aero-dynamic. We could take it apart and fling the pieces, but where's the fun in that? The thrill would be in seeing it smashed to bits; not carefully unbolted and loaded methodically into the bucket and launched to the sky one component at a time. But then I got an offer to have it be used for target practice by the police out at the firing range. I'm still working out the details. . . . Will keep you posted.

The point is, some people who know me well have been a little taken aback at my newly voiced deconstructionist tendencies. Here I am, the preservationist; the "green" planner who encourages developers to "adaptively reuse" obsolete buildings before they consider demolishing them to start with a clean slate. I've spent the last 15 years not only making sure that things got constructed, but that they got built the right way, with as little disruption as possible to the existing landscape, infrastructure and architectural fabric. And in my personal life, I recycle everything. The kids' clothes get worn by half a dozen youngsters before they're through. Books I'll never read again go to the Free Library. The old toaster oven that browns unevenly and the ugly desk lamp go to Big Sisters and the Salvation Army gets the rest. Waste not, want not - that's how I was raised. But this thing, this vintage mid-20th century pencil-pusher's dream, this hideous desk with the crooked foot and faulty drawer - well, it has got to go. And the more shrapnel-strewn and shattered the scene, the better.

My co-workers think I'm coming unglued when I talk about this. I remind them I'm the quintessential Gemini - the Twins - the split personality. It makes more sense to them that way. I also remind them that it is the things we choose to experience along our life-path that will define us. And just this once, I'd like to choose obliteration.

"It's all going to be very controlled and limited, with professionals involved," I say, trying to sound like myself. But still, there is puzzlement among those who have shared work-space with me for all these years. They look at me like I've morphed into something unrecognizable. So the question becomes: Is the real illusion that we can ever really know another person at all? We surprise ourselves sometimes at the things we're capable of, in both good ways and bad. So it shouldn't be a shock to learn that others close to us can surprise us as well.

Maybe my entire personality is the paradox. My left brain and my right; my builder/creator and my destroyer. The contradictory parts of me are both equally pure and "true" - they are authentic and real and representative. And I believe they are both valuable. In fact, any success I've had in life is due to my meshing of the two pieces. I concede that while I continue to play an active role in building up a better world, there may occasionally be a need to tear something down. There are certainly those among us who see annihilation and invention as mutually exclusive. But I believe it's possible that more of us than care to admit it are the walking, talking, breathing dichotomy that I am. That thing that is divided in half. The person with two non-overlapping parts that appear to be in opposition to each other - yet they can comprise a singular, awe-inspiring whole.

And speaking of awe-inspiring, I referenced the old show Northern Exposure earlier. If you don't remember the show or have never seen it, I think it's still possible to see the connection here. In the relevant episode, the townspeople get together to catapult a piano out onto the Alaskan tundra. Part of the rationale behind the flinging is "to create a pure moment." That desire for a pure moment seems even more germane to today's dialogue than it was 16 years ago when they made that episode. It's ironic that with all our technological advances, we've gained the ability to be a more connected and interactive society than ever before. There are opportunities to link up and network with our fellow humans seemingly every moment of every day. But how many of those moments are pure? How many are an authentic and meaningful exchange? How many could be called real connections that penetrate below the surface? The illusion of our incessant intermingling is one that deserves to be stripped away so we can get back to really relating with one another.

In the meantime, let's take a hard look at ourselves. Some of us truly are one thing or another; distinct and constant as the day is long. Others of us are destined to don shades of gray; variable and inconsistent to the delight of some and the vexation of others. As for me, I know what I am. I don't need Dr. Phil to tell me that my whole persona is a series of square pegs and round holes. There's no smoke and mirrors in my self-assessment. I have days where I nearly choke on forms, deadlines, schedules and expectations; when I'd rather dance or draw or sing. At the same time, I know I'll be the Steady-Eddy to the end - the blissfully malcontented team-player, the reliable one, the one who's good with numbers and linear processes; the one who gets it done - regardless of how mind-numbingly tedious it might be. I'll even pat myself on the back when I'm through. Yup. I'm going to keep bringing home the bacon. And frying it up in a pan. Just don't expect me to serve it with the usual side dishes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Essay on Illusions - Part II; F#

Illusions are not just visual phenomena. They can be auditory, too, like the Tri-tone Paradox referenced in the title of this series. Also, I'm fairly certain that if we humans had more advanced sniffers and relied on our sense of smell as much as other species do, we'd experience countless varieties of olfactory illusions as well. My ten year old says every time he smells Frito's, he feels like he's on a boat. It's because when he was about three, we took the Block Island Ferry over to the island for the day and, to the best of my knowledge, that was the first time he was exposed to that corn fried deliciousness. It wasn't a snack that we kept in the house at the time, but it was available for purchase below decks on the boat. I thought the salty crunch might keep my stomach settled, so down the narrow stairs we staggered and came back up with the familiar yellow bag. Now, almost eight years later, he vaguely remembers snippets of the trip, in flashes; the stairs, the long wooden bench seats. . . . He doesn't remember eating Frito's exactly, but without fail, when he gets a whiff of them, he says he can almost feel the bounce of the heavy ferry against the waves.

It's fascinating really. I think our sense of smell, more than any other sense, has the power to evoke a far distant time or place. I, for example, cannot smell cut hay without also smelling cow manure, whether it's there or not. I guess in my childhood, there was never one around without the other close by. Now, the two smells are so linked in my mind and my memory that I genuinely cannot smell one without the other. So these days, when I take the kids on a hay-ride, the hay is usually from a farm that has no herd. The bundled straw has more than likely been nowhere near a four-legged creature bigger than a fox, but I get the whiff of sh*# just the same. This illusion, like my son's, is a trick played on our individual senses. It is an experience unique to us. No one who hasn't shared with us the past events that shape our perception would encounter the actual aroma and have the same reaction. These are one-of-a-kind fantasies over which we exert little influence.

On the other hand, auditory illusions like the tri-tone paradox, which have been studied by musicians and psychologists alike, apparently produce reactions by individuals that are similar enough to be grouped with little variation. My understanding of the paradox is that when two notes are played sequentially, separated exactly by an octave, and then the half-octave note, the tri-tone, is introduced, about half of the population hears the note as ascending in pitch and about half hear it as descending. Unlike the other illusions, it is a real paradox, in that two seemingly contradictory statements can be made and they can both nonetheless be true. From what I've read, there is a strong geographic component to how the tones are resolved in peoples' minds and ears, interestingly enough.

For me, the real question that is raised by these illusions is to what degree are our reactions to various stimuli so reflexive and involuntary that our brains are really on some sort of auto-pilot. It could be such a natural, mechanized and instinctive response that we become mindless of the stimulus itself. How many of us have caught the barber pole out of the corner of our eye and let ourselves watch the stripes travel up the cylinder, while some part of our brain clearly knows that the red, white, and blue paint is merely spinning around? At what point are we seeing or hearing or smelling or touching something authentic, yet letting ourselves be tricked into a different experience? Maybe the real illusion is the notion that we have any control at all over how we react to certain events or observations.

Although the evidence sure seems to be mounting against me, I would like to believe that most of the time, we actually choose, at least on some level, how to react to the information, stimuli, and happenings in our path. Probably many of you read the piece that Leonard Pitts wrote while he was training this year for the Washington DC 3-Day for the Cure. I enjoyed it very much and think it is relevant here. For Mr. Pitts, the "stimulus" he encountered was his mother's death from breast cancer. His chosen reaction to it was to make a commitment to walk and raise money in her honor. But for years, he let his mind play tricks on him that allowed him not to do it. The illusions were the excuses and rationales and the vague sense that he still had plenty of time and would eventually get it done. But then his wake-up call came and he was able to face his own deception. He realized he was tired of getting to places without knowing how he did. And he certainly did not want his own life to end on that disheartening note. The illusions were stripped away and enough clarity to produce action came from the understanding that, "We're all going to the same destination. The only difference is in what you choose to see along the way."

Illusions are all around us. Our eyes, ears and brains play tricks on us every day. Often it's harmless, or even interesting or entertaining. I think we should have fun with them and not take them too seriously. If Dr. Phil said you're left-brain dominant, it doesn't mean you have to become a compulsive list-maker or quit your quilting circle. And if you hear ascending pitches in the tri-tone, you don't have to move to California and forever maintain a rosy outlook. But when you reach the point of Mr. Pitts, when you realize that "life is an act of will;" at that point, you need to choose to see clearly. No illusion, no paradox, no chimera, deception, or figment of the imagination. What authentic smells, sounds, tastes, touches and sights do you choose to experience?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

An Essay on Illusions in 3 Parts

A Tri-tone Paradox For Your Eyes.

Part 1 - "C" - Middle C? Maybe. . . . . .

Apparently Dr. Phil did a show this week about personality types. I know nothing about Dr. Phil and have never seen his show. I'm not so culturally unaware that I don't know who he is or anything. Of course I've heard of him. . . . He was, like, Oprah's pool boy or something, and gave out good advice and became some sort of celebrity psychologist as a result. I'm kidding. I understand he has helped many people and I'm sure his show about personality types was interesting, but I didn't see it. What I DID see, though, was a YouTube video that he used to encourage people to watch, and it was a real teaser, designed to get your attention and make you want to tune in and find out what kind of person you really are.

The video is of a computer generated dancer spinning around and around. The question is, is she spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise. Dr. Phil then advised everyone to tune in at a later date to see what their answer revealed about their personality. I immediately suspected that it revealed absolutely nothing. But then, I am a cynical person. The fact that I put no stock in the "personality test" possibly says everything you need to know about my personality. Or does it?

I rather enjoy optical illusions. (And auditory ones, too, but that's for Part II, forthcoming.) Just for the fun of it though, not for some fundamental truth that they might reveal about my very soul or world view. There are some great ones; the Necker Cube, old or young woman, MC Escher's stuff like the ascending/descending staircase. I did a science project about them once and found, quite simply, that some people see one thing and others see something else. It seemed the differences among people's reactions could have as much to do with who they were just talking to, what time of day it was, or what they just ate as any deeply ingrained essence of their being. Of course, I was some scrawny little high schooler making these observations, not some Ph.D. with a big grant budget and access to complicated statistical computer programs and several nerdishly sexy research assistants.

Regardless, my opinion hasn't changed much. But on something of a lark, I took the "test" anyway. I sat at my computer a couple of nights ago, clicked on that little dancer image, and off she went like a whirling dervish. I immediately and without any doubt in my mind, saw her turning counter-clockwise. I decided to watch it again, just to be sure. And again, she took off in the same direction. But my 6-year-old son was playing Lego's in the floor next to me and he heard the intro again and looked up. He glanced at the screen and stated, "Clockwise." I looked down at him and said, "Which way is that?" - just to be sure he knew the difference. He took his little index finger and moved it out in front of himself and drew a circle in the air, parallel to the floor, leading out and away to the right. Then he went back to playing Lego's, not caring at all what any of this meant. I looked back at the screen and there she was, plain as day, spinning clockwise.

I panicked. It had never mattered to me whether Dr. Phil thought I might be more ruled by my left brain than my right. I had just assumed he was going to alert all the "clockwise" people that they tended to be more creative, holistic, etc. and the "counter-clockwise" people with their left brains that they tended to be more logical, linear, etc. This result was something else entirely, though. Someone who sees the dancer spin BOTH directions within the same 20 second span?! Clearly this was an indication that my brain is mush. This had to say, in no uncertain terms, that my mind is malleable; I'm impressionable and highly susceptible to suggestion. And suggestions by a 6-year-old, no less. Crap. And here I've spent the last 20 years trying to be my own woman.

Before giving in to a full-fledged meta-physical meltdown, I decided to take a deep breath. I looked back at my Lego-playing pal again and watched him put an Indiana Jones hat on a Storm Trooper and pop him into a one-of-a-kind pod racer. I smiled and thought I'd try the "test" one more time. And that dancer, tricky little tart that she is, had gone back to spinning counter-clockwise.

I turned the computer off. But I couldn't get it out of my head. Maybe there WAS something to this personality indicator, and maybe it didn't have to be what I first thought, because, well, who wants to think that about themselves?! Maybe it was something more along the lines of the traditional Dr. Phil assessment regarding what part of your brain dominates your way of thinking. I remembered taking one of those right-brain/left-brain tests one time. There were 32 questions. My answers to exactly 16 of them indicated my right brain, the creative, intuitive side, was in charge. Exactly 16 also indicated my left brain, the logical, analytical side, most impacted how I function in the world. The lack of a clearly dominant hemisphere perhaps explains my ability to see the spinning in two different directions almost at once. Then again, it might mean I'm the perfect representative of my astrological sign, Gemini, The Twins. Open-minded and able to see both sides of an argument; inconsistent in decision-making to the point of almost appearing to have a split personality. Far from seeming freaky, this is all, in fact, starting to sound pretty accurate.

OK, so maybe my response to the personality test turns out to be perfectly in line with my actual personality and maybe this Dr. Phil is more than a pool boy after all. But if, in the end, I am just a weak-minded joiner, then thank God I saw an ad for The 3-Day. From that perspective, I'm happy to be impressionable. I'll be a willing sucker for a good suggestion. "Clockwise?" - yup. "Counter-clockwise?" - that too! "Walk 60 miles?" - I'm up for that. "In possibly extreme heat or a cold rain?" - I can get on board. "Raise a whole bunch of money by pestering the bejeesus out of your friends and co-workers?" - Sounds good. "Do it all again next year?" - Count me in. "And the next?" - I'm all over it. . . . .

Friday, October 15, 2010

Family Reserve

Back in July, a couple of weeks before the Boston 3-Day, I went down to Virginia for a family reunion. I mentioned it here in an earlier blog post on July 9. I find myself thinking about it from time to time and what is striking to me now is what a big family we have! My Mom's family had eleven children in it and my Dad is one of four. My husband is one of three and both of his parents came from three-child families. As a result, I have about a zillion first cousins and my children are blessed with an enormous extended family - most of whom seem to value it and want to keep the generations in touch. We are very fortunate indeed. But then I start to do the actual math. . . . .

When a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer about 4 years ago, we looked at her like she was some sort of anomaly. This wasn't something that ran in our family - we had no history with it. I think there was a lot of scratching of heads and pointing and wondering "Why her?" What had she been exposed to? What had been the trigger? But I'm afraid the real question is not 'why her?' It's 'why just her, so far?' The disease is ubiquitous. Women in their 20's are getting it along-side women in their 60's. It's rampant. You just don't meet people anymore who haven't been affected in some way by knowing and/or loving someone who has faced this diagnosis.

The Breast Cancer incidence rate in the United States right now is about one in eight women. My current home state, Rhode Island, is a high cancer rate state. If you live here, your odds of being diagnosed with breast cancer in your lifetime are 1 in 6!

When I got home from the family reunion this summer, I made my own little family tree. A very cursory one that only included living relatives. It basically lists my parents and my husband's parents, their siblings, spouses and children and then our first cousins with their spouses and children. Then I got out my pink Hi-lighter to illuminate all the women and girls. There were 50 of us. 50. Technically, I guess that means 6 or so more of us might be fighting this fight first hand at some point. Those are suckish odds. I think of my sisters-in-law, my 11 year old niece, my 70 year old aunt. Myself. And never mind all the girlfriends we love like sisters. How many of them get stamped into the algorithm? I don't like this math. And I just want it to stop. I want my family tree to remain crisp and white with pink hi-lights. No circles or asterisks or footnotes. Nothing to indicate how the statistics took their toll. Just names of living relatives. So it has to stop.

Many of us are working very hard, in the only ways we know how, to make it stop. I really think my "flash freeze" idea that I discussed here in my October 2 post might be a way to symbolically and cathartically "make it stop." We claim a couple of moments out of the event and "freeze" them. We hold them motionless; stopped. And maybe that will carry us until it stops for real; inspire us to keep going, work harder and see that it stops for good in our lifetime.

My "flash freeze" post has received a lot of attention. People are definitely spreading the word. But I'd love to know more about what people actually think of the idea. Interesting? Worthwhile? Do-able? If you have any comments or suggestions, please share. Thanks a lot!