Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Before "Normal" is the Goal

February 21, 2013 will forever be the day that normal changed for me. We all have milestones that delineate the end of one thing and the start of something else, but for me on that day, life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. With the diagnosis of a deadly disease that I couldn’t feel, couldn’t see, and couldn’t mentally process, everything changed.  My entire frame of reference for the life I had carefully constructed threatened to fall like the proverbial house of cards. It didn’t fall, of course, but all the detail, all the ruffles and flourishes on which I prided my existence now seemed unimportant. So, while I wasn’t able to find space at the posh day spa on the foothills of Salt Lake City with an incredible weight loss program to de-tox, I found space at the inn where I can heal and now I’m redefining ‘normal.’ At least this place has a view, the food is pretty good, and the price is right. I just need to convince them that they can keep the salt packet. Ketchup, however, should not be an option! I have such American taste buds!

Up to that day, ‘normal’ for me, was life on auto pilot as I suspect it is for you. The alarm goes off to remind us that it’s another day to make the doughnuts and we roll groggily out of bed and start the day. Routines like showering, shaving, and driving through rush hour to our workplace just happen.  We spend most of our waking hours making a living so the time not spent at the workplace are done in a style where we can find some happiness and comfort and then we face rush hour again and then we do it over again and again and again. (This video - pay attention to the lyrics -- to Synchronicity II by The Police) hit that repetitive hell a little too closely for me for a number of years). Ideally, that work is something you enjoy and not just putting in time. That’s pretty much ‘normal’ for most.  We embrace it as part of our culture and honestly don’t give it much thought. Normal, for some borders on nihilism, but I think for most of us, pretty good.

Most of the daily activities I took for granted every day of my adult life are now on hold. Simple things like using my own toothbrush, shaving (although admittedly, I’ve never ‘enjoyed’ that activity), using toilet paper, moving anywhere without my IV pole (going to the restroom and showering included), walking outside my room without a surgical mask, and on and on. These fun activities are now my new normal for the foreseeable future. They’re not onerous requirements and I’m not complaining, but I daresay they’re not ‘normal’ for you or the vast majority of people you know. Normal is becoming something different by the day, but I gotta tell you, what was normal where I rolled out of bed and started my day like you, can’t come back soon enough and it won’t be ‘normal’ ever again.

Here’s my point. We’re all pretty much creatures of habit to some extent and because that’s the case, we tend to take an awful lot for granted. My good friend, Brian, who knows me perhaps better than anyone, drove up from California last week to be with me for the day.  He passed this poem on to me, yesterday knowing that my troglodyte Naval Academy education was heavily engineering-centered and lacking in poetry (No surprise there…not a lot of naval poet laureates on the payroll last time I checked). It hit home of course.

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.
                - Mary Jean Iron

Normal shouldn’t ever be the goal, yet it’s far too easy to be complacent into drawing a paycheck, paying the bills, and falling into a routine that rather than being fulfilling, crushes our soul and devolves our daily life into a simple exchange of time for money equation so we can get away from the thing that pays the bills. Work doesn’t need to be a ‘necessary evil’ any more than normal needs to be a way of life, let alone the goal.

So, live with intention, not simply with an eye toward the next paycheck. Don’t wait until you have dire choices in life to appreciate the simple things, but rather take calculated risks for happiness. Do I sound like a Hallmark card?  If I do and your eyes are half-masting, may I suggest you take a quick trip to your local hospital and wander down the hallway of any given ward. Every one of those people just wants your normal day. Hopefully, that little trip will reinforce that ‘normal’ for you is BORING and that normal for us inpatients is replete with luxury. May I suggest you stop by the nurse’s station and ask if anyone there could use a visitor. It won’t take you but a few minutes, but you will have made someone’s day by simply being there.  Brian (same one as above) did that while I was getting a CT scan done and he made an impact on someone who had been rather lonely and scared. I hear about far too many people who languish away during extended hospital stays. Thankfully, I don’t have that problem. The steady stream of visitors has kept me in good spirits and good snacks, but more importantly, it has kept me healing. I’m convinced that half of my treatment is chemical and the other is emotional / psychological / spiritual.

So, again, at the risk of sounding didactic or preachy, don’t let ‘normal’ be your goal. You have so much more than that.

Be well, stay strong, much love to you all!