Sunday, June 9, 2013

Undaunted Courage

Every one of us has to face challenges from time to time. Some of them are personal, some are physical, some are moral, but they stir within us something that is greater than ourselves. One of the challenges I’m most proud of is completing the AIDS LifeCycle – an event raising money to care for people living with HIV and AIDS and the service organizations that care for them.  It involved training far beyond my then 49 year-old frame was prepared for. I thought I was at least a decent cyclist until I came across some of those nasty damned hills in Orange County. I had some days where I felt like I just had to pull over and throw the bicycle off the side of the road and call it quits, but I had a whole team-load of people encouraging me, cajoling me, prodding me, and teasing me to keep going. After all, I was training for an event that wasn’t about me.
So, I gave up what I had of a social life and trained on Saturdays and as the event got closer, other days of the week as well. I put up with the blowing sand near Solana Beach and saved a bundle on that microdermabrasion treatment I wasn’t considering, I learned how to change flat tires, and I learned a lot of humility and life lessons along the way. I won’t say that I didn’t have just a little trepidation about doing this 545-mile ride, but I was determined. I had supporters, both financial and physical that made it possible and I had beneficiaries, some I’d visited in training, some I’d heard about as a teammate carried their names on military-style dog tags around his neck, and some I’d met on the side of the road thanking us for remembering their loved ones.  It was profoundly moving because it wasn’t just an ego investment in riding my bicycle a long distance. It forced me to take my eyes off my poor achin’ bod and keep these very real people ever before me. I was inspired, I was moved to tears many times, and I was never the same afterward. My very much daunted and intimidated self was forever changed in the course of a week.
I had registered to ride this same event this year and had I not been saddled with a bit of a medical setback at the Salt Lake City VA with an IV pole, would have crossed the line at the Los Angeles VA amid the cheers of the thronging multitude.  No, really…it is a crowd that will make you cry no matter how macho you think you are. I followed my teammates via Facebook as they rode down the coast with pride and envy. They really became an extended family of sorts and I broke out my orange beanie in solidarity with Team OC this week. I can’t say that I’ll have the strength to ride in 2014, but I’m going to do my best to see them off or greet them at the finish line next year…and depending on how my health is the following year, I’ll be looking at making my way down the coast in 2015!

Despite the physical and mental demands of something like this, I did it! (Read about it here if you like). I overcame my doubts, my physical limitations and stretched beyond. In the process, I changed. It made me into someone else. I had someone equate the event to a religious experience, and I guess in a way it was. I think that any major challenge will touch your spirit in some way and you have to rise to that occasion or be destined to repeat the lesson some other way. Suffice it to say, a cancer diagnosis is one of those things that steers your eyes at things that you wouldn’t otherwise look. I’ve written about a number of those things, but it’s fair to say that there are yet many of those lessons in humility, life lessons, and opportunities to face my fears and overcome them.

I believe you can face your own fear with undaunted courage without having to face your mortality. Maybe in my case, that’s the only way for me to stop tending my many irons in the fire long enough to take care of myself for a change.  Maybe not.  I’ll be able to look back at some point and say with some certainty what that is. My hope is that I don’t doom myself to repeat the lesson by ignoring what’s in front of me. I’m still a bit spooked about the future, but I’ve spoken with enough people to know that I can do this. I may falter along the way; I may feel like pulling over and chucking the IV pole out the window; I may feel like my courage just isn’t enough to carry me through, but just like my Team OC compadres, I need you, dear reader to be alongside me.  This, like the commitment to ALC I made, is a long-term deal.  I’ve been told by every survivor that it takes a good year, post-transplant, to feel 100%. I don’t anticipate being sick very much of that time, but healing isn’t a short-term process and it’s not something I can do solo. I need you – all of you.

This is my extended SoCal family - Team OC (Orange County)
at the end of a long, hard, week, yesterday - June 8, 2013.
You can't manufacture those smiles!
I'm sharing a couple of things from this year’s ALC, which ended yesterday, mainly my teammates who gave me the courage to keep going under some pretty rough conditions that included an evacuation by the Red Cross on day 2. Hypothermia for all my friends (and me, too) as well as a video that was shot during last year’s event. It is this kind of support, this kind of pushing through the discomfort, this kind of looking past the here and now to the hopeful future that keeps me going some days. I also want to challenge you to face your fear with undaunted courage and to cheer others on who are giving their all as they plod up a steep hill in their own journey. It’s OK to have reservations, bad days, or even tears, but with people alongside you, you can rise up, get back in the saddle, and succeed…and become a different person in the end.

Be well, stay strong, and much love to you all!
Today’s music:  Don’t Give Up by Peter Gabriel
In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I've changed my face, I've changed my name
But no-one wants you when you lose

Don't give up 'cause you have friends
Don't give up you're not beaten yet
Don't give up I know you can make it good

Though I saw it all around
Never thought that I could be affected
Thought that we'd be last to go
It is so strange the way things turn
Drove the night toward my home
The place that I was born, on the lakeside
As daylight broke, I saw the earth
The trees had burned down to the ground

Don't give up you still have us
Don't give up we don't need much of anything
Don't give up 'cause somewhere there's a place where we belong

Rest your head
You worry too much
It's going to be alright
When times get rough
You can fall back on us
Don't give up
Please don't give up

Got to walk out of here
I can't take anymore
Going to stand on that bridge
Keep my eyes down below
Whatever may come
and whatever may go
That river's flowing
That river's flowing

Moved on to another town
Tried hard to settle down
For every job, so many men
So many men no-one needs

Don't give up 'cause you have friends
Don't give up you're not the only one
Don't give up no reason to be ashamed
Don't give up you still have us
Don't give up now we're proud of who you are
Don't give up you know it's never been easy
Don't give up 'cause I believe there's a place
There's a place
Where we belong