“ONCE I TOLD THE UNIVERSE WHO WAS THE BOSS”/INSPIRATIONAL PEOPLE, PART THREE

photo courtesy of Angela Madsen’s FB page

“Once I decided to take control of my destiny, I harnessed the energy that I had buried deep inside me and pushed it out. Once I told the universe who was the boss, the universe took a back seat, and I created a new reality for me to live in.”

-from “Rowing Against The Wind” by Angela Madsen

“Rowing Against The Wind” is the amazing story of a former US Marine who was injured while on duty. After several difficult (“botched”) surgeries and a broken neck she sustained from another injury, she became permanently disabled as a paraplegic. She sustained many significant losses as a result, including losing her house and was homeless for a period of time. However, through cultivating a different mindset, she persevered and ultimately found success as an athlete who won a bronze medal in the ParaOlympics in London. She found her love of rowing and was one of the first woman to row across the Indian Ocean. She was the first woman with a disability to row across the Atlantic Ocean and held six Guiness World Records. She was a real mover and a shaker.

After experiencing so much anger at her situation early on in her disability, it was later after falling from a train track in her wheel chair that broke her neck that really caused her to re-think her situation. She decided to use her gifts of leadership, athleticism, organization, and dedication to continue to live her life in a new way, finding ways to enjoy her life despite her setbacks.

She died doing what she loved in 2020, halfway through her solo row from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

As the French say, “vouloir c’est pouvoir” or what the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve. To want something is to be able to do something in loose translation.

Find something that drives your life. Love living. Find your passion.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends…………

Live Like You Were LIVING, Part 2 (Inspirational People/Joie de Vivre)

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

I met Diane about thirty years ago when she was middle aged and I was a young adult. She and I worked together, and she was one of the most inspirational people I had ever met at the time. My first impression of her was a well-kept, slim attractive woman who had a certain “joie de vivre” right off the bat. She wore professional clothing, and her suits were well-tailored. Her skirts were always hemmed well above the knee, as she had legs to show off and somehow knew it. She was always smiling and always looked on the bright side of things, despite her background and the events which occurred along the way. She was divorced and a single mother of an only child at the time of her divorce several years before I met her. She was married to a prominent member of the community but decided her happiness was more important than staying in a stale and loveless marriage. While I wasn’t sure of the details and circumstances of her divorce and had always believed that marriage was a forever commitment, I admired her courage and honesty to herself and others. She left the marriage and the financial stability that came along with it, living by herself at the time I met her in a house she had purchased with her salary. I got the impression that she didn’t work outside the house until her marriage ended. I admired her ability to make something out of nothing. You see, she clipped coupons and searched high and low for shopping deals each week. She told me she treated herself to a vacation each and every year out of the country since her son grew up and moved out of the house. She knew she didn’t have extra money in the budget to pay for these vacations, and that’s why she started clipping coupons. Her goal was to clip enough coupons to finance this vacation each year. I remember her lively laughter when she announced to me that the local market was actually paying for her to try a new product with the double store coupon and manufacturer’s coupon that she used in tandem to bring the price down. She actually did save enough money through sales and coupons to finance her vacation each and every year.

Diane tended to her yard and garden all by herself, as she was strong and very independent. She had a “strong faith” and knew that life was to be lived fully and completely. When she returned from her most recent vacation at the time, I asked her if she had any pictures to share. She handed me a roll of “prints”, which were from the old days of film, to sift through. I admired her photographic technique and how she captured the joyful faces of her traveling companions, too. Almost every single picture she showed me made me smile. One time I bumped into a picture of Diane that had inadvertently ended up in the pile of photos she was showing me. It was a picture of Diane with a sly, coy smile wearing nothing at all while standing behind an over-sized sombrero hat. I looked surprised by the photo, and she laughed saying she forgot to take that picture out of the set of prints that she handed me. She didn’t apologize, however, knowing there was nothing wrong with her photo that captured the moment beautifully.

I lost track of Diane through the years but think of her often. I recently looked her up on social media, and she looks great with the same effortless curly-locked hairdo she always sported. Evidently she is over eighty and now has a seasonal home in Florida with her male companion, who owns a Tesla. They drive to Florida each year in the Autumn, and she still takes care of her own yard there as well. I smile when I think of one of her social media posts that says:

“I have a watch that I bought about 20+ years ago for $1.75..yes…on sale at CVS 90% off!!!…and it tells the same time as a friend’s Rolex that cost many $$$ more…once again……….TRUE HAPPINESS IS NOT FOUND IN MATERIAL THINGS!”

She enjoys the finer things in life but doesn’t need them. She knows how to find true joy and happiness in feeding the ducks, having a good meal with a companion, and spending time with those she loves. She is at peace with herself and her world.

At last account, Diane wasn’t able to take a cruise with her companion in May during the pandemic when the rest of the United States waited indoors with caution. Instead she posted pictures in May of her previous cruise, finding pleasure in re-living the moment, as she knows how to savor her memories. Diane’s introduction on her social media pages says that she “works at living each day to the fullest” under her occupation, as she has since retired. There is a picture of herself and her companion dining with a wine glass toast that I love that captures her essence so well. Along with the photo there is a caption that says they are “brave souls”, as they were the only diners present at the restaurant that evening in Florida in May during the pandemic.

Diane routinely posts pictures of the ducks and lizards that visit her yard, as she notices and finds enjoyment in so many little things. One post on her social media says that “Every day is a new beginning. Take a deep breath, smile, and begin again.”

One thing that struck my interest in Diane’s social media page is her feelings about the pandemic:

“I read most of this, and it is quite scary to think of all those DROPLETS Etc. Etc……..at this point in order to not be exposed to anything and go on trying to live a somewhat normal life….I THINK EACH OF US HAS BECOME a HERMIT of sorts…JUST GO OFF SOMEWHERE AND LIVE ALONE IN THE WOODS???? I REALLY DON’T TAKE TOO MANY PRECAUTIONS EXCEPT WEARING THE MASK WHEN I GO TO THE MARKET…AND WASH AND SANTIZE MY HANDS AFTERWARDS but …I SAY ….LIVE AND LET LIVE…IF IT HAPPENS IT HAPPENS….WE ALL HAVE TO DIE OF SOMETHING…AND YES, I KNOW IT DOESN’T SOUND NICE…BUT I THINK WE SHOULD TRY TO BE LIVE A BIT BETTER THAN WE ARE NOW…”

Diane is a class act. A person that takes precautions but keeps on living a full life with intention, despite the world around her. She has learned to live like she is LIVING, not DYING.

Life is good; find your own “joie de vivre”. Carpe diem friends…….

Note: the name in this blog was changed to protect the identity of the subject, and the picture simply reminds me of Diane with her dark curly hair. The picture here is NOT Diane.

Live like you were LIVING

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I first learned that Roger, my dear friend and one of the most inspirational people I have ever met, has Cystic Fibrosis, a hereditary and terminal disease that affects one’s lungs and digestive system, when we were twenty-eight. We were working on planning our high school reunion together with some other friends, and I had something to drop off to his house. He leaned inside the car with his infectious laugh but then started coughing. His cough sounded serious, and I told him he should see a doctor about his cough. He looked at me straight in the eye and stopped laughing. He looked at me much longer than one looks into another person’s eyes for what seemed like an eternity. He said to me, “Don’t you know?” without any judgement, disappointment, hurt, or anger in his face or voice. I asked him what I was supposed to know, and he simply said, “I have Cystic Fibrosis.” I apologized for my callous remark and went on my way home. When I arrived home, I immediately turned on my computer to look up Cystic Fibrosis and cried. I cried a LOT. It seems at that time, the average life expectancy for someone with CF, as it is commonly called, was twenty-eight years old. The average life expectancy for Roger had already arrived. I further read about the disease and how it takes its toll on someone at the end, often with hemoptysis, or bleeding in the lungs. It made no sense to me, as Roger was both the very first and very last person on the dance floor, outlasting EVERYONE else. He was always a wonderful dancer, and his feet slide so easily on the dance floor like Michael Jackson with the rhythm of Bobby Darrin, Fred Astaire, or some great dancer from long ago. Evidently, he got his dancing ability and natural rhythm from his Mother. It made no sense to me that Roger had endless energy, more than many of my contemporaries, and had a terminal disease. I learned a few weeks later from a mutual friend, Allen, that in elementary school the teachers rounded up the students for an important meeting about Roger. They told the students that Roger was a very sick child and might not live to see his sixteenth birthday. That’s the thing about Roger; he has outlasted any prediction for his life expectancy. Currently he is eighteen years status post double lung transplant, which is amazing.

There was a song years ago by Tim McGraw called “Live Like You Were Dying” that I always found so inspirational. However, Roger’s approach is the total opposite. The key to understanding Roger is to know that he lives like he were LIVING, not DYING. He is currently facing going back on the transplant list for his second transplant surgery for both lungs, as his first transplanted lungs have suffered rejection that has slowly diminished his lung function through the past few years. Yet, he trains at the gym with a personal trainer several times a week, pushing himself to cardio workouts that even healthy people might not be able to handle. Roger has enjoyed a lucrative career and married the love of his life, Ronald. Roger once told me long ago that he found it strange that many of the young adults in the Cystic Fibrosis clinic that he encountered at the local hospital never went to college or took up a career, as they knew their life expectancy was short, and it wasn’t “worth it”. Certainly there were those among them in the group that DID go to college, but it seemed to Roger odd that so many did NOT. Instead, Roger went to college and hired a financial planner to help come up with a long-term plan for his financial future. He continued to dance well into his middle adult-hood while he could, often the last person on the dance floor.

When I recently talked to Roger about the double lung re-transplant he would face within the next few years when appropriate lungs that were a “match” for him became available, I asked him how long the new lungs would last. I could hear his beautiful smile through the phone, when he told me he had no idea how long the lungs would last, as he didn’t see that as useful information. They would last as long as they would, and that knowledge was fine for him. You see, Roger had always lived like he was LIVING. In absence of any information otherwise, he continues to move forward and is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. Thanks to advances in treatments, according to the CF Foundation, the average life expectancy for someone born with CF in 2018 is forty-six, and Roger is eight years beyond that. When he was hospitalized as an adult, he had to go to the pediatric hospital because that is where his doctor had privileges, as CF was mostly a childhood disease years ago. Thanks to advances in treatment, Roger goes to the adult hospital now, hopefully for many many years more. How long? We don’t know because we won’t even ask!

“He said, ‘I was in my early 40s,
With a lot of life before me,
And a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
I spent most of the next days
Lookin’ at the X-rays,
Talkin’ ’bout the options
And talkin’ ’bout sweet time.’

I asked him, ‘When it sank in that this might really be the real end,
How’s it hit you, when you get that kind of news?
Man what’d you do?’
And he said,

‘I went sky divin’,
I went rocky mountain climbin’,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.’

And he said, ‘Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.’

He said, ‘I was finally the husband
That most the time I wasn’t,
And I became a friend a friend would like to have.
And all of a sudden goin’ fishing
Wasn’t such an imposition.
And I went three times that year I lost my dad.
Well I finally read the good book,
And I took a good long hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again.
And then…

I went sky divin’,
I went rocky mountain climbin’,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.’

And he said, ‘Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.’

Like tomorrow was a gift
And you’ve got eternity
To think about what you’d do with it,
What did you do with it,
What can I do with it,
What would I do with it.

Sky divin’,
I went rocky mountain climbin’,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I watched an eagle as it was flyin’.

And he said, ‘Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’.’

To live like you were dyin’.
To live like you were dyin’.
To live like you were dyin’.
To live like you were dyin’ “

-“Live Like You Were Dying” written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman and sung by Tim McGraw

*Names were changed to protect the privacy of the individuals in this blog entry

12/13/20: Roger was hospitalized this week because he was covid-positive and had pneumonia. His husband was covid-positive and symptomatic as well. Roger was released from the hospital a few days later and is recovering at home. That man is like a cat with nine lives, continuing to live like he was LIVING and mentioned to me his knees were getting a little stiff. I told him it was just because he was just getting old, and we laughed. Feels so good to hear Roger’s infectious laugh again.