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The Things We Battle

A slice of many of those who have donated, gathered at a "15-year .. or so" college reunion in 2011.
A slice of many of those who have donated, gathered at a “15-year .. or so” college reunion in 2011.

Today, I spoke to my freshman-year college roommate on the phone for the first time in five years.

It was around 10 a.m., and I was relating to him how floored I was by what I was witnessing – a fundraiser I had created at 6 p.m. the previous evening for close friends of mine (a married couple with young children) who had both been diagnosed with cancer was on the verge of going viral.

Just 16 hours in, people had given almost $7,500. The thing had been shared close to 350 times.

“Well, that’s what we’re supposed to do, right?” he asked without asking. This was a statement.

It was a classic response from my buddy, straight in line with his personality – you do what you’re supposed to, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. I love him for it.

“Not everybody does what they’re supposed to,” I said.

“Well, yeah …” he replied, tapering off.

Only this time, they did. They went beyond it. My friends’ story touched a nerve. Hit deep. Donations from random people were coming in the $100+ amount. Friends of friends of friends of friends were giving. Co-workers of friends. Friends of co-workers.

I saw the story reach prayer chains in Los Angeles and Tennessee.

I got phone calls like the one from my old roommate.

I – and others who called or texted – could feel the groundswell, the prayers, the thoughts, the love.

“I don’t even know what to say,” my friend Janis, one of the beneficiaries, texted me mid-day.

I’ve felt it before, in one of my darkest hours – sitting beside my son’s bed as his lungs started to succumb to the paralysis of Guillain-Barre. It’s like a wave – electric and peaceful – that washes over you and lets you know that you are loved and cared for.

And here it was again.

An unexpected Christmas gift; beauty in the face of hardship.

A little slice of what is always constant in the global context – good and bad, yin and yang – all wrapped up in a neat little package.

Who says Mondays are boring?

* * *

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My best friends, Ryan and Janis and their wonderful family. Both were diagnosed with cancer … and are battling.

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Facing real adversity is a funny thing. Our first thought is that we’ll go it alone – and maybe this works for some people.

It’s not worked for me; or the people I know.

But we’ve all certainly tried it.

These last couple days, I’ve been taken back to the places I’ve been; and I’ve been forced to reevaluate where I’m at, where I’m going.

I’ve often written about how my own experiences with my own children have left my scarred. When my son shows the first signs of illness, I’m neurotic … but I’m not this way with my daughter.

She’s the “lets arm wrestle, daddy” with ripped muscles that are uncanny for an 8-year-old. He’s the one who’s been through stuff you only read about in medical journals.

He’ll be just fine. But I’ve seen what happens when he’s not.

So I try to control the situation, the anger at some inconvenient cough or fever, then plead away the symptoms. Because not just somewhere, but everywhere, I’m afraid I’m witnessing the first signs of the return – of Guillain-Barre, of another damn seizure. I hate the seizures.

His vision’s gotten worse and he has a headache? Oh, it’s probably his neurological system failing. Why would it be puberty, the most common cause of these things in an 11-year-old boy?

This is the way my brain works. It’s borderline crazy; shaped by where I’ve been.

And this is where community comes in.

* * *

Earlier this year, I worked on a project building a simple tool for military personnel leaving the service and looking for a civilian job at my employer, Salt River Project.

The concept was simple – they could choose their branch of service, enter their military job code – and the software would provide a list of jobs that their service might qualify them for at the company.

This project allowed me to work with lots of reservists and veterans who sought both to help me understand the audience we were creating for; and to create the matrix that would help the web application correlate military job skills to civilian ones.

The guy I worked with the most – an army reservist – had newborn twins. Shortly after we finished the project, I went to send him an email to thank him for his help.

His email auto-responder flashed: He had been deployed. I later learned it was somewhere in the Middle East; with all the ISIL issues these days, one can only imagine where or why.

It made me think – a wife, with newborns just said goodbye to send her husband thousands of miles away into a war zone, and I’m sleepless over a cough? Or worse yet, drinking another beer so I can silence the mental worrying about a cough?

This scenario is played out thousands of times over across the country and world – it’s not just my coworker and my wife.

The thoughts piled one on top of the other; driven by something else one of my friends said today.

“Not everyone looks forward to the holidays … many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. We all need caring, loving thoughts right now.”

Me, my friends, many of those around me, my friends dealing with this cancer ordeal? We’re not alone. We’re surrounded by love and people holding us up.

What about those who are not?

It was a period of powerful reflection today that reminded me: Even in the face of darkness, we must focus on our many blessings.

This is the complex beauty of our existence. The joy in the simple; the understanding and richness of the human experience that comes from focusing on that which we do have – not that which we do not.

* * *

It’s quiet in the house now – 10:30 p.m. – and my phone continues to buzz by my side. Every couple minutes, another donation coming in.

Heidi sleeps; the kids sleep. The coughing has stopped. The laptop fan and the click of the keys the only sounds indoors.

Somewhere outside, I can hear a neighborhood family enjoying the late nights of the holiday week off. They’re playing in the backyard, beneath the glow of holiday lights strung from the trees and house.

I want to sleep, but this thing is nagging at me. Some last lingering thought that I can’t get out.

Maybe I won’t get there today, but as I’m thinking through it, my mind keeps drifting to an interview I heard as I did the dishes this evening.

It was between NPR’s Terry Gross and the actress Jennifer Lawrence. Gross asked Lawrence about the anxiety she suffered as a child.

I’m paraphrasing here, but in short, Lawrence said it came from her personality type. That midway through the day as a kid, she’d find herself exhausted.

It wasn’t until much later in life, Lawrence said, that she realized this was the result of her empathizing with everyone she encountered; that she was constantly putting herself in their shoes and relating to what they were going through. Playing their scenarios in her head.

I didn’t know how that related to what I was thinking, so I checked the fundraiser again. $12.2k, 588 followers. Whoa.

I went outside after that; to take in the cold winter air, to gain some insight.

I paced the backyard.

“You’ve taken a minute off your per mile time in the 5k in the past year,” I thought, wandering the lawn.

Huh? This is your great insight, Ed?

And then it hit me.

It’s why I’ve taken a minute off my time.

It’s not the result, but the reason why I keep trying; why I keep running despite the fact that in some other areas of life, I’m slipping. Adding pounds, spending way too much time at my desk. Never giving enough time (will any amount be enough?) to my wife and kids; not the time that I feel they deserve, anyway.

It’s for all the reasons stated earlier.

Despite all the things we battle, despite all the things that push us down, there is so much worth running for.

For our families, our friends, for days like today: where in the face of adversity and deep, sometimes unanswerable questions, you’re reminded yet again: it’s not just about us.

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