Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Race That Doesn't Go to the Swift

I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

We like pretty packages in every religion. If you do A, it will get to B... eventually. In some religions, we call it heaven or afterlife or rebirth. In the religion of science, the ones most of my doctors and many of my friends practice fervently, we have this idea of perfect squares and circles for geometry (how many perfect squares or circles do you see in nature) or 2 is greater than 1 except I've seen a single tree or orange which is bigger than 2 or 3 of a different or its own kind. We explain the gaps in each religion with the same consistency that we approach politics or relationships that our country needs to be 'more perfect,' that the people we love are perfect for us if not perfect outright. It's easier to sleep at night if the world is clean and predictable, if we tune out the infrequencies. 

But that's not the way the world actually works. I knew this early from growing up in a rough neighborhood in a 3rd world country where some of my childhood friends are no longer with us from doing nothing wrong except being born in the wrong place. Life isn't fair and the art of the compromise of trying to change that while accepting it... it's at best an awkward two step. 

The balance and disbalance of my own life was shown as I returned to Gusher, the place I won a marathon with a stroller that was a life tipping point. I've long known and have emphasized that my win was the slowest win their marathon has ever had, the universe lined up. Last year, I went back with Elaine where I took 2nd place in the half and she took 4th in the women's division. We returned again two weeks after the Austin marathon, I went out more aggressively because I got suckered in by a couple of those young un's. I would end up winning the half, sort of. I was running with someone the vast majority of the way, the eventual marathon winner and well he crossed the 13.1 mark before I did on a double loop. Technically, that makes me the winner but I wondered out loud to many people including a reporter whether or not they shouldn't be giving him both trophies. A little while later Elaine came in and was the women's winner. It made for a romantic moment as it became clear and marked that out of the two genders in this relationship, she was clearly the better half. We moved on to the 40k cycling time trial where I came in 2nd to last in my category and she came in dead last again. We aren't good cyclists and I looked bad but on  there she looked horribly tired by the end. We're a little over 5 months for the wedding and while people may have called us a power couple for the double half win, we hugged and kissed at the end of both, and at say we're prepping well for that for better or worse vow. The Roughneck challenge at the end, we both did and she placed 2nd in her weight division but I won mine. I'd claim the victory but she had more people in her weight division and she beat me in 3 of the 5 events so I'd say this time she came out on top for the day. That's why we call it teamwork and why we have a shelf of joint medals and events. I love that girl. 

I've seen that dichotomy of life's fairness in a few ways in the last couple of weeks. The court hearing was interesting, two days after Gusher. I was actually a fan of the judge and let me be clear, I'm saying that without knowing the ruling. She decided she was going to not make a decision that day to give us more time to work out at least a school decision between Kiana's parents. But she seemed level headed to me, trying to figure out the issues. Even the fact she deferred, adding one more time where suspense is bothersome, is tough. We still have no ruling on custodial changes and educational decisions. 

Well we sort of don't. I literally got the last of Kiana's letters from middle school a few minutes ago. All of the schools have held different positions in her pecking order, Ann Richards having been 1& 2, Covington being 2 & 3, and Small being 1, 2, and 3. They are all at some level merit based but the Ann Richards school, consistently my first choice also has a lottery component. It was the only one she didn't make. At some level I had hoped she would mostly because it was my first choice but I hope she at least begins to learn the life lesson that many of us try to deny, that sometimes you do everything right and it doesn't work out. She has already accepted Small Middle School, a green tech academy and I hope it keeps feeding her scientific flair. The biggest struggle I'm having with is not the rejection but the fact that she's done with elementary in two months when just 5 minutes ago she was starting Kindergarten and like 20 minutes ago she was being born. 

In the balance of it all, middle schools and half marathons are small items in the life and death bit. The last BrainPower 5k I ran half with Kiana while other people pushed another survivor Minerva for the first half of the 10k. Then I took over and she said it was the most fun she'd had and she won her age group cause once I was behind her, we were flying. We both have a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental components. She got it after me and still in the misbalance of it all of life's unfairness to this disease, she passed away this morning. She had been aggressive about treatments but it kept coming back to where in the end she was in hospice at her moms care and her daughter and friends from all over came back to visit. There are survivors and family members who try to make sense of who goes and doesn't go from cancer or other things. I do not; it's all senseless to me. The only thing I try to do when someone I care about passes is knowing I'm ahead of billions of people in the history of humanity, because while I am heartbroken about their passing away, I've got something that those billions of people never did, a chance to get to know them. And that joy of their presence and the relationship is worth the heartbreak. I certainly think the people who had to live with ignorance of these great friends of mine are the ones who lost out on more. 

No the race is not always to the swift, the battle doesn't go to the strong. Chance and circumstance happens to us all. It is a curious analogue that when this brain journey started, I'd been playing poker for a while but we had a poker game at the hospital the first night. Then the night I decided to have brain surgery, when my doctors were divided about whether or not the surgery was worth the functional damage, I held a poker game, biggest one ever at my house. I presented the options to my friends and asked what they would and they were almost evenly split, with the two last people saying they would do opposite of the other. I joked that whoever won, I was following their advice. They decided to split the pot (and handed me both of their winnings to use towards medical bills). But that was the night I decided to go for it, to give life a chance because well, we're all going to die and I wanted to at least die trying. 

I've started recently to teach Kiana to play poker (she hasn't been involved in a money game...yet). But she has taken me out twice now with pocket A's in my hand and something else in hers. The most recent one was her pocket 5's to my pocket A's where she was behind till the very end and then got 4 of a kind while I had a full house. I've played poker for over a decade and had 4 of a kind twice. She's played the game twice and already gotten it. School rejections, winning poker hands, she's learning life's probability lessons are not full proof. There's no one 100% sure way to bet but I hope she continues to take risks, sometimes measured, sometimes less so. Probability is a strange thing with high risk sometimes yielding high rewards and sometimes risking huge disappointment. There is an old saying that the only certain things are death and taxes... Fair enough but that I'll get up and love people I've loved for years is more sure than 4 of a kind. There isn't a poker hand I'd bet on more than the people I've loved and certain people loving me back. I'll never become a cynic that talks about things like that always being unlikely. Heck, even if they are unlikely, I'll take it like Aristotle, it likely that unlikely things should happen. And I'm thankful I still have the life, love and liberty to bet it on. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Rewrite the Stars

On a whim on a slow day, Elaine and I went and watched the Greatest Showman. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've been amused at the fact the critics have panned it even as a critic within the movie itself did. An amusing anecdote is that people have derided its lack of factual accuracy... I'm a fan of history but a guy who went out and collected people who were different and exaggerated the stories. I imagine exaggeration and omission is jut one of the many ways its incomplete. Like Barnum himself, this is one of those movies that doesn't let facts get in the way of a good story.

Still, with that said, I own the entire soundtrack cause the girls in my house like it and we all sing along to it. We're even talking about including one song in a key part in our wedding. But there is one song that I seem to always skip, 'rewrite the stars.' It's a romantic notion and with less than 6 months to my wedding, I'm nothing if not a hopeful romantic but we didn't write the stars to begin with. And what we're starting at on nights with gorgeous darkness and brilliant points is past, a prologue of whatever the sky currently is. So it would be silly to spend too much time on things like that says the guy who started an astronomy club in middle school, who takes his daughter up to the roof on good nights or special evenings or has been telling her about how next week four planets will be visible in the sky.

It is perhaps why Elaine was kind enough to let our wedding have a bit of a logo for our save the date cards that went out recently. It is the Austin skyline a bit artsied up from when we started dating. Elaine picked out the wedding date of 8/18/18 to one up my birth of 8/8/80. The seals were hand applied by Kiana mostly cause fire and dripping wax are cool period but especially so when you're 11. We ignored and will ignore a lot of proper etiquette of names etc on invitations, putting on there what we call our friends and family. If being called on an envelope what we call them in person offends anyone, well they shouldn't come.  But there are less than subtle details in the skyline, in where we look up and aim highest that are there. Someone asked why there wasn't a small k or something there for Kiana who is part of our family that Elaine is marrying into. Kiana's the name of the Hawaiian moon goddess and look there's the moon. The other two are mine and Elaine's constellations. Mine has been one I've always embraced, how can a Leon whose high school mascot was the Lions not take Leo as part of his identity? Elaine doesn't quite have the same enthusiasm about hers but I make it up for her. It's honestly one I'd not paid much attention to till this project began but it's a crab, it's the cancer constellation. I've spent so much time energy and focus both internal and external, both giving and receiving about cancer that the universe was kind enough to say to me that if I had to deal with it in and its side effects till death, there was going to be good that also had cancer till death do us part. Maybe that's the real explanation of why I don't feel the need to rewrite the stars, both are about to be visible here for the next weeks in the northern Hemisphere, perhaps not coincidentally when I asked her to be my girlfriend.

The save the date cards had an infinity symbol as a seal, a side ways 8 which a few people gave me a hard time about but no one heckled her about that the stamp was a Chinese New Year Stamp! But see the sky keeps lining up nicely. Kiana and Elaine making from scratch dumplings for Chinese New Year's is a tradition I could get used to.

As I'll be looking at things that happened light years ago, March is an interesting month for me. Seven years ago today, I was checking into Duke for brain surgery on March 3rd. One year later I was waking up in an ambulance after a grand mal seizure in the middle of a 10 mile run. One year after that I was winning a marathon pushing a stroller. This year exactly 7 years after brain surgery, I will be back in Beaumont this time running the half, then doing a 40KM time trial on a bike than doing a roughneck challenge. It's the same thing Elaine and I did last year but she's been working out a lot more than me so we'll see how results change. But you
know what won't change, us going there together.

The tests seven years ago were blood work and an MRI etc.  I was worried about someone taking a slice of my brain, wondering just how much strangers the guy going onto that table and the guy coming off would be. This time, it's me on my own two feet, having learned to ride a bicycle, and then grunting through an upper body that lost a little bit of cancer but should have gained more muscle. The only thing I'm worried about a slice is something in a tire or in the muscles and I hope it doesn't happen but in the scheme of things...

When I won that marathon 5 years ago, there was a custodial case pending at that time her mother asking for me to go from primary caretaker to only have supervised visits due to my medical problems. Oddly enough, on Monday March 5th, we have another round of it with her mother now asking for more custody as well (the request is not quite as drastic this time). I am not quite sure how to not call it at least slightly silly that we allow strangers to make decisions about our children because parents can't work it out between themselves... I am handing the judge a few pictures early on so at least, at least he can put a face to the name. I slept well the night before brain surgery... perhaps because that doctor stranger had become a friend who I'd trust with my life. The judge and I won't talk before or likely after and it's a lot more nerve wracking to trust someone with any aspect of your child's life.

The stars aren't getting written today or tomorrow or Monday and how they shine through the future will not be fully known until the future itself. It would be dishonest to say that I am not worried about the possibilities and the path of unintended consequences. But I dare dream, no matter what there will be spots of light that line up, or at least that we imagine or impose patterns on. So tonight, tomorrow and every time my sleep is worried, the guy with the damaged memory will try to remember what Sarah Williams wrote, "I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."