March 2009


I just finished reading Lance Armstrong’s book, “It’s Not About the Bike.”  Really liked it.  It’s his life story, especially focusing on his life and death battle with cancer, and then his re-entry into bicycle racing–culminating with two wins in a row in the Tour de France.  Since the book was written he has won the race five more times in a row–an unprecedented feat. 

Now there’s plenty to NOT like about Armstrong–he comes across as kind of headstrong, brash, and arrogant.  Fame may have gone to his head, the way he’s starting to go through wives and girlfriends.  But you can’t deny his athleticism, and his battle with and comeback from cancer.

In the middle of this battle he received a letter from another cancer patient that read in part, “You don’t know it yet, but we’re the lucky ones.”  He dismissed the writer as some kind of nut.  But later he goes on to describe how cancer actually made him a better long distance bike racer.  Fighting it for months and months through surgeries and chemotherapy and lots of waiting taught him the patience he needed for racing.  Prior to that he usually gave each race everything he had right from the beginning, and sometimes wore himself out before the race was over.  With no energy in reserve, other racers would pass him in the last laps.  He learned to conserve his strength, wait patiently, and surge at the right moment. 

He also lost a lot of weight while he was sick and slowly recovering, and didn’t gain it all back.  Afterwards, while he was biking up a tough hill in a race, being lighter meant he had 20 less pounds to carry.  It made the ascent a little bit easier. 

And of course, when you go toe to toe with death and come out alive, it makes you appreciate life a lot more.  Armstrong has done a lot of volunteer work for and with cancer patients, and started a foundation that has raised a lot of money for research.  As time went by, he began to understand what his letter writer meant by, “We’re the lucky ones.”

And how about each of us?  We don’t all get cancer but we all have our own battles.  We all have things go wrong, we all have disappointments, we all experience failure and sometimes even tragedy.  Is it possible that what Armstrong describes in his book can happen to all of us–that we can see good come out of bad?  Is it possible that if we have the eyes to see it, there is no such thing as “all bad?” 

There’s a story in the Bible about some brothers who gravely mistreated their younger sibling.  He went through hell for years, but wound up doing a great good because of the events his brothers started in motion.  Years later he said to them, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.”  

A friend of mine has Parkinson’s Disease, and to understand it better I read a book on the disease written by someone who has had it for 10 years.  There’s a chapter entitled “The Good That Comes from Parkinson’s.”  The good that comes from an incurable, debilitating, neurological disease?  Yep, and she had numerous things listed in that chapter. 

Is it possible that all of our lives are like that?  Maybe instead of writing something off as bad luck or tragedy, we should refuse to give up, and instead start searching for the good in it.  Not in a light, fluffy, Pollyanna kind of way that denies or ignores the pain and disappointment, but in a gutsy, realistic way that says, “Hey, life isn’t fair.  Nobody gets a totally free ride, and crap happens.  But I’m going to keep going and trust that at some point down the line I’ll see God bring something good come out of this.”  

Maybe, in various ways, we’re ALL the lucky ones and we just don’t know it yet.

He sat in the car three doors down from the house and watched.  It was a misty, drizzly night, and water droplets on his windshield distorted everything he looked at.  There was a light on in the living room, but the curtain was drawn and the shadows that occasionally moved in front of it were not discernible.  Was she  in there?  It was impossible to say.

He looked at his watch, although he really didn’t care what time it was.  He’d been there just over two hours and he was prepared for 24 more.  He had food and bottled water.  He had caffeine pills to fight off sleep.  He’d even made preparations for his bodily functions.  There was no way he was moving from his self-imposed vigil.  Before another day passed he would know. 

A car pulled up directly opposite him and a woman got out.  Holding a three ring binder over her head, she ran to the front door in a house that didn’t concern him.   Still, he watched her as she fumbled in her purse for a key and let herself in.  A moment later the outside light went off.  He turned away.

A light had come on in another part of the house.  Kitchen?  Bathroom?  The living room light stayed on.  Did it indicate another person in the house?  Not necessarily.  His eyes went back and forth between the two windows.  He waited.  A shadow moved by the second window. 

In his pocket his cell phone started humming and vibrating.  He took it out and looked at it.  It was her.  Should he answer it?  She knew he always kept his phone handy; if he didn’t answer, she’d know he was avoiding her.  On the other hand, she might be looking out the window right now, wondering if that was him.  He hesitated, then flipped it open.

“Hello?”

“Hi,” she said.  “Where are you?”

Again he hesitated.  He could tell her he was home, and if she didn’t challenge him he’d know she wasn’t.  But if she WAS home…

“Target,” he said.

“Awfully quiet for Target.”

“I’m in the parking lot.”

“Are you coming home after that?”

She must not be home, he thought.  She’s trying to get me to let her know when I will be. 

“I need to get some gas first.”

“Okay.  Well, I might run up to CVS.”

Good one, he thought.  Got yourself covered.  His mind raced.

“Why don’t I stop for you?  I’m already out.”

“Naa.  Girl stuff,” she said.  “You wouldn’t know.”

Out-manuevered.  “Okay,” he said.

Silence.

“Okay.  Well, see you later.”  She hung up.

He stared at the words: “Call ended.”  Absentmindedly, he pictured her dropping her cell phone in her purse, then looking up.  But at what?   

 And now what should he do?  If everything she was saying was true, she would wonder what was going on when he wasn’t home within an hour.  If he went home now, and she came breezing in 15 minutes later with a CVS bag, what would that prove? 

He stared at the raindrops on his windshield.  They performed a complicated, never-ending dance on the smooth glass.  Through them the world looked crazy–even crazier than it really was.  He sighed and opened the car door.

Stepping out into the drizzle, it responded by becoming a harder rain.  Leaving his door opened, he walked up the middle of the street and stood in front of the house, staring at it.  The light in the second window was now off, but the living room light remained on.  He wondered what to do, wished there was someone who could tell him. 

For a long time he stood in the rain, thinking.  And only getting wetter.

Living in a northern climate, complete with lots of snow and very cold weather, I think of winter in terms of what it lacks.  It lacks color; just before sunrise and just after sunset, the half light creates a black and white world–as though I’ve been transported into a 1940’s movie.  When the sun is up the color brown is added, with an occasional pine tree green, but every other color seems to have flown south with the migratory birds. 

Winter also lacks fragrance; no flowers, no freshly cut grass, no food sizzling on the grill down the street.  It is basically scentless, and my nose misses the variety.

And, for the most part, it lacks sound;  no crickets chirping, very few birds singing, no neighbor boys shooting baskets (the rubber ball bouncing off asphalt or concrete, tennis shoes sliding and pounding, exclamations of happiness or anger), and no sound of children at play. 

One of the first signs of spring for me is stepping out on my front steps in the evening and hearing the frogs croaking and chirping in the pond a few hundred yards away.  One night they’re silent, and the next–having awakened from their winter sleep–they have much to say. 

Though there’s still snow on the ground and fairly cold weather, my friend the Mourning Dove has returned–although I think he’s misnamed.  I would’ve called him the Calming Dove, or the Relaxation Dove.  He doesn’t sound sad to me, just mellow.  I welcome his song, and often whistle it along with him.

And I eagerly await color, fragrance, and summer sounds. 

Oh, and warmer temperatures.

     In an earlier posting I mentioned that I’m a political conservative, but that doesn’t mean I think the Republican party will save the world.       

     Generally speaking, I’m suspicious of ALL politicians.  Think about it–their livelihood depends on people liking them.  The temptation to be everything to everyone is enormous, and I can’t imagine ANYONE totally resisting it.  So when they’re with this group, they say this; when they’re with that group, they say that; and when someone catches them at it, they slip into some verbal gymnastics and attempt to say two opposite things at the same time.  Because, as much as possible, they need to satisfy everyone.  If they fail to do that, they will fail to get elected.  Or reelected.

     I voted for John McCain for president, but I’m under no delusion that everything would be absolutely wonderful if he’d won instead of Obama.  They’re both politicians, they’re both used to saying things that they believe people want to hear, and they’re both used to doing what they think will impress the largest amount of people.  That’s the way politics is.  And of course, one of the realities of it is this: you can’t do ANYTHING if you don’t get elected.  So it’s get elected–by ALL means! 

     After all, we’re talking about human beings, average men and women.  And there’s a very thin line between doing what you believe is best, and doing what you need to do in order to get elected.  Sometimes those actions overlap, sometimes conscience and nobility rule the day, and when that happens good things are accomplished and humanity shines. 

     Other times, a politician’s primary focus is on personal gain–what puts the most cash in the coffers, increases publicity, and aids their election.  I’m not pointing the finger–I can’t imagine ANYONE on earth being totally above the temptations inherent in such a system. 

     To be honest, I also can’t think of a better political system.  But since nothing in this life is perfect, then neither is democracy.  It’s made up of flawed human beings–most of them trying to do a good job, all of them trying to get elected.  Or reelected.

     Politicians will not save the world.  It’s too big a job for imperfect men and women, so don’t pin unrealistic hopes on them.  Only God can save us.  If you don’t believe in God, then those imperfect men and women are all you’ve got.  Personally, I couldn’t live with that–trusting in humanity to save humanity is ultimately just a synonym for “hopeless.”