Thursday, December 30, 2010

Image This!

I think it was a mistake when I requested to work on that assignment.  I survived cancer, I was (and am) doing well so I thought working on a project at a cancer hospital would give me a real sense of fulfillment.  It only managed to piss me off.

This cancer hospital in Florida was revamping its entire radiology department by converting from film to digital imaging.  I was there to help make that happen and to teach the radiologists to do their jobs by viewing images on a computer, instead of looking at a piece of film on a light box. We worked closely at the viewing stations, pulling up patient exams on the monitors, one after the other, configuring their settings and tools for maximum efficiency. “Throughput” it's called, in the “healthcare biz”.  The number of patients you can put-through the system in a given period of time-that's it, exactly.  My mind conjured up images of a train of endless patients sliding through narrow CT and MRI scanner rings. Yep, that's throughput. 

There were a lot of us cancer survivors in that place, which for me, includes everyone from the minute they are diagnosed.  Business was too good. 

Working with radiologists can be challenging.  They are a strange breed. Their work is vital but unlike other specialties, many of them do not actually see or touch their patients. They spend hours, in darkened reading rooms, quiet music playing, removed and insulated from the hospital's drama and chaos, manipulating images, measuring tumors or reconstructing damaged body parts in 3D.
Unlike standard hospitals where I spend most of my time, that place was a comprehensive cancer center, which means that nearly all of the exams we encounter have some sort of cancerous pathology, either newly diagnosed, or metastatic (cancer that has spread from its point of origin to somewhere else in the body).  I try not to visibly cringe or my credibility as a health care professional might be called into question, but it's tough not to react to the malignant images.  Occasionally the radiologist or I will remark with considerable understatement about something particularly gruesome we see- “Oh, that's not good” or “Oh, I bet that hurts”, but not much else.  I really have to struggle to keep from running out of the room when I see someone close to my age, whose breast cancer went wild and has spread to other vital organs of their body.  I am not sure which I dread more, the idea of it spreading to my brain, liver or my bones.  They say the best way to die is when it spreads to your liver because you are pretty out of it at that point and quietly slip away into a coma.  I know I fear the pain from metastatic bone cancer.  As for brain tumors and losing my mind, I can’t even go there.

Old medical joke:

Q. How do you hide a 100 dollar bill from a radiologist?

A. Put it on the patient.    Funny.  Sorta. 

It is said that most doctors see the patient and have to imagine the disease. On the contrary, radiologists mostly see the disease and have to imagine the patient.   For anyone living as a cancer survivor, and for me at that time in my life, it was hard to imagine a day that didn’t involve thoughts wildly ranging between hope and despair.
Constantly observing one cancer filled image after another did not help the healing process.  CT images of bodies waging futile campaigns against an indiscriminate killer, kept my life's imaginary hourglass clearly visible. 

And then there was guilt. 

Over the years I’ve been able to accomplish what might be considered some fantastic feats of physical endurance for anyone, much less a cancer survivor. 
A few years ago I climbed a mountain many of them will not live to ever visit.
I WAS one of them but they couldn’t know that by looking at me.  Making eye contact as I passed patients in the various departments was close to impossible.   I was and still am the picture of health.  My scans clear, my health good.  I was an intruder there. Worse, I managed to escape and left my buddies behind.


I've been tossed out of a club I didn't want to join in the first place.
I wasn’t insulted, but somehow I felt strangely set adrift.   I sensed or maybe I just imagined that they looked at me with envy and desperately wish to trade places (or bodies?). They couldn’t see the damage I live with and overcome every day.  I am familiar with the desperation that would drive those thoughts.  I've had them.  When I'm caught up in a fit of panic that the cancer has returned because of some unexplained pain or illness I'm having I get scared and mad all at once.

What really gets me especially worked up is when I see people deliberately pissing away their health in various ways.  I had to quit working directly with patients because it made me angry all the time.  When a 400lb. patient would come to the radiology department complaining of back pain, it become increasingly more difficult for me to keep my tongue in check.  What they needed was a damned diet and some exercise, not an x-ray.  I love to help people, but I have a really hard time helping people that are bent on self- destruction.  Not very politically correct of me, but so what? Call it judgmental, call it whatever you want but that's my reality.  It’s tough to exercise good judgment in this life, without being judgmental. 

It was hard as hell to be there.  I began to realize that my mission to help cancer patients had rapidly turned into an exercise in futility.     
I got so flustered one day I had to take a break from the dark reading room.  I stepped outside the hospital to take in the soft, gulf coast sunshine.  It was warm, bright and beautiful.  Then, I saw bald people also outside, in hospital gowns and wheelchairs enjoying the sunshine too.   Many were smoking.
The rising cigarette smoke would curl around and practically caresses the IV bags hanging on the poles attached to their wheelchairs. Some were so weak that they had to have someone push them outside so they could have their cigarettes.  I became so enraged that I all I could think of was that I wanted to kick them all in the chest and knock them over backwards on their asses.  I knew it wouldn’t help but I couldn’t keep myself from thinking about it.

  Nothing helped. 

Disgusted by what I saw, I stood up and went back inside.  

Perhaps by getting out of the sunshine, I managed to avoid skin cancer.   

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Tawanda Chronicles- Part I

He called her a dumb bitch as they walked through the door of the truck stop.  I couldn't imagine how someone could be in such big trouble so early. It was only 4:30 in the morning.  I was there at my usual time to gas up and grab some coffee before getting on the road for my trip to work. The cashier and I exchanged nervous glances at each other as they continued their argument right there near the coffee kiosk.  She had obviously made some sort of mistake with the map, or directions and he was making certain that she and everyone around knew it.  He bullied her up one side and down the other and all she could do was sputter apologies.  She even did some of the work for him as she began disparaging herself as well.  "Well I can't read maps and I'm stupid that way and I just don't know what happened and I'm sorry, I'm sorry I'm sorry" she whined pitifully.

He chimed right back, "You got that right, you are stupid, you can't read a map, you can't do much at all.  You are one dumb bitch.  I have to tell you how to do everything. You can't cook, you don't even clean the house.  What the hell CAN you do, anyway"? 

I couldn't help but stare in disbelief at what was unfolding in front of me.  I thought I was watching a Lifetime movie about spouse abuse because this conversation could have been extracted from any "wife beater" script.  I could only imagine what went on when they were not in public and that made me angry.  Anyone who verbally abuses a woman in that manner is most likely beating the hell out of her as well.  Thinking about it made me furious.  I sometimes wonder how and why women don't leave men that treat them that way but this one is probably terrified and for good reason.  

He told her she better take her bathroom break now because they wouldn't stop again til they got home.  She walked past me and as she headed for the restroom. I wanted to grab her by the arm and walk her right out of there and drive her to some place where she would be safe.  I imagined she'd refuse, or her husband would have something to say about it.  I felt helpless and still angry all at once.  I didn't know what I could do.  Didn't even know if I should do something.
I turned back to the coffee kiosk and grabbed a styrofoam cup.  I poured myself a cup of coffee, and that was when Mr. Wifebeater sauntered over next to me and began pouring himself one as well.  I ignored him and went about my business, adding 4 or 5 of those little cream containers to my coffee. He glanced over at my lightly colored coffee and snorted out a snide little remark, "Hey, having a little coffee with your cream"? 
He thought he was brilliant.

I felt a bomb go off inside me. No one would have blamed me for punching that man right then and there. Or worse. I know wanted to.  My adrenaline had already been summoned thanks to his notorious entrance a few moments earlier. I don't know what set me off worse, the way he talked to his wife or his brazen, twisted notion that he could talk to any woman that way. What arrogance!
I turned my head and glared at him.  Through my clenched jaw and gritted teeth I growled back at him, "Who the FUCK, asked you"?  I emphasized the "F" word as loudly and harshly as I could.  I watched him recoil.  I don't think any woman ever spoke to him that way before and he was shocked.  I was so full of anger I was hoping he'd take a swing at me so I had a good excuse to knock him on his ass. In fact, I was so enraged I found myself fantasizing about him following me out to my truck where I kept my gun.  I was ready for him to start something with me there so I could have a legitimate reason to blow him away. For the first time in my life I actually felt fully capable of killing someone.  Not just capable, but eager to do so. That frightened me.  I realized I was giving Mr. Wifebeater  too much credit, too much power. He didn't say anything else to me so I turned away from him and back to my coffee.
I needed to get out of there.    I needed a lid.  I quickly dropped one onto my cup.  As to what happened next I can only attribute to unspent adrenaline.  I must have pressed the lid too tightly to the cup.  The cup collapsed and coffee erupted sideways. The entire counter, most of the napkins and Mr. Wifebeater were now covered in coffee, light no sugar.
There was a moment of suspended silence.  I saw the cashier's eyes widen in anticipation.  No one said a word.  
Some may say that my subconscious probably played a role in causing this to happen.  I really can't answer to or argue with that line of reasoning because I don't have access to those files.
I know it was not deliberate but I am certain it unfolded just as it was supposed to.

Mr. Wifebeater just looked at me and began wiping off what he could with the remaining dry napkins.  He said nothing.  I had silenced him for now.

I paid for my gas and the wasted coffee and hurried back to my truck. 

 I didn't need the coffee anymore.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thinking About Elizabeth Edwards

I'm the most rational person I know. THE most logical, literal and scientific person I know.  At the age of 4, I declared myself an atheist. I conducted scientific experiments to that effect; I blew out the Chanukah candles and when nothing happened and God didn't strike me down as I'd been told would happen, I knew someone had to be lying. 
As for the Santa story, no one I knew even lived in a house, much less one that had a fireplace so I presumed that story was null and void in modern times.  I never heard how Santa managed to visit apartment house kids, although for a while I harbored some strange theories regarding incinerator chutes.  I got into frequent fights with my English teachers in high school because I refused to capitalize “god” in my essays. I thought of “god” as a concept, an idea, ideology perhaps, but not a proper noun. 

But then, I have my moments of fear and superstition.  

Whenever I board an airplane I must touch the outside of the plane; the painted, riveted metal that meets the frigid air at 30,000 feet.  I’m not sure why or how that compulsion came about, but it’s my way of somehow ensuring my safety.

I also have this bottle.

It's a bottle of cheap champagne from the year 2000. It was tacky.  Boldly emblazoned in glitter all over the bottle are multiple 2000’s.  The millennium was supposed to be a big deal. I bought the champagne for a New Year's Eve party that my “ex” and I were to attend.
I can't recall if we forgot to bring the bottle to the party or if we took it there and forgot to open it.

Nevertheless, I still have this bottle.

It was only a few weeks after that party that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a short time afterwards I discovered that the “ex” was cheating on me -- with the same woman who threw the party. The remainder of the millennium, for me, was an amalgam of physical and emotional misery, acute sickness, pain, chemotherapy and loss.

I imagine that over the years, thanks to fear and superstition, I managed to associate the worst of my suffering with that bottle.  

Fear and superstition being what they are, I held on to it.  

Since those dark days I’ve climbed mountains, run marathons, triathlons -- done more than I would have ever dreamed.  It sounds cliché but it’s true.  What I had thought was the end of the world was just the opportunity for a new start. It was hard to see at the time, but looking back I can say that cancer served to filter all the trash from my life and it left behind only the treasure. 

It's been over 10 years.  I have a great life now. I'm a completely new person yet here I am still dragging this old bottle of champagne around.

I'm in a quandary about what to do with it.

Somehow I have come to believe, that all the memories of betrayal, cancer, pain, sickness and the wretchedness of my life from that entire year are now stored in that bottle... which leads to my dilemma.

I've become afraid to open it, afraid to drink it, afraid to dump it out and throw it away. I've considered smashing it. Still it sits there. I am terrified that any action I take will somehow unleash all of the suffering my fear and superstition placed in there. 

Ridiculous superstition for someone like me, I know, but there it sits. It's an annoyance that it's still with me; such a strange artifact.  I’ve probably bubble-wrapped, packed and moved the damned thing 6 or 7 times.  I have got to do something about it. It can't just sit there forever.

I have a conversation out loud with myself because I have to focus.  Slowly and methodically I force the logic out.  I tell myself the bottle is sealed.  It has never been opened, there's no way I could have actually put anything in there. There is champagne in that bottle, not memories.

Champagne is for celebrating. 

I ask myself why it is customary to open a bottle of champagne on New Year's Eve. Hope perhaps? Hope for a successful future and to bid farewell to the past all at once. That's what champagne is for.  
It's been 10 years, I'm still alive and I think I finally know what to do with that damned bottle.

Mimosas, anyone?

It's the only rational thing to do.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kinetically Speaking...

Kinetically speaking

My awkwardness with southern manners was first evidenced when I was in the Air Force.

  I was in the mess hall carrying my tray and spotted my southern friend, I'll call him John, at a table.  As I walked over to the table to sit down, he stood up.  I sat down and then he sat back down.   I thought I might be holding him up so I told him that if he needed to leave, to go on ahead, I'll go sit with some other folks.  He just smiled at me.  I then realized that I needed some napkins so I got up to get them.  John stood up once again.  Once more I told him that if he needed to go, to please not let me hold him up and to go do what he had to do.  When I returned to the table he stood up for the 3rd time.  Obviously he was in a hurry to be somewhere.  "John", I said, "Please, please go to wherever you need to go. You are making me nervous standing up and sitting down.  I'm a big girl, I can eat my lunch alone". 
Yet again he sat down and he said he didn't need to go anywhere.  I had no idea what was going on and had never seen anyone behave so strangely.  Later I asked him what he was doing and he told me that a gentleman is supposed to stand whenever a woman sits down or gets up from the table. It's funny now, but apparently I had never been around a gentleman before. I found that sort of thing tedious, annoying and unnecessary.

When I moved to the south years ago, I fell into all the fun, linguistic traps that have been described elsewhere, so I won't bore you with them here.  What I found more confusing than trying to figure out which parent I favored (But I love them both equally!) was body language.
 I know, I know, I know that men are taught from a young age how to be "polite", and I know it's with all good intentions and I know and there's no "evil" inherent, but some things still drive me more crazy than hearing someone say Nuke-YOU-Ler.
When I'm in a public place, in an elevator with a man I do not know I like to keep them in front of me.  It's about being safe and aware of my surroundings.  Here in the south men are trained to herd women and it's led to some awkward moments because I refuse to be herded. They seem compelled to insist that I go first which may "seem" polite, though from my perspective, its dangerous.  I don't know you, I don't want you sneaking up behind me and I want your hands where I can see them.  And why is it considered polite for them to let you off the elevator first, but when you come to any other door they get in the way as they rush to hold it open for you? There must have been great confusion with the old fashioned elevators.
I will refuse to be the one to move first, if I am not the one closest to the door.  It doesn't make any sense for the man in front to stand there, partially blocking the way, under the notion that they are being polite by letting me go first.  I am not buying it.  I love to watch them scramble as the elevators doors begin to close and they then have to choose between getting off at their floor, or being polite.
I'm all about whatever is the smoothest, most sensible action. Whoever is closest to the front, gets out first.  Whoever gets to a door first, should hold it for the next person.  Just go with the flow, no need to impede.

It's been my observation that the gallantry dissolves, indoors and out, while walking down a corridor or sidewalk.  I will see men walking 2-3 abreast, while I'm walking alone.  They rarely if ever, consolidate and step either in front or behind each other to accommodate a woman passing.  I've tested this a few times by coming to a complete stop a few feet from them.  I'll find a reason to stop, perhaps to check or adjust my watch and frequently they walk right into me as though they just expected that I would magically give ground.
 I don't.  It's kind of fun to take the charging hit just to watch the look on their face.  I wonder if it's because so many southern women are brought up to be passive and constantly yielding that the men become accustomed to it?  I don't really know the answer here, but it often provides me with entertainment. Over the years I've come to love the south.  Those who know me, know that I truly do and I write this with all the love and humor I can muster.
I know what I'm describing amounts to stereotyping and that there are exceptions to everything... I'm just reporting my experiences....I highly recommend you conduct your own social experiments and report back in.  Let's compare notes. 

 Chivalry is just chauvinism with a high polish.

P.S.  Attention all southerners...When there is a power outage and the street lights are blinking YELLOW...It is neither safe, nor polite to stop at the intersections.  The side streets have blinking RED lights and those vehicles must stop. YELLOW means proceed with caution.  Stopping confuses the process for everyone because the people that remember the rules will continue through the light while the people that think they are being polite stop for no reason and cause more problems. I feel better now.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Oh, what may man within him hide, though angel on the outward side!
      - William Shakespeare

 As I rested on the ledge of the pool to catch my breath, I noticed a woman was watching me.  Well, it was more like she was glaring at me.  Through the edge of my goggles I was able to catch a glimpse of her, without making eye contact and she was definitely scowling at me.  I didn't know her and couldn't imagine why she was looking at me in such a threatening manner.  
Ignoring the hostility, I pushed off the wall and started swimming back to the other end of the pool.  My right arm wouldn't extend much past my head and the stroke amounted to a kind of flapping dog paddle, but I was improving. I thought it was funny that I managed not to be swimming in circles.

 After my mastectomy, I lost most of the range of motion in my right arm and I was working hard to rehabilitate it.  Hours of brutal ripping and tearing with the Physical Terrorist had restored some of the function and swimming was performing its share of  wonders as well.  I had a long way to go, but I was getting there, slowly. The water was warm and I felt well enough so I kept up my slow, easy pace, back and forth across the pool.  

That day was one of my better days when I didn't feel sick.  I tried to take advantage of those and spent as much time active, or being as normal as I could. I never knew what the next day might bring.  It could have found me sick on the couch or worse, in the bathroom.  I never wanted to waste a good day.  As I swam, I thought that being bald from chemotherapy could impart some advantages for swimmers.   I didn't need my swim cap and the strap from my goggles didn't slip or pull my hair at all!   "I could almost like this", I thought..."No wonder many of the male swimmers kept their heads shaved".

Every so often I looked around the pool area to see if that woman was still staring.  She stuck around for a few more laps, made it clear she disapproved of me and then after a while she disappeared. 

 I finished, got out of the water and grabbed a couple towels.  It was summer time and I was dreading leaving the warm pool area for that blast of air conditioning in the locker room.  Being bald, and  generally not quite well, also meant that I got chilled more easily so I was in a hurry to get dried off and into some warm clothes.   
I had just removed my wet bathing suit and gotten wrapped up with a towel when I saw the scowler again. She had turned the corner past the sink area and was heading in my direction.  I didn't pay any attention to her and reached into my locker for my clothes.  My back was to her when she began speaking and it took me a moment to realize that she was talking to me.

"How dare you"! she hissed at me.  
 I turned around and there she was right up close in my face. I was so taken aback I hadn't really understood what she was saying.   I had no idea why she was grinding away at me. I'm standing there half naked, and dripping...and shivering.  It's hard to defend yourself intelligently with your pants in your hands...

"Excuse me"? I barely managed to say. 

"How dare you come in here and make a show of your lifestyle!  Don't you know that this is a Christian organization"? She put a heavy emphasis on the word "Christian" .

I was shocked speechless and had no idea what she was talking about. I just stood there staring at a possessed lunatic.  After a few moments of silence I must have blinked and she took that as her cue to continue... 

"Your radical hair cut has no place in a Christian organization!  You can do whatever you want when you aren't in here, when no one has to see you, and as far as I'm concerned you are going to hell... but while you are here you should consider what kind of example you are setting for the children"!
She was on a roll,  "Come to think of it, don't I think people with your lifestyle should be allowed anywhere near children or the Y.M.C.A."!

She stomped off around the corner to the next bank of lockers and I could hear her loudly murmering to someone about THOSE people... 

As I sorted out what had just transpired I realized I was shaking now from anger as well as the cold. I dressed quickly.

"She thinks I'm bald because I'm some kind of radical lesbian??? She thinks I shaved my head as a fashion statement"? What the....? I guess in her mind, she couldn't imagine that anyone could be sick, and still swimming, so it had to be a "lifestyle" thing".

My jaw ached from being clenched, holding back things I knew I shouldn't say, that I might regret... I knew I had to say something but I didn't know what.  The first thing I thought of was that I didn't want anyone else to have to deal with someone that mean.  She was dangerous and could do some real damage.  I am not so fragile, my skin is thick enough but it frightened me to think that she might unload on the next person that did not meet with her "Christian" seal of approval.  I wanted to teach her a lesson.  How could I teach her one that would make an impact?  What could I say that would make a difference?  

 I think it's wrong how people like her use religion as a weapon of hatred rather than as a vehicle for love and understanding. She completely missed the boat on this evangelical moment. 

Although I am not religious I do believe there are important life lessons that are imparted in the bible.  It bothers me a great deal that some people seem to selectively extract only the parts that support their prejudices and miss the big picture.

I thought about all those WWJD bumper stickers and bracelets folks were so fond of showing off. I wondered if any of the people that so proudly displayed them really lived what they preached.
 I wondered further what Jesus would have thought of someone like her and that gave me an idea.  
 I knew exactly what I had to say. 

Once I was fully dressed I gathered up my courage and walked around to the bench where she was sitting.  I didn't want her to see that I was still shaking so I kept my distance.

"Excuse me", I said, assertively.

She looked up and the self righteous smile disappeared  the instant she saw me. She tried to speak but I cut her off. 

In a very loud voice I said, "Apparently, you are unaware that hair loss and baldness are some of the side effects of chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer".  

She realized the depth of the mistake that she had just made and in that moment I could see from her face that she was horrified.  She once again opened her mouth only this time she was trying to apologize.  She got up off the bench to approach me and once again I cut her off. 

I held up my hand- "Stop"!  I said.  "It's too late to apologize to me, the damage is done. 

But since I know just how important being a Christian is to you, I'm going to do what I think Jesus would do in this situation. 

I'm going to forgive you.
I'm going to turn the other cheek and walk away.  
I am going to hope that you learned something.

I got out of there as fast as I could. 

When I made it to the parking lot it was nearly 100 degrees outside. 
I got in my truck, and the heat hit me like a blast furnace as I rolled down the windows and drove off.

I shook all the way home.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Connecting Flights

Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.”
--Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine)

My frequent travels have afforded me the chance to meet and interact with so many different and interesting people.  Although airports have become intelligence-free zones of late, they have always provided me with many moments of entertainment.  Sometimes, I get to be part of the show.

I was between flights in the Atlanta airport and had a couple of hours to kill, so I made my way down the huge escalator from the A Concourse into the tunnel that connects all the terminals.  Once below ground I usually take the opportunity to stretch my legs and walk the distance between the terminals.  For anyone not familiar with the Atlanta airport, it’s about a ¼ mile or so between each concourse which makes for a nice, relaxing walk when you have the time.
On this particular occasion, I opted to take the train because my backpack was exceptionally heavy.

Standing there on the crowded platform I began to overhear a conversation behind me.  Despite the noise level in the tunnel, I heard every word because 2 people were yelling and gesturing madly.  As I turned around I saw and heard a woman slowly and deliberately shouting, “YOU HAVE TO GO TO THE B CONCOURSE, THE B CONCOURSE!  IT’S THAT WAY”!  THE B CONCOURSE IS THAT WAY”! She over articulated every word, as though she was hoping that her lips could be read as well.  The man with her chimed in even louder as though somehow it would help, “YOU HAVE TO GO THERE, THAT WAY… IT’S OVER THERE”!  And then he made a pointing motion so huge he could have been shooting a free throw.
I looked at the gentleman to whom (at, really) they were directing this tirade and saw that he was standing there, ticket in hand, eyes wide with panic and incomprehension.  He wasn’t deaf.  He just didn’t speak English.  He hadn’t uttered a word and yet somehow, in that instant, I knew he was Russian.  To this day, I can’t for the life of me explain how I knew, I just did.

 I stepped between Mr. and Mrs. Loud, and asked, “Izvenitye, nuzhen pamoch”? (Excuse me, do you need help?)

 In an instant I saw the relief on his face as he heard me speaking Russian.   He started speaking rapidly… “Da Da, pozhalsta, nye goveritye po Angliski”! (Yes, yes please, I do not speak English!) Then he held his ticket out for me to see.  His ticket was for San Francisco, and he needed to go to gate B-15.   Easy enough.  Digging deeply in to my memory banks for vocabulary, I told him in my rusty Russian to “Come with me I can take you there.  It’s this way”. 
Spaciba! Spaciba! Bolshoi Spaciba! (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you very much!) he exclaimed.

I led him off of the train platform on to the walkway towards the B terminal.  I thought it would be nice if we could walk and talk along the way.  My brain was scrambling to try to remember enough to make some conversation.   I didn’t have to remember much because he started speaking first.  He asked me if it was far to the plane, and I told him no, just a short walk.  He then said that he had just stepped off the plane from Moscow and had gotten lost in the airport.   He told me that he was getting married in San Francisco the very next day and was afraid he wouldn’t be there for his own wedding!  That certainly explained some of his hysteria.  He asked if I was going to miss my flight by helping him and I told him not to worry, I had plenty of time.  He asked me how I learned Russian.  I started to tell him about my time in the Air Force and language school and then I remembered something.  I asked to see his ticket again.  I wanted to know what time his flight was scheduled for.  He held it out to me again.  The flight was due to depart at 7:30pm.  I glanced at my watch and it was 7:15!  I waved and yelled to him,” Let’s go, we’ve got to run”! We both took off in a sprint.   I guess I managed to forget how heavy my backpack was because we were dodging people, weaving left and right.  We ran through the tunnel, made it to the B Concourse escalator and ran all the way to the top.  I turned and ran towards gate B-15 but stopped in my tracks when I saw it was deserted except for one person behind the counter.  There was no plane, no last minute passengers making their way to the door, even the sign at the counter was blank, no city was listed.   By this time we were both breathless and the panic I had seen on his face earlier had returned.  I asked the gate attendant what had happened to the San Francisco flight.  She said, “Oh, there was a gate change, it’s now at A-1”.
I looked at my watch and then at my new Russian friend.  It was now 7:20 and for the second time in a short while, I said, “Let’s go, we have to run!” 
In my best Russian, between gasps for air, I tried to explain that the plane was somewhere else, that he hadn’t missed it.   I was hoping he wasn’t having second thoughts about placing his trust in me.  Here I was thinking I was going to be a hero and so far all I’d managed to do was drag him all over the airport and probably caused him to miss his plane.  
Who knew the gate had changed right back to where we started! Damn!

His faith in me obviously hadn’t wavered because he was still close behind as we sprinted down the same escalator that we had only dashed up moments ago.
No train in sight when we hit the tunnel so the only option was to keep running.  The entire time we were running I kept yelling in Russian, “Don’t worry, it will be ok, don’t worry, we’ll make it”!  He said nothing but stayed right with me. For once I was hoping that a flight had been delayed.
We ran the quarter mile back to the A terminal, flew up an escalator once again, and tore down the full length of the A terminal to the very last gate.  I looked up at the electronic sign:
Gate A-1  Flt#  1749
San Francisco
Now Boarding

I could see about 15 people still waiting in line to show their tickets to the agent so I slowed down and stopped.  I pointed to the sign, and said in Russian, “We made it, this is it,  this is the flight to San Francisco”.  He looked at me with a bit more scrutiny this time and asked me, in Russian, if I was sure.  I looked at his ticket for the last time.  I even repeated the flight numbers aloud to him as I pointed to the sign.   “Da”, I’m sure.
I walked with him to the back of the line and we stood there, sweating and heaving in unison as we both caught our breath.  I took off that damned backpack that had suddenly gotten much heavier and placed it by my feet.
 He was going to make it on time for his wedding.

Playing ambassador, I said, “I hope you like living in the United States”. 
I told him San Francisco was a beautiful city.  I told him there were many Russians there and even a neighborhood called Russian Hill as well, and he laughed.  Over and over he kept repeating  spaciba, spaciba .  I told him, “Pozhalsta!” (You’re welcome) Then I remembered a colloquial phrase that I had learned a long time ago.    
 I said, “Nye zha shto”.
There are 2 translations for “nye zhe shto”.
 It could mean, simply-
 It’s nothing.  Or, think nothing of it.

But in this context, I think one good colloquial expression deserves another,

“Ain’t nothin’ but a thang”, probably describes it best.

He started laughing and shaking his head.  I think I got the connotation right on that one.

The line was growing shorter and it was almost his turn to board.  I picked up my backpack and got ready to leave. I turned to him, and held out my hand.  He took my hand, shook it, as I said, “Do zvidanya, zhelayoo vam oospehka,-Farewell, I wish you success.  It was probably too formal or stiff of an expression but it seemed to fit and it was all I could come up with. 

I started to walk away and he grabbed my arm gently.  As I turned back towards him he reached all the way around me, pulled me off of my feet into a monstrous, Russian bear hug.  When he let me go, he stepped back, took a deep breath and in heavily accented but perfectly clear English said, “Gahd blyess you!

He turned away and handed his ticket to the gate agent.  I stood there watching and then he waved to me one last time as he entered the jetway.  I waved back for as long as I could and when he finally disappeared I walked away.  I only managed to take about 2 or 3 steps before I burst into tears. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lost and Found

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

--John Donne

My phone was ringing but I didn’t recognize the number, or even the area code, so I hesitated to answer it.  I figured if it was important, whoever was calling would leave a voice mail.  I waited for the ringing to stop, and sure enough, the double beep signaled that the caller had left a message.  Some guy had found my Road ID bracelet while snorkeling off of the coast of Tobago. 

He had been working his way through my various contact numbers on it, and finally found his way to me.  I too had been snorkeling in Tobago several weeks before; but I had taken it off at some point because I didn’t want the reflective surface attracting the attention of any barracuda that might be lurking about in the reef.  I had thought it would be safe on the boat, but apparently it had been washed overboard. Road ID’s are great things to have.  They serve double duty as a medic alert bracelet/emergency contact list; so it not only tells the paramedics about any medical conditions or allergies you may have, but it also tells them who to call in case of emergency.  Somehow mine must have wound up in the water, and this guy found it.  He had been concerned that the body it had been attached to might have been claimed by a shark and was immensely relieved when I returned his phone call right away.  He described how he saw it wedged in the coral and dove down several feet to retrieve it.  I was amazed that he had found it and had made the effort to track me down. We marveled at how he had found such a small, personal thing in such a big ocean.  We exchanged information, and he promised to put it in the mail as soon as possible.

          Once off the phone I thought about the reason I bought that bracelet in the first place.  I have some allergies and other medical conditions that paramedics should know about if I was found lying on the side of the road somewhere.  

 At all the races I run, folks are constantly talking about how important it is to be able to be identified and have emergency contacts in case something happens. At most races, especially the longer distances, runners are even instructed to put important medical and contact info on the back side of their race numbers. 

After one particular marathon, I was sitting in the post-race food tent inhaling my peanut butter covered bagel when another runner came in and slumped down in the chair across from me.  He looked too exhausted to move so I stood up and got him something to eat. I introduced myself as I handed him a bagel. He thanked me for the bagel and told me his name was Scott.   We started chatting and he noticed my newly acquired Road ID right away.  He mentioned that he had seen the ads for them as well and thought they were a good idea but just hadn’t gotten around to getting one.  I told him I had also procrastinated, but that something significant had happened a few weeks earlier that had finally motivated me to get one.  His eyes widened with interest and he said, “Really, what happened?

I told him about being out on a run about a month ago when I saw a car.

Just sitting there.

It was at the top of a long, twisting road and it sat there poised, almost suspended it seemed, facing downhill. The engine was running, the headlights glowed and brake lights illuminated the early morning darkness as though the driver had merely stopped for a moment to contemplate his next move.  As I got closer, I noticed that cars were pausing behind him, momentarily, then, realizing it wasn’t going anywhere, tried to find ways to get around it on the narrow road.  They either went to the right and drove half over the lawn of the nearest house, or more perilously, passed on the left by crossing the double yellow line on a nearly blind curve.  It was my usual, oh dark thirty, morning run, with my dog, when I noticed that something was odd about the entire scene. I wondered why the car was just sitting there, brake lights engaged, at the top of the hill, not moving.  As I ran up alongside the car I glanced in at the driver and had my answer. He was slumped over the steering wheel.  My first thought was to wonder if he had fallen asleep, or was drunk and had passed out. Then I realized in horror that the reason didn’t matter because the only thing keeping that car from careening down the hill was his foot locked on the brake.  I reached for my cell phone and dialed 911.   As I was speaking to the operator, giving her the car’s location and nearest cross street, I found a tree, tied my dog’s leash to it and began walking back towards the car.  As I got close, another car approaching from the downhill side slowed down and stopped.  Dean (not his real name), a radiology tech from St. Something or Other hospital was on his way to work, had passed the car, noticed that the driver was unconscious and returned to help. As he got out, I quickly explained the situation and pointed to the driver’s foot on the brake.  Together we eased up to the driver’s side and Dean tested the door handle.  Thankfully, it was unlocked.  We could hear some music coming from inside the car and it made for a macabre soundtrack for what happened next.   In one swift move, as though we had rehearsed it, Dean yanked the door open, I reached in and pulled the driver upright and out of the way so he could grab the gear shifter and throw the car into Park.  The sigh of relief was short lived as we both took one look at the driver and realized he needed immediate medical attention.   We quickly slid him out of the car and stretched him out on the yellow lines. The driver had on his work badge and I saw right away that his name was John. (also not his real name) He was the Director of Rehabilitation at the same Saint Something or Other hospital where Dean worked.   Cars were still zooming all around us and I began to get furious.  I was furious that people wouldn’t even slow down as they passed us kneeling on the ground beside this person.  Finally, another vehicle approaching from the opposite direction did stop and a woman in scrubs rolled down her window and said, “Hey I’m a nursing student at some other Saint Something or Other Hospital, do you need any help”?  I heard myself practically yell an order back to her, “YES! Block that lane with your car and help us with this guy! She turned her car sideways and jumped right out into our little mess in the middle of the road.  I couldn’t find a pulse anywhere; she didn’t detect a pulse or any breathing either.  Strangely, I kept thinking, he’s still warm, we might have a chance, but I knew he was already gone.  Just as we finished assessing him, Dean returned with the breather mask he kept in his car’s first aid kit.
           The 3 of us were working together, taking turns performing CPR and continually checking for signs of life when suddenly there were sirens, flashing lights, a fire truck, ambulance and paramedics. As John got connected to the EKG we passed along all the details about how we found him, and what we did, to the paramedics.  I kept watching the EKG display for anything that even closely resembled a heartbeat.  There was a lot of shifting around and movement of the wires which caused the EKG to register some crazy zigzag lines, but I didn’t see anything that indicated any real cardiac rhythm.
Once the paramedics had taken over there was nothing left for us to do but get out of the way. I thanked Dean and the nursing student (never got her name) for stopping and went back to where my dog had been waiting. Considering all the noise and commotion he had done well.  We both had some nervous energy to burn off and I didn’t really know what else to do, so we continued on our run.  A few minutes later the ambulance that had come for John, passed us, rushing to his hospital less than 2 miles away.

I called the Emergency Room a couple of hours later to see how “John” was doing.  I figured they could at least tell me his condition.  When the ER charge nurse heard that someone was calling about “John” she asked to speak with me right away, “Are you family, are you next of kin?” “We can’t locate any of his family and we don’t know who to call”.  As it turned out, John lived alone and his cell phone had been left behind in his car. His friends at work had no idea who else to contact.  “No,” I told the nurse, I’m not family, I’m the one that found him and called the ambulance. I wanted to check on him to see how he was doing”.  She told me he was in critical condition and that they were desperately trying to contact his family. She asked me to pass along any information if I found out anything.  I told her I would, thanked her and hung up.  

I next called a friend that worked at that hospital and asked her if she could casually drop by the ER to check on someone for me.  By the time I got to work that day, my friend had checked, and called me back.  “John” had died.
I heard later that in order to contact his family some of his co-workers had to break into his house and dig through his desk to find some phone numbers…

Scott had been listening intently to the entire story.

I concluded, “So, that’s why I finally broke down and bought the Road ID.  I lived alone at the time and I didn’t want anyone to have to search through my things to contact my family”.

As I finished I noticed that tears were welling up in his eyes. He put his head in his hands and started sobbing.  I thought perhaps it was due to exhaustion and asked him if he needed anything else. He sat back up, wiped his eyes and started shaking his head in disbelief. Finally, he said. “Oh my God, that was you”?  “You were the one that found him”?  He told me that, “John”, had been a close friend. While attending his funeral, a few weeks prior, he said that he had been told someone out running with a dog had found him and tried to save him.

There are no islands.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kibo (Ode to Norah Jones)

“Jam-boooooh”, Jammmmm-booooo”, Kambona, the camp cook called softly…the sound of that gentle, Swahili greeting penetrated the cold, the dark, and the tent all at once. I realized I was awake, and shivering in the sleeping bag. “Karibu”, I replied-“you are welcome, please come in”- and in an instant Kambona is kneeling at the entrance of the tent holding a small tray, upon which sits a cup of steaming, hot water and a small bowl of ugali. It's no mean feat to boil water and prepare hot food, on a mountainside at 15,000 feet. As he hands me the tray I smile, say, “asante' sana”-thank you very much- and nod my head vigorously, in a manner which I hope conveys the full extent of my gratitude.

       This had become our customary routine each morning for the last 5 days as we ascended higher and higher up the challenging terrain. Each morning seemed harder than the next to rise from, but always, Kambona was there to lure me out of the tent with some moto maji-hot water- and ugali, that east African staple, sort of a cornmeal porridge, I'd grown rather fond of. Since his English was better than my Swahili, we mostly conversed in English, but I would try to use whatever Swahili I could. “Tonight, you will summit” he said, and instinctively, both of us gazed upward, in the direction of Kibo, though it was invisible in the darkness. “It will be hard-you are small, but you are tough, I know you will make it”. I had my doubts, but I nodded in agreement as I contemplated what lay ahead. “Ndio”-yes, I mumbled, “ndio”. It was nearly impossible to guess how old Kambona was, since he, like the majority of Tanzanians, seemed infinitely youthful.  The only evidence of age that belied his muscular frame was the touch of gray beginning to show in his hair.  He read my doubt, so to encourage me, he said, with a laugh and a huge smile of perfect teeth, you are “kitcha mzungu”-“crazy white person”, so of course you will make it! I will greet you in camp when you come down from the top”. I laughed along with him and just kept repeating “kitcha…ndio… kitcha”.  

      There was still over 4000 feet of elevation between where we are standing and Kibo, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We would hike at midnight, in order to reach Kibo in time to be there to greet the sun; welcome it, as it rises up from beneath the clouds that will then be below us. It's only 18 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature will continue to drop as we climb through the night. I am determined to make it to the top and I focus my thoughts on the notion of sunrise. I resign myself to the fact that the next 6 or 7 hours will probably be miserable, exhausting, or even dangerous. I tell myself that the only way out is up. I'm so afraid of heights; it occurs to me that I'm actually grateful for the darkness because I can't see past the edges of the cliffs we'll be ascending. As I add on the layers I'll need to stay warm, I prepare mentally by centering my entire self on one thing.


“No matter what happens”, I tell myself, “keep moving until sunrise”.   By the time the sun comes up, the hardest part will be over” I repeated it over and over to myself until it seemed that the sunrise, rather than the summit, had become my destination.
      Shortly after midnight, it began to snow while some of the other climbers departed Barafu camp. We left a few minutes later. There were several groups of climbers attempting to summit this night so we staggered our departures to allow for safe spacing. When I found out a few days later that Barafu meant “ice” in Swahili, I just shook my head and laughed.   Didn’t need a dictionary for that one!
The terrain did not require ropes, ice picks, crampons or other more technical gear that you'd find on a climb of something like Everest. It was however, quite challenging just to stay upright on the steep, rocky slope that was rapidly becoming snow covered. Our headlamps created a little snow swirling, bubble of light, about 10 feet in diameter all around us. That's as far as we could see side to side or to the front. I didn't look back or down. I kept reminding myself that the only way out was up. There were many steps, rocky outcroppings really, that created obstacles for me. Because I am short, I found myself having to use my hands to clamber or scramble up some of these outcroppings, while the taller folks just took what looked like giant steps from rock to rock. I think all the extra effort helped to keep me warm. In fact, I have no memory of actually feeling cold the entire night. 

      I can't recall how long we'd been walking when we paused to rest for a few moments; I looked up, tilted my head way back, and saw what I thought were stars. But these stars were moving, ever so slowly, steadily. And then my altitude addled brain remembered it was snowing, and that there's no way I could be seeing stars so I thought I might be hallucinating until I realized it was the headlamps of the climbers ahead of us. “Holy crap”, I thought, they are practically overhead; the pitch was THAT steep. “Holy crap”, I gasped, again.  I thought it was because I was shocked, then I realized that it had suddenly gotten a lot harder to breathe. For days, I had worked very deliberately to stave off the effects of altitude sickness. “Pole' pole'”-which rhymes with and means, “slowly slowly”, the guides and porters admonished us, even at the lower altitudes. Climb slowly, drink lots and lots of water, was the refrain constantly heard on the mountain. I realized that I hadn't been drinking enough and that I was beginning to feel the altitude more acutely. I crunched the ice that was forming on the mouthpiece of the drinking tube and immediately sucked down, huge gulps of water from my camelback. I made a mental note to drink every few minutes whether I was thirsty or not. Pretty soon, or so it seemed, I had to pee, thanks to my renewed efforts at staying hydrated. I really couldn't say how long I'd been moving because I had no idea what time it was. No watch, no sun, moon or stars in the sky…no frame of reference at all.  I called out to the guide, to let him know I was going to stop for a moment to take care of business. He pointed to the wall of rock to my left and said “There! Do it right there”! Then, he looked away.  I realized he was telling me in just so many words, not to step off the trail. As I removed my bulky mittens momentarily so I could free up my hands, it occurred to me how modesty and altitude were inversely proportional. I glanced at my hands and even in the direct beam of my head lamp they seemed dark. I was confused for a moment, “dark” I thought? But I'm kitcha mzungu, the crazy white person, how can my hands be dark? The guide turned back around, took one look, and said “your hands are blue-that's from the altitude”. He eyed me closely, his headlamp nearly blinding me and asked if I felt ok. Suddenly the confusion cleared and I realized that blue meant I was getting hypoxic.
 “Ndio, nzuri-good I'm ok, a little tired, not even cold”. My brain was a little fuzzy but that was to be expected. I'd read and reread all the literature about altitude sickness and the rare, but deadly things that could happen; pulmonary or cerebral edema were the biggies. Those killed you pretty quickly if you didn't descend far and fast enough. I wasn't anywhere near that stage of course, but I had to make a concerted effort to keep myself from panicking. “Keep drinking, and no matter what, keep walking”, I told myself, “the sun has to come up at some point”. I was afraid to ask the guide what time it was because I didn't want to hear that all this had transpired during the course of 15 minutes. That would have broken me right there, so I left it as an unknown and was satisfied with that. I knew that each step brought me closer to the next moment, so that was my indication that time was somehow progressing
      I perked up for a while as we fell into a rhythm of walking a few steps, sliding back a little, then walking some more. The snow stopped falling at some point and I stopped to pee at least 2 more times along the way. I know bodily functions take some time to process so I was encouraged that a sizeable, though undetermined, chunk of time had passed. Off to the side of the trail I thought I caught a glimpse of something glowing in the snow. I figured it was just a reflection of the headlamp beam, but then there it was again, up ahead. As I got closer I studied it. It looked like a very small television laying there in the snow. “Now where the hell would someone plug one of those in, all the way up here?” I thought. It was on, and there was a picture. It was someone's face; I don't know whose, but they seemed friendly enough, in fact I think they were trying to encourage me to continue on but I couldn't quite hear them. Up ahead there was another little TV. Same face. And then another, and another, lining the trail. It was like some bizarre, finishing chute at a marathon where the crowd gathers to cheer the runners for their final steps. Just then someone reached out from a little television and punched me in the nose. I stood there, shook my head, woke up dazed and I realized I had walked smack into the guide from behind. I hadn't even seen him. My eyes were open but I'd either been asleep on my feet and dreaming or awake and hallucinating. Either way, it was an indication I was close to exhaustion. Again, he looked at me and asked if I was ok.

“Ndio", yes
I'm fine.
"Nzuri". I'm good
"Twende"-let's go. 

      I was nervous about what had just happened and tried to think of something that would calm me down. I began humming a Norah Jones song that had always had a soothing effect on me. Sunrise, sunrise…looks like morning in your eyes… hmmm hmmm, hmmm hmmm… I didn’t even remember most of the words, but I just kept humming that portion of the verse over and over. 
Sunrise indeed. 
 I could hear all the words and music in my head, but all I could do was hum. And walk. And hum. I eventually understood that if I had enough breath to expend humming, I must be doing better and in fact, I was feeling better. The humming was working and… it was getting lighter! A faint seam of light was now visible on the horizon. I kept humming…Sunrise, sunrise… And walking. Sunrise, sunrise… I looked up again and I could now see the outline of the mountain and Stella's Point immediately overhead.    
Stella's point indicates that you have ascended to 19,000 ft. in altitude, but more importantly, marks the end of the insanely difficult portion of the climb. If you make it to Stella's point, it's just another 30 minute walk over much easier ground to Uhuru Peak, the official summit of Kilimanjaro,  at 19,341 feet. We were almost there and it's getting even lighter and I'm still humming.  I know my humming didn't actually cause the sun to rise, but I want to say it seemed as if it helped. I almost felt like running.  Now I know I'm going to make it to the top and I feel fantastic.
“Ndio”! Yes!
I did it.
"Nzuri sana"!-Very good!
"Mambo Poa"-Cool! 

      I wondered how many people have stood atop Stella's Point and shouted, “Stellaaaaaaaa” like Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.  I contemplated doing it, for a while, but decided to keep it as my own private joke.    
I'd made it to the top and it was just not that kind of moment. 

The view from the top encompassed the vast expanse of the Serengeti. To my left and right were the ice fields, glaciers really. Hemingway's “Snows of Kilimanjaro” were, in actuality, massive glaciers. 

Sunrise from Stella's Point was other worldly. The rising sun first appeared below the clouds, causing them to glow an eerie orange, and then punched through them in a blaze of color.

Hope Highway

This piece appeared in Birmingham Magazine's Dec. 2008 edition.

Driving home from work some time ago, something caught my eye about the older couple in the car that drove past me. I glanced over and saw that the woman in the passenger seat didn't seem well.  A moment later, stopping alongside them at the red light I caught a glimpse of her again. She had that all too familiar look. She's wearing a dew rag to cover a bald head, no eyebrows, her skin is pale...My cancer detector lit up; I was 99.9% sure she was in the middle of chemotherapy. Then as the light turned green and the car eased ahead, I saw the rear license plate frame that said, "We support the American Cancer Society".  That made me 100% sure. I always feel compelled to say things to others I meet that are walking the same path I traveled not so long ago. I want to say something encouraging, tell them it will be alright, show them how well I'm doing, hug them, show them my latest marathon picture, something- anything, but what can you do out on Highway 280 in heavy traffic? It's not the most conducive place to start a conversation.

But then, I got an idea. I wear one of those yellow, LiveSTRONG bracelets.  It's a simple, cheap, fundraiser that caught on big time, from the Lance Armstrong Foundation.  It's bright yellow, because that's the color of the race jersey worn by the winner of the Tour De France. Just to complete one is considered a remarkable cycling accomplishment.  Lance Armstrong won the Tour De France 7 times in a row; a staggering feat of endurance for anyone. What makes it even more astounding is that he managed to accomplish all of this after being diagnosed with testicular cancer that was so far advanced it had already spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain.  At the time of his diagnosis his doctors had estimated his chances of merely surviving, to be somewhere in the 10% range. Talk about odds? This set of unlikely ingredients caused him to become some kind of “hope machine” for all cancer survivors. Wearing that bit of Tour de France yellow is a way to jump on his wheel, so to speak, which, in cycling terms, means drafting behind so closely that you are pulled right along with him.

Sooo, I drove like a maniac to catch the couple at the next light…I maneuvered alongside their car, as close as possible, and gestured to the woman to roll down her window. She looked a bit shocked and seemed reluctant at first, but I think my big smile helped me to appear harmless...I rolled my window down, pulled the yellow band off of my arm and handed it across to her. All I said was, “Here, you NEED this”!  As she looked down and saw what it was, a huge smile lit up her face. I pointed to my head, now full of thick wavy hair, and said, “See, it grows back great!” The light turned green and as we both started moving again, I heard her yell "God bless you"!  At the next light the couple was a few cars behind me, but in the rear view mirror I saw that she was waving her arm with the bracelet like a madwoman. I waved back.
 We parted ways a few more lights down the road, and I wished I'd gotten her name or thought to have given her my card. It would have been nice to keep in touch with her, hear about her progress.  There were so many things I'd never know about her.  How sick was she? Was she just starting or was she nearly done with her treatments?  All I did know, was that on that day, I was able to give her something special. A little piece of hope.

Two months later.  Same road. Same car pulls alongside me. A woman rolls down her window and waves. Talk about odds?