Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tupperware--The Lasting Legacy of Cancer

Yes, years later we still have the Tupperware. The real, name brand kind with color-coded lids, and the Glad-ware kind with blue lids and the kind that is numbered so you match the numbers on the tubs to the numbers on the lids. (It is true that I did not know there was a numbering system for years—years!)

Some of our plastic storage ware is still stained from all the tomato sauces. So very much food in red sauce comes to cancer families: spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli and cheese, and absolute tsunami of lasagna.

We tried to return the dishes to their rightful owners but it became impossible. A lot of food was in the freezer a long time and then we were stumped trying to remember who gave what. I have never seen this tip in a cancer caregiver book but it should be there: Please Mark your Dishes!

The easiest solution is to send food in those aluminum pans that can be crushed and tossed. Yes, I know that you are trying to be green but recycling is a low priority in CancerLand. Recycling can happen in remission but not while we’re a blur of chemo appointments, neuropathy and anxiety attacks.

So, if you are sending a meal to a patient or family the next best thing is to label your pan or bowl. Masking tape on the bottom with your name will do. But another great thing I saw a few folks do was to put a label on the bottom of their dish and also write, “Please return this dish to Susie Smith” or “Lasagna from Susie Smith—no need to return this pan.”  Those labels allow your other friends to be helpful too. So many friends and neighbors want something simple to do to be helpful  and an easy task is, “Please wash the dishes and get the pans back to where they came from.”

A really good friend will just take a sink load of dirty dishes in her car and sort it out at home. That’s caring help.

But here we are years later, I’m putting away the leftovers from tonight’s spicy salmon supper—a meal neither of could have stomached (literally) in the big chemo days—and I see all those blue lids and the rosy tomato-stained tubs and I laugh. It’s a sign of survival and the oddest souvenir from our long visit to CancerLand.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How to Cut Out Resentment

The centerpiece of caregiving is control. And yes, control is about fear. If I can only control, well, everything, then I can assure we’ll be safe. Even knowing better it is still there.

But control, of course, leads to resentment, and resentment leads to even more discomfort—and to obsession. So we don’t want that. But it’s tricky. Resentment is like tar paper –so sticky. I learned a way out of resentment though. Here is a practice that a friend gave me to try with a person who challenges you. Here is what she suggested:

Early in the morning or late at night—when you can imagine that the other person is sleeping—visualize your highest or best self –the one who is wise and compassionate, and visualize that best part of you going to visit the troublesome person during their sleep. See your higher self using a pair of beautiful golden or jeweled scissors to cut the cord that attaches you to that person. See the cord that connects you falling away. And then allow your highest self to bless that person, allow the blessing to fall on your self too, and then see your higher self return home to you. Say thank you.

Do this visualization as many times as you can over two weeks and you will find that your resentment or struggle with that person will lessen or disappear.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day

Today is "Poem in Your Pocket" Day. I will be carrying "Late Fragment" by Raymond Carver. What's in your pocket?
Late Fragment
And did you get what 
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved,
to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

                                                            --Raymond Carver

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Poem by Anna Swire for Lovers in CancerLand

Thank You, My Fate

Great humility fills me,
great purity fills me,
I make love with my dear
as if I made love dying
as if I made love praying,
tears pour
over my arms and his arms.
I don’t know whether this is joy
or sadness, I don’t understand
what I feel, I’m crying,
I’m crying, it’s humility
as if I were dead,
gratitude, I thank you, my fate,
I’m unworthy, how beautiful
my life.

— Anna Swir
Translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Easter Poem

The Hope of Resurrection

Though I have watched so many mourners weep
O'er the real dead, in dull earth laid asleep—
Those dead seemed but the shadows of my days
That passed and left me in the sun's bright rays.
Now though you go on smiling in the sun
Our love is slain, and love and you were one.
You are the first, you I have known so long,
Whose death was deadly, a tremendous wrong.
Therefore I seek the faith that sets it right
Amid the lilies and the candle-light.
I think on Heaven, for in that air so dear
We two may meet, confused and parted here.
Ah, when man's dearest dies,'tis then he goes
To that old balm that heals the centuries' woes.
Then Christ's wild cry in all the streets is rife:—
"I am the Resurrection and the Life."                                        

                                                      -- Vachel Lindsay

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April 15th--Jackie Robinson Day

Today is Jackie Robinson Day. On this day in 1947 Robinson took a big step onto Brooklyn’s field as a Dodger.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was not only the man who was the subject of  “baseball’s greatest experiment”, who put a face on the color change in baseball, he also changed the chemistry of America’s pastime as well as its color. Sports writer Mike Lupica says of Robinson: “He played with flash and arrogance and made ferocity an art. Baseball did not look the same after Jackie Robinson.”

But we have to remember that history rarely happens in big events and single moments. There were other people who were critical to Robinson’s being able to do take those courageous steps on April 15, 1947.

 Jackie Robinson was not the first black to play professional baseball. It might be more correct to say that he was the first black to cross the color line who was allowed to stay.  The very first black to play professional baseball in America was Moses Fleetwood Walker. Walker holds the dubious honor of being the first black to play pro ball and the last to still be playing before the final shut out of blacks in baseball by Jim Crow laws.  Walker, a catcher from Ohio, was educated at Oberlin College and the University of Michigan and played ball at both schools before joining Toledo’s professional team in 1884.  Moses Fleetwood Walker set a precedent.

The refusal to allow blacks in pro ball meant that black ball players had to form their own teams and their own leagues. This formation of all black teams led to one of the most glorious periods in baseball history.

 There is a tendency I think for baseball fans to look at the Negro Leagues as the poor cousin to “real” baseball. Stories of barnstorming days give the sense that black baseball was an inferior game and organization. This could not be farther from the truth. Most of the bad conditions for Negro leaguers came after integration of the game. In their prime The Negro Leagues were multi-million dollar operations, among the largest black businesses in the United States, which sent millions of dollars into and through the community. .

Negro League star Josh Gibson was the greatest player of that time. He is now considered by most baseball historians to be the greatest baseball player of all time. One of the games most natural hitters, Gibson played for Pittsburgh’s Homestead Grays. Gibson’s hitting prowess outshined Babe Ruth. In one season Gibson hit 89 home runs, 29 more than Ruth’s record. And Gibson is the only player to ever hit a home run out of Yankee Stadium.

Without Josh Gibson Jackie Robinson’s moment would never have come. Josh Gibson showed fans what black ball players could do and he showed major league owners what black fans could mean to the business of baseball.  The Homestead Grays, who played in any town that had a ballpark available for rent, set attendance records in most of the big league parks along the east coast and through the mid west. Josh Gibson was the hot draw and fans- black and white -- came from all over and sold out every game to see him play.

Those sold out houses were not lost on another important baseball man, Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey had been managing baseball teams all of his adult life, and when he came to the Dodgers he inherited an aging team and declining audience. He wanted to win a pennant and he knew that the hottest talent in the game was in the Negro Leagues.

Rickey knew that the draw for those games while mostly black included white fans who loved the more energetic brand of baseball played by the all black teams. Rickey spent more than two years orchestrating Robinson’s first step onto Ebbets Field. Rickey was willing to endure the scorn of all of the other major league owners and managers.

But ultimately it was Jackie Robinson who had to step onto that field, and who agreed to Rickey’s offer and Rickey’s terms. And the terms were tough: Robinson promised, “no reaction, no matter what” for three years. That was not easy for Jackie. He had to put up with bean balls aimed at his head, spikes aimed at his shins and the ugly names aimed at him and at his family.

Rickey admitted later that, “Jackie had to turn the other cheek so often that he had no other cheek left – both were beaten off.” But Jackie Robinson was not Jesus and not Gandhi. It is unfair to characterize him as a man of superior spiritual character who took his enemies racist hatred and returned compassion and forgiveness. He did not. Robinson swallowed a lot of that hatred. He was smart enough to know that this was the only way the “experiment” would work and he was wise enough to know that the men waiting behind him in the Negro Leagues depended on his fitting in. 

Robinson was the man who took the risk, who played the game and who changed its play in so many ways. But Branch Rickey can also be a role model for showing us that winning and making a profit do not have to be separate from making important social change.

Looking at these others who set the stage for Jackie Robinson doesn’t take anything away from him on this special day. Rather it may let us take away something that we can apply to our lives. There are many parts to play in making great social change. Most of them come without recognition and they can, like Rickey’s, come with very mixed motivations.

Few of us will have the opportunity to be the man or woman of the moment, to publicly enact history in such a dramatic way, but we all have opportunities to be one of the unnamed others, who, though unrecognized, are necessary to building the momentum and critical mass that allows the historical moment to happen.