The Love of My Life | Have We Left Our Mark?

IMG_4174I am on a flight to Chicago, having just returned to Austin yesterday from a week at the beach along the shores of the Gulf in Ft. Morgan, Alabama. As my son and I drove west, my daughters, their grandparents, and their cousins headed east, to South Carolina, to the home of Maureen’s mom and dad in Callawassie, near Hilton Head. Our time at this beach started 12 years ago to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Henry and Ann Diercxsens. Being at Ft. Morgan is a beautiful tradition, and this week was another one of those firsts that my son, Taylor, wrote about a few months ago on Maureen’s birthday at the end of April.

This was the first time that all of us were together at the beach, without Maureen, the first time we were together as her family since last October 25, 2014 at her celebration of life. As I wrote before heading to the beach, July 14 was the 25th anniversary of my marriage to Maureen. July 6 was the 52nd anniversary for her mom and dad. As the week unfolded, it is clear why so much love washes over this whole family. Henry and Ann, Bon Papa and Bonne Maman are two truly amazing individuals and an unbelievable couple. They are like two big kids, and they are so in love with each other. Bon Papa shared that love at the dinner table on Sunday night, after we all enjoyed our first day at the beach, all 16 of us, all around the same table. As Bonne Maman would say, for as wonderful as the house we rent is, perhaps it is this big table around which we all can sit that makes this house our home away from home.

IMG_2129At this table, Bon Papa gave a prayer, a small speech, not unlike the one he shared at the reception for Maureen and my wedding 25 years ago. He eloquently and beautifully acknowledged what we were all thinking, what we were all feeling. We obviously all shed a tear around the table, but in that moment, as I sat across from Bon Papa, from Henry, tears flowing from my face, tears flowing from his, I felt a connection I never fully understand until that moment. We both loved his little girl, his Maureen, more than any words can describe. (With daughters of my own now, I understand what it means to love your little girl, Bon Papa.) For 25 years, he showered his love over his little girl, his Maureen, as only a father can. On July 14, 1990, he walked his little girl, my bride, up the aisle at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, to hand his daughter’s hand to mine in marriage. I was honored by the chance to carry his torch, to love his little girl for the next 25, to join my love with his.

Heading into this week at the beach, I thought I was going to be writing about Maureen and my honeymoon to Denmark and Norway, that immediately followed our wedding in Evanston, Illinois. However, as I’ve discovered frequently with my writing, what I plan and what I actually write are not always the same thing. Although I think it is because I stay open to the events around me, it is more likely simply Maureen and God making things so completely obvious that my fingers can do on the keyboard what they are both telling me in my heart. This was one of those weeks. Bon Papa opened the week at the table with his words, and on Tuesday, July 21, the 9th powdered donut day since Maureen’s passing, I followed suit. We both laughed that neither one of us is afraid to talk!

IMG_4130However, powdered donut day was not celebrated at the big ol’ table in the house. It was instead celebrated on the beach, under the big tent, city hall as we call it. It has to be a big tent, because there is so much love underneath it. For you see, this tent doesn’t just house the Diercxsens but the Deakins. This beach tradition, this love, isn’t just 12 years old. It is decades old. The Deakins and the Diercxsens are neighbors from Ridgewood, New Jersey. Their girls and the Diercxsens’ girls have been friends for as long as they have known life. Susie Deakin was not only in Maureen’s wedding but is the godmother of our youngest daughter. Barb Deakin, Suzanne and Dominique are not just friends but sisters. The Deakins and Diercxsens went to the Jersey Shore for years, just like we go to Ft. Morgan, Alabama now. Although the Deakins started joining us in Ft. Morgan just a few years ago, it feels like they have been part of the tradition since the beginning. In a sense, they have, because it is the love these two families share that make the beach so much fun.

The full symbolism of this moment didn’t strike me until I reached this part of the story, today, as I type. It is this. Love is just too big to ever be trapped at one table, in one house, in one family. Love is huge, and as I said under the tent, there is always more than enough love to go around. The last time we had all shared a powdered donut was in Austin, after Maureen’s “celebration of life.” As I wrote in The Love of My Life | From Twelve Donuts to One, there was only one powdered donut at the shop that day, but we all shared that one donut together, in communion, because we all shared in the same love for Maureen. Last Tuesday, at the beach, we all had our own donut as I reflected on the love under that tent. I told each of the kids to look around the tent, to look at their own parents, to look at their grandparent(s), to look at their aunts and uncles, because in those faces they can see the power of love. If they looked closely, they could see almost 200 years of marriage represented under that tent. To know their lineage, to know where they come from, is to know that love. That is the legacy of Henry and Ann. That is the legacy of Jane Deakin. Just like the sand on the beach, there is always more than enough love to go around.

Later that evening, Taylor, Kyla and I walked down the beach to the waves below Windsong, the home in which we stay. With us, we carried a portion of Maureen’s ashes. We reflected on the day; we reflected on our love for each other; we reflected on our love for Maureen; and we reflected on our walk from a year earlier. Then, we bowed our kids and said the Lord’s prayer together and sprinkled ashes into the waves. Actually, it was Kyla who sprinkled them that evening, and the wind carried them on to my feet. To be honest, at the moment, I was a bit irritated. But only for a moment, because I quickly realized this was Maureen being blatantly obvious, so I wouldn’t miss it. She was reminding me of our priest and his homily at her service in October. He told us to Love Where Your Feet Are. My sister-in-law, Suzanne, wrote beautifully about this at her own blog, Suzanne Jumps, in a post of the same name. I just read it again now; it is awesome! As the ashes landed on my feet, I suddenly knew. Actually, to be more accurate, I understood. Love where my feet are.

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Before driving away from the beach yesterday morning, I took one last walk down the beach, listening to some tunes, thinking about love, thinking about Maureen. My eyes were first drawn to the sand by the sight of two footprints, one small and one large. I realized as I looked at them that a small child was walking with someone older, sharing a moment, sharing their love. I don’t know who they were, but that was the point. Love is everywhere. The steps closest to me were still fresh, but the ones further away, were already being smoothed by the action of the waves. That sight immediately tugged at me, and I knelt down to capture a picture of this… a picture of where feet had been. As I opened my iPhone camera, I then saw my shadow next to these footsteps and felt all the pieces coming together. Just like our shadows, where our feet are, matters. Just because the waves wash away the footprints in the sand does not mean you haven’t walked along the shores of life. Even though the imprints of Maureen’s footsteps may smooth as time passes, her love won’t. She has left her mark on more hearts than we may ever know. Because just like the powdered donuts under the tent, there is always more than enough love to go around, just like the sand.

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p.s. No post on footprints would be complete without my favorite poem…

One night I had a dream… I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before us, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life, There was only one set of footprints.

I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life. This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, You would walk with me all the way; But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, There is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why in times when I needed you the most, you should leave me.

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child. I love you, and I would never, never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.

I Have Been Provoked | Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

I have been provoked because I’ve watched cancer in the faces of too many people in too many waiting rooms at too many oncologists at too many cancer centers.” – Gary L. Thompson, 1/7/2015, I Have Been Provoked | Part One

Scan259_2As I shared in my post this morning, The Love of My Life | Timelessness and Love, today, July 14, is the 25th anniversary of Maureen and my marriage. It is a deeply emotional day, because today is the “birthday of us.” A week from today will be our 10th powdered donut day, the 9th since Maureen’s passing on October 21. When you read Timelessness and Love, you will see why it is the 10th, because powdered donut day actually started at the altar where Maureen and I were married, with our kids beside us as we re-blessed our act from 25 years earlier. It didn’t start under the cross at Seton Hospital on 7 North. Another journey started that day… Maureen’s journey to be back with her Father in her heaven, with her God. Each day that passes, I come to understand even more the pure act of love that Maureen graced our family with the morning she passed. Cancer did not win that morning; love did, not just her love, but love itself.

IMG_1454As the title to this installment of I Have Been Provoked makes clear, there is a decided Dr. Seuss theme to this third visit to the idea of being provoked. Once I get past a Part 2, I’ve realized that I am writing about an enduring theme, rather than just sequential parts to the same idea. Dr. Seuss is a rather special theme for I Have Been Provoked, not just because his books are ones we read to our kids when they were younger, but because one such book formed the heart of the Seussical performed 2 years ago at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, when Kyla, our middle daughter, was in 6th grade. I still remember vividly Sharon Wilson, our lower school head, reading parts of the book from the stage. It was her last performance, because Sharon retired later that school year after over 30 years of service.

These words from Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” scream out at me from the page, as I think about being provoked:

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place….

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Of course, the challenge of the waiting room at the oncologist or a cancer hospital is that folks are not waiting around for a train to go, or a bus to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow. No, they are waiting for something more powerful. They are waiting around for the ultimate “Yes or No.” They are waiting to hear the oncologist pronounce that yes, you will live, or no, you will not. I still remember being on my knees on the Monday before Maureen passed, looking up into my sweetie’s eyes, with her oxygen, in the waiting room at Texas Oncology South before we drove quickly to Seton Hospital. I think she already knew what I did not yet know. She was about to leave the waiting room. Maureen and her God knew that:

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands Are Playing.

Oh, The Places You'll Go!However, here’s the deal with being provoked, Maureen did not leave the waiting room on October 21, 2014, she left it the day of her diagnosis 11 years earlier. Some of the places she went, included years of playing doubles tennis with her swing sisters, an incredible family reunion in Belgium over the holidays several years ago, with almost 100 aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews. As an architect, there are hospitals and schools, as well as the plans for the expansion of our own home, that she created after she left her waiting room. And, there is the imprint of her love that has been left not just on my heart, but our kids’ hearts, her family’s hearts and so many, many more. We were blessed by a great oncologist, however, no oncologist can tell us whether we will live or die. For that matter, we can’t wait for anyone to tell us this. We must decide for ourselves.

Is this easy? HELL NO! I know I am writing in the 2nd person, as a different kind of cancer survivor. As I wrote in Survivorship is Not a Phase | Part 2, I do not write in the 1st person. These cancer cells, these terrorists, were not in my body. They were in someone else’s. To even think that I can understand the emotions or heart of a survivor would be so presumptuous as to be beyond rude. To anyone reading this that has fought cancer or any other life-threatening disease, you have my love and my respect. You are amazing, truly amazing and God bless you. As I think about the many tweet chats and other survivor communities in which I have the privilege of listening, and occasionally speaking, there are amazing people out there. Just thinking about #bcsm or #gyncsm or the lovelies of Beyond the Pink Moon as examples, I am stunned.

As I leave my waiting room, it is each of you that I think about. Each of you is an unbelievable gift, a true blessing in this world, and just like Maureen, cancer has not, can not and will not change that about you. We are never promised tomorrow. None of us. But, we do have today, and there are places we can all go today. Just imagine the incredible power of the over 30 million cancer survivors that can be unleashed today. Imagine the incredible power of adding just one person in each of these circles of love to those places we can all go… it doesn’t take a lot of counting to realize that not long and all of a sudden we are at 250 million people with places to go, and I suspect there may be just a few more. We can changes things, but as Dr. Seuss reminds us:

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you stop.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dextrous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

oh-the-places-you-ll-go-dr-seuss-screenshot-5Today, for me, is about two things: love and what love can unleash. I’ve realized that the past several months, since Maureen’s passing, have been my own kind of waiting place. I have too much love in my heart to stay there any longer. Will I succeed? I don’t know. Can we all succeed? Dr. Seuss has the answer to that question:

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

As my anniversary day continues, I know Maureen would not just want me to talk about the last 25 years. She would want to me to talk about the future. She would want me to talk about powdered donuts. She would want me to talk about love, and she would want me to talk about the places we’ll go. I can think of no better words by which to close than those on the last page of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

il_570xN.416832410_1fs8So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O”Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So… get on your way!

We’re on our way sweetie… it is time for Boom Bands… and for unleashing the power of love.

The Love of My Life | Timelessness & Love

I am going to tell her stories. I am going to tell our stories. I am going to tell the story of love.” These are my words from the video on the website I brought live on Valentine’s Day this past spring. Although I am writing this story on Sunday morning, July 12, I am only posting it today, July 14, because, today, today is the 25th anniversary of my marriage to Maureen.

Maureen & Sisters | Wedding Day

Maureen & Her Sisters | Wedding Day

As Peter Gabriel sings in his cover of David Bowie’s Heroes, “I can remember. I can remember standing.” I, too, can remember standing, standing at the altar of God at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. July 14, 1990. It had been a flurry of pre-wedding activity, from bachelor and bachelorette parties to a rehearsal dinner at Carmen’s Pizza on Friday night and my being dunked in Lake Michigan by my “buddies” and my dad. I knew I was going in the drink no matter what, so my goal was simply to be sure everyone else got wet with me! They did. In Maureen’s case, while getting doughnuts on Saturday morning for her family and friends that were dressing her in white, she locked her keys in the car, with it running (yes, the doughnut thing started early). Fortunately, the police are never far from donuts either, so she quickly waved one down to get back on her way.

For all of this activity, on the afternoon of Saturday, July 14, 1990, an unusually cool day in Chicago, time stood still. As the music played from the organ, I looked down the aisle between the pews to the back door of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, and time stood still. My heart stood still. At the back of that church was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. There wasn’t just a bride dressed in white. It was my bride, and I knew the brightness was not just a reflection of her magnificent white wedding dress. It was the light of love. It was God’s illumination of a sacrament, the sacrament of marriage.

Wedding DaySacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 857)

Marriage is one of seven sacraments in the tradition of the Episcopal Church. As the Book of Common Prayer said on page 422 of the service, “Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” In other words, marriage is not something someone else does, it is something that love does. It is a covenant, a promise, just like the covenant of God with humanity revealed to us in every rainbow. The power that comes from marriage is not from the marriage but from the love that it represents. I have written before of the words from 1 Corinthians that are read during the marriage service:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

As I think back to that glorious Saturday, time not only stood still, but distance evaporated. There certainly were a lot of pews between the altar and Maureen and her dad as they entered the church, however, I already felt as if she were standing right next to me there at the altar. A few moments later she was, and now we were one in the light, in the presence of God. We exchanged vows of this love and exchanged rings. I still wear Maureen’s wedding ring and engagement ring on my pinky finger, next to my own wedding ring, because as the last line of the blessing of a marriage makes clear, “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.” Because of Christ’s resurrection, Maureen and I have still not been separated, because cancer only meant the death of my bride’s body, not her soul nor our love.

There is one little thing that is interesting. I’ve been flipping back and forth through the pages of the sacrament of marriage in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve even used our more modern online tools and search mechanisms, and I can’t find it. It is not there. You know the part where the priest says you may now kiss the bride! I guess this is not part of the sacrament, however, it was one of the funnier parts of that day at the altar of St. Matthew’s, because for those that know Maureen and I, they know I am not quite as tall as she was. I married up, literally and figuratively. As my best man continually reminds me, when the priest uttered these words, I had to stand on my toes to get high enough to kiss my bride, to have our lips tell each other what our hearts already knew!

10628423_10152401088048660_4692459359682603101_nAs the kids and I celebrate their mom and my anniversary on Tuesday, we will also be celebrating the timelessness of love. Because it is only in this earthly dimension that love has a time dimension. As I wrote in the last installment of the Powdered Donut Manifesto, time stood still when I proposed to Maureen. Time stood still at the altar 25 years ago, and time stood still on September 21, 2014, when Taylor, Kyla and Katelyn stood with Maureen and I at the same altar that Sunday morning during our trip back to Chicago, the month before Maureen’s passing. We all stood at the same altar as Maureen and I my marriage and had our wedding re-blessed. These words were said by Maureen, me and the kids:

We thank you, most gracious God, for consecrating our marriage in Christ’s Name and presence. Lead us further in companionship with each other and with you. Give us grace to live together in love and fidelity, with care for one another. Strengthen us all our days, and bring us to that holy table, where, with those we love, we will feast for ever in our heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

However, the most important part of the blessing of our marriage had already happened. Amongst the seven sacraments of the Episcopal Church, baptism and the Eucharist are held out as special spiritual markers in our journey of faith. It wasn’t just our three kids, Taylor, Kyla, and Katelyn that were standing with us. Three sacraments of God, blessed by baptism, were standing with us, at the same altar. Life had come full circle, just like the donuts Maureen bought the morning of our marriage. And, as my son, Taylor, recently recognized, we were standing at the altar on the 21st of September. Powdered donut day didn’t start on October 21, the day of Maureen’s passing; it started a month earlier, when the five of us stood together in the light of our love and the love of God for us. Love and timelessness. Happy anniversary sweetie. I miss you, and I will always love you.

In recognition of the beauty of this day, a post titled, “I Have Been Provoked | Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” will be uploaded this afternoon. Maureen would want us to both remember and to look forward on this day.

The Powdered Donut Manifesto | With a Touch of Cinnamon

Statue_of_Liberty_approachThinking about a future without cancer.” Those are the words I wrote as I finished part one of this powdered donut manifesto. It is interesting to look back on those words from the end of May, because so much has happened in June. What is more incredible about this past June is that the last 30 days simply never would have been possible without a simple question and an even more profound answer at the foot of the Statue of Liberty 26 years ago.

26 years ago I proposed to the love of my life, Maureen. I wrote in detail of our journey of love and of our journey to Liberty Island and my proposal over the 4th of July weekend in 1989 in this post, Our Story | The Next Positive (The Proposal). I still glow thinking about Maureen’s answer. Never have I been so happy to hear the simple word, yes. As I look back on the date of that post, I wrote it October 7, exactly 2 weeks before Maureen passed from this world to the next. Time stood still the morning Maureen passed, just like time stood still 26 years ago. In both cases, I had no idea what was coming next. However, in both moments time stood still. Time stood still because love is timeless. That is a really powerful thought to let stew around for a while. Love and timelessness. I talked about this idea with a cherished family friend, Kelly, this morning on Mustang Island, south of Corpus Christi. It is where I am as I write the third installment of the Powdered Donut Manifesto, this time with a touch of cinnamon.

cinnamonspoon-a9200891a016192b3ad67e9198cf63717c0d8bce-s6-c30Kelly blessed me this morning by telling me the story of the passing of her Aunt Susan, her mom’s sister. As she shared the story of her aunt’s last breath, I felt the timelessness of love envelop us. I was taken back to the morning of Maureen’s passing. I had woken up after her last breath, but I had felt her soul while I slept, just like Kelly felt her Aunt Susan’s soul lift all in the room up that morning as she passed. Love and timelessness. It seems fitting that this sharing of stories and this part of the manifesto would happen at Cinnamon Shores. I just looked up its definition, “Cinnamon was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for a god.” This place on Mustang Island is indeed fit for monarchs. As I said to Kelly, I have to go sit by the pool here at Cinnamon Shores and write the words in my heart before I head back to Austin. When the words strike and my heart moves, I have learned not to stand in the way. It is time to sit and let things pour out.

Unfortunately, love is not the only connection between the two stories Kelly and I shared this morning. Breast cancer also connects the two stories. It makes me think once again about a future without cancer. However, is it really just about a future without cancer? Or, perhaps, is it about a future with more love? Is cancer really the heart of the story? For those that have read my writing for a while, you know that I very consciously chose to make my writing last summer and fall about our story and not cancer’s. As things got more complicated last year with Maureen’s fight with cancer, I simply was not going to write about the doctor visits, the diagnoses, the drugs, the pain, the loss of the use of her right arm. I was going to write about love. That love continues, and it is at the heart of the next installment in the manifesto.

I had the privilege of speaking as one of about 20-30 speakers around the globe for Rebel Jam 2015 a week ago Friday, hosted by Corporate Rebels United, amongst others. It was online, starting in Europe, moving through the US, and ending in Asia. I spoke about the idea of “Rebel or Transform?” (This link will take you to a Cisco Webex recording. After an intro and a bit of a technical glitch, I get rolling about 1:40 into the stream.) In my mind, to rebel is to assume the way things are and rebel against them. To transform is to assume the way things can be and then work towards them. In the fight with cancer, we continue to rebel against the disease. We assume the disease the way it is and then rebel, fight, and try to win. However, we have already won the battle that actually matters, love. We can transform the battle with cancer by starting with love and working towards it. Love is timeless. Cancer has already lost this fight.

26 years ago, the love of my life, Maureen, said yes to my proposal of marriage. For the past month, the timelessness of that moment has unfolded for each of my children. Taylor, Kyla and Katelyn each have had time to themselves at sleep away camps, trips with family and cousins, or in the case of Taylor, his junior experience to Italy along with 18 classmates from St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. With two out of the three away at any one moment, I have had the chance at some one on one time with each of my kids, each of these amazing gifts, gifts fit for a monarch. I have had cinnamon time. Their love and my love for them make me feel like a king. Would I like for each of them to walk the shores of the beach one more time with their mom? You bet I would. However, as I look into their smiles, into their sparkle, I realize she already is.

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Survivorship is Not a Phase | Part Two

Although I am posting this now, the following was written on my Southwest flight from Austin on the leg from Denver to Reno on Tuesday, June 16.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.21.23 AMMy flight has just lifted off from Denver. I am returning to Reno. To Tahoe. To the small slice of heaven I wrote about in the Powdered Donut Manifesto, Part 2. As we lift over the clouds and peek at the snow-capped Rockies in the distance, I return to Tahoe differently than when I left just over a week ago. Of course, there is the practical reality that I do not have a 100 mile bike ride ahead of me, like the last trip. This time I am simply heading up to spend a few days with Katelyn, my youngest daughter, who has been there for several days with her friend, Ella. Ella and KK are both rising 5th graders. To know their friendship is to know their unicycles, a story told in this beautiful trailer about the UniSaders at OneWheelManyChildren. I wrote more about the symbolism of the unicycle last fall in this piece, “Our Story | Are We Riding on One Wheel? Or Instead, Are We Free?

Today, I write Part Two of a piece that I first published on October 29, 2011. On that day, Terri Wingham of A Fresh Chapter and I both posted on the same topic, having been introduced by a #FridayFollow, a #FF, on Twitter not long before. Our respective posts can be found here and here. The past week came to a head yesterday, as a roaring sea of emotions reached shore, reached my heart, and crashed across my soul. For those that have been following The Love of My Life, you know of my abiding love for Maureen, my beautiful bride of over 24 years, my BFF, my soulmate, my rudder. My rudder. That is the word I used yesterday as I walked around my house, alone. With all three kids on their own respective trips, I had 24 hours from yesterday morning to today that I was alone, by myself. Maureen’s pictures are everywhere in our home. I talk to her all the time, but it is nice to have pictures, so that I can see her with my eyes, not just my heart. As I looked into her eyes across our living room, I said, “Maureen. I’ve lost my rudder. You were always that quiet stability that cut through the raging storms.”

10402969_10152166407323660_3868688982161078277_nThe wonderful thing about writing about love is that it brings back all of the beautiful memories I have from a lifetime of love with Maureen. However, as I spent the day with myself yesterday, I realized something else. Love is also a shield. It has been my armor. Yesterday, I began to comprehend what I was protecting myself from. Me. The storms. The other emotions. The pain. The feelings that are still just below the surface from the day Maureen passed from this world to the next. As I said to her mom and dad at her “celebration of life” just a few days after her passing, I love your daughter more than words can describe. That love drove me to strip everything from Maureen on the day of her passing that had anything to do with cancer. I simply was not going to allow last rites to be administered with anything that wasn’t her. Of course, I knew her soul was already washing over all of us on 7 North that day at Seton Hospital, but as with all of my rituals, this one had meaning to me. I took off her lymphedema sleeve, undid the gauze from her right hand that kept the swelling down, delicately removed the rock tape from her physical therapists. Other than her port, I needed Maureen to be Maureen.

As I write part two of Survivorship is Not a Phase, I am coming to realize that I have not yet stripped off my gauze, my sleeve, my armor. Although these insidious cancer cells (terrorists as Terri called them in her post in 2011) were in Maureen’s body, we had cancer. As I have written before, if it was biologically possible, I would have gladly taken Maureen’s cancer into my own body. She was my Eve. I was blessed to be her Adam. But, like my rudder would always do, Maureen quietly looked in my eyes when I would say this, and said, “No. I’ve got this.” And, that’s the thing I realized yesterday, the emotions beneath my shield of love. I am a survivor, and I have survivor’s guilt. I never ask “why Maureen?” because to do so would be to dishonor her memory and to dishonor God. At Heavenly Donuts just over a week ago, I came to understand that eternal life changes the equation. Only the physical Maureen is gone. She is not.

There was not a day along our journey with cancer, not a day across the 11 years, that Maureen didn’t choose to be a survivor, rather than a patient. For those that knew her, you knew her strength, her dignity, her courage. She was simply magnificent. For each of those 11 years, I was privileged to be not just Maureen’s husband, BFF, soulmate, lover but her caregiver. However, if you knew Maureen, you knew that my caregiving was of a different kind. If you are a survivor, not a patient, then your caregiver must act differently. As I say in this video for Rallyhood, my role as caregiver was simply to love Maureen. That is why I wrote Our Story last fall as her cancer metastasized. I simply refused to write about cancer. Maureen was never cancer. She was and will always be Maureen.

But as a survivor, approaching the 8 month mark of Maureen’s passing, I am looking within myself and asking the question “who am I?” I know that I am the son of Jean and Roy Thompson. I know I am the brother of Marcella Graham and the brother-in-law of David Graham. I know I am the proud son-in-law of Henry and Ann Diercxsens and brother-in-law of Suzanne Harrison and Dominique Gable (Diercxsens’ girls). I know I am the father of Taylor, Kyla and Katelyn. I am the proud Uncle of Joshua, Cybelle, Nadine, Miles, Hannah and Ian. Each of these is an answer to prayers I prayed as a young boy about my future. If I could go back and tell that young boy that his prayers would be answered and answered magnificently, it would be so amazing, because I have been richly blessed in my life, most especially by my love affair with Maureen.

thAs Terri also wrote in her Survivorship is Not a Phase, “Suicide bombers boarded planes, filled with unsuspecting passengers, and forever changed both the New York skyline and the North American psyche.” Suicide bombers, cancer cells, have forever changed my skyline. I know I am not the only building in this skyline. I know there are many, many more spouses, partners, parents, children, siblings that have gone from “caregiver” to “survivor” because of cancer. Much is written about “survivorship” as it relates to cancer. Terri has the courage to write about that journey in the first person. I only write about it in the second person. What I can write about in the first person, however, is my journey as a survivor, and it is not a phase. It has taken on a new dimension. Ever since I met Terri, I thought, oh, A Fresh Chapter is for someone else, not me. However, these words from her blog suddenly take on a new dimension:

There is no universal map to follow when embarking on the road less traveled. Instead, we learn by trial and error. By trusting our intuition. By grieving our losses and doing more of what lights us up. If you want to make a change in your life and don’t know how to begin or you’re facing challenges you didn’t expect and need a reminder to stay the course, join us for a behind the scenes conversation.

I plan to take down my shield more often as I write going forward. I will trust my intuition. I will get stuff right. I will get stuff wrong. I will never stop writing about love, because love will always be my rudder. However, just like I wrote in a post about the twin towers last fall, the New York skyline has changed again. In the midst of the carnage of those suicide bombers, another building has arisen, different than those that were there before but no less beautiful. As we approach the eighth Powdered Donut Day, this coming Sunday, Father’s Day, I am beginning to realize that Maureen wants me to architect a new skyline. Her love will permeate every aspect of my blueprints for the future. I am a survivor, and I am no longer afraid.

The Powdered Donut Manifesto | Part Two

100 Miles - 6 TimesOn Friday, June 5, on my way up to Lake Tahoe for my 6th ride in 6 years of 100 miles with Team in Training for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I noted as I wrote “Cured,” that it was National Donut Day. I also pointed out that part 2 of the Powdered Donut Manifesto did not quite feel ready. It simply wasn’t time for the manifesto to continue. On Monday morning, after the ride on Sunday, as I walked around Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe, I realized why part 2 of the manifesto was not yet ready to be written. Before I share that reason, though, I need to talk a little bit about why Lake Tahoe is such spiritual and sacred ground.

Six years ago, on the first Sunday in June in 2010, I came to Lake Tahoe for the second time in my life. The first time I came to Lake Tahoe was in the late 1980s, before I had met Maureen at the Apple office in Chicago. I had joined Apple in 1987, after graduating Northwestern University, and was part of an incredibly cool job called the Field Sales Associate. This FSA position was created by Bill Campbell, then VP of Sales and Marketing for John Sculley. Bill would later return to Apple and become its chairman, along with Intuit’s CEO and Chairman. I was privileged to speak with Bill recently and thank him for what this position meant to my career and my life. The FSA position was unbelievably cool. It was an 18-month new graduate management training position. There were three of us in the first “class” in 1987, one from the west; one from the central US; and one from the east.

Over the course of these 18 months, we each followed our own tracks, with a number of shared experiences. From spending a few weeks to a month in each of Apple’s sales channels at the time, which included K12, Higher Ed, State & Local Government and the Dealer channel to working in a support center to even driving a fork lift to put computers on trucks, we got a chance to do a little of everything. It was amazing. Our shared experiences would occasionally bring the three of us together in Cupertino at Apple’s headquarters. On one such trip, we were in California for two weeks, with a weekend in between. It was in late winter, so skiing was still a possibility, and the three of us decided to rent a place in Lake Tahoe and go skiing in Heavenly. Well, I say skiing. I’m really not so sure that what I did would be by definition, skiing. The toddlers and kids on the “bunny hill” at Heavenly were doing a far better job than I was at this process of gliding over snow. I think I ate more snow than I skied over! That trip to Lake Tahoe was in early 1988. 22 years later, I came back to the same spot to ride my bike for the first time with Team in Training. I sat underneath the gondolas at Heavenly from my skiing trip so many years earlier, feeling a deep sense of deja vu. Actually, timelessness might be an even better word.

I was brought to Team in Training and those gondolas by a little boy named Kethan. I tell of my story with Kethan in many places, but this special video from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) tells his story in a way I can not, because it tells of his story and his magnificent mother and father. I had recently become Man of the Year for LLS in a fundraising campaign earlier that year, and so when I met Kethan that fall, I knew I needed to do something more. Kethan was in 1st grade at St. Andrew’s with my daughter, and he was undergoing treatment for pediatric ALL, a form of blood cancer. The divine moment that happened this morning all traces back to this little boy, and my desire to climb back on my bike after many years of not riding, because I needed to do something. I wanted to take action. I wanted to do my “one thing” as I talked about in Part 1 of the Powdered Donut Manifesto. For six years, I have had the privilege of doing this “one thing,” riding my bike, first in honor of Kethan and for the last two years, in memory of this magical “little man,” as his mom calls him. Fortunately, I am far better at cycling, than I am skiing!

This year was also the first time I rode in memory of my beautiful bride of 24 years, my precious Maureen. I knew this weekend would be an emotional one. As I posted on Facebook just before the ride, “we ride with angels in the wind and love in our hearts.” As has so often been the case since Maureen’s passing, I have felt the presence of my angel and the love of my life. Waiting at the airport in Austin for my flight on Friday morning, my angel spoke for the first time heading into this journey to Lake Tahoe. I was listening to Enya radio via iTunes Radio, and a song, “Though Lovers Be Lost,” started to play. It is by Anael, meaning Angel. I am listening to it now, as I type. The words resonate. “Love shall always remain. I love you, and I am near you.” Over the course of the weekend and the ride, I came to understand that though my lover be lost, she is indeed near me. On Saturday night, after dinner, after honoring one of our recently fallen riders, Tom, my team also honored Maureen with powdered donuts, and I told the story of love that the powder represents.

11391283_10152969640208660_3602228571564380642_nOver the last several months of powdered donut days, the 21st of each month, I’ve always wondered, “does my crazy girl in heaven know what I am up to? Does she know what that powdered donut from the weekend from before her passing has become?” Maureen answered me this morning. She told me that she is always near me. My lover is not lost. For as I strolled again under the gondolas in the village, I not only felt that timelessness again, but I felt the distance between heaven and earth collapse. I looked up and saw this. I knew in that instant that she loved me, and she was near me. Today was clearly the day for part 2 of the manifesto.

apple-logo12I also noticed something else about the Heavenly Donuts sign, which if you look again at the logo, you will see, too. There is a bite out of it. A bite in the top right corner. There is another logo with a bite out of it. It is this one, the Apple logo. Like the donut itself, life was coming full circle, just like our route around the lake itself the day before on our bikes. As I had said to Bill when I had the privilege of thanking him for the start to my journey, had it not been for the FSA position, I would never have met the love of my life, Maureen, at the Apple office in Chicago, and I would never have known a love that is heavenly.

The Love of My Life | “Cured”

IMG_2942 (1)Although it is National Doughnut Day today (yes, apparently, there is day for this!), my heart and fingers feel compelled not to write Part 2 of the Powdered Donut Manifesto but instead, “Cured.” The seeds of this post were planted a week ago, but as with all my writing, I always wait, sometimes hours, sometimes days, sometimes longer to be sure that the seed is well watered, before it hopefully flowers in the words I write. As I fly to Lake Tahoe for my 6th Team in Training century ride for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (on National Doughnut Day), my heart tells me that “Cured” is ready to flower and be shared.

Before last Friday’s events can make sense, I have to reflect quickly on the kids and my trip to San Antonio over the holidays. We headed down right after the New Year, and I wrote in detail on that trip in “The Love of My Life | Bubbles and Powdered Donuts.” Although it wasn’t a long journey, we had a blast, and we took the water taxi up the new part of the Riverwalk into the Pearl Brewery area. It is a lovely redevelopment. We had so much fun. I always seem to have fun with these kids of Maureen and mine. I love them. They are great. We popped up the stairs from the taxi stop and put our names in at La Gloria, since they had a line, and then, we toodled around the shops. We hopped and skipped with the energy of just being together and then stopped into a place called Local. I had an espresso. The kids had hot chocolate. It was fun, and it was yummy, and we also noticed a restaurant called, “Cured.”

Being foodies and big Top Chef fans, we quickly noted that this was one of those, not just good restaurants but special ones, and we would have to come back. Heck, the dude that runs it worked for John Besh from New Orleans. That kind of lineage is a good sign. However, that day over the holidays was not meant for “Cured.” It was the day for La Gloria and some awesome Mexican food. Last Friday, though, was the day for “Cured,” and that day has set in motion a powerful set of connections this past week. Although I can not yet be specific, there was a very special meeting happening last Friday morning, a meeting that comes almost nine months after the beginning of the dialogue. Actually, it just dawned on me that the beginning of this dialogue is truly divine and even more connected to the story of “Cured.” The email that started this high-level dialogue was sent on July 11, 2014.

For those that know my story, Kethan Kumar passed on July 11, 2013. He is the very reason that I am flying to Tahoe for my 6th ride. He is the reason I am bald. He is the reason I am involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He is the reason I wrote the email. To know Kethan, this special tribute video from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society gives you a small glimpse into the heart of a beautiful boy and a beautiful family. As I said to someone in a text that day, it is all connected.

IMG_3680All of this brings me back to the sequence of events that unfolded last Friday. I decided that during this special meeting, I couldn’t sit still, waiting to hear how the conversation and dialogue had unfolded. So, I decided to do my last set of hill repeats in preparation for this weekend’s ride in Lake Tahoe during the 30 minutes to an hour of the meeting. It was my way to connect my energy and my heart to those in the room elsewhere. After I finished my hills in Austin, I then drove my bike down to the San Antonio office of LLS, where it was to be picked up last Sunday to be transported out to Lake Tahoe, where I will meet it this afternoon, along with my friends and the spiritual journey ahead of me this weekend. While there, I talked to Deb Barker, the Executive Director of our chapter. Having been on the Austin board for 2 terms of 3 years, Deb and I have gotten to know each other quite well. She is a truly good person and has done so much in the fight for a cure. I am truly privileged to know her and the team around her.

I had mentioned to her that I was thinking of going back to the Pearl Brewery area for lunch before heading back up to Austin and told her of the kids and my trip from New Year’s. Then, she told me of the story behind “Cured.” She told me of Chef Steve, who is apparently on our San Antonio LLS board, and I began to feel it. I began to feel the goosebumps on the inside, as I call them in this video, Living Your Passion. I knew that I had to head south from our LLS office in north San Antonio. I had to have some of these magically cured and seasoned meats of Chef Steve and his team. As I walked up the steps into this building from 1904, I felt the calm and the happiness that always overwhelms me when I am on a date with Maureen. She may not be here physically, but I have come to understand and fully embrace my new reality, my angel. Maureen is always with me, on our date, and she was with me that day, last Friday, enjoying the architectural space that makes “Cured” more than a restaurant. I know love is the one dimension that connects heaven and earth, but I suspect that you don’t see and feel like we do here on earth, so I walked around the restaurant, so Maureen could see it through my eyes.

As I enjoyed my white asparagus soup and my pate (a favorite Maureen would always make from a family recipe), I then fully embraced the true meaning of “Cured.” For you see, Chef Steve didn’t just name it for the aging process of his meats. He named it Cured, because he is a lymphoma survivor. And in the grace of his restaurant, I smiled and felt a tear roll down my cheeks, enjoying his magnificent food and my date with Maureen, knowing that the kids and I would be back here together, soon. In the warm and beautiful sun, I walked out, basking, feeling the warmth of love, because it all comes full circle, just like the doughnut. And I also realized that the ultimate cure is indeed love.

IMG_3677Would I have loved for us to find a “cure” for Maureen’s breast cancer. You bet. Would I have loved for Kethan to reach his “cure” with Dr. June’s work at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. You bet. However, I realized that Chef Steve’s cure went deeper than just the eradication of his lymphoma cells. Chef Steve’s cure was love, a clear love for the art of good food, good food that he shares with all of us. Until I take my last breath and rejoin my Maureen, I will continue on the path of my love and a cure, because love is the best seasoning for life… and when the time is right, I will tell you about what happened in that meeting… 🙂

The Powdered Donut Manifesto | Part One

IMG_3648For the last several months, I have been privileged to share many stories about the love of my life, Maureen, and our journey together these past 26 years. Not long before my sweetie passed on Tuesday, October 21, 2014, we had reflected on the fact that we had passed the “half-way” point. We had spent more of our individual lives together than we had spent without each other. If you asked either one of us point blank, though, we’d both tell you we feel like we had been together forever. That is the beautiful thing about eternity and love. I am me, because she was she. With the wild and crazy storms the last few days in Austin, these words from Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Closer to Believing” seem appropriate:

I need me
You need you
We want us to be together
On sundays in the rain
Closer than forever
Against or with the grain
To ride the storms of love again

After 7 months, I am coming to grips with the reality that I will not be together with my sweetie in the physical world again, riding the storms of love, but I do feel closer than forever. Assuming my Lord grants me a normal lifespan, I’m about to spend at least the next 26 years without Maureen, just like I spent the last 26 years with her. That is an incredibly sobering thought, sobering because I love her so very, very much. With all our kids to school this morning, I was back at our house alone for a bit, and I cried thinking about all of this. However, as I sat looking at Maureen’s pictures, something started to stir. Maureen knows me like no other, and I got that “doing” feeling that I get when she is busy inspiring me. Like I have written previously, I was feeling provoked. Parts 1 and 2 of I Have Been Provoked are worth a read, if you haven’t done so already. At this point, though, you may be thinking, what does all of this have to do with a “Powdered Donut Manifesto?”

For those that already know of the powdered donut, you know the powder represents the love sprinkled on all of us… I talk more about the donut here and its symbolism in our journey. I will keep writing stories about the powder of love and the love of my life, Maureen, however, as things stirred within me this morning, I heard my sweetie’s voice, that soft and gentle voice, which could always guide me like no other. I realized this morning that I must now do what my kids are doing, look forward, while still remembering.

I was struck by these words from a post by my friend, Scott Saxe, on Facebook yesterday, reflecting on Memorial Day: “It is not enough just to remember, we must honor the memory.” The Powdered Donut Manifesto is just that, honoring the memory. It is how I intend to not just honor the memory but take specific actions that will sprinkle love with every action I take. It is also not just about me. As I said at a recent event I keynoted in San Diego, “We don’t have to do everything. We just have to do our one thing. And if each of us does our one thing, then we can indeed change everything.” All of us, acting uniquely, yet together, are all that is needed to change the world.

To be honest the other reason for writing a manifesto is not just because such a title seems so sexy and bold, but because it commits me. It commits me to honoring Maureen by doing what she knew I loved so much, speaking, writing, and thinking about and creating a future without cancer. The next few parts of the manifesto will outline a few of these things, along with more insights on my efforts to bring the book, The Love of My Life, to reality. It is time to sprinkle some love and powder the future.

The Love of My Life | Port(side) Out, Starboard Home – Mother’s Day 2015

72483AC-01748-00For folks that have been following the love of my life and my writing, I do not write on a schedule. Certain days call for words, but if those words aren’t there naturally, then I won’t write simply to write. On Maureen’s birthday, that could not have been more true, as our son, Taylor, was the one inspired with the right words for that day. With Mother’s Day looming, I have been wondering for several days whether the right words would present themselves. As is typically the case, there is a lot bumping around in my head, so it is usually simply a question of whether that cacophony will find an appropriate form that coalesces it.

Talking to my father yesterday, it did. I was talking to him about my trip to southern California this week, with a visit to Movember in Los Angeles and the opportunity to speak to a group of healthcare leaders in San Diego. A friend had told me to take the Amtrak, the Pacific Surfliner, from LA to San Diego, and they were right. Not only was it more comfortable than being on the freeways, but it was beautiful. My friend also told me to be sure to sit on the right side of the train on the way down. The right side was important, because that is the side that the beach and the Pacific Ocean will be on. As I shared this story with my dad yesterday, he reflected on P.O.S.H. and said Port(side) Out, Starboard Home.

As I’ve done a little digging on this old British slang, urban myth indicates that on the old P&O (Peninsula & Orient) from England to India, the Portside was preferable for the passage to India since your cabin would be in the shade and out of the sun, and starboard, for the same reasons, would be preferable on the return to England. Apparently, this bit of slang was widespread enough that it even cropped up in the 1968 movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang:

O the posh posh traveling life, the traveling life for me
First cabin and captain’s table regal company
Pardon the dust of the upper crust – fetch us a cup of tea
Port out, starboard home, posh with a capital P-O-S-H, posh

Doing a little more digging, it appears that it is very unlikely this acronym was at work on the tickets of passengers of the P&O. Acronyms are a 20th century phenomenon, and the term acronym was not even coined until 1940, well after the 1920s’ passages and tickets claiming to be its source. However, the beauty of the term posh is that it is “an entirely plausible and attractive explanation,” as the Phrase Finder site noted. It is not just an attractive explanation for my wonderful ride from LA to San Diego on the Amtrak but a beautiful motif for my life’s journey. Being “posh” on Mother’s Day is an excellent way to coalesce my many thoughts as my journey without Maureen (physically) continues.

As my many writings on the love of my life have already made clear in the months before and after Maureen’s passing, I have had the best possible berth on my passage through life. My 24 years of marriage and my 26 years in the presence of great beauty and pure love were not just portside out but the most elegant of state rooms, the finest of berths to be granted to any person. No matter how long I write or how many words I put on a page, I will never be able to bring ample meaning to our love, a love that continues to magnify and grow as we approach our 25th wedding anniversary this coming July 14. As Peter Pan reflected in the musical at our childrens’ school last evening, “to die would be an awfully big adventure.” I know that my sweetie is on this adventure, because of the many ways in which she makes herself known to us each day. Like Peter, I believe in fairies, because I believe in angels.

In many ways, October 21, 2014, the day of Maureen’s passing and the start of her awfully big adventure, marked the day that my journey on the portside out ended and my journey on starboard home began. I do not know the day that my Lord will choose to bring my journey, my passage through life to an end. I do know this. I still have the best possible berth for my passage through life, for this part of the journey. Although I would cherish the opportunity to spend one more day in our state room with my beloved Maureen, my state room is now occupied by the results of our love, our children, Taylor, Kyla and Katelyn. As I continue starboard home to the love of my life, I now share the journey with them. We miss you sweetie, but we know you are with us on this Mother’s Day, because love is still the compass that guides our ship, both portside out and starboard home.

Amtrak Surfliner – LA to San Diego

The Love of My Life | To Catch a Falling Star

6 months ago today was the last day I would spend with the love of my life, Maureen, alive. I came to the only place that seemed appropriate to write, “To Catch a Falling Star.” I am sitting at Teo’s Gelato and Espresso across from Seton Hospital on 38th street. I am looking up at the room on 7 North, the room that 6 months ago tomorrow I was looking down from as the day dawned. I looked out over the Hill Country and saw stars twinkling as dawn was arriving and looked down and saw Teo’s. Teo’s, the place where Maureen and I brought our 3 kids for gelato frequently after school. It has always been a special place. Now, it is sacred space.

With the title, “To Catch a Falling Star,” you might not expect me to talk about clowns and the circus, however, that is exactly what is to follow. Its connection to catching falling stars will become apparent and explicit at the end. Like so much of what I write, this one has been bouncing around in my head and my heart for months. Today, though, is the one where it will flow out, though my fingers, and into this latest post in the Love Of My Life. As I said in a voicemail I recently left for my sweetie, my Maureen, my love has only deepened and strengthened since her passing. I miss her terribly, but every time I think about her, every time I write about our love, I realize how blessed I was and am to have spent more than half my life with this truly incredible woman. So, you might be thinking, how exactly does the circus fit into all of this.

3539228196_80a9a254f8_zWell, after Maureen and I were married on July 14, 1990, we were eagerly awaiting our honeymoon to Denmark and Norway (I will write more about that journey in the future.). Before we embarked for that epic trip to Scandinavia, we decided to have a few days to ourselves to relax from the joy of our wedding and the celebration with our family and friends. We decided on a lovely B&B in Delavan, Wisconsin. It was spectacular, and we learned from the innkeepers at the time that Delavan, not Baraboo, was the actual historical home of the circus in Wisconsin. 24 years before Ringling Brothers raised its tent in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the U.S. Olympic Circus was raising its tent in Delavan. Delavan is in the beautiful Lake Geneva area of Wisconsin, and it was the perfect spot to rest and enjoy our first days of marriage. I’ve frequently joked with Maureen that like the clowns in the circus, I’m simply here for comic relief. During the 11 years of her on and off battle with breast cancer, there were many moments where being a clown is all I knew how to do.

One of the things that is fascinating about the circus I learned many years into my career in sales and marketing (as you may recall, Maureen and I met at Apple, where I was in sales). In sales, you frequently hear the slang term, have you made your nut? This is slang for have you made quota? Years after our trip to Delavan, Wisconsin, I was listening to NPR and heard a story about the circus. It caught my attention, and as I listened, I learned about the nut. Apparently, in the old days when the circus rolled in to town on a train, the head of the circus would hand the mayor the “nut.” The nut was the item that linked the engine of the locomotive to all the other circus cars. The head of the circus would then make a promise to the mayor about revenues to be raised while the circus was in town. Only when that commitment was made could the circus leave town. In order to connect the circus cars back to the locomotive, they would have to “make their nut.” I love trivia like this, and I loved the fact that it connected back to the circus and to the town in Wisconsin where Maureen and I started our honeymoon.

4797775804_7e174cfc4d_oMaureen and I crossed paths with the circus again last September as we were driving a “triangle” from Austin to Houston to Dallas and back to Austin. We had headed over to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to get some ideas on next steps in treatment and from there headed up to Dallas to Texas Oncology at the Sammons Cancer Center. On our way up 45 from Houston to Dallas, we stopped in Corsicana for a bite for lunch. We went to the Collin Street Bakery. I still remember sitting across from Maureen, both of us eating a chicken salad sandwich on their amazing pecan bread. Obviously, this was a heavy trip, knowing that the metastasizing breast cancer needed new answers and new treatments. However, as I said before, comic relief was my natural suit, and for those that know Maureen, watching her laugh was as joyous and beautiful as watching her smile. As we read about the history of the Collin Street Bakery, we reflected on the start of our honeymoon years earlier back in Wisconsin. Apparently, the Collin Street Bakery and its fruitcakes had achieved worldwide fame because John Ringling and his circus had stayed in the hotel where the bakery was once housed. They so loved the fruitcakes that they began sending them as gifts to friends around the world. We not only brought some pecan bread home to the kids but also shared the stories of Delavan, Wisconsin.

Clown-AlleySo, this explains the circus, but you might be wondering what all of this has to do with catching a falling star. Well, many, many years ago when I was in a youth group at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Westerville, Ohio, long before meeting the love of my life, I had gone to an Episcopal retreat. At the retreat, one of the activities was to paint our faces in “clown face” like the circus. This was pretty entertaining and fun, but it was only once we were done with the activity that the power of the clown was fully understood. Apparently, when we are at the circus, laughing hysterically as all the clowns pile out of the Volkswagen, there is something much deeper and incredibly more meaningful unfolding. For, the clown has a very special role at the circus. You may have noticed that in the middle ring, during the flying trapeze, there is no net. Just like life itself, we fly high above the ground with nothing to catch us, nothing to catching our star. In the case of the circus, however, that is indeed the role of the clown. The role of the clown is to catch a falling star. The role of the clown is to dive under the trapeze if the star falls and to break their fall and as a result, to give their life for their star, to “catch a falling star.”

If there was any biological way to have taken Maureen’s cancer cells and to insert them into my body, I would have done it. She was my star; I wanted to be her clown. Instead, she was mine. And, there is no doubt in my mind that God had decided she had made her “nut,” and He was ready for her circus train to return to heaven 6 months ago. Sweetie, I miss you, but I will make sure that I make my “nut,” along with the kids. Save me a spot in your ring in heaven, so that I can be your clown once again.