We took our grandkids to Pioneer Park in Ferndale, WA where you can see several renovated buildings from the early 19th and 20th centuries. We saw homes, an old postoffice, a store, and a printshop. But there was one building I lingered in much longer than the rest of my family. The VFW had filled the building with displays of relics from WWI and WWII. There were German, Japanese, and American rifles. Canteens, uniforms, helmets, Nazi arm bands and so much more.
This building was an emotional experience for me. During WWII, my father was a prisoner of war in Germany for over 2 years. Most of that time was spent in Stalag 17b. [Note: a movie about the Stalag was made in 1953.] Dad told us about the few funny things that happened, but he seldom spoke of the sicknesses and deaths and deprivation he’d seen.
Now, in this room, surrounded by the tools of war, I felt like Dad was somehow there with me. I could almost feel the fear, courage, loneliness, and loss his generation experienced. So many never came home. So many came home broken.
He has passed now, but I will never forget what he and his generation did for us. They were a special breed.
Today is my birthday. Since 1951 I’ve been taking birthdays for granted. Just another year, no big deal.
Then all of a sudden I’m 62. How the heck did that happen? Wasn’t it just a few years ago I was raising my children? Now. all of a sudden they are adults in their 30’s.
And what happened to college? Were did the 1970’s go? My wife now works at the same college I graduated from so I often find myself walking the red bricked paths that wind between the buildings I studied in. Those buildings are the old ones now – old relics among newer structures.
And all the trees are taller.
But it gets worse… obviously the student population wasn’t born yet when I attended college, but yikes!… even some of their parents were’t born then either!!!
My baby-boomer experiences are studied as history lessons. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan; Vietnam and Kent State – it’s all just old news hidden in some history book. What about music? Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel, The Doors, Cat Stevens and the Beach Boys are found on very few iPods.
Oh well, I guess its the way of things. Though my life continues to become a history lesson, I’m still around and making history. (Key words being ‘still around’.)
Ah, if only I was dyslexic. Then I’d be 26 instead of 62.
My wife told me I was brave. But I don’t believe dealing with Leuk is bravery. To me, bravery is when someone knowingly puts himself in jeopardy for the sake of someone else, or for a greater cause. Even though they are afraid, they jump in the water to save a life, or pick up arms to save a country.
I didn’t choose leukemia. No brave decision was made. One day Leuk just showed up at my door – unannounced I might add!
My brother is a brave man. Although he and I may see the wars in Iraq and Afganistan diffently, I am very proud of him. He’s been over there twice and may be going back a third time. He risks his life for his country.
My father was a brave man. He served in WWII and was in German prison camps (mainly Stalag 17B) for over 2 years. We’ve been told by some who were there that, despite hunger and disease, it was his sense of humor that kept them going.
My son is a brave man. He is a fireman (the PC folks call it a firefighter now). As a peramedic and firefighter his job is to try and save lives. It might be treating the victim of a shooting, or pulling someone out of a fire, or handling a person with an infectius disease. He and his team often risk death or injury.
Living with Leuk does, however, involve overcoming fear.
Fear is a natural response. Its built into us as a protective mechanism. It triggers our fight-or-flight response: “Oh, crap, saber-tooth tiger going to eat me! Run!”
I believe Fear can be sidestepped with Purpose. In my last post I mentioned Victor Frankel, a psychologist who survived a Nazi concentration camp. Many men died of starvation, disease and worse. But he observed those who did survive; the ones who never gave up. They were the men who had a reason for living. A determined mission, a purpose that kept them going.
Leuk has a sister named Fear. Combined they are formidable. But Purpose and Meaning are strong allies. Many times they win the battle against Leuk, sometimes not. But they always defeat Fear.
So what gives you purpose and meaning in your life? I gain meaning from my family. I am a husband, father, grandfather, and brother. I also find purpose in my work.
Beyond all that, you can alleviate fear and avoid depression by helping others. It would be easy to sit down, have a real pity party, and say ‘hey, I’ve got leukemia I’m the one that needs help!’ But the truth is, if you think more about helping someone else, you will feel better about yourself.
Leuk is a tenasious bully. He doesn’t just attack your heath. If you let him, he will attack your spirit. So get involved more with your family, volunteer at church, visit the lonely at nursing homes. Whatever you find enjoyable, do it! By spending more time outside of yourself, you will quiet the fear that lurks within.