Losing a Friend

December 22nd, 2019

 

I lost a good friend to cancer this week. Sheryl Gobble was a former colleague of mine at San Diego City College, and we kept in touch when she moved to another campus. A few years ago she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that affects the linings of organs such as the uterus and creates havoc all over the body in time. She endured surgeries, and several rounds of chemo in her effort to live with the cancer.

That was always the way she put it. It was her cancer journey, she called it. She didn’t see cancer as her enemy, focusing on her own body as this amazing thing that was doing its best to heal. She talked about her cancer as something she coexisted with, and that was what she did, as long as she could, with an alien presence she knew would prove too powerful maybe within five years, ten at the outside. She got three, but those years were packed with milestones like seeing her last of three sons out of high school and on to college, and some special trips with her husband Luis and family.

Sheryl lost her hair but none of her sparkling personality with her first round of chemo. Since i was retired and not cruising at the time, I took Sheryl to some of her sessions at what she called The Kaiser Day Spa. Yes, she could laugh about it. That was one of the things that was so awe inspiring about Sheryl. For a while she brought little photos and other items to decorate the space where she would sit for hours while toxins dripped into her body. She packed a lunch for us, and though it sounds weird, we had a lot of fun.

After chemo Wednesdays were over we still got together every Wednesday for a while to do something else fun, like a walk at the Self-Realization Fellowship Gardens in Encinitas, and having wine afterwards with lunch in Del Mar. Here we are.

I took Sheryl on a cruise a few months after the completion of her first round of chemo, to celebrate life, hope and friendship. Her hair had started to grow in again in these crazy rag-doll tufts that we decided needed some taming. We went to one of those free beauty consultations on the ship, and the hair stylist took Sheryl on as a project and gave her her first post-chemo hair styling. You can see the result in the photo at the top of this post.

Sheryl went through subsequent chemo when the cancer came back faster than expected. I got wrapped up in living travelly, and our time together dwindled. In September of this year before I left on an assignment, I realized I hadn’t heard from her for a while, so I sent an email asking what was up. It slipped to the back of my mind in the flurry of my life, and I just realized after I heard of her death, that I never heard back. I guess subconsciously I knew it must be bad if she didn’t reply, and I guess I wasn’t quite brave enough to follow up.

Sheryl, the eternal optimist, the chirpiest voice in the room, the quickest with the positive comment, the one who showed up at any event that was important to anyone, including me.  She was slipping away.

I am here in New Zealand coping with this sad news. The day I heard, I was in Tauranga, in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island. I went ashore and bought a rose from a florist—pink for the pussy hat she wore at a rally (against you-know-who when he said you-know-what), and variegated with red for her courage, energy, and just plain brightness.

 

I took it to the bottom of Mauao, a volcano sacred to Maori, and waded out into the water of the bay to let it float away.  Sheryl, you were a rose. And yes, when your body could no longer support your life, your spirit rose. Enjoy the universe, beloved friend. Tell me all about it when I get there. I’ll pack a lunch.

Living a Little Less Travelly

December 12th, 2019

I had this idea.  I would take all the cruise assignments I could in one year, rent out my condo, give my car to my son, and “live travelly” for that year.  I reached the one-year mark in March 2019, and had a packed second year of cruise assignments, so I just kept going.

Since I have no more assignments until April 2020, I will be completing year two when  I reach the end of my current assignment on Feb 1.  That means the ship I am on has become the venue to reflect on what all of this living travelly adds up to, and what is next.

I have now visited 97 countries, about 30 more if you use a list that treats  non-contiguous parts of countries, like Alaska and Hawaii as their own entities, and not really what we mean by a trip to the US. A few in Europe and the Caribbean I had visited before I started cruising, but most I have visited at least once again, so about 90 or more of that list came to me as a result of the blessing of this job. I have at least set foot on every continent except Antarctica.I have no idea how many ports I have called at, or how many sites I have visited, except it has to be several hundred

The map below shows in orange the countries I have visited.  The big holes now I could reach by ship are coastal Africa, plus Japan and the rest of Northern Asia, which now define my bucket list.

My guiding principle for my life has been to ask,”what are you doing that makes you feel as if you are still growing, and what doesn’t feel that way anymore?”.  Until recently I’d have answered unequivocally and resoundingly that cruising had a powerful growth trajectory but I am not sure how I feel now. Yes, I still love every minute of being in new places, or revisiting favorite ones, and the social aspects of life on board are still full of possibilities.  But I can’t help but wonder if maybe I am more marking time at this point than adding value to my life at the rate I used to , or perhaps even hiding out on ships from what might be more growth oriented for me.

I haven’t gone much further in my thinking than to allow in that niggling thought about how maybe I am hiding from my future at this point. My life story up to now would suggest that thoughts like these tend to burrow in and fairly quickly sprout into huge blossoms if anything is to come of them at all.  Suddenly, in what feels like scarcely overnight, I realize I am done with something and ready to move on.

I doubt it will be that dramatic with cruising, since I just can’t imagine saying no when there’s an opportunity to go somewhere interesting. But there are changes afoot that make me pretty sure I will be cutting back substantially  in 2020 and perhaps beyond. More about these changes in a future post.

I do know a couple of things: when I get back in February, I am moving back into my condo and getting a car.  I am also close to certain that my former San Diego life won’t hold me for long. What then is anybody’s guess but 2020 is shaping up to be a year of big decisions for me.  A little less living travelly, perhaps,  but hopefully a little more living meaningfully and excitedly.

.

70

December 9th, 2019

I got exactly what I wanted for my seventieth birthday— a complete stealth event.

It’s funny that I don’t mind standing on a stage talking to audiences, but  a bunch of waiters singing the birthday song is for me a form of torture. I guess maybe it’s because a lecture is about the subject and the birthday stuff is about me, and I really do not like being the center of attention.

I had asked Dan not to do anything to call it to the attention of anyone on board, as I truly did not want any fanfare. A lot of times people say that but don’t really mean it, so I could see he was a little perplexed as to what kind of “don’t do anything” this was. Fortunately,  several repetitions over several days did the trick, and indeed our celebration was a toast over dinner for two.

I was a little worried that the manifest would have passport details, so anyone with access to our information could have picked up on the situation but fortunately no one did.  So I am now sailing into a new year, literally, and completely on my own terms.

For me my seventieth doesn’t signify anything relevant. I don’t hear the ticking clock of time particularly loudly on birthdays, nor do I feel “one year older.”  It didn’t even occur to me to take a picture at dinner to commemorate the occasion.

People who don’t feel as buoyed up and carried along by the wonderful opportunity to exist in this precious world as I do may  have more need for days of acknowledgment. Maybe it’s about how much one likes and feels appreciated the rest of the year.  Gifts  and dinners can’t more than temporarily offset the negativity when relationships are bad, nor for me do they add much to relationships that are good

For me, yesterday was best celebrated by treating it as just another day in a life blessed with adventures, imagination, curiosity, and opportunities to grow.  I get 365 days a year of that, year in and year out.  What song or candles on a cake can compete with that?