Thank You

1 Jan

Note: This post was originally begun in early November, nearly two months ago. I put it aside as I processed life matters in the wake of the events I describe. I now complete it on New Year’s Day.

(November 9, 2015) I am writing this while in Fall River, Massachusetts, the city where I was born and raised. My mom and I are waiting to pick up my step-dad’s remains. He was cremated last week. Twenty-two days ago, I flew here on short notice, the day after John went into the ICU with severe pneumonia. We endured two weeks of very intensive care of John, a time during which he was initially in a dementia and then soon sedated and intubated with the hope he could overcome infections and all sorts of system irregularities. John passed away on October 31, 2015, at 76 years of age. You are now resting, John and, I hope, at peace.

Neither my mom nor I had ever been present for someone dying before. My mom and I stood touching him and holding his hand as the tube was removed and, then, as his heart and breathing slowed to a stop. I told my wife that in this experience, at age 55, I feel as if I finally grew up. My mom lost her best friend and sole companion of 35 years.

While I’ve been here during this impromptu and protracted visit, our Taekwondo classes have been led by our small team of black belts. I knew I could drop things and leave, and that they would do their best to see that no classes were missed. If necessary, I would simply cancel classes. But, as of last Thursday, they have taken care of three weeks of classes. Thank you, gang; it means more than words can express.

This past Friday, after the last of the death-related notifications, paperwork, appointments, planning and other transition items for my mom were completed, I contemplated returning home to get back to classes, and to thus leave my mom alone to take the final step of picking up John’s remains. I was feeling guilty on both ends: at potentially leaving my mom and at not getting back to our Taekwondo program. A call to my wife quickly reoriented me. I must stay to see this through and not desert my mom. She needs me, the only support she has and, more so, her only child, whom she has barely seen once every other year. There is no one else, friend or family. What had I been thinking?

(January 1, 2016) As it turns out, I was able to catch a flight home before week’s end. I was able to accompany my mom to pick up the the urn of John’s remains, and to carry it into her building, onto the elevator, and up to her nineteenth-floor apartment, an act which would have been a challenge for a grieving, 5-1, 105 pound, getting-old woman.

My team never missed a night across the better part of a month without me. I am so appreciative, grateful to my core to have them. Not just while I’m away but even when I am here, I couldn’t do it without them. I’ve known that all along, but now realize and value it more than ever.

However, during these past two months, I’ve had a revelation of a deeper nature: everything I do, have, accomplish and attain is due to the efforts of others. I do and have nothing on my own. Not One Single Thing.

Yes, I must do my part. But my part is simply one blip in an endless chain of others’ actions and efforts that are necessary for me to do my part. I offer Taekwondo training, perhaps with my own unique spirit and approach which, if it works well, can make me feel pretty good about what we do and accomplish. However, I didn’t invent this stuff. No matter now much I might modify, slant or build upon what I was given, I am working with stuff that I didn’t just pull from thin air while showering. I am standing on a lot of development that occurred throughout two thousand years, involving who-knows-how-many people.

Even my accomplishments of levels of black belt are due to instructors who taught, encouraged and sacrificed for me and classmates who were willing to train with me, support me, tolerate me. Without all this, I’d have nothing to stand on. I might be a Master but really I am working from a base recipe —and all of the (cooking) experimentation, techniques and practices that relate to it, done for millennia — and am simply modifying the quantity, ingredients, process, timing, and flavorings.

To stick with that chef metaphor, even a master chef must rely upon everyone else in the kitchen to accomplish her great things. And upon those who serve the food to customers. And upon those who help market the restaurant. And upon the workers who remodeled the space. And upon the distributors and farmers and pickers and truckers who all play their role in providing the ingredients. Everyone may marvel at the chef, but he is very dependent upon a whole lot of people so that he might do and have what he does and has.

This is a realization of interdependence that is a cold slap in the face to the notion of the brilliant Master-Chef-or-Whatever, or the self-made person. The business mogul is dependent not only on investors, but on the garbage men who pick up the refuse from her buildings and the housekeepers who clean his hotel rooms. Those folks might be more easily replaceable than people in other roles, but they are no less indispensable. I think we are usually quite ignorant of how important someone’s role is, particularly when done well, at their level; it seems we naturally tend to have a pretty focused gaze at our own navels, and can more readily reach around to pat ourselves on the back as to reach out to shake someone’s hand in appreciation.

In some ways, even the victorious hero needs the opponent or enemy to make themselves present in the ring or on the battlefield — to even make an ultimate sacrifice — in order that he might gain glory. Too, I needed John to release himself (which he trustingly did) in order to attain new growth in both myself and with my mom. Thank you for that astounding and humbling gift, John.

As I’ve more recently begun to do more healthy, from-scratch cooking at home, I now pause ever so briefly to appreciate being given the abilities I have to see, think, move, cut, toss, and flip, and also to be thankful for the many hands and hearts and sacrifices that went into my being able to have all of the foodstuffs and kitchen implements that I need to cook. Need. I Need what others have provided. I Need their efforts. I Need them. Just like I need my team of black belts and assistants to do what we do at night, and the moms and dads who bring their kids to us, and the babysitter who watches the children of the adult student. People are doing and giving, sometimes even sacrificing and hurting, in efforts to make things happen for me and others that, somehow, end up in our gyms, on our desks, on our plates, in our bank accounts. It goes on and on. I am and have nothing without the gift and giving of others.

I look forward to what will unfold this coming year as I approach it with new found gratitude for all of the gifts given to me in more ways than I can possibly realize.

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