Facing grief, life, cancer with truth, not homilies.
WWRD? – A Tiny Dilemma
When my husband was teaching he grew close to a young colleague 26 years his junior. They shared a similar outlook on the world and on education. Several times a year they shared social time, going out for long lunches and beers to discuss their work and their lives. I loved that friendship which was unexpected-when our son was in 6th grade this newly minted math teacher was in the beginning of his career and our little guy was his student.
After Michael died, his friend Dan was wanting to find a way to honor his memory. He wound up designing an amazing tattoo which gave nods to Michael’s love of music, passion for civil rights and equality, and his absurdly unrealistic desire to have a Viking funeral, utterly impossible as we don’t live near any body of water. He also had the letters WWPD? included in the art. This was a question he would ask himself in the midst of a dilemma, what would P——— do? A lovely tribute to Michael’s ability to use his best thoughtful sensibilities when trying to make decisions under pressure.
Tonight I find myself stealing that acronym and applying it to myself. Through these past 27 months since Michael’s death, I’ve cast about for the little things in life that help make his absence more tolerable for me. Sone choices are within easy reach. I swim. I love swimming, I love my pool, especially the outdoor one which is in such a beautiful location. My spirits always lift there and Michael’s presence is palpable in that water where we enjoyed time as a young couple, eventually as young parents and on into our adult life when we had the pleasure of sharing time there with our kids and grandchildren. Unfortunately the outdoor season ends on Labor Day, with the preceding two weeks given over to two lovely midday hours of adult lap swim with no music blaring, no kids splashing and the most peaceful ambience. When people arrive they say, welcome to another day in paradise. Yes. It’s that good. Tomorrow is the last day of that adult swim. The Labor Day weekend will bring the kids and the families back and the typical chaos of an outdoor water park will be the closing to the outdoor season. So tomorrow is my last day of bliss until next Memorial Day.
Another precious part of my Fridays is a post-swim lunch with my dear friend Debbie who appeared at the indoor pool a few years ago. We’d been friendly since our early 20’s and although we’d seen each other around town, hadn’t experienced an intimate friendship until we began seeing each other regularly at the pool. We go to a homey Mexican restaurant where we know the wait staff’s names as they know our orders. We have a few hours to discuss the world from our families to our politics to whatever damn thing comes up. Limitless conversation, always a gift. So tomorrow is my special day. But oh no! There are bigger things than me, events beyond my control.
One of them is the U.S. Open, currently being played by my beloved Roger Federer. I’ve watched tennis my whole life but Federer embodies the best of the sport and is such a decent human being aside from the graceful, balletic artist he is on the court. As he’s gotten older, as if 38 is actually older, I’m keenly aware that his playing days are limited. When Michael was sick and sleeping a lot, I’d stay up late to watch Roger play in Australia and Asia, bleary-eyed but grateful for his presence and distraction. He’s had a surprisingly glorious few years, returning from injury and ascending back to the top of his game. I’ve loved it. But he had a heartbreaking loss at Wimbledon this year and his recent return to the tour has been rocky. Watching him struggle can be agony for me which I know is preposterous but I can’t help myself. I know he won’t be playing that much longer and I feel compelled to watch every match. I’m loyal that way, in everything I do. Love, friendship, supporting public figures and candidates, whatever – I am doggedly present, willing to go down with the ship. My kids say I’m the most loyal person they know. So what does the U.S. Open do? They’ve scheduled Roger’s match tomorrow at the same time as the last adult swim day at the outdoor pool and most certainly it will run into my lunch with Debbie. I’ve been agonizing about my choices for hours. I could skip adult swim and bite the bullet and swim in the weekend chaos. Maybe I could still have lunch with Debbie.
Or I could record the match and stay away from news and social media so I could watch later and pretend that it’s live. Although somehow that always goes wrong and I find out the score in some random way which makes everything feel deflated and sad. This is not an episode of a tv series. This is ROGER. So late at night, I found myself thinking of Michael’s friend and his WWPD? I know what Michael would tell me. Go swimming, have lunch and watch later. Do what’s good for your health instead of sitting anxiously, heart pounding over something over which you have no control and which makes you crazy. I can hear Michael as if he was right next to me. But we were different in certain ways. So WWReneeD? I’m not sure yet. Except of one thing. If this was the biggest problem I ever had I’d be really lucky. I guess I’ll sleep on it.