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Dang, is that my hand in the picture?  It looks like Thing from the Addams Family is feeding me my hamburger.  Oddly enough, my Dad and I were having one of those discussions this morning that only guys can have, about how hands are what truly give a person’s age away.  I say that as I sit in a McDonalds outside of Peoria, Illinois with an elderly lately sitting a few booths away from me, facing me while reading her newspaper with a magnifying glass.  She looks like her face is nothing but nose.

This was my weekend.  MY weekend.   Me, mine, MY weekend.

Sort of.  Selfishly, as should be fairly obvious by that last miniature paragraph, I chose to look at it that way.  I was escaping to a place where I could just be with me, with a few people to share my me time, without the burden of job or kids or spouse.  That is why it was me time, not really so selfish, probably a time that will be very healthy for me.  A few weeks ago, while chatting with a friend of mine, she encouraged me to come down to see my parents and take in a football game at my alma mater with her and some friends.  Rather than frown and say “naaaaa, it will never happen”, I looked at my calendar and at our family activity calendar, discovered it was very doable, and said yeah sure why not that sounds like a good idea I can’t wait you may regret this.  Except that friend is one of those “what’s stopping you?” types, so I doubt she regrets it.

So, I put in for last Friday as a vacation day, found a $10 a day weekend rental car, looked up places to ride a mountain bike along the way, warned my parents I was invading their space for the weekend.

If you have read my last few blogs, you know a little about how I am choosing to look at life right now.  I’m not hitting the curve very well, if at all, not sure if I am even seeing the ball.  There is a lot of whiffing going on.  At the moment, that’s closer to true than I should admit.  I just got off the trail after a few hours on my mountain bike, trails with several water crossings, lots of opportunity to put on the stink.

Weekends like this should provide opportunity for soul searching, come to Jesus, reality forehead whacking, epiphanies.  Driving away from parents’ house early this afternoon, I was still waiting for that to happen.  Dad was driving ahead of me, glad to have the opportunity alone with me for the final time this weekend, leading the way to the restaurant off of I-55 outside of Lincoln, Illinois that we had chosen.  Dad had suggested the restaurant for one reason and made the suggestion with the stern, wrinkled bald forehead look that I have grown to like over the years.

Son, you don’t need to rush home.  Let’s have lunch and then you go ride those trails you rode on the way here last Friday.  It will be good for you.  You had a big smile on your face when you got here Friday, albeit a dirty face.

I had to chuckle at that last stern comment.  He was right.  The singletrack dirt trails I had taken my bike over on the way to my parents’ house had been a hoot.  They were new to me, peaceful and rolling in some places, just enough challenges to make them worth the side trip.  There were trails that skirted the side of dirt gullies and ridges, a challenge for someone who fears heights like I do.  One trail had an obstacle, or should I say challenge, or should say challenging obstacle, that had kicked my butt.  I wanted to go back to show it who was boss.

Challenges.  Obstacles.

I stood over my bicycle at the top of the deep drop into a gully that emerged steeply up a rocky trail on the other side.  This had been my challenging obstacle on Friday, although I had taken the opposite direction on the trail as I had the other day, knowing where that section of trail was at and thinking that I might have more of a fighting chance if I approached that drop from a different angle.  While it did indeed seem less daunting from the opposite side of the gully, I frowned at the large tree on the left of the trail and a few feet from where the trail dropped straight down.  To the right of the tree was a large root that would either launch my bicycle or my body into the air.  There was only a tiny line I could take, with little time to negotiate that line due to the speed that would send me careening downwards. 


Obstacle.  This challenge was becoming just that.  No longer was I thinking that I could do this.  My fear was turning a challenging obstacle into an obstacle. 

Two riders approached that gully from the other side of the trail.  I moved to the side to watch them.  I heard the lead rider tell his buddy that the tough part of the trail was over after this.  They hopped the log at the top, dropped in, and greeted my with large grins as they passed by with thank yous for my courtesy.  My fear was not apparent to them.    Those riders didn’t know that I had approached that gully three times already and turned back.  I knew my experience should get me through that challenge, but something else made me fear the pain, the hurt, what might be waiting on the other side.  I might not make it.

This is it.  You have to do this, Steve.

I came into this weekend already aware of the challenges and obstacles I would witness.  It would be my choice to confront them, my reaction also my choice.  A sick mother.  A father struggling with how to deal with her pain and the prison that caring for a wife in constant pain had become to him.  Two people I love dealing with perhaps the biggest challenge of this part of their life (raising me should be considered a separate part — because that was a challenge), experiencing pain I am ill equipped to handle.  They both are aware of the demons in my own life I am wrestling with, both wanting to soothe the pain I am dealing with.  Added to that was knowing that I would be seeing an “old” friend who herself was struggling with some challenges, her encouragement for me to visit partly issued to me out of a need to help me address my own demons.  I think she got a little more than she bargained for, had me witness a bit more of her own challenges than she had planned.  She handled the challenges admirably, an attitude that showed a strength.  Pretty cool.  And that kid helped me to keep my head up, our time together really very brief, but good in a way that gave me a perspective and strength that I was able to draw on.

She’s going to barf when she reads that.

Mom was in a lot of pain and discomfort when I got to the house on Friday.  She and Dad had just gotten home from a therapy appointment for the knee she had replaced.  I walked through the door as Mom laid in her bed, retching into a bucket, her face ashen as she turned from that bucket to greet me.   At the moment, she was not ready to see me.  She took a pill to help with the nausea, forced herself to come to her chair in the living room to say hello to me, her face turning from a grimace to a smile as we began to talk.

How was your trip, Steve?  From the look of all that dirt you are wearing, it looks like you had a good time.

“Yeah, Mom.  Taking all day to make a two and a half hour trip was good for me.”

You look good, son. 

She always says that.  I look good.  I am the boy who takes care of himself, who rides bicycles and plays ball and golf and does all kinds of stuff she is proud of.  Mom needed to see me.  Mom has been fighting with nausea and pain since June 7.  Seeing her son was what Dad and I hoped she needs to turn that corner.

Mom didn’t have much strength, but she was buoyed enough that the color came back to her face.  We had dinner together, Dad told me I had better get going to that football game, Mom excused herself to go back to bed.

I went to that football game.  Spent some time with that “old” friend, listened to the stories we have to share.  She bought the beer.  It probably should have been strange sharing beer with a friend who had been a high school girl when most of our memories had been made together.  It wasn’t.  Same girl, just better, down to earth and real.  I had the thought, especially as I listened to her tell how God had put people in her life for a reason, that maybe just maybe that little bit of spark of encouragement was the reason we had touched base again.

And maybe it was so I could hear “what’s stopping you?” from her again.  She has overcome that obstacle, seems to be looking at challenges rather than obstacles again.

I thought about that as I stood over my bike at the top of the gully a few hours ago.  If I don’t do this, maybe it says something about how I am letting challenges in my life become obstacles.

Dad bowed his head at the table this afternoon, his hand over his forehead to hide his eyes.  When he turned to look at me his eyes were wet with tears.

Steve, I don’t know how much longer I can take this.  I can’t leave your Mom for any amount of time.  It’s not that she won’t let me.  I just can’t do it.  And it is so hard to see her in so much pain.  Is she going to be like this until she finally dies?  Is this in her head?  It has been so long.  So long.  And I don’t know the answer.  You saw her yesterday.  She thinks she is going to die.   She says she wants to die.

I only told him what I know.  You have to fight through this, Dad.  Take the time away that you need.  She is not going to die.  You know that.  Making yourself miserable is not going to help her pain, not stop her pain.

Yesterday afternoon I came back to my parents’ house after spending some time playing tennis with that “old” friend to find my Dad bent over in a chair at the foot of Mom’s bed as she wept and cried and wailed in pain, her pain out of control, an almost insane look in her eyes.  I witnessed what Dad had been telling me about.  It was terrible to watch not only my mother, but my father as he watched her helplessly.  I sat at the foot of her bed, consoling them both, telling them this was only going to be temporary, that she is going to turn that corner soon.  Their sheltie puppy curled up in my lap as I sat there, providing both parents a moment to forget about the pain that had enveloped the room moments before.  That puppy adopted me this weekend, a playmate that she adored like a child who is waiting for someone to give them their undivided attention.  My parents loved seeing that.

But I saw the pain.  I did not want to see that.  It was an obstacle that was growing so big that the challenge was diminishing to acceptance.

I dodged the tree, jumped the root on the right, hit the bottom of the gully and shot over the rocks on the other side.  I kicked that gully’s butt.  For the rest of the ride, I got dirtier than ever before, nothing looking as big as that challenging obstacle I had feared on the trail behind me.

Now to get and that car for the two hour drive home.