Four years ago, while I was in India, I got an e-mail from my Mom that her mother, my grandmother, had died. It was my birthday, I was on my own in the Himalayas, and I really loved my Grams, who was 96. Looking back and connecting points in space, (that I don't think are connected) it seems like that was a starting point in a long line of unfortunate events.
Two months later I came home and planned a trip with my Mom and brother Mike to see Mom's brother, my Uncle Bob, who was dying of cancer. By the time we arrived in Utah Bob had already slipped into a non-responsive state, and it was an amazing, full-bodied and full-emotioned experience to be there with our Aunt Charlene, their seven grown kids and other family members, as we held vigil and saw Bob slip away. He died October 8, a few days later. Four months after that, in February 2007, my brother started a medical journey when he found out that he had a non-cancerous brain tumor. He had an amazing 8-hour surgery and recovered without major complications. On New Year's Eve of that year we found out that my Mom had pancreatic cancer, and the doctors guessed, accurately, that she might have six months to live. That led to the most amazing, painful and love-soaked travels I've ever been on, which I chronicled on a blog I created for my Mom, still available at www.patadair.com. My Mom died July 3, 2008. Later that month I had eye surgery to get a microscopic spigot implanted in my left eye to reduced the pressure from glaucoma. Three months later Mike and I visited our father, and he died suddenly three days after we left, on October 14, 2008.
Last year, Mike's tumor started growing again, and he had a non-invasive "gamma knife" surgery to stop the growth. In February Mike discovered, by a medical fluke, that he has a slow-growing cancer in his intestines, and had surgery that removed 25% of his lower intestine. And if the poor guy hasn't gone through enough already, he just found out last week that he needs another full-blown, open-cranium, brain tumor surgery.
Five days ago I was in southern Croatia with my van pointed south-ish towards Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, and other mysterious-to-me destinations between there and Turkey. Today I'm writing this from the Dusseldorf airport, transit point on my flight from Munich to San Francisco. After getting the news from Mike I pondered what to do, and decided to fly home. I drove 700 miles (1,200 km) back to Munich over three days, without getting on a single highway, in dramatic weather and through some of the most spectacular scenery I've ever seen. In spite of the latest medical drama, I wasn't exactly choosing to be happy - I couldn't help it. If I had a choice, it might sound responsible and reasonable to be miserable and angst-ridden as I drove back. But who would benefit from that? Would anyone? (And who's choosing, anyway?)
Is there an underlying message in this tale of woe and misfortune? (Cut to the chase, Davemo!) I think there is: this sweet, beautiful and sacred life is temporary; and this very moment should be, and can be, bathed in and celebrated, in all its unsatisfactory glory. It's all we have, and if we spend our energy wishing it was different or anticipating some future event that may or may not come - we're missing the whole show. Now is the time: do what you can to appreciate and enjoy this precious and fleeting life. Dig deeply. Question your assumptions. Clarify your values and be clear about what's important to you - not the inherited values of society or the media or your neighbors - but for YOU. Align your time and energy with your values and what's important. And act out of that deep place. Wash, rinse, repeat...
Much love to all of you,
p.s. I finished writing this on the flight home, but I'm sending it from my brother's house. Hanging out with Mike and Mary and their two beautiful daughters, Brooke and Courtney. Nice!
This is an example of rocks that have been stacked, not for walls or property lines, but to get them off the ground so it can be planted. These look to be lavender plants and olive trees. (Hvar island.)
This mortar-free stacked-stone shelter is called a "trim." They're of ancient origin and used all over the island of Hvar for temporary shelter or for animals. Standing inside one you feel like it's amazing that it doesn't collapse on your head. The oldest village in Croatia, by the way, is Faros, established by the Greeks in 384 B.C. It's just down the hill from here.
This is the inside of the trim, looking up at the center point of the ceiling.
The town of Hvar, on the island of Hvar. (Pronounced with a breathy K, like "khhwar".)
The village of Sucuraj on Hvar, where the ferry is taking me and the van back to the mainland. My trip of "two or three days" is over, 12 days later.
A lighthouse on the tip of Hvar.
Before I headed north to Munich, I drove south, close to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Parts of it were kind of an industrial and spooky, and parts were beautiful.
The rains had come, and it was a mostly grey day.
An industrial looking port.
Sunset is behind me, lighting up the clouds.
This is a natural arch, the only one I saw in Croatia, just off the coastal road.
This is a composite image like the one I described in the other letter. It combines two photos, and the colors are enhanced and tweaked, which is why is looks kind of fake. It's a bridge on the coastal road in Croatia.
There was a howling wind on this day, the first day driving north towards Munich.
In yet another brilliant international border crossing move, I followed the GPS when it suggested I go down a small road from Croatia into Slovenia. The paved road narrowed, then turned into a dirt road, and I thought, oh, there will be a locked gate, I'll just check it out. But there was no gate - so I kept going. Great adventure! Hang on, Dumb Ass says to himself, you don't have a stamp in your passport. When the dirt road connected to a paved road, I headed to the border to get a stamp. I started thinking, that wasn't the smartest idea, about the same time that I saw a police car tailing me - all the way to the border. I thought the border crossing would be one lonely guy in a hut, but as I approached it looked like the San Francisco Bay Bridge toll plaza - many lanes, towers, lights - and men with guns. Dude, you are so screwed. I've noticed that not everyone takes borders very seriously, but among those who do are border guards. He looked at me incredulously, and as he had me make a U-turn and go through the right way, he said, "Next time, use your head, not just your GPS!" I'm gonna have some 'splaining to do next time I go to Croatia, since I didn't go through their border. Brilliant. Even the airport passport control asked me about it today. The blue line below is my route, coming from the lower-right, then crossing to the proper border where it says 026.
Even though I was trying to get to Munich, I took so many little dead-end roads. The forests in Slovenia were amazing.
I was swimming in the sea just a few days before, but fall was evident in Slovenia.
Dang, it got cold. This is in Slovenia, just before a long tunnel pops you out in Austria. I slept not too far below where this photo was taken, and when I woke up it was 3 degrees Celsius, or 37 "real" degrees, inside the van.
That's an amazing variety of colors in one forest.
I did turn on my headlights, like the sign says, but I also glared, just to see what would happen. Cuz that's how I roll.
The start of a walking path.
This river runs under the bridge above.
I love these colors.
I'm looking down from a bridge,and you can see a walking platform that goes for several kilometers. I'd love to take that hike.
A river in Austria. OK, maybe it's Germany.
Beautiful Noah, my favorite baby in Munich. Noah's parents are good friends with Brigitte, who is good friends with me, and they welcomed me into their not-so-big house with open arms - all three times I visited Munich. Very nice! I have a lot of photos of Noah smiling and playing drums, but I like this photo. This kid's got 100 different expressions.