I carry a bright, rainbow paneled umbrella. When the sky is gray and gloomy, I do what I can to keep the day bright. One panel is red, and one is orange. One yellow, one green, one turquoise. Blue and indigo and violet. I bought it somewhere like Walgreens, I think, so it's not like it's all that rare. But I've never seen another like mine out on the streets, and I've always thought it was a shame.
Today on my way home, through the wind and the rain, I saw three.
We'd pass each other, see, and smile. We called compliments and laughed. Finally I stood at a crossing, waiting for the light to change when a guy crossed over to stand beside me, holding the very same umbrella. We laughed and he said, "You'll never believe it, just as I saw you, this song started playing..."
He reached over and held an ear bud to my ear so I could hear.
It was Somewhere over the Rainbow
Sunday, January 24, 2010
A man I know died last week. We hadn't even known he was sick. Then the day after we found out he was in hospital with terminal liver and kidney failure, we learned he was gone. We weren't close. I didn't know him very well. But we were friends and there were certainly things I admired about him.
There were also things I didn't admire as much. Now, I know I'm not very worldly, and might not be a good judge, but it did seem to me that he drank an awful lot. During one period of his life, he lost a LOT of weight, which was something he really needed to do for his health. When I asked him how he'd done it, he laughed and said he went on a gin diet. He didn't eat much, but he sure drank his gin. I don't honestly know how much of this was joking overstatement. But now that he's gone, it's instinctive for me to think this might have played a part in his final illness, or at least to think it didn't help.
It reminds me of Daddy, who had high blood pressure for years before he was killed by a heart attack, and how his doctor warned him again and again to stop smoking. It's easy enough to say that if he'd listened, he might still be here. And part of my grieving when I lost him was sheer fury that he *didn't* listen. That he didn't give up smoking for our sake, his girls, whom he always said he'd do anything for. That he didn't do everything in his power to preserve himself for us, if not for himself.
I've come a long way from the more intense grief, though I still miss him every day. And I'm not angry anymore. At the end of the day, it's easy, *too* easy, to say, "If only...." It's glib to think we have any answers. It's presumptuous to think we know better than another how they can best live their life.
To me, smoking was irrelevant to who my father was. But I'm not a smoker myself, so I'm no judge of how hard it is to quit. To him, smoking was something he did every day, as a matter of habit, as a matter of course. Maybe it was more. Maybe it was part of his self-image, a lifestyle choice made glamorous in his youth by people on television, on stage, on the big screen. Maybe if he could have seen the future with certainty, he would have quit. But without that foresight, it may have been a risk he was willing to take to live his life on his own terms. And I can't fault my father for his terms. My father lived life with a zest and joy and pleasure that few manage, and that was his greatest gift to me, the thing that makes him my hero, in spite of his flaws.
It seems to me the same could be said of my friend. Good food and good drink were part of his joie de vivre, and maybe if he could look ahead, he would have changed his habits if there was a chance it could have saved him even days or months. But we none of us know the future, and it's so easy to blame in hindsight what we can't change in the present.
I have other people I love, still living, that make choices that give me cause for concern. I am so proud of them when they make an effort to change. I worry when they don't. I want them in my life for always. I don't want to lose any part of them and their health and their joy. But when all is said and done, it's their life, not mine. If they don't want to alter it for their own health, I certainly don't expect that they'll alter it for my benefit, and if I start asking them to, I could easily be seen as intrusive, presumptuous, a nag, and lose what I have in their friendship already.
And now I've made choices of my own. A doctor wanted to put me on a medication to adjust my hormone balance. She said if I didn't address certain levels, I put myself at much higher risk for high blood pressure and heart problems in middle age and beyond. But the medication was something I would always have to take, and wouldn't cure the underlying cause, just force things into balance. And it made me sick as a dog, no matter what we tried. I currently have excellent blood pressure, so I made the decision that I would rather risk these issues in the future, since I feel the risk is reasonably small, than be guaranteed sick every day of my life in the present. It's the right decision for me, but it *is* a calculated risk, and I know it might catch up to me some day. Knowing what I now know, how can I blame someone else for doing as I've done?
I still feel helpless, though, when a friend tells me about actions that seem to me hurtful. I want there to be a change. I want them to take and be able to take the steps I don't or feel I can't. For their own sakes, and for mine, because if anything ever happened, I would miss them, and I don't want to hear that "If only" whispering in the back of my mind.
But we can't change people. We can only change ourselves, and sometimes not even that. We can suggest, but if we really love them, we have to, in the end, support them with our friendship even if we don't agree with their choices. It's their life, and their life is a gift they share with us, not an obligation.
We can only love them for who they are while we have them. And if we lose them, we can grieve, and grow past blaming, and love them still. That's all we can do.
I wish, of course, as always, that I could do more.