So I was at my parents house the other day when my mother handed me this huge, bulging blue folder. “I want you to have this,” she said.
In the folder was a ton of stuff from my days in radio, from blogs to old news letters. I hadn’t looked at the folder until today, but I had some time to kill while a file was being compressed, so I read through some of the old stuff.
For starters, most of my early writing was terrible. Well, I take that back…not so much terrible as raw. There were some interesting things that I had written about, but they were done in the style and mentality of a thirty-year-old with no kids. Life is quite a bit different now.
One of the “What I Think I Know” columns that really stood out to me was called “The Things Around Us,” and it was inspired by a conversation I had one night on a video shoot in Portland Oregon. My videographer, Jeff Wilmes, had just introduced me to the wonder that is an actual sushi-buffet. By the time I was finished, I had ingested “All I Could Eat.” We decided to walk back to our hotel to relieve the boulder of raw fish that was sitting in our stomachs.
On our walk, we were swapping stories of places where we’d lived…one of his being the gorgeous city where we were currently walking. I asked him, “Could you ever see yourself moving back here? Does it bother you that you don’t have the ocean and these mountains to experience every day?”
We don’t have mountains in St. Louis. Our ski-resort is a converted golf course. But I digress.
Jeff said something very interesting. “Well, when you get married and you have kids and you settle into your life, you’d never take advantage of what you have. I don’t take advantage of the things around me as it is.”
His words hit me like a ton of bricks. In my own city, St. Louis, I had been up in the Arch, twice…in twenty-nine years. I had never taken the Budweiser Brewery Tour. I hadn’t been to the Zoo, or to Six Flags, or to Forest Park in over ten years. I hadn’t been to the Science Center or the History Museum…ever. At that moment, I decided to try to become more aware of being in whatever moment I found myself. I just wasn’t sure how to do it.
My answer came on October 25 of 2003…the day of my wedding. A good friend gave Steph and I an unforgettable piece of advice: “Remember your wedding day.”
We both silently thought “Duh” upon hearing this, but the next part put it over the top.
“Your wedding day is a blur, it will be over before you know it. During that day, from time to time, don’t talk to anyone. Just stand in the reception hall and watch. Smell. Feel. Breathe it in. Focus on someone dancing, smile at a smile. Take as many mental pictures as you can.”
It’s a great way to look at it. Take mental pictures. That is exactly what I did, and as crazy as it sounds, it worked. I remember a great deal from my wedding day. I remember the sounds, the smells, the fact that I started eight beers and never got half-way through one of them. I remember the food, the champagne, my brother Gavin’s toast, and how in my sis-in-law Courtney’s toast, she thanked Steph for teaching her “how to dress for the occasion, and how to bong a beer.”
And that day taught me to make it a permanent habit to “feel” in every situation, good or bad. The good…the birth of our boys. I remember having Chinese food the night before Sam was born. I remember Steph’s water broke while we watched a re-run of Seinfeld. I remember talking her through her contractions, and I remember when the epidural kicked in. I remember thinking Sam’s bit-bag was huge, and I was proud for him. I remember being terrified to leave the hospital.
And I remember the polar opposite feelings during the birth of Ben. I remember showing up for the C-section. I remember being relaxed. I remember being admonished for sticking my camera in the sterile field of the surgery. I also remembered the line “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” as I actually caught a pic of Ben’s chin resting on Steph’s belly.
The rest of him was still inside her. The pic is amazing.
But for every good, there’s a bad. I remember the phone call from my oncologist saying, “We’ve hit a home run! It’s testicular!” I remember the pain of my tumor. I remember the pain of my parents…and my brother…and my friends…and Stephanie.
I also remember not going to the bathroom for 3 weeks. I remember the first time I successfully went at the end of 3 weeks. I was at Hunan Star. I’m still not welcome.
I remember my friend Chris telling me “Dude, you look like the tip of my dick” when I lost my hair. I remember looking like Ted Stryker trying to land a plane during a hot flash. I remember not feeling very manly when I realized that I was having a hot flash.
I remember that through my sickness, and unimaginable nausea, and insomnia, and weakness, and fear…that I laughed, and loved, and fought, and won. And I am so thankful that I do remember these things. It is because I remember that I can tell all of you about them.
Knowledge is power with cancer, and if you know about what can and probably will come at you, it makes things easier to bear. I’ve said it a million times, cancer hits you like a truck…always…period. Accepting this means you get to brace for impact. Not accepting this means you’re going to get run over.
I know that my life is so much better, richer, and more complete because I take my mental pictures. And if you think about it, they’re really the only things that last. Events come and go. Photos may fade, become lost or get erased. But mental pictures last a lifetime, so embrace them and treasure them.