Billy Collins’ Forgetfulness

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How Cancer Changed My Plans

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” unknown

“Life is what happens while your busy making plans.” John Lennon

These quotes have in times past gotten on my nerves.

Add to them the expression Christians feel obliged to tack onto any statement of plans,”Lord willing.” The Bible tells us to say that but I think we may have reduced its meaning  to little more than a sneeze response.

“God Bless You!”

The idea is that things don’t happen by our power.   We are better served to acknowledge that if good things happen, it is because God supported our plans.

God doesn’t always support our plans.  Sometimes because they aren’t as good as we think they are.  Other times his methodology is more of a mystery.

Mysterious? Yes.  Wrong? No.

He’s smarter than us.

I didn’t go to school to be a caregiver.  Yet, here I am.  It’s one of those things like being a parent that is simultaneously an honor and a drag.

My mother-in-law didn’t ask for cancer. Yet, here she is across from me in her recliner with a blanket draped over her and a boggin pulled down on her head.  That chair is the center of her orbit.  She eats and watches TV there. She sleeps there too because she can no longer lie flat in her bed.

This is her 10th year of stage IV breast cancer recurrence.

The long-term effects of chemo combined with the greater spread of tumors is piling up on her. She is worn out and weary.

Her plan has been simple up to now, to stay alive, but now she is less certain.

There are brief moments when I can see her letting go.

The fight is dying.

The fighter is dying.

We put a high premium on the fight but sometimes our failure to accept is what makes us miserable.

If Mary could accept the terminal nature of her disease, its rapid progression, and the diminishing quality of her life, she would be more inclined to enjoy her life for what it is instead of wishing for something else.

That isn’t to say I know how she feels only that I wish she felt better.

We accepted our position as caregivers with no small amount of reluctance. We were braced for a handful of months because things were that dire.

In 6 months or a year, she would no longer suffer and we could return to our home.

I had to leave my job to be here. That was okay. I had another one lined up.

That fell through.  Nothing came of the three dozen other jobs I applied for either.

I was burdened by the responsibility to provide for my family and the seeming impossibility to do so.

I was desperate and frustrated.

I wasn’t happy until I began to accept the situation.

And then, creative solutions were more obvious.

I could see that I had been freed from  a job that I hated.

I was free from the cubicle.

I was free from this false notion of a valid life.

I was free to pursue my dream.

I was free from my plans.

God didn’t create cancer and he didn’t inflict it on Mary.  He didn’t desire that it ruin her or that it wreck our life but, “[He] intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.” (Gen 50:20)

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The Most Inspiring Commercial Ever!

Who knew yogurt and poetry and commercial advertising would go so well together?

Watch the video and ask yourself, “Is it really possible that someone can sell me something and WOW me at the same time?”  “Can it be? Can it?”

I wrote this after watching the video:

Silence can be a sentence or a moment to breathe it in.  From the hushed corner of the canvas rushed the sound of horses stirring.  What was beige was at once black and in a beat a blur of brown brushed passed.  The stallions in their majesty swept red and orange across the screen; sound overcame the serene but the noise was welcome.  All the creatures of the farm were alive with sound and motion, a chaotic commotion, a beauty.  This is no still life and still this is life alive with color and never nailed onto a wall.

If you look for inspiration, you will find it.  If you wait for it, it will never come.  So, open your eyes.

Watch the video and then bring your own blank page to life.

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The Wisdom of Youth

Standing in the open car door, I asked my friend to make me a promise.  He was dropping me off after we had gone with his family and girlfriend to celebrate the end of high school.  The air was heavy with sentiment.  Or something.

I worried that we would lose our minds and turn into weird people we didn’t recognize.  In my fear, I was probably right.  That seems to be what happens.  I was thinking fast, hoping to find a way to prevent this from becoming our fate.  Off the top of my head and out of my mouth came the words to a promise, “Always be THIS foolish!”  He agreed.

It was settled.  At least I hoped it was settled.  I think he might have signed on for anything at that moment.  He had already been hurrying me along so he could go home.

Our commitment was to be the same idiots we had been.  Who resolves to be an idiot?  An idiot.  You’d have to be to think such a foolish proposition a worthy goal.  But then, I might have had something else in mind.

There was a part of me that was at risk of vanishing.  I didn’t despise the idea of growing up.  I just didn’t want to leave good parts of myself behind.  I wasn’t sure I could do anything about it but I was certainly going to try.

From what I could tell, the world had a way of ruining whatever was good about a person.

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10 Careers I’ve Considered (And Why They Were Wrong For Me)

I’ve done a lot of thinking about vocation over the years.  I gather some people partake in idle discussions about dream jobs over coffee with no real sense of urgency.  I’ve had those conversations but I’ve also felt an immediate need to rethink my answers in hopes of redirecting my life in a more economically viable and personally fulfilling way.  That interest has lead me to go back to school, among other things, only later to realize my error.

Nurse: I lack patience, bedside manor, and am not a fan of bodily fluids.

Editor: Editing is the math of writing.  I hate math. Editing is necessary and I am able but it is my least favorite part of the craft.

Teacher: I don’t like children in groups greater than 2 or 3.  High-pitched voice mode is not one I operate well in and as mentioned above, I dislike bodily fluids.

Cartoonist: My 1st Grade dream job is silly because I am unable to draw the same thing twice.

Country Music Singer: My sense of irony is too great.  My attention span is so limited that performing the same song night after night would be boring.  Wranglers aren’t my look.

Photographer: My vision is so that even when I think I have the shot perfectly in focus, the picture comes out somewhat blurry.  Yes, even with corrective lenses.

Advertising Executive: The notion of writing ad copy is akin, in my thought, to writing unfunny jokes.  And that’s just the sexy part.  Then there’s the technical writing and the schmoozing.  I am not a schmoozer.

Youth Minister: I actually pursued this one in college.  I found that I am so far into left brain field that I’m better suited for creative endeavors.

Non-Profit Director: This one sounds noble enough.  It was the second incarnation of the youth ministry dilemma, a seeming need to pursue action-oriented work and a denial of artistic inclination which is more natural to me.

Politician: For me, selecting the lesser of two evils is hard enough at the voting booth.  I’m breaking a sweat thinking about it.  I see the world in shades of gray and would therefore feel conflicted about making principled decisions that affect other people.  (See also: ad exec)

The question then is, if the arguments are air-tight why did I consider these paths?  The short answer is that the feeling that I had taken a wrong turn paired with the reality of debt, dead-end jobs, and the desire for a more stable future positioned me for this misguided focus. Of course, there is almost always some small reason to think the idea is a good one.

See the whole picture.  Don’t convince yourself prematurely.

I will always do what is necessary to pay the bills and plan for tomorrow.  I have learned though that going in these other directions is usually just a gigantic waste of time and effort.

What about you? What career paths have you thought of taking that were really unlike you?  What directions have you gone in that served only as detours?  Or perhaps, your story is a different one.


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Deconstructing Suess

What Dr. Suess Didn’t Tell Us

Wow, it looks like Disney/Pixar owes somebody a thank you.

Dr. Suess has inspired generations to soar to high heights and see super sights, in a box with a fox wearing tube socks, to read and to grow and to learn.

No one can deny the impact that the man has had; his book about places is a gift for all grads.  Though there is one issue, one beef, one gripe that makes me mad:

He Never Told Us It Could Be So Bad!

Here now, I list 10 places he never warned we’d go.

1. On the side of the road with a broken down ride in the cold, all alone, late at night

2. At a soul-killing job, an insult to your brain, with no prospect ahead and your dreams down the drain

3. In a hospital room, posted bedside, as one whom you love lets go of their life

4. Under the world, after it has collapsed over you, and unable just yet to get up and move

5. In the aftermath of a love devastated, a heartbreak exposed, an image wasted

6. On stage before a room of elated faces who applaud your demise like flowers in vases

7. Far from home, with no fare to return, no phone in the wall or lesson to learn, just you disconnected

8. Subject to their terms and conditions, embracing an addictive perdition: destruction

9. Without hope to hold onto, without a scrap or crumb of food, empty, aching, and hollow

10. Lost, without a map or a compass, in open fields of emptiness, where every path is a circle

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Seven Road Trip Movies about Death

Death has always been a fascination of mine.  I think of the journey toward death as the defining challenge of our lives.  I also find that what we think about death reveals a lot about what we think about life.  Naturally, I am attracted to movies about death.  What better metaphor for our grappling with death than the road trip.

Consider these 7 movies which wrestle with the morbid.

Wrist Cutters: A Love Story

Life is like a road trip and apparently so is death.  This is the story of three wayfaring souls post-mortem after suicide in the in-between of the great beyond, stuck there because of unresolved issues from their time on earth.  Even in death, they remain consumed with concerns about the meaning of life.  One character is on the hunt for his old girlfriend, the same one who he had killed himself over, who had arrived in limbo shortly after him.  This is the independent film version of What Dreams May Come.


Drew is about to end his life after a colossal professional failure and heartbreak until he is interrupted by news of his father’s passing.  He is trusted by his mother and sister to retrieve his father’s body from Kentucky and plan the funeral.  On the way, he befriends Claire, a persistent flight attendant, who will not leave him alone.  In Kentucky, his loss is met by “a hurricane of love” [and lunacy] from his numerous, kin folk.  The last third of the film is his return trip, a cross-country trek, with stops and soundtrack as planned by Claire.  He begins to see why he should want to live.

Grace is Gone

A dad, Stanley, is met in the morning by military officers who inform him that his wife, an Army Sergeant , had been killed amid conflict in Iraq.  Unable to tell his daughters, ages 12 and 8, what has happened he whisks them away to Disney World.  For a few days, Stanley manages to conceal the truth even claiming that their mother approved of their absence from school.  This is a portrait of a parent panicked and overcome by his own sorrow, unsure that he can help his girls cope. 

The Darjeeling Limited

Three estranged brothers take a train ride across India one year after their father’s death.  They bicker, keep secrets, and fight over his possessions.  Each has his own unresolved feelings about their dad, their mom who has withdrawn from them, and each other.  Small annoyances develop into a blowout which forces them to confront root problems. 
As they journey, trust increases and they come to understand one another better.  This enables them to sort out some of their own crises. 

Into the Wild

Christopher McCandless has just finished college and is on his way to Alaska to die.  Whether or not he intended to die is subject of heated debate.  This true story is a sad one of an abbreviated life and an untimely death.  The suggestion of the book and film is that McCandless rejected his parents’ empty materialism and was heartbroken over their divorce.  Inspired by Thoreau, he sets out on a cross-country trip from Georgia to Alaska where he goes head-to-head against the elements.  In the wake of his disappearance, his family struggles to deal with the embittered feelings toward him.

About Schmidt

Before there was Up, Jack Nicholson played a widower on a road trip.  The difference here is that Schmidt didn’t love his wife all that much.  After being forced out of his job the same month, Schmidt realizes that he doesn’t know what to do with himself.  His routine had been established for decades.  In his RV, he sets out to see America on the way to his daughter’s wedding.  He stops in his hometown to discover that his boyhood home has since become a tire store.  Burdened by the brevity of his days and feeling powerless, Schmidt begins to see himself as others have seen him.  The self-righteous crab apple desires to make amends. 

Finding Graceland

Byron Gruman is a man in mourning.  His wife was recently killed in a car accident the two were in together and now horrific images of that event play out before his eyes as he drives aimlessly down the highway.  He picks up a hitch hiker, a man who believes he is Elvis.  This man is little more than a nuisance but Byron can hardly get rid of him.  As it happens, Elvis’ story is remarkably similar to Byron’s, equally riddled by inexplicable and unexpected sadness.  While it had seemed that Elvis was the one who needed help, it becomes evident that he had been there to help Byron.

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