Spent.

The bottom line of my drive screen says it all. Another day on Capitol Hill with my tribe of  squeaky wheels. Too many connections to count and just enough hijinks to keep it weird. It all ended with a three-block push from Mama Dreadlocks & The Mrs. on brand-new batteries that couldn’t make it three miles on a single charge… Because, of course. Time to hit the rack for an early coffee with a senator and a late flight home for the crew.

More updates to come.

Another Lap Around the Sun

I have written about it a handful of times, and each time, I’ve found that my relationship with the anniversary of my accident has evolved. The first few years, I didn’t need a reminder because I’d been counting the days, breaths, and heartbeats that I’d survived along the way. At five years, I couldn’t find the words. When the decade came, it was time to exercise some demons and celebrate. Now here we are at 14 years and, as always seems to be the case, it’s hard to wrap my head around just how far I’ve come.

I look back at pictures of the early days and remember just how disoriented I was in the months and years after my accident. For a long time I couldn’t leave my room, let alone my house, or even the block we lived on. This life just did not make sense. I never could’ve imagined that six years later, the cute nurse from rehab would wander back into my world and show me how to “do life.” And when the mosaic we built during our two-year whirlwind relationship came crashing down and I found myself at the lowest point of my life, I clung to one question like a life preserver: Where will I be six years from now?

And now here I am, living a healthy, productive, and meaningful life on a level I could not have have fathomed back then. I’ve got a semi-regular gig writing for one of the leading disability magazines, my little pet project has gained traction and is building a critical mass up here in the Pacific Northwest, and, oh yeah, I’m on the verge of marrying a woman who has played an integral part in helping me get here by standing by my side as I’ve pushed past comfort zones of all kinds.. It’s a level of productivity and motivation I’ve always wanted, but never truly thought I would find post-injury.

On the one hand, it’s a testament to all of the work I have done on myself, especially in the last six years, on my mental, spiritual, and emotional fitness. On the flipside, I know none of it would have been possible without the hordes of people who have been there to catch me every time I fell and helped carry me until I figured out how to make this life make sense, especially my mom, my dad, my sister, and Kristen. I know there’s no proper way to thank each and every one of you except to continue pushing forward to help others as you have helped me.

The only question now is where will we all be six years from now? If the last 14 years have taught me anything, it’ll be a mixed bag of the sour and the sweet, but we will get there together.

I have a secret…

It’s been nearly 3 years since those four words made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. “You know…If you weren’t my boss, I’d kind of want to date you.” We’d bonded over long existential talks and reading psychological texts while I was stuck in bed battling a pressure sore for an entire summer. Granted, a set of gorgeous blue eyes and a cute butt didn’t hurt her cause, either. In my mind, there was only one way to respond. “So… you’re fired?”

All that’s happened since is my life becoming remarkably better. She’s helped push me to new levels in my spiritual growth, as well as literally pushing me up and down long stretches of both coasts during countless calamitous road trip adventures. Her uncanny emotional fluency and unshakable positive attitude have helped keep my troubles in perspective and find the silver linings in all situations.

She’s taught me the importance of putting family first, the power of simple gestures like giving random strangers a hug, and that hours of fun can be had with a few games of cribbage, dominoes, or even a jigsaw puzzle. I look at the man I’ve become over these last few years — the healthiest, happiest, and most productive version of myself yet — and she is the one common denominator throughout that story.

Fittingly, we found ourselves in yet another precarious situation this weekend when heading down to the Oregon coast for a little vacation. While attempting to join the rest of the tourists out on the hardpacked sands of Long Beach, Washington, we managed to auger in the front tires of my adaptive van deep in a loose patch. Four different times. Thankfully, a few good Samaritans were on hand to push us out. All four times. Saints, those folks.

It was a great metaphor for the last few years of our lives; getting ourselves in over our heads, but always managing to find our way out with a a hand full of lessons learned and a couple of laughs. But when we got down to Cannon Beach, and I told her I had a secret of my own, she didn’t quite understand. She also didn’t notice the ring carabinered to Hank’s collar until I asked her four very important words. Her response, “Of course!”

 

Goodbye to One of The Greatest

There really is no proper way of explaining him. Like any other force of nature, his energy and impact had to be experienced firsthand. My earliest memory of him is that he had a tattoo, definitive proof in a three-year-old mind’s eye that my Grandpa Ed was a pirate. His gravelly voice, perpetually tanned skin and adventurous spirit could make anyone think he’d dug up the fountain of youth on some remote Pacific island during his tours on the USS Tuscaloosa as a teenager in the early 40s.

Part of me knew that the day would eventually come – our last visit with the 91 1/2-year-old back in October featured about three conversations in a cycling loop, his dementia starting to take over. But another part held onto the childlike notion that my WWII veteran granddad would live forever; that, for the rest of my life, I could go down Indian Trail Road and find him at the end of his driveway in an “Old Dudes Rule” T-shirt waving an over-sized American flag like a man possessed.

Tragically, a respiratory infection set in just after Christmas and he was gone before we could even get a chance to get down and say goodbye. Life as I knew it came to a grinding halt. Although I had made a concerted effort these last five or six years to drink in every nuance of him that I could, sneaking as many videos and snapshots of “Eddie-isms” along the way, I still had infinite more quips, jokes and anecdotes I wanted to capture. That’s one of the most frustrating truths about life; you never know how many of those moments you have left.

Although I’d had months to prepare for the trip down for his memorial, there was no way of knowing how I’d feel until I got there. As we made our way up the hill towards the High Desert late last Thursday night, into Yucca Valley and through Joshua Tree on our way to Twentynine Palms, I could feel my throat closing more and more with every mile. Even arriving under the cover of darkness couldn’t hide the evidence of his absence and it hit me harder than I could’ve imagined.

The 5 acre patch of dirt he homesteaded back in 1950 and transformed into an oasis overflowing with fond memories for three generations had windswept sands piled like snowdrifts on the walkways and and fresh weeds creeping in through the perimeter. It looked as though, after a 70 year lease, the Desert Gods had already pushed ahead with their foreclosure. The world without him just didn’t make sense.

It wasn’t until I saw Grandma Betty cautiously waiting under the porch light that I felt my chest loosen up a bit. Over the next few days, all five of his children and most of his grand- and great-grandkids descended on the compound. It was the first time that many of us were together in more than a decade and a half. There were plenty of tears, but a good majority of them were accompanied by sidesplitting laughter as we partook in all the usual shenanigans that come with a visit to the desert. Some played games around the dinner table while others climbed the hill west of the house we all call The Saddle. After dinner we all had “Skippy Cups” of ice cream and did our best impressions of his corniest jokes.

At some point, probably midway through his memorial at the Eagles lodge that Saturday where friends and family shared story after story of his capricious nature and heart for helping others, the realization finally stuck – How lucky was I to have him so long? Many people don’t ever meet their grandparents, let alone get to experience a remarkable set the way I’ve been able to these last few years. Instead of dwelling on all the moments I’d never get back, I could hold on to the many gifts he’d given me over the years, whether directly or indirectly through his oldest son. Looking around at my aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends and acquaintances, I could see his legacy in every one of them, too. His gift of storytelling, his special brand of dad-joke humor, his craftsman’s eye, his ability to make anyone feel special and loved – it was all on display. It was the perfect way to memorialize one of the best of The Greatest Generation.

When we left the desert on Tuesday night, the emotions came rushing back to the foreground. Could this be the last time I bounce down that dusty old road?  Grandma said she’ll stay for a while, but is already considering a move closer to family and relative civilization. It’s obviously the right call, but it’s hard to imagine my trips to Southern California without making the long haul up the hill to what will always be my favorite place. As we awkwardly bounced around the corner of Mesa Road and onto the concrete, I was confronted with the idea that, as the only grandson to hold his name, I have no idea how I will even begin to explain to my future kids how utterly unique and almost magical their Great Grandpa Salvini truly was.

For some reason that first image of his tattoo flashed inside the still-three-year-old section of my mind. Maybe I’ll just say they’ve got a pirate’s blood running through their veins.

Edward Allen Salvini Sr – July 11, 1925-January 10, 2017

Full Circle

There is a Kierkegaard quote that says, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” After taking a couple days to decompress from our travels, it’s time to take a look back at the last few days of this trip and see what I can learn. The first and most obvious lesson: What a difference a functioning wheelchair makes.

Having all three of my previous trips interrupted by malfunctioning and/or broken wheelchair parts, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. Last year’s trip to Las Vegas to connect with fellow paralysis advocates from all over the country was cut short by a pair of broken motors. Of the three days we were in town, I was only able to catch the last hour and a half of the last day.

And granted, I did attend all the festivities for the Roll on Capitol Hill this summer, but you would be surprised how hard it is to focus when you can’t even control where you are going – let alone mingle and socialize with other attendees – which almost made it worse. It was like being stuck sitting at your desk while all the other kids were out playing at recess. I recognized a few faces from afar, but couldn’t play any of their reindeer games.

Thanks to the good folks at Alaska Airlines not mangling my only usable form of transportation, this conference was an infinitely more rewarding experience. I spent Thursday night at the welcome reception clumsily reconnecting faces with names whereas Saturday and Sunday were mostly devoted to a myriad of topics ranging from volunteer recruitment to fundraising to web layouts. And while I really enjoyed every one of the presentations, it was the people I could meet that was the most interesting.

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Listening to dozens of my peers speaking passionately about their various advocating efforts in their respective states, I could feel a constant buzz of inspiration simmering somewhere deep within me. Hearing about organizations that have been around for decades and others that are merely weeks into their formation was both motivating and relieving; despite my innermost fears, The Here and Now Project is on the right track, with plenty of resources I can call at a moments notice to ask for advice. Just this one picture above features representatives from Southern California, New York City, Hawaii and the good ol’ PNW.

After a brief lunch with the West Coast chapters on Sunday, the girls and I shot out to the suburbs to connect with Kevin Pine, my wrestling coach for the first half of my college career. We met his two daughters, Kennedy and Tatum, and got updates about his son Josh who is away at college, which doesn’t seem possible since it felt like only yesterday that one of my roommates and I babysat him as a toddler. Kevin whipped out a couple of photo albums from back in the day and we started retracing our time together when we stumbled upon a few photos from my very first trip to Las Vegas, triggering a few memories.

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It was the end of 1999, and I was a redshirt freshman on the CWU wrestling headed for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, one of the toughest tournaments in the country where hundreds of malnutritioned 18-25-year-olds with mangled ears descend on Sin City to compete the first weekend of December each year. I wasn’t even supposed to be on that trip because I was second line behind my former roommate and future two-time All-American, Shaine Jamie. But, as always, Life had other plans.

I vividly remember standing over a boiling pot of water with a box of mac & cheese in my hand about to pour the noodles in when the phone rang. It was Kevin, telling me that Shaine was out and they needed me to be on weight and in Vegas the next morning. Only fellow wrestlers can understand the depth of sadness I felt as I set that blue box of noodles down, knowing that I had a decent weight cut in front of me instead of that tasty meal.

I eventually made the weight, and the team made it to Vegas. With powerhouse Division I schools like Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Arizona State and many others in attendance, our guys took quite a few beatings in that tournament, especially me. I think I was outscored 32-2 in two technical falls at the hands of athletes from West Virginia and the Air Force Academy. It wasn’t pretty. But the tournament itself was not the main part of Kevin’s plan for us. No, the more important matches were the duals against fellow Division II rivals like Colorado School of Mines and Western State Colorado the night before. He wanted us to have exposure to people working and competing at our own level. He wanted us to grow.

I learned a lot on those trips to Las Vegas and other places like Southern Oregon, Eastern Colorado, South Dakota and West Virginia. I also took a lot of beatings along the way that are only starting to make sense right now. 17 years later, I can start see the correlation in all my recent road trips to connect with a new set of teammates with wheels. You’re going to have to take your lumps no matter where you go, but you’ll be better for it in the end.

Now it’s time to get back to the grind and keep pushing for a little more growth.

 

Consistently Inconsistent

Day five started off quite similar to its counterparts from previous road trips with the whole crew nursing a bit of a hangover. I suppose it is the expected outcome from a late-night out chasing drugs earlier in the week, only there were no hazy memories of wild times with which to partially justify the feeling.

Even sleeping in a bit later than usual could not stave off the road weariness of the previous couple days. Add a dash of antibiotic anxiety when we noticed a decent skin reaction to a drug I’ve taken multiple times, and you can imagine where team morale started off this morning. In an effort to turn things around I did what any decent boss would do, I threw the pair of them off the roof. Calm down helicopter moms. They had seatbelts, see?

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The sheer terror in Nikita’s squinted eyes and the likely permanent nail marks she left on Savannah thigh turned out to be the perfect antidote for all their woes. See? Inflicting fear and pain on others. Boss of the Year! As for me, I got a boost by connecting with Mark Race, a paralysis survivor of nearly 40 years from the Northeast who we caught in the lobby just before the girls took their fall. He joined me in sadistically snickering on the rooftop as my victims team disappeared over the edge. Chair or not, he’s obviously my people.

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We filled a few vacant hours before the official kickoff of United Spinal’s event by doing very touristy Las Vegas things like hanging by the pool with scantily clad middle-aged men, managing to get lost on The Strip despite having no real destination and, ultimately, hurriedly stuffing our faces with wildly overpriced yet undernutritioned food as we raced to catch the shuttle back to the hotel in time.

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And then, of course, just like everyone of my last few chaotic trips, we came careening into our destination with all of the grace of a radioactive wrecking ball and were welcomed with open arms by people who have somehow come to accept me into the fold despite being a hot mess every time I show up. Hey, I guess I’m nothing if not consistently inconsistent.

Back on the Right Path

Thanks to some inspiration from my buddy Ian Mackay and his epic summer ride, I’ve been taking to the trails near my house on a semi regular basis. Granted, I don’t average 30+ miles a day like that crazy hippie, but a few miles a week helps me get some fresh air and run Hank’s brain into something that vaguely resembles focus. We’ve had a decent run of sunny but crisp days to begin the autumn season up in the Pacific Northwest that not only allowed me to log a few extra miles before the weather officially turns for the winter, but also managed to trigger a bit of nostalgia.

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The sight, smell and sound of the fallen leaves crunching under my wheels combined with the gentle breeze nipping at my cheeks takes me back a decade or so to early morning runs in Ellensburg with the wrestling team. I remember hating those runs when I first got into college. Actually, I just hated running period.

In high school, I made it through exactly one day of turnouts for the Auburn Riverside high school cross-country team. The only reason I even turned out was at the insistence (read: persistent, borderline harassment) of the head coach, Bill Sumner, who happened to teach my architecture/computer-aided-design classes. He would call super early in the morning towards the end of summer break barking some nonsense about getting in shape for wrestling season, to which I would usually hang up, roll over and go back to sleep.

He finally wore me down enough to say yes my senior year, so I convinced Unel Hampton, my good friend and practice partner, to come with me for the first day of tryouts. I mean, it’s just running, how hard could it be? Two miles later, I couldn’t feel my legs and Unel was dry heaving in the flower beds outside Leisure Manor mobile home park, while all the tall skinny bastards in their goofy short shorts were just getting warmed up, laughing at us as they continued on for who knows how much further. Our day was over, theirs was just beginning, and they could have it. I’d leave cross-country to the bird-legged.

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Flash forward a calendar year and you can imagine my surprise when I show up as a freshman walk-on for the wrestling team, and the first three weeks of practice consisted of nothing but running; somewhere between 3 and 8 miles on the road each morning, wind sprints on the football field and buddy-carries up the stadium bleachers in the afternoons, and a 4 mile scramble up and down Manastash Ridge every Saturday morning. After the first week my legs felt like Jell-O and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was all some big cosmic joke, that I had somehow turned out for cross-country by mistake. You can see me on the right in a white hat in the photo above, stretching before one of those jaunts up The Ridge.

Fortunately we got on the mats a few weeks later and I learned the two-part method behind head coach Kevin Pine’s madness of three weeks with nothing but running. The first was simple attrition. The overwhelming mileage managed to weed out anyone not serious about wrestling at the next level, cutting the freshman turnout from the high teens to half a dozen. The second was that it was only the beginning. Along with afternoon practices, we continued 6 AM morning runs for the near entire six-months of the season because you need the roadwork to develop your legs for the virtual street fight a seven minute college match can be.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point over my five year stint as a Wildcat, I grew to appreciate those runs. They gave me a depth of stamina and mental fortitude that served me well, especially the last couple of years when I became a leader in the wrestling room and a success on the mat. So it was only natural that they became one of the things I missed most after my injury.

It wasn’t just the void of physical sensations like the way my feet ached from pounding the pavement past acres and acres of Ellensburg farmland or the way the frigid morning air stung deep down in my lungs as I chased All-American teammates like Cole Denison and Shaine Jamie back towards Nicholson Pavilion. What was infinitely more painful was the idea that I had lost that intense sense of camaraderie built by testing your limits with your closest friends. It wasn’t until I found myself whizzing past acres of farmland on the Olympic Discovery Trail with Ian last Sunday that I noticed those long dormant feelings bubble to the surface.

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As much as I like to rib him about being a pot-smoking, birdwatching hippie, the reality is that he, his family and many of his support crew all rank near the top of my list of favorite people on the planet. We met at a pivotal point in my journey a little over four years ago, as I was beginning to emerge from under the deep, dark shroud of denial and depression that swallowed almost a decade of my life. We talked about assistive technology that day, and he told me I was an idiot for not using an adaptive mouse, to which I had no choice but to agree after I got a chance to try one out.

Over the years, our bond has gone far beyond talk of computer and wheelchair parts. Along with a select handful of men living with high-level spinal cord injuries affectionately known as the Quad Squad, we have leaned on each other while grappling with our emotions and disobedient bodies, and now find ourselves becoming strong advocates for our community. While Ian is making substantial headway in his quest for accessible trails in the Pacific Northwest (you can follow along here), I’m heading down to Las Vegas for another advocacy conference with United Spinal.

My crew and I fly out tomorrow at 9:45 AM and, even though I have a decent record with Alaska Airlines, I won’t lie and pretend this summer’s chaotic trip isn’t renting space in my head. But then I think about that miserable run with Unel, and how it didn’t stop me from becoming a runner after all. My days as a paralyzed traveler may have had a rocky start and I’m sure there will be more rough times going forward, but I can’t let that deter me from taking things to the next level.

Wish us luck!

Celebrating Another Birthday Girl!

I’ve said before that I have the most incredible three nieces on the planet. All three are unique and I have a special relationship with each of them. This one inherited her dad’s blue eyes, which also match mine, making us both the only light eyed kids in our respective families. She was born Abigail May. Her friends call her Abi. I just call her Peanut.

Ironically the easiest of of my sisters three pregnancies, Abi came screaming into this world 11 years ago yesterday at Centralia Hospital. Seriously, for the first six months of her life, I never saw that little girl without massive tears in her eyes. Doctors wrote it off as colic but I knew it had to be something more because she would look at you as if someone was sticking needles in her feet. It absolutely broke my heart. Fortunately, that phase came to an end, and we started to get glimpses of the extraordinary young lady she would eventually become.

With her blonde hair and fair skin, she was a near exact photo negative of her big sister, but you could see a similar fire burning behind those light eyes. Her sharp mind developed much faster than her tiny body, so she had this creative and sassy personality that outshined her small stature. As soon as she could walk and talk, she was dancing, singing, playing dress-up and taking selfies on any camera she could get a hold of. If you think I’m exaggerating, just click right here to watch her, at four years old, absolutely crushing Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” in a pair of plastic high heels. For quite some time we were all a little dumbfounded as to how our blue-collar, sports-centric family had somehow inherited a princess. But in the last few years, a new aspect of her personality has begun to emerge that has us shaking our heads once more; a tenacious approach to competition.

It started with sport stacking, the craze that spawned millions of YouTube videos of kids with lightning fast hands stacking cups into pyramids. Abi discovered it and became fixated, practicing late into the night with bandaged hands until she got so fast, she qualified or so for Junior Olympics without knowing it. And then most recently, she decided to follow in her dad’s and grandpa’s footsteps… With dirtbike racing. Yup. You read that right. Our once-fragile little peanut is now a hard-core flat track racer. What’s even better, she’s really freaking good at it. In her first season, she went from the back of the pack of novice riders to winning races against people twice her age – all while wearing her signature pink tutu..

Claire and I got to spend much of the evening with Abi on Monday. We asked her what she wanted to do, and she said she wanted to get her hair cut with a heart shaved into one side. At first we were skeptical, but after it was done, it looked amazing. And that’s just who she is in a nutshell. In her, I see an unshakable confidence and sense of self that I could never have related to at her age. For her first race of the season this coming weekend, she’s also going to be singing the national anthem; just because she can. This girl lives for the spotlight, and thrives on the biggest stages.

I could never have guessed 11 years ago that the tiny baby whose blue eyes were filled with tears would grow up to be one of the most driven and unique people I have ever met. I could not be more proud of the young lady she has become.

IMG_3263Happy Birthday, Peanut! Love you tons!

 

 

 

 

Reasons and Seasons

November has always been a difficult month for me. Before 2010, the majority of those troubles were of the self-imposed, “first-world-problems” variety due to my choice to forgo Thanksgiving dinners so I could roll around with other sweaty malnutritioned guys in spandex in gymnasiums across the country but, at the time, those struggles were as real to me as anything else. That all changed on Monday, November 15 of that year when I flatlined in the emergency room of Auburn Regional Medical Center from septic shock caused by a bladder infection, and Kristen and my parents had to watch five excruciating minutes of CPR followed by a week and a half with me on life-support, not knowing whether I had brain damage or not.

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And it was another Monday, exactly 53 weeks after my brush with death that I lost her to her addiction – the most cunning, baffling and powerful disease on this planet – just  two short months after our wedding. It goes without saying that each November since has been an emotional roller coaster for me and everyone else in my life. It’s hard to put into words the effect those two events and that one person had on my life. Oddly enough, it reminds me of a lesson I learned back in seventh grade art class.

I remember coming into the classroom to find my teacher standing behind a table filled with a myriad of ceramics; pots, vases and tiles in all shapes, colors and sizes. It was just when I started to get excited about what I could only assume was a pottery lesson that the teacher pulled a hammer out from under the table, donned a pair of safety glasses, and proceeded to smash all the beautiful clayware right in front of my eyes. I remember being stunned, wondering why she would lay waste to someone’s handmade artwork and if I could possibly reconstruct them somehow.

As you can probably imagine, the day’s class was on mosaics. It was all about taking something broken and creating something memorable. Whereas a blue ceramic vase may spend most of its life hidden in a cupboard only to be seen once or twice a year, it’s pieces, when placed together with those from other broken items, would hang on a wall and be appreciated every single day. It’s this idea that helped me cope with Kristen’s passing four years ago, because I could see that we were one of those mosaics.

When I was hurt almost 12 years ago, I was that dumbfounded seventh grader all over again, only this time it was my fractured identity I saw laying in a thousand little pieces on the hospital room floor. It didn’t matter what the cute rehab nurse said about me still being able to “do life”, I wanted the girlfriend I had at the time, I wanted to fix my body, I wanted the life I thought I was building. It wasn’t until almost 6 years later that that same nurse wandered back into my life and, using some of her own broken pieces, helped me cobble together a life I never could have fathomed when we had first met.

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Losing my wife so suddenly was by far the most difficult thing I have had to endure. After all, it had taken us six years realize we were soulmates, and we burned through the two we’d had together at such fevered pace that it felt like the only matter of weeks, especially the second year after having my near-death experience raise the bar that much higher. But as that Thanksgiving melted into Christmas and into New Year’s and beyond, that story from junior high comforted me like a warm a blanket. It reminded me that I’d been shaken to my core like this once before, and if I could muster a little faith, maybe time would help me make peace with it somehow.

So here I am, four years later. And once more, the life I have now is unlike anything I could have imagined in the days and weeks after she passed. Kristen taught me so much over the eight years we knew each other. Her unshakable optimism brought me out of my shell and showed me how to do life, and her tragic flaw taught me infinitely more without a doubt. Our struggle with her disease led me down a spiritual path that has fundamentally changed the way I look at life. It also revealed the importance of getting next to people who have been where I have, and it’s quickly become my life’s work.

And while I had to grudgingly admit at the time that sometimes soulmates come into your life for a season or a reason, it’s starting to make a lot more sense in the last year or so. Here’s a hint.

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So for everyone out there who may find themselves entering this holiday season with a cracked vase or, God forbid, a few shattered hopes and dreams in their hands, you are not alone. Hopefully with time you’ll come to see how this current trial gets folded into this messy but beautiful mosaic we call life. I know that’s been the case for me.

Triplog Day 7: Come Hell or High Water.

We rolled up to the intersection of Lear Avenue and Indian Trail Road to find the dirt path to my grandparents house a mess of deep ruts from flash flooding a  few months ago and laughed. It figures that Life would toss a minor speed bump in our way to one of my happiest places on earth. After spending all day with Grandpa Ed and Grandma Betty, it started to click that this resiliency I’ve had over the last couple trips may be a genetic trait passed down from the 90-year-old still dancing in the driveway as we pulled away earlier tonight.IMG_2368This man experienced, first-hand, battles from World War II that inspired dozens of Hollywood blockbusters, came back and made a family (including this guy) and built hundreds of homes as a carpenter. When the time came to hang up the hammer, he didn’t let retirement slow him down one bit. Instead, he moved to one of the most barren areas of the country with his soulmate, overcame a couple bouts of cancer and kept working for anyone who needed help, including a stint as a volunteer firefighter until the age of 75.

A decade and a half later he’s a little forgetful but hell, I can’t remember what I had for lunch. Fortunately, Grandma Betty is here to remind me and him of anything we might forget. I love these crazy kids. And true to form, Grandpa wasn’t content to sit around the house, so he grabbed Claire for a desert stroll to pick up bags full of trash. This guy just doesn’t stop.

This year has been a wild one, but it’s proven nothing will keep me from this little oasis in the desert. There may not be much plant life out here, but it’s where my roots are firmly planted. It’s a relief to be home.