The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

-Robert Frost

 

I discovered The Road Not Taken as a child, it resonated then as it does now, albeit differently. Young, cocky and bulletproof has yielded to reflection and gratitude for the opportunities afforded me. While I have regrets and doubts, I have never chosen to live a life of regret and doubt and I am not about to start. Regret and doubt are a waste of time and energy- time and energy which becomes more precious every day, time and energy I can ill afford to squander.

Did my choices lead me down a more challenging path?

Maybe.

The paths we choose are written in the lines on our faces. If my foibles help guide others in their decisions, I’m good with it.

Have I had it easier than some?

Definitely.

I can’t claim to have been disadvantaged in any way but I’m proud of what I have worked to accomplish. I’m not rich or famous but I have made tremendous positive impact on a lot of lives.

Do I wish my life had been different?

Nope.

Material things don’t interest me, experiences captivate me. Pleasant or unpleasant every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow as a person.

Can I make better choices moving forward?

Yep.

I pay close attention to the impact of my actions, on how I greet people and who I spend my time with. I have a passion to see people thrive- especially young people.

Can I win this fight?

I hope so.

I pray for a miracle every night and not just for me, for everyone who is part of my life- past, present and future. All of us have challenges that others know nothing about.

What happens if I lose?

I will be at peace knowing I gave my best effort and took advantage of every opportunity along the journey.

I am sitting in a beautiful villa perched high on a mountainside overlooking Lake Como this morning- the view is stunning, and I can’t help but smile and be thankful for this time with my son and close friends.

If you read my blog, you have seen the public comments. You have not seen the host of private messages I receive every day. People are amazing and their stories unique. If I can make a wish, it is that these amazing, wonderful, courageous people will speak and share more publicly- your words are inspiring and your point of view important. You can make us all better.

If you ask, you will be surprised what you receive- I am constantly surprised and awed and thankful.

 

Medical Update 1.25.19

My medications appear to have stopped working and there is some tumor growth in my bones and lymph nodes. The good news is the growth does not appear to be very aggressive.

My docs are trying to find a way to biopsy a tumor to check for mutations that might offer more treatment options, I will know more next week.

I am being offered a clinical trial that is a combination of therapies and I will consider it over the next month.

Despite how this sounds, I was encouraged based on how I have felt lately. I’m ready for the chemo fog to lift and my energy levels to rise.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers!

Life, Cancer and God

I expect to pass through this world but once.

Any good therefore that I do, or any kindness that I can show

to any fellow creature, let me do it now.

Let me not defer or neglect it,

for I shall not pass this way again.

-Stephen Grellet

 

When I left New York to cross the Atlantic by ship on January 3rd, I was both excited and ill at ease.

I’ve been absent for a bit, my peace disturbed, and I have struggled to understand why. I’m working on finding my center and I will finish what I started but I needed time to sort things out.

Sitting on a ship in the middle of the North Atlantic is peaceful and inspiring, yet you can’t help but feel a sense of how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of this world. The forces of nature are beautiful, terrifying and more powerful than anything man has created.

I was struggling on two fronts; questioning my faith in people and my faith in God. Not long ago two significant and seemingly unrelated events occurred. The first involved allowing a toxic person back in my life and the second involved a simple act of kindness; a gift. Both events were show-stoppers, awakenings of significance.

In the first case with respect to my faith in people, I am reminded that despite my best efforts and intentions, I can fail spectacularly.

For a long time, my ego wouldn’t allow me to acknowledge it. Realizing I can fail despite my best efforts and commitment is a humbling lesson. Loving someone cannot make them love you nor can it change their behavior. More importantly, I realize continuing to love someone who is incapable of returning the affection, is not a continuing failure on my part, it is my choice. For the time being, I’ve made my peace with it and accept the consequences of my choices.

All of which brings me to the more significant event which occurred one evening not long ago.

After a nice dinner with friends, in the restaurant parking lot, a friend casually reached into his car and handed me a copy of When God Meets Cancer by Lynn Eib. I was immediately intrigued by the title since God and Cancer are rarely mentioned together in a positive discussion. Usually it involves an old tired argument concerning the existence of God which, in oversimplified terms, postulates that cancer in children (or the innocents) is proof that God doesn’t exist (or worse, God is not a kind and loving God but rather a vengeful God). Having spent many hours in a cancer hospital observing children from the ages of 2 to 20, I have a very different belief and experience. I’ve watched a two-year-old sit peacefully in his father’s lap for over two hours, never squirming or tugging at the tubes dangling from his tiny body. I witnessed a sixteen-year-old girl who had lost her hair and was all skin and bones make the rounds in the waiting room encouraging other children and adults with kind words and offers of assistance. There is a peace and sense of trust in every child I encounter- God is most certainly present in their lives.

Lynn Eib’s book sat untouched on my coffee table for weeks. My head trash told me I was going to read some good old-fashioned admonishments about committing my life to Christ in order to be “saved”. Since I am not overtly religious in any traditional since, I was put off by the title- maybe even scared that I would discover a fundamental flaw in my belief system and in my plans and intentions for how I want to live the rest of my life. As usual, I was wrong; dead wrong.

Lynn Eib is a recognized Christian author, married to a pastor, and has a commanding knowledge of the bible. She is also a cancer survivor and works in an oncology practice and is charged with spiritual counseling of the patients in the practice. She also runs a prayer group in her spare time. Lynn can quote scripture verbatim while I struggle to remember a single verse in its entirety. In the end, I discovered that we are of like mind and despite my ignorance of bible verses, we a share a common belief that, with the proper attitude and perseverance, cancer can never defeat you.

Whether you live or die, is not the measure of success- how you choose to live is.

A win could be as simple as reconciling with an estranged family member or telling your child that you love them and having them understand or learning that your friends are going to welcome a new life into the world.

I found myself nodding in agreement as Lynn summarized what she believes is necessary to battle cancer and win. There are three critical elements: the heart, the mind and the soul. The heart needs the proper attitude which she calls acceptance; defined as dealing with life with reasonable expectations. The mind requires peace- the negative loops need to be broken and trashed, not recycled. The soul needs hope- hope in the face of whatever circumstance you find yourself. Having hope does not mean you have unrealistic expectations, it means you have faith in something greater than yourself. Hope sustains the soul above all else and offers light in the darkest of times.

Lynn’s book is inspiring. She cites multiple examples of people who beat the odds and survived well beyond expectations or found joy or peace at the end of a troubling life. She does not “preach”, nor does she hide her faith and beliefs- one of which is that everyone facing cancer (or any serious illness) needs to be part of a “congregation” or prayer group. She is an absolute believer in the power of prayer.

At first glance, I came up short on having a congregation and a prayer group. I am woefully ignorant of scripture, I do not attend church and I am not a member of any “congregation”, much less an organized prayer group. I do believe in a powerful and loving God and I try to follow the basic principles espoused in the bible and I am firm believer in the power of prayer.

I am sure there are enough billable hours in this single issue for Lisa to acquire a new beach house, but when I finished Lynn’s book, I realized I have been living my life in the manner she advocates despite my ignorance of scripture and inability to apply it directly in my challenges. The reality is I am constantly reminded I do have a congregation of people who pray for me. I had to open my eyes and my heart to see that we do, in fact, reap what we sow, and I am very grateful for all of the support I have been given.

As you may have noted, I tend to deflect. I struggle to accept anything from anyone. I find more satisfaction in giving than in receiving. I will suffer before I allow anyone or anything to suffer. It is in my DNA. What I have come to understand, with the help of Lisa, is no matter how selfless this may appear, it is actually selfish. There is a time and a place for allowing people to care about you and for you- the decision isn’t mine to make and never was. Just like the little boy sitting in his father’s lap, I am surrounded by family and friends who love me- this is where my peace is. The most disturbing part of this circle is that I allowed one person to disrupt the most important and supportive relationships in my life.

I came to the end of my voyage with a better appreciation for the way God works in our lives and more confidence in the daily choices I make in how I live my life and spend my time and efforts. I made a mistake and it cost me my peace for a while but I’m ready to get back on the horse and ride.

Thad

I need to pause this morning and honor my friend, Thad, who is approaching the end of his fight with the disease we share. Thad has some of the best doctors in the world working on his behalf and has made every effort in medical and personal terms to fight his disease. The doctors understand the toll cancer takes on our bodies in clinical terms. Unfortunately, unless they are cancer survivors, they cannot possibly understand the toll cancer takes on our hearts, souls and thoughts. This is the battle we must win in order to find our peace. This is the fight Thad has won.

Thad and I “met” about 2 years ago thru a mutual business associate and friend. We have never visited face to face, we share no social connection, we share a common enemy which forged our friendship. Our conversations are deep and the topics intimate. Cancer has a way of stripping away the bullshit and allowing our essential essence and naked truths to surface. I always admire his candor and attitude when we share our hopes, fears and experiences.

Last evening on FB, I shared a youtube video created by Thad’s church to share his message for all of us. Aside from advocating for his church, there are several powerful messages in the video. He speaks of faith, hope and love, and how they define God for him. Thad plainly tells us how he found the peace, strength and courage to sustain his hope and belief in something more powerful than himself. Not only does he speak it, he shows it. Cancer treatment is mentally exhausting and physically demanding. When you watch an ostensibly healthy-looking man, whose words tell a different story, sharing his message of strength, faith, love and hope, sit up and take notice- you are witnessing an act of selflessness and a show of courage and strength summoned from a much higher power.

When Thad speaks about how he found his peace, I am reminded of the lyrics from a Foreigner song:

I Want to Know What Love Is

I gotta take a little time, a little time to think things over
I better read between the lines, in case I need it when I’m older

Now this mountain I must climb, feels like the world upon my shoulders
Through the clouds I see love shine, it keeps me warm as life grows colder

In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far, to change this lonely life

I want to know what love is, I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me

I’m gonna take a little time, a little time to look around me
I’ve got nowhere left to hide, it looks like love has finally found me…

Godspeed my friend.

Whence I Came

We are all products of our environment. Our parents have everything to do with who we are or aren’t. One day you realize parents are just regular people who procreated- they don’t have any special training. In the parent lottery, some of us are luckier than others and I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

I was born to a renaissance man who married a pragmatist. At various times my father was a tree farmer, bee keeper, sculptor, painter, artist, gardener, builder and linguist (at least he thought so). My mother was far more practical and for her, family was everything. Her motivations and actions were focused on family. My parents had their hands full with four boys and our posses.

The place I called home was a big house. Zillow describes it as 12,250 sq. ft. on two floors with ten fireplaces and a pool. They don’t include the third floor or the basement which at various times served as playrooms, darkrooms and ad hoc studios for band practice. In the big hair days of super loud rock and roll, I am certain the neighbors appreciated the bad covers of the Billboard Top Forty. I can state for a fact that you can fit a thousand kids in the house for an impromptu party when the parents are out of town.

For all the boys and our friends, it was just home- nothing special. Only as adults raising our own families, have we come to appreciate how special our childhood home was. We bitched about mowing the lawn, raking leaves and vacuuming the pool, never stopping to think we had a regulation football field for a front lawn, a tennis/basketball court in the back and a pool to cool off in or parents who gave a shit about where we were, what we were doing and where our lives would take us. My Dad encouraged us to pursue our interests, to travel, to color outside the lines and my Mom was there to make sure we didn’t stray off the page.

On any given summer weekend day, you would find a gaggle of kids in and around the pool while my Mom worked her ass off to make sure everyone was fed. Regularly, my parent’s friends joined in the fray and, as children and young adults, we learned to navigate the social sea we would one day be set adrift in. My mother demanded proper etiquette and good manners. Both of my parents demanded tolerance and inclusion. Their friends were our role models and mentors, we were fortunate indeed.

On any given summer night, you would find a gaggle of naked kids in the pool. It was a right of passage to skinny dip in the Poindexter’s pool. My parent’s bedroom was at the opposite end of the house and they generally stayed put as long as the noise level was acceptable. To my knowledge, none of us were ever busted but I have to believe my parents practiced “see no evil” because they would announce their presence well before cutting on the flood lights. Of course, there were mishaps like the time one of the girls re-dressed wet in her new green dress and left a perfect bright green ass-print on my mother’s new white custom sofa. Being the creative and punishment averse children we were, we flipped the sofa cushion and it was months before the ass-print revealed itself.

My Dad’s interests aside, he made his living as an orthodontist. He began his career as a dentist but returned to school ten years later to become an orthodontist. I now understand that his career choice dovetailed with his artistic interests and passion to help others because he could change a young person’s appearance and influence their self-esteem and confidence. He treated a number of indigent patients pro bono because he knew he could change lives. My Dad was definitely more right brained than left, but he was intellectually capable of excelling in all things academic. Practical daily life could be problematic and his problem solving was entertaining to say the least. If anything could be repaired with the tools of his trade (cement and orthodontic wire), it was. If not, duct tape and some type of adhesive would suffice. My Dad believed in education because his Dad believed in education. My Grandfather was the only one of seven children to leave the farm and go to college. He educated his own children and all of his sibling’s children. It was clear to me early on that I was expected to get an education and to excel while doing so.

My Mom is a different story and one that I have taken care and time to reflect on to do her memory justice. We were not close like some of my brothers were. I was the oldest child and my Mom put great demands on me. Our disconnect was that my Mom was not direct, she was a manipulator. If she wanted or expected something, she never asked directly, she would find an indirect, and often guilt laden, way to deliver the message. My Mom was determined that I would follow in my Dad’s academic footsteps which was daunting since he was National Honor Society in high school and graduated pre-med from Duke University and University of Pennsylvania Dental school Magna Cum Laude. I remember playing with his Phi Beta Kappa key as a child. All in all, I managed the National Honor Society but graduated Davidson College as “Didn’t Flunk Outta”. School, in general, did not interest me but fortunately it came easy enough for me to earn a college degree.

My earliest memory of my disconnect with my Mom came on the first day of school heading into the fourth grade. I should have sensed something was afoot when she told me she was driving me to school (we walked ten miles each way uphill in the snow for our entire elementary school career). On the way, she told me that I had been selected for the “Accelerated Class”. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I sensed I was being carved out of the herd. Turns out, she had decided for me that I would be a nerd for the rest of my elementary school career. Everyone else rotated classmates each year but not us, we were together for all three years. My classmates were and are great people, but kids want to be accepted not ostracized and we were definitely the nerd class to our peers. I was incensed that my Mom had made the decision without discussing it and sprung it on me at the last minute. I expressed my displeasure after walking home from school and was informed that my parents had tested my IQ. I asked what it was and the answer was “we know what you are capable of”. I still have no idea what my IQ is, but it must be over 70. The pattern would repeat itself throughout my life. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Mom and I now have a perspective on how her childhood made her who she was.

Medical Update 11.2.18

For everyone who has asked how I’m doing, I just want to say my girl friend’s (not girlfriend) dog thinks I’m awesome! The kitten isn’t sure yet…

The doc says my tumors are stable and no new ones looming on the horizon and he was smiling this time!

The plan is to keep doing what I’m doing.

Thanks for the positive thoughts and prayers- you guys are awesome!

A New Beginning…

I have lived my life in fits and starts in many ways. Several years ago, I put down a novel with less than 10 pages to go and never picked it up. It remains unfinished on my bedside table.

Lately, I have become the voracious reader that I was as a child only the genre has changed. I used to devour biographies to learn about impactful people, what made them great and how they came to be recognized for their achievements. Now my genre could be best described as memoirs of people who died of cancer. I want to learn all I can about what is coming for me.

Cory Taylor, Nina Riggs and Paul Kalanithi all wrote their memoirs in the terminal stage of their illnesses. Cancer came for them in different ways attacking different parts of the body but ultimately invading the complex systems within the body. It is called metastatic cancer. I have metastatic prostate cancer and though I am not terminal, I know my cancer will ultimately kill me.  Cancer came for Paul and Nina in their mid to late 30’s, Cory in her 50’s and me in my 50’s. Paul and Nina did not live long after their diagnosis, Cory lived for more than a decade and I am in my 4th year, with an undetermined expiration date.

I think all of us struggle with finding meaning in our lives but we damn sure struggle to find meaning in our deaths. Most of us don’t think about death but it is inescapable, a law of nature.

I’ll speak for myself, but I read in Paul, Nina and Cory’s writing a need to make sense of our deaths to understand or attempt to understand if our lives mattered. Or maybe I have it backwards, we struggle to understand how or why our lives mattered so that we may better understand our deaths.

Before I go too deep, I want to point out a beautiful part of Paul and Nina’s stories. Both their spouses found each other and have partnered and are raising their children together. I know a big part of facing our deaths is our concern for our loved ones and the impact of our leaving. At least Paul and Nina can look down and be comforted knowing that their spouses and children are in very capable hands.

Paul wrote about a rough patch in his marriage which began to heal when he shared his diagnosis with his wife. She put her head on his shoulder and he whispered, “I need you”. These are words that are hard to say and even harder to hear. I leaned into someone I loved and told her I needed her and she simply vanished. Evaporated. Despite my pleas, I have never spoken with her again. I prefer to think she cared and I scared her but it could be that she never cared at all. My family and my friends have been and continue to be my salvation, but I don’t have that intimate, deep connection that I so desperately crave. Maybe that is why I am so unsettled.

When I shared my diagnosis and prognosis with Lisa, my lovely therapist, she asked me if I had grieved properly. I told her I thought so and I moved on in our conversation. I could not have been more wrong. Like Paul, I am working backwards thru the five stages of grief. Anyone with basic knowledge of metastatic cancer knows where it leads and thus acceptance was easy for me. If something can be done ass backwards, I’ll find a way to do it.

As I contemplated starting this project, it felt awkward to put myself in the company of Paul, Nina and Cory. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon and a neuroscientist with additional degrees outside of the medical profession and wicked writing skills. Nina Riggs was a writer, poet and professor. Cory Taylor was a freelance film and television writer. I don’t belong in their company, but I feel the need to tell my story, to make sense of what brings me to this stage of my life. Each of these individuals impacted countless lives, what did I have to say for myself?

To answer that question requires an explanation which I am usually reluctant to share because it is so difficult to explain. In cocktail party speak or casual conversation, I will say that I am a headhunter or a recruiter which usually suffices and allows the conversation to move on. The problem is that I am neither of those things and I find the terms to be derogatory. I have spent 22 years of my career as a professional search consultant which means that I am hired to help companies identify, attract, hire and retain people for critically important roles. The complexity is astounding if you do your job well and not many do. My work has contributed billions of dollars of value to the global economy. Some of my early work produced the current leaders in several Fortune 500 companies and over 400 small to midsize companies. I have contributed to our national defense and infrastructure in ways that I cannot disclose. I get paid very well to do what I do.

I am not relaying this information to brag, I needed to synthesize the impact of my professional life in order to better understand myself and the mark that I will leave on the world. I tend to shy away from the spotlight, fame and praise mean nothing to me, money means very little and none of these things give my life meaning. People give my life meaning. My professional life has made the lives of my clients and my candidates better, richer and more fulfilling which is all I need to know. I had the best job in the world. It was hard but rewarding, it put a nice roof over our heads, allowed us to travel and my son to get an education. Despite an expensive divorce, I have a couple of nickels left to rub together and travel the world until I can’t.

My personal life is a different story and the one I want to tell. My greatest weaknesses are what made me great at my profession. I understand people in a way that others don’t. My bullshit filter is unrivaled except when it comes to women and our intimate relationships.

Coincidence

Maybe not.

Last night we were chosen at random to attend a special dinner for 10.

We arrived and I was seated next to a gentleman who introduced himself only as “Keith”. As we enjoyed our evening, he mentioned he was from Australia and worked in health care.

Me being me, started with the questions…. I love people- nice people.

I quickly learned that he was an Oncologist with a particular focus on chemotherapy. He runs a significant treatment facility in Sydney.

I hope I did not ruin his vacation because chemo is a huge question mark for me.

He gave me his straight opinion which dovetailed with my own research.

It was a moving experience which I will never forget.

My words cannot do this situation justice, but I hope you understand how I know God exists. There is a plan, I just don’t have the details.

Addiction

“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again…”

-Paul Simon, The Sound of Silence, (performed by Disturbed)

We’ve danced this insane, deadly waltz for over 40 years.

We’ve danced in the sun with an unknowing crowd urging us on.

We’ve danced in the dark places where even the rats and cockroaches scatter in fear.

Mostly we behave in public, our battles are fought in our alone time- some are brief and brutal, some have lasted years.

I’ve watched helplessly as you took the lives of dear friends and wreaked havoc on innocent families. I was powerless to stop you. You are an evil, relentless liar and I’m sorry we ever met.

So many times, I’ve gloated over your lifeless body, poked you to make sure you were dead, and buried you in the deepest grave I could dig only to have you reappear in the guise of a beautiful woman or a bottle of wine or an unkind word. Only after you reveal yourself, do I recognize you for who you are, and the battle begins again.

How do you do it? How did you come to understand I feel in ways other people don’t? How can you take my deepest connections to the ones I love and turn them into weapons?

Fuck with me all you want, but don’t touch my son or anyone I love.

I’ve managed to lock you in your cage for now.

I plan on living my best life with a clear head and heart as long as possible.

I know you will escape, and we will have that last dance and it frightens me. Don’t bother with one of your disguises, I’ll know you when you appear with your drugs and empty promises.

You owe me the courtesy of easing my physical pain, but please leave my mind alone. I doubt you will, you never were trustworthy, but hear me when I tell you that I will have the satisfaction of knowing you did not kill me.

“On the first page of our story
The future seemed so bright
Then this thing turned out so evil
I don’t know why I’m still surprised
Even angels have their wicked schemes
And you take that to new extremes
But you’ll always be my hero
Even though you’ve lost your mind

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
But that’s all right because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
But that’s all right because I love the way you lie
I love the way you lie
Oh, I love the way you lie

Now there’s gravel in our voices
Glass is shattered from the fight
In this tug of war you’ll always win
Even when I’m right
‘Cause you feed me fables from your hand
With violent words and empty threats
And it’s sick that all these battles
Are what keeps me satisfied…”

-Skylar Grey, Love the Way You Lie, Part III (performed by Skylar Grey)

Jeff and Judy’s

I have struggled for months writing this. It got long and uninteresting. After dinner on Friday with good friends, the topic of what I’m doing and who is reading what I write came up. I was surprised in many ways. When everyone left, I realized that I don’t have the skills to do this topic justice. The best I can do is offer a glimpse of what this family means to me. I hope it’s good enough. I love you guys.

Jeff and Judy’s is, in general, a three-ring circus of life, love and laughter. It is held most summer weekends at their lake house and every holiday in their home.

I received season tickets from Tyler, one of my best friends, who happens to be their son. Tyler and I are close in age- only 28 years separates us- but I’m the same age as Jeff and Judy. I’m fairly sure they didn’t know what to make of me when I showed up for a long weekend over 10 years ago along with 29 other people and 7 dogs. True story.

I once wrote that Tyler came with a “large package of family and friends” which may appear to be awkward word choices, but they were purposeful. The “large package”, aside from Jeff and Judy, almost always includes Robin and Bess, Kathy and Holland, Fran and Earl, daughter Lauren and her husband Chad, and Kaity, Tyler’s wife. Recently, Carter joined the circus and, as the only grandchild, occupies center ring. More often than not, the gatherings include significantly more family, friends and family of friends.

Adversity is an odd duck, it can destroy you or it can goad you to be better- to rise above it. I have never spoken with Jeff about his childhood in any detail, everything I have learned is anecdotal. I do know that he and Fran didn’t have it easy. Maybe that’s why Fran goes to work every day as she approaches the end of her 7th decade (sorry girlfriend but I had to tell) and Jeff has dedicated his life to his wife and children- making sure they have what they need and then some. He is a generous, gentle bear of man who always sports a big smile. Fran is his mom and I call her girlfriend which usually elicits a giggle, while Earl, her husband, shakes his head. It’s a good thing Earl doesn’t like to fight. Earl is a perfectionist who can make anything with his hands; which is probably why he hasn’t punched me for flirting with his wife.

Jeff may be head of the family, but Judy is, without question, the Ringmaster- all 4 foot something of her. She keeps the circus fed and running. Don’t make the mistake of wandering into her kitchen when she is preparing a meal for 30 people; apparently, it’s stressful. Judy always maintains a watchful eye over her domain. Sometimes she is forced to babysit the rest of us who may, or may not, have been enjoying adult beverages all day and, if we misbehave, she takes our bottles and sends us to bed early.

In the years I’ve known this family, I’ve watched Tyler and Lauren fall in and out of love a few times until they landed in love and married- Kaity and Chad. Chad is a lot like Earl, tall, thin and patient. Patience is an essential survival skill in this family. On the other hand, Kaity can hold her own with the women. She is a doer with a big heart who isn’t afraid of speaking up. Kaity is also a natural born caretaker. Lauren and Chad are parents and I imagine Tyler and Kaity aren’t far behind, lord knows they practice often enough. I’m comforted knowing this next generation will be born and raised in a place of love and kindness surrounded by a truly good group of people.

Robin and Bess and Kathy and Holland are not related by blood, but they may as well be. I’ve never been to the circus when none of them were present. Robin likes to cook breakfasts, make ice cream and stay in the middle of whatever shit we get into. Kathy is never on time and marches to a beat only she can hear. I adore my conversations with her. Bess and Holland, like Chad and Earl, prefer to take it all in from a safe distance. I think they find the circus to be a comforting respite from their jobs.

As my own family was undergoing a transformation with the deaths of my parents and the inevitable separation from my brothers, I was welcomed into this circus. Judy texts me every holiday to make sure I know I have a seat at the table. She reminds me of my father who I loved dearly.

Christmas at the circus is something else. The meal is always great, but the gift exchange is the main event. It doesn’t matter who is invited or who shows up, everyone gets a gift or two. Think about it. Even if 10 extra people show up for dinner, everyone gets a wrapped gift. Since Jeff doesn’t shop, I figure Judy is clairvoyant or she has a serious shopping problem. I’ve written that Judy is not a fan of profanity; she abhors the f-word above all else. Her Christmas present one year was a remote-controlled helicopter with FUCK neatly written on the sides. Usually people don’t give a flying fuck, but this family is unique.

I admire the family that Jeff and Judy built. It reminds me of my own. They created a safe place for their kids to be kids and make the mistakes that all kids make. They looked after all comers and still do.

Every time I am around them, I am thankful for the support they have extended me. I hope whoever reads this has a place like Jeff and Judy’s.