Category Archives: friends

On Living In A Cargo Van

I moved to the far western suburbs of Chicago 30 years ago. Many things in my life have changed since that move. I married 25 years ago. I had three more children. I purchased a house. However, there is one thing that I did before all of the above that has remained to today. That one thing is my retirement camper fund.

I have a pool of money that I established over 30 years ago. The fund amount is sensible, but not tremendous. It has served as my “dream fund,” a fund to build a dream on.

When I approached my retirement, I started to think in earnest about that money and how I would use it. I have the heart of a country boy, and I am the most content when I am in nature. My spirit has always gravitated out west, and I am drawn to places there. Would I want to move there permanently? The truth is that I want to live close to where my kids are. For me, relationships trump scenery. However, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to spend extended periods of time exploring the National Parks and other scenic wonders.

My ease with the outdoors offers me the advantage of doing these explorations relatively cheaply. I have a senior pass for the National Parks, and I have camped my entire life. I have owned campers in the past, so I have a good idea of what I need when it comes to creature comforts.

If I camp for more than a few days, I need to be in something that keeps me off the ground. I am also a “compartment” kind of guy, and I like the idea of having most of the things that I need at the ready and organized. I don’t mind cooking, so I need some sort of ability to do that. Naturally, I need a way to charge my camera, phone, and other gadgets.

With proper ventilation and a 12-volt fan, I can likely survive without AC. My last camper had a bathroom, but I never used it. It was more straightforward to use the campground’s provided facilities. Refrigeration would be helpful, but I’m teaching myself how to make real meals using my own dehydrated foods and off the shelf products. I can’t go for an extended period eating only granola bars and beef jerky.

What I have discovered from my years of camping is that I don’t need a lot to thrive. At home, I am a gadget lover because I like exploring innovation. However, on the road, I practice KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).

The primary goal of my retirement fund was to purchase some sort of camper. Pop-up, trailer, RV? I have toyed with all of the above, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

My fund is not generous enough to buy a new RV, but I could afford an older C class. They are the best RV value, but they are big and bulky. I would likely have to tow a car, a hassle that I don’t want to do.

A pop-up could be a solution, but do I really want to constantly setup and teardown at 65?

I looked at trailers, and they seem to be an (almost) perfect option. However, there is my backing up problem. Dear reader, I understand the mechanics of backing up a trailer, and I am able to back one up. However, I need a backing up guide. If my wife is with me, I can get my camper where I want it.

You may remember that I am dyslexic. This problem impacts my senses of position and space. It is challenging for me to conceptualize where a trailer is relative to its tow vehicle. When I back up a trailer by myself, I have to continually get out of the car, visualize where the trailer is, back up a bit more, and repeat. It is very frustrating. I marvel at my friend Tom’s backing up ability. I have been with him many times when he had to back up a considerable construction trailer; he is a real pro. He has offered to teach me his tricks, but I will always have my spatial problem.

My needs have also changed over the years. I started to seriously look at options two years ago . At that time I felt that I needed something that would sleep my entire family, as our favorite vacations had been grand camping adventures. However, we have not had a big family campout for over three years. Even overnight campouts are limited, as my kids now have lives of their own.

It is sad for me to think about the end of our big family camping trips. However, when a door closes a window opens. If I accept this reality, I also can refocus my efforts on ways to camp that allow travel for one or two.

A “Class B” camper comes to mind. These are tricked out vans that offer all of life’s conveniences in miniature. Full kitchens, bathrooms, built-in entertainment systems. However, they are costly, and many of their luxuries (like the bathroom) are not needed by me.

For the last year, I have been talking to my friend, Tom, about building out a cargo van. He is willing to help, and he has the skills that I lack. At one point he found me an old mini-bus that could be converted, but I was too chicken to pull the trigger. Even with Tom’s expert help the conversion process could be lengthy and daunting.

Every camper option seems doable,, but I always find something to keep me from moving forward. That is until this last week.

I stumbled on a YouTube video from a company that makes a modular system for the Dodge Promaster van. This is a relatively inexpensive cargo van that boasts a “tall” version that has an interior height of over 6 feet. Their system locks modules into floor tracks, and the whole interior is easily removable. The kit includes the floor, wall and ceiling panels, a platform bed, a simple kitchen, and a seat/storage box. The best thing is that it can be installed in 2 hours.

Cargo vans have only two seats, but for those now rare family trips, we could use a second transport car, and a tent for other campers. If needed, I could sell my current car and use the van as my primary vehicle. I am moving into retirement, and my transportation needs are simple.

I mentioned the option to Julie, and she seemed reasonably receptive. We have been married for a long time, and we no longer find it necessary to “make our points” with each other. Well, at least most of the time.

Dear reader, I’m not sure where this will all lead me, but I’m pretty excited about it. Tom said he would go with me to check out some Promasters at the local Dodge dealership, and I have sent an email to Wayfarer Vans, the company in Colorado who makes and installs the conversion kit. This option seems like the right balance of convenience and price. Say a little prayer for me so that I make the right decision.

When I started writing this blog, I talked about traveling to National Parks to photograph and write about them. This could bring me one step closer to that dream. My plans have moved slower than I initially expected, but they are definitely moving in the right direction. Fingers crossed.

Our time on this planet is short. I have spent my life in service of others, and it is still hard for me to think about my personal needs. I can’t always do what I want. However, I don’t want to draw my dying breath considering, “Why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t I experience that? Why didn’t I try that?” Dear reader, I am working hard to live my life to its fullest. You never know what tomorrow brings.

I’m learning how to dehydrate my own food.
I’m 6’2″ and I fit!
I want to photograph and write about nature.

I Screwed Up

It is easy to screw up, but it is more difficult to admit it. How can I grow as an authentic person if I don’t acknowledge my mistakes? It is not my life’s goal to be perfect, but I believe that I should learn from my errors. Unfortunately, I have found that it is easy to learn a lesson, and still repeat the same mistake. I think this is the nature of being a human being.

I woke up foggy and forced myself to place my feet on the ground. After a few moments, I stumbled into the bathroom. Once inside I issued a command to my Google Assistant. “Hey Google, good morning!” After a few seconds, she said, “Good morning, Mike!” then she recited the weather, told me my calendar appointments, and finally read me the news. On this particular morning, she announced, “Scattered thunderstorms today.” I took note and proceeded to get dressed.

At 4 AM in the morning, I am routine driven, as my ability to problem solve is compromised. The last thing that I do before my morning walk is to check the computer. A story caught my eye, and I became distracted. I glanced up at the time and realized that I was running late. On shoes, on ball cap, on jacket, and out the door, I bounded.

I was a few doors down the block when I realized that it was drizzling. I could have returned home for an umbrella, but I decided to continue forward. In my gut, I knew that this was the wrong decision. Because I was feeling lazy, I convinced myself that the rain was light and my cotton jacket would protect me.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I am a planner and preparer. I’m obsessive, and solving problems gives me a degree of pleasure. When I committed to walk/exercise on a daily basis, I worked out many scenarios so I could accomplish my objective in most any situation. For rainy weather, I have a raincoat, waterproof shoes, an umbrella, and even rain pants. It is simple for me to don my rain gear, I was only a few houses down the block. Logic said “Turn back,” laziness said, “Move forward.”

I made it to the Starbucks and was only a little damp. Triumph! I thought. My friend, Tom, stopped by for coffee and we started to chat. He was also running late and was in a hurry to get to his job site.

We parted ways, and I started the 35-minute walk back home. The rain began in earnest, and with each block, it picked up in ferocity. I was becoming more soaked and uncomfortable. The cool breeze now felt damp and icy; I was starting to tremble. The only option was to continue to walk, so I moved forward.

By the time that I reached my front door, I was so wet that even my underwear was soaked. I was shaking and my jaw was chattering. Once inside I headed straight for the bathroom and washed off the cold with a long and steamy hot shower. Somewhat rejuvenated, I put on dry clothes and went to work.

Behaviors repeat themselves in both significant and insignificant ways. If I can learn from my minor mistakes, I can avoid more significant ones. There were many lessons that my screw up taught me. With a little thought, I could have left the house properly attired. With a bit of effort, I could have returned to my home to re-outfit myself. I could have challenged my problem of asking people for help and pressed my friend, Tom, for a ride. I could have called Julie when I was at Starbucks to request a pickup. Any of the above and I would have avoided getting soaked. However, once I started to walk back home I was compelled to complete my hike, as waiting around for a ride would have just made things worse. I could no longer solve the problem, and now I had to correct the outcome.

Here are some things that I learned from my rainy day screw up.
-I need to pay attention and stay on task.
-I should correct small problems before they become bigger ones.
-I should ask for help when needed. People who care about me won’t mind a little inconvenience if they know that I’m genuinely in need.
-If I ignore the first three rules and wind up with a problem, it is my responsibility to come up with a reasonable solution to that problem.

These rules are not only applicable to stormy days but also other life problems, both big and small. I need to be more mindful and aware. Fixing unnecessary problems is a waste of time and energy. At the same time, I need to accept that fact that I am human and I will screw up. Finding the balanced between these two poles can be difficult, but finding this balance is necessary to have a happy life. I want to avoid problems, but I don’t want to plan every scenario so wholly that I lose the joy of spontaneity.

Dear reader, are you a planner, or a fixer? Have you found the right balance in your life? What lessons did life teach you today?

The rain increased with every block that I walked.
So much rain that the river flooded my walking path.

Shari’s Story: Living With Autoimmune Disease

It is 7 PM on a Thursday, and I am seated across Shari, a 46 years old woman with shockingly red curly hair. This is her story.

Shari grew up in the middle-class Chicago suburb of Downers Grove. She showed exceptional creative talents at an early age and would entertain her parents with her complex stories about bunnies. There was something different about Shari, an old soul with an inquisitive mind.

Early intelligence testing gave a partial answer. Shari was a genius. Coming from a family of achievers, she was right at home. Shari was in the top two percent of her high school class, a fact even more amazing as she was involved in over 20 clubs/activities while she worked a part-time job. Despite her accomplishments, Shari always found the most peace in simple things. She deliberately choose the smallest bedroom at her parent’s home and shunned excessive possessions.

College was expected, and she applied and was accepted to the University of Illinois, a premier university. Always a storyteller, she decided on a rhetoric major. As a concession to her father’s fears of unemployability she also took courses in accounting. As in high school, Shari excelled at the U of I. She overloaded herself with classes, worked different jobs, and even became a resident advisor for her dorm. “I took six years of classes in 4 years,” she told me. Her academic achievements at the U of I were significant enough for her to be named a Bronze Scholar, one of the university’s highest undergraduate honors.

Despite her success, something was not quite right. Late in her college career, she became ill to the point of requiring hospitalization. Despite her academic success she felt stressed, instead of accomplished. “I raced to the top of the mountain, and there was nothing there.”

More studies followed at the University College of Cork in Ireland where she obtained a certificate in Irish Studies. Then it was time to get a real job.

What jobs are available for rhetoric majors? Not many, and so she accepted a two-day temporary position at Ace Hardware corporate doing routine data entry. When you are smart, you can generalize what you know and see the bigger picture. In Shari’s case, she was able to use her accounting knowledge to see errors in the data that she was inputting into the computer. She told her supervisor what she observed and went from a two-day temp worker to a full-time position on her first day. Shari was entering the corporate world.

One task led to another, and soon she was designing complex databases and doing statistical analyses for Ace. At the same time, a romance was forming in her life. She met her first husband when she lived in Ireland. He traveled to the US so they could check out the viability of their connection. When his visa ran out, she quickly decided to marry him.

Unfortunately, the relationship was doomed. Her husband couldn’t hold down a job, and would impulsively spend money. She would react by working harder to pay down their debt. Shari learned more programming languages, and soon was working on mainframe computers. A lucrative but time demanding job in pre Y2K.

Wanting to do the right thing it wasn’t uncommon for her to work late in the night and then bring home additional work. The stress of unnecessary debt, extraordinarily long working hours and a difference in values eventually took its toll, and her marriage ended. Raised in a strict Roman Catholic household, the divorce was devastating to her.

More jobs, more responsibility, more challenges. Shari was being pulled by two forces that were equal, but opposite in direction. A desire to have a simple life, and a wish to do an outstanding job in the corporate world.

Along the way, she met her second husband. He was resentful that Shari had a circle of friends and convinced her to move so they could start anew and be on an equal playing field. Where did they move? They moved from Chicago to Australia. In Australia Shari did what she does best, learn. She finished a Master’s degree in creative writing at the prestigious University of Sydney and then went to work at the university. Shari told me that she loved living in Australia, as everything she needed was within an easy walk. A simple life was what made her happy.

She traveled to India on holiday and became ill. She returned to Australia sick and very weak. She found herself working from home, as she did not have the energy to get dressed and travel to work. This went on for many weeks. Slowly, and with the help of medical professionals, she recovered. However, something had changed, something was wrong. Also, her second marriage was now failing, and another divorce was on the horizon. The prospect of a second divorce was sobering.

Shari continued to work at the University of Sidney, and her brilliance promoted her. She was given important projects and a team to work under her. One of her hires was a man named Jason. A person who barely said two words to her while they worked together. But more on Jason later.

With a broken second marriage, she decided to leave her life in Australia and return to the United States. She left behind true friends and the basic life that she loved.

Now back in the US she once again got jobs in business and IT. Learning new systems quickly, always seeing the bigger picture, always overworking. After 18 months she returned to Australia to visit friends and co-workers. Her former employee Jason was at one of her welcoming dinners. “He seemed different, more talkative and engaged.” By the end of the evening, they were holding hands. Four years later they married.

Finally, it seemed like things were going her way. She was married to the love of her life, she had a small and manageable home in Downers Grove, and she had a good job.

Stress was working overtime in the background as she continued to overwork. In the first year of her marriage, she was hospitalized with a bout of Ulcerative Colitis. She developed chronic anemia. In 2012 she was hit by a severe, unknown malady that left her twitching, and uncoordinated. She couldn’t think straight and had no short-term memory. She was in constant pain, and she was continually sleeping. She went from being able to see the bigger picture to not knowing if she let her dog out. It was a horrible time for Shari.

She sought medical attention and diagnoses were made. Autoimmune thyroid disease, autoimmune neuropathy. She started to do her own research and determined that one of her problems was Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy (HE), a diagnosis later confirmed by her physicians. HE is an autoimmune disorder that causes an inflammation of the brain and produces neurological symptoms because of that inflammation. Other related problems emerged, Lyme Disease, Possibly PANDAS (another autoimmune disease caused by a Streptococcus infection). The combination of stress and infectious agents were creating a one, two punch that was making her life unmanageable. Her body was literally destroying itself.

Shari fought back. Using her own research, novel treatments, and an expert medical team, a multi-modal treatment emerged. Thyroid replacement hormone, steroids, neuro-cognitive training. These have all helped improve Shari’s functioning. However, her health is still fragile. She takes one step forward, only to slide backward with the slightest stress.

Shari is a giving person, but she can become over-involved helping others. She willingly helps friends and family, but her actions can result in an exacerbation of her autoimmune illnesses making her non-functional for days. She would like to be a financial contributor in her marriage, but even part-time work can be too stressful. She struggles with her current lack of functioning, her poor memory, her fatigue.

She says that many doctors missed her diagnoses; they only reviewed simple lab panels and didn’t delve further. She wants to advocate for others who are dealing with undiagnosed maladies. At this time she is a health coach for a young woman who suffers from another chronic disease, but Shari wonders what her next step should be. She knows that it can’t be fueled by the obsessive drive that gave her success but contributed to her sickness. Her illness has forced her to re-explore what has consistently made her happy in the past, a simple, basic life.

Despite her illness, she is grateful. Grateful for the beauty and majesty of nature, grateful for her caring friends, grateful for her loving family, and most of all grateful for her soulmate, Jason.

Life is what you make of it. Sometimes it is more important to celebrate what you have than to constantly grieve over what you have lost. Rejoice in today as will never be repeated.

Do you have a story that you would like me to tell?  If so, click here for more information on this project.

 

Shari

What A House Fire Taught Me

Many people see events as separate dots on a timeline. This is not the way that I view things.  To me, everything connects to everything else. I believe that the world is continually teaching us life lessons, but most people ignore them. This leads me to the story of Mike and the builder.

My father was reasonably handy, but only repaired things under duress. Our house was in shambles.  Although we had a basement workshop, he didn’t teach me the arts of construction and repair. Mostly, he would just tell me to fix things. The results would often be poor, and I would hear about it.

I assumed that by some magic I should know how to do things without any teaching or experience.  This made me a self-starter. It also made me hesitant to tackle significant repair jobs.

I never lost interest in fix-it-up projects, and they still fascinate me today. Accomplishing a small repair can give me a sense of pride and joy.

If you have read some of my other posts, you are probably familiar with my friend Tom.  He is a general contractor, and we are the best of friends. We complement each other in our skills.  There are things that I know how to do that are helpful to Tom. There are things that Tom knows how to do that are helpful to me.  The fascinating thing is that many of the ways that we help each other are not by providing direct services to each other. Instead, we complement each other by our association.

Tom is acting as the general contractor on a home rebuild project.  A fire started in the garage of the home, and in 20 minutes it caused an immense amount of damage.  In 20 minutes the homeowner’s lives were changed forever. Their family was safe, but almost all of the contents of the home were destroyed.  Part of the house will need to be rebuilt entirely. All of the interior walls, floors, doors, and fixtures will need to be replaced. The roof, siding, and driveway will have to be reconstructed.

I have been documenting the progress of the repair with photographs.  This project has been done in short segments. However, recently Tom invited me to spend the whole day with him as he was having his carpentry crew do some significant deconstruction and construction of the house.

He picked me up in his dually from Starbucks, and we headed off to the Naperville site. The house was boarded up, and about one-half of the siding had already been removed. I pulled out my Canon 5D Mark III from my Manfrotto backpack, and I started to shoot.  Soon his crew arrived. A caravan of trucks and vans lined the street. Their contents contained carpenters ready to do battle with a house. This job was too big for one person alone.

Tom’s carpenters are experienced, and they scattered over the house without so much as a word from him.  Soon they were ripping down the remaining siding and pulling off the charred wood. The house started to disappear as pile after pile of burnt wood, siding, and other materials filled the driveway.  As the walls came down in the garage, I could see the destruction that the fire caused. It was sobering.

Tom was now coordinating their activities.  Soon we started a shuttle process. To the recycling center with the siding.  To the lumberyard for lumber. To the garbage dump to offload garbage. To the hardware store to get hardware.  To the grocery store to get water. And so it went.

Piece by piece the garage came down, one slice at a time.  Piece by piece a new structure started to emerge, one board at a time.  The new construction wasn’t rising from the ashes; the ashes had been swept away.  The new garage was rising with careful and methodical planning. The new space modified to improve on the old, but still on its familiar footprint.  A structure connected to the remaining beams that were healthy and strong.

There will be a bigger loft above the garage, better lighting on the adjacent porch, a concrete driveway to replace the melted asphalt one.  The new space will look similar to the old, but it will be better.

The effort will be immense, the cost high. In the end, the owners will have their familiar house back, but it will be improved.  Something good will arise from something terrible.

You may think that I’m am using this construction project as a metaphor. However, I would like to challenge that belief.  A metaphor is typically a word or phrase used to describe something which is not literally applicable. What if these life lessons were utterly relevant?  What if there was a cohesiveness that binds us to our planet and all of its occupants? Like laws of physics, these laws were also constant. If one understood these “laws of the world” he or she could apply them globally to improve other aspects of their existence. I believe that we can enhance who we are, what we do, how we feel. The world around us can be our teacher; we need to stop, look, and listen.

Here are just a few of the things that this house taught me:

-Bad things can happen for no reason.

-It is important to accept things that you have no control over.

-It is essential to take responsibility for those things you do have control over.

-Most events or situations are neither good nor bad. We assign these values artificially.

-We can take good things and make them bad.  However, we can also take bad things and make them good.

-When faced with a difficult task, things go better with friends to help you.

-The homeowners will have a better house once the construction is completed.  They will need to pay for this metamorphosis with discomfort, time and effort.  They will have to accept a certain amount of uncertainty. This is no different than making a change in a person’s life. Changing from an unhealthy place to a healthy one will require discomfort, time, effort, and uncertainty.

-At the recycler, we saw mountains of worn metal that will be melted and repurposed.  At the garbage dump, we saw broken cardboard boxes being prepared to be processed for future use. We also saw garbage that had to be discarded, as it was dangerous and toxic.

We may have parts of us that we think are bad, but with effort, we can make those parts good. Other parts have to be discarded, as they are so broken that they pose a danger to us.

-The fire destroyed some of the homeowner’s garden. For new growth to thrive, the dead plants need to be removed.  

Just like the dead plants we need to rid ourselves of bad habits, behaviors and relationships to make space for good, healthy ones.

These are just a few of the lessons that I learned from a burnt house and a general contractor.  Dear reader, look around you, life lessons are everywhere. Perhaps your clothes dryer is trying to tell you something.  Think I’m being ridiculous? Think again.

After the fire
Removing the bad to make room for the good
Rebuilding
Old metal will be melted and become anew
Some things are so toxic that they have to be completely discarded

 

Sitting In The Car Waiting

I sit in my car and wait. My daughter is inside her teacher’s home having her oboe lesson. I hear the sounds of a small gas engine, likely a lawnmower. It drones in the background. The temperature, a pleasant 67 degrees. It is damp due to recent rain. On my lap is my trusty lap table. On that table is my iPad. I type.

Another Monday in my retirement. It started with me donning rain shoes, rain jacket, and umbrella. As usual, I walked to Starbucks. I was surprised to see Tom’s truck already in the lot, as I’m typically the first to arrive. He was inside drinking coffee and polishing off an unknown snack; probably a scone.

Donovan, the barista, poured my tall cup of Veranda as soon as he saw me enter. I grabbed it and sat down next to Tom and started our Monday review.

Tom didn’t go to the Blues Festival as he had wished, due to yesterday’s rain. I did go on my breakfast walk with Ralph, despite the rain. We checked an auto-posting problem for his website, talked about our kids, sipped our coffee. And so the conversation went. Tom asked me if I had time to go to Roselle with him and I did a quick calculation, as I needed to drive Grace to her lesson. A few adjustments were made, and off we went.

Back home I did a minor project, and now I sit waiting in the driver’s seat of my red Flex. I don’t like to be unproductive, which is why I brought my gear with me.

Sitting, typing, occasionally looking out the car’s windows to a slowly changing scene.

Now a senior man in bib overalls is mowing his grass directly across the street from me. The mower’s growl replacing the noise from the more distant one that droned earlier.

I seem content with my new found slower pace, but at the same time, I’m slightly restless. I continue to feel that I need to be doing more, accomplishing more, being more. This is countered by the reality that I am doing things, just not at the pace that I had originally set for myself. I grant myself forgiveness for the reduction in my output.

As I sit, I notice that I am feeling grateful, and I’m not sure why… let me think. Grateful for living in a good community, Grateful for friends and family. Grateful for my health. Grateful that I still have the wonder of a little boy inside of me.

My mind drifts again. What would it have been like if my grandparents had not immigrated from Slovakia? Likely, I would not exist. But what if I did? Limited education, limited opportunities, a limited life. I wonder if I would have made the best of it. It seems to be in my nature to view things in a positive way. I think that I would have been OK.

Some people think that they can fix their lives by being somewhere else. In some cases this is true, but in most cases, it is not. After all, we take ourselves with us wherever we go.

I drift again. I wonder what is in store for the rest of the day. I guess life is a box of chocolates. I’ll bite in and see what I get.

Dear reader, what are you grateful for today?

Posting on the road.

Driving back home.

On Old Friendships

Weeks ago we set up the dinner date with Ralph and Anne, and our get together was finally upon us. Julie picked a new fusion restaurant in the River District that she thought didn’t take reservations. Since it was an easy walk from our house, we decided to hike to it early and secure a table for dinner. We would meet Ralph and Anne there. All went as planned with two major exceptions. The place did take reservations, and we didn’t have any.

The trendy hostess said it would be over  90 minutes to seat us at a table. Frankly, an hour and a half is just too long for this old doctor to wait for the privilege to eat a taco pretending to be something more exotic than what it is. We left the fusion joint and traveled down the street to the Rosebud, an Italian restaurant.

I have known Ralph and Anne for over 27 years. About 25 years ago Ralph and I formed a partnership with a couple of other docs and created Genesis Clinical Services, which is a psychiatric and psychotherapy clinic. Together we built the clinic into a successful enterprise. Ralph is more business oriented; I’m more of a creative type. During my tenure as a senior partner, I created the company logo, constructed the first computer network, designed our letterhead, and much more. I even taught myself web-design and built our multi-media website. I was very invested in having the place succeed.

Unfortunately, such efforts come at a price. I was working at the clinic, plus another job. On my “free time” I was immersed in HTML code and Photoshop. What was the actual cost for me? My health. I started to talk to Ralph and another partner (Steve) about my leaving the partnership about 18 months before I did. With that said, I don’t think either of them believed that I would give up all of the benefits of being a partner in a successful medical practice. They were wrong.

Partnerships are like marriages. When you get “divorced” feelings get hurt. Although I thought that I had done everything correctly, the actual separation was very traumatic. I was hurt, felt betrayed, felt angry. I think the same could be said of Ralph. To make matters worse, I had decided to stay with the practice. I went from being a top dog to a lowly contract worker. I did this because I thought it would cause the least amount of trauma for my patients. I felt that I could handle it, this was a miscalculation.

After the dust settled, I was determined to put my angry feelings behind me. I know that Ralph is a good person and I believed that he would not deliberately try to hurt me. The reality was that despite the fact that we had grown to 5 partners, Ralph and I did the majority of the administrative work. My leaving placed a significant burden on him. Early on I intellectually forgave him for his actions. A workable truce was established. Unfortunately, intellect and emotion are two separate things. I was still raw and hurting. The closeness that I felt towards Ralph was replaced by a protective shield. I was in self-preservation mode. He was likely in a similar place.

At times I would cautiously extend a hand of friendship to him, and at other times Ralph would extend one to me. Like most reparative situations our connection trajectory wasn’t linear, it was jagged. Despite our mutual trauma, we both saw the greater picture. We were good people who genuinely cared about each other. We weren’t willing to throw away our friendship based on an isolated disappointment. We started a deliberate plan of walking with each other. A time of talk and reflection.

I can’t say when my emotional forgiveness caught up with my intellectual forgiveness, but it was a while back. Thankfully, we are back to our “pre-trauma” friendship state.

And now back to the Rosebud…

I texted Ralph that we moved our dinner plans to the Rosebud, and in a few minutes, he arrived with Anne. Nods were exchanged, then hellos. We sat down to Italian food and a little red wine. Talk of career, kids, potential vacations. It was just a regular evening with friends. It was beautiful in its lack of uniqueness. As we parted Julie asked me, “Do you think that they had a good time?” I replied, “I think so, I know that I did.”

Dear reader, I am a person who does not need many friends, but I do need some friends. Like any other relationship, sometimes friendships go smoothly, sometimes less smoothly. I am glad Ralph and I saw the bigger picture, and that we were willing to reach out to each other until our connection was fully healed.

At the same time, I understand that this scenario is not always the case. In my 65 years, I have had long-term friendships abruptly end for no apparent reason. I have also had friends distance themselves from me because of a misperceived slight, despite efforts on my part to correct the issue.

I tend to have very long-term friendships, but even here I need to reassess my connections with others. In retrospect, I have friends who only contact me when they need something from me, or when the fancy strikes them. When they have been asked to put out a little bit of effort for me, they have better things to do. Are these real friends? Their actions say no, but I am still uncertain. Do I continue to invest in these friendships? Do I let the connection coast along until time or an event forces the relationship back into the atmosphere of reality; where the relationship will burn up and disappear? Do actively end them? I do not have an answer to such questions at this time, but I am pondering.

I do know that friendships come and go. Some are worth considerable effort to maintain. Some get effort that is hugely undeserved. I have people in my life who appreciate me for who I am, rather than what I can do for them. Of course, I am there for these people. The amazing thing is that they are also there for me. These connection feel true and intrinsically more satisfying than some of the “what have you done for me lately”relationships from my past.

Dear reader, honor your friendships. Tell your friends that you care about them. Be kind to your friends. Don’t waste excessive energy on people who are not willing to do the same for you. You have value and worth that is based on who you are as a person. Fill your life with people who you love, and who love you. Celebrate that you are loved.

LilliRose’s Story: Living with Hidradenitis Supporativa

I arrived early at the Schaumburg Starbucks. I didn’t want to be late.  I had corresponded with LilliRose for several weeks and had sent her my photo a few days earlier.  I told her that I would be wearing a red ball cap for identification. I didn’t know what to expect, as she was my first interview

After a short time, I heard my name being called from behind me.  “Mike Kuna?” I turned to see a beautiful 24-year-old with a bright smile.  It was LilliRose, here is her story.

LilliRose grew up in Schaumburg, the oldest of two children.  Early in her life she started to take dance and had a natural talent for it.  She is creative and excelled not only at dance but also at acting. Although dedicated and intelligent, LilliRose had difficulties in school with reading and math.  It was later determined that she had both dyslexia and dysgraphia. Her mother stepped in, helped her, and eventually, her reading ability improved. However, math continues to be a struggle for her.

LilliRose was active in school theatrics and was also involved with a musical theater production company during elementary and high school.  Her acting skills caught the attention of a manager who told her, “You can act,” and for several years she tried out for a variety of parts that ranged from local TV commercials to LA productions.  In school, she was active in Poms and maintained a “B” average despite her learning issues. On the surface, it would appear that she was leading a charmed life.

When LilliRose was ten, she discovered a lump on her inner thigh close to her groin.  She is a private person and kept the bump to herself. Months later that her mother discovered it when she saw LilliRose in a bathing suit.  Concerned, her mom took her to a dermatologist who told her that he didn’t know what the bump was. Other doctors and other treatments followed.  The bump sometimes got bigger, sometimes smaller. None of the treatments helped.

It took about a year before a new doctor finally came up with the correct diagnosis, Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) a rare skin condition where the patient develops painful cysts, papules, and nodules in the groin, breasts, and armpits.  Cysts can ooze malodorous pus. The disease is chronic, its cause unknown, treatment is limited, and there is no cure.

LilliRose tried to ignore her illness and to live her life as a typical teen.  She went to school, dated, and was active in extracurricular activity. “I didn’t think about HS very much.”  She held onto the false idea that one doctor told her, “You will outgrow this illness.”

She entered Columbia College as a dance major.  However, after a year of schooling, she realized that she did not have the all-consuming passion necessary for a dance career.  She is now on a hiatus from school and supports herself as a server.

Two years ago the bottom dropped out for LilliRose.  Her lesions spread to her underarms, and this was devastating. “Before they were hidden, now everyone could see them.”  She also became aware that her HS would not fade away with age. It was sobering for her to realize that she could be dealing with HS for the rest of her life.  LillieRose fell into a deep depression.

“I ignored my HS before, but two years ago I faced it. I didn’t understand how I could deal with the sores and pain when I was younger and then couldn’t as an adult.”  Things that she did in the past became difficult. She started to give up activities. “The pain can range from intense burning to bruise-like. Sometimes the searing pain will shoot down my leg.  It can make it impossible to dance. Sometimes, I can’t even go to work.” Eventually, LilliRose sought help by attending an outpatient treatment program for anxiety and depression. “It was helpful, but I knew that it was not enough.”

One day she decided to move forward by taking a more active role in her life.  She studied nutrition and discovered that certain foods made her condition worse.  “I love french fries, but if I eat them I know, I’ll have a flare-up the next day.”  She regularly went to the gym. She attended a meditation class. She started to learn things for the sake of learning.  “I have a friend who is a forest ranger. We go walking, and he tells me the most amazing things about the forest.” She changed jobs, she made new friends, she read more.  “I didn’t want to take medication for my depression. I prefer a more natural approach.”

LilliRose feels fortunate that she has very supportive parents and a wonderful and understanding boyfriend. Although she would like to feel even better, she has made progress dealing with her anxiety and depression.

Her HS has impacted her in a variety of ways, but not all of those ways are negative. It has made her acutely aware of other individuals who suffer from physical and emotional illness.  She plans on going back to school next term, this time to study business. Her goal is to eventually open a center where people of all types of disability can gather. A place that will provide dance and art therapy.  A place that will be a home for rescue animals who have nowhere else to go.”I have two dogs, and they are always there for me when I’m having a flare-up. Animals can be healing” The center will provide a welcoming place anyone who suffers from a disability.  A place where they are accepted, understood, and helped.

Thank you LilliRose for talking to me.  

If you have a story that you would like to tell, please contact me at SPAMmike_kuna@hotmail.com (remove the word SPAM in the email address).

To learn more about this project click here.

LilliRose

 

NNHS Graduation/The Ugly White American

It was a little before 6 PM, and I received an urgent call from my wife, Julie.  “You got to get here now!” She said. She had driven my daughter to Naperville North High School for her 7 PM commencement ceremony.  “The place is already packed!” Julie exclaimed through my earpiece.

I told her parents that we needed to finish dinner and get moving.  Soon we were in my car driving the 6 minutes to the school. As we arrived, I could already see the parking lot filling.  Luckily, my wife had obtained handicapped parking, as her parents are both near 90.

Her parents were guided to handicap seating, and we made our way to the bleachers.  As usual, guests had secured extra spaces for their friends and relatives by holding spots with coats and blankets.  With that said, there were still swatches of seating, and we quickly found a place for the three of us. We settled in, and I started to fiddle with my camera.

About three rows in front of us was a family of Indian origin.  It looked like a dad, mom, a kid and some relatives. It appeared that they had a good family representation, but they also had blanketed an area in front of them for additional guests.

Around 10 minutes before the ceremony I saw a large white man out of the corner of my eye.  He was wearing the suburban white guy uniform, khaki pants, and a blue shirt. With him was a teenage girl sporting an expensive haircut, and presumably, the guy’s wife who looked like a suburban white mom.  He started to push his way into the bleachers as he headed for the seats reserved by the Indian family. I could hear the small Indian man telling him that he was saving the seats for his family. The big white guy seemed to sneer as he loudly said, “They are not here now, they lose their seats.”  (or something similar to that). The Indian man protested more, but the big white guy moved forward, followed by his family. Speaking of the white guy’s family, they moved in without any sign that they were disturbed by his behavior. I thought, “Talk about entitled.”

The Indian man gave up, but I could see the humiliation on his face.  My wife turned to my son and told him, Don’t you ever act like that man.”  My son replied, “I never would, or will.”

Five minutes later I spotted a younger Indian man coming up the bleachers.  Behind him was an elderly Indian woman. Her very white hair neatly pulled into a bun, her body bent over from age.  The reserved seats were intended for these people. I imagined the younger man picking up his grandmother for this extraordinary day. I pondered that they likely came a little late to avoid the surging crowds, as the lady looked frail.  I thought of the excitement that they must have felt anticipating the graduation.

There was no seat for them.  The white guy saw them but could care less. They uncomfortably squeezed in with their relatives.  I felt as powerless as the small Indian guy. Do I create a scene? That would do nothing. Should I apologize to the Indian man for the other guy’s horrible, entitled, and self-centered behavior?  That would probably embarrass him even more. I said a little prayer.

At the end of the two-hour ceremony, we exited, and God granted me a favor.  As I was coming down the bleachers, I saw the elderly Indian woman trying to exit.  The crowd was pushing forward and would not yield. I drew myself to my biggest white guy size, and I blocked the path behind me making space not only her but her entire clan to exit.  As the small Indian man left the row, he looked up at me, and in his eyes, I could see his appreciation. I showed him the respect that he deserved. I felt a little bit better.

The big white guy had hooted when his son’s name was called to gather his diploma.  I made a mental note as I wanted to see who he was. I thought he had to be someone in power to treat another human being so terribly.  I found the son on Google. He played football for NNHS and had a few minor newspaper articles, but I could not find the dad. His big guy’s ego was more significant than his position. One of the articles that I saw mentioned that the son was a “good guy.”  I thought to myself, “I hope so.”

Dear reader, please love your neighbor, and “Don’t’ you ever act like that man.”

Graduating almost 700 students.

My Birthday Party And Other Stuff

Sunday was the day; I was not only excited, but I was also very anxious.

Julie, my wife, had been planning my birthday party for months. Although a competent person, she feels insecure when it comes to planning big events, and so she also had the jitters.

Luckily, the morning started with a fun distraction. My friend Tom came over and we “sailed” the “Mary Ann” 5 miles down the DuPage River. It was the maiden voyage for my $80 estate sale canoe. The adventure was great fun, but it also demanded a second shower for the day as I was soaked in river water.

By mid-morning my daughter Anne and her family arrived. My grandkids, Sebbie and Diana, were the perfect distraction.

Two hours before the event Julie and my two youngest kids left me to set up the party. Julie had secured a room for the event that was big enough to accommodate everyone. However, there was still much work to do.

My introvert anxiety now on the rise, I started to pace. As the party time approached, I asked Anne and her family to go to the event so I could have a little time alone.

Twenty minutes later my daughter Grace was at the door, acting as my chauffeur. I was instructed to lap-carry my sugar-free birthday cake, as Julie was afraid that it would have melted if she had brought it earlier. We entered the parking lot to find Julie standing there. “You can’t walk into the party carrying your birthday cake. There are already people here waiting for your arrival!” I handed her the cake, took a deep breath, and entered the building.

Now inside I could see others coming through the window. I marched up the stairs and into the room where my party was being held. Julie and the kids had signs, balloons, and other symbols of celebration. Trays of food were set on tables; smiles were set on faces.

Friends and family had put themselves out for me. They were there to wish me well. Several hours later my party was over. I felt great but exhausted. However, the best gift was yet to come.

Now home, Julie handed me a scrapbook with a cover made by my son William. I opened it to pages of memories. Weeks earlier she had asked the invitees to write her with memories of me. The first pages contained letters from her and the kids. I was overwhelmed. Then other messages and notes. There seemed to be a general theme, which I will likely write about in a future post. There was so much love in the letters that I was barely able to get through a single one without tearing up. It was the best gift that I could have ever received.

We all live busy lives. It would have been easy for my guests to have sent their regrets. It would have been simple for them to claim to be too rushed to sit down and write a paragraph or two about me. It is a “what about me” world where everyone is more concerned about themselves than others.

There are times when someone has to decide to either give of themself or to withhold of themself. In this situation, people gave their time to come to my party. They gave their creativity to write down their memories of me. Did they do these things because I’m so awesome? No, they did these things because THEY are so awesome.

I once read that integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking. They could have done nothing. They could have justified their actions because they were too busy with their own lives. They didn’t say, “What has Mike done for me lately?” They didn’t calculate the cost of their actions vs. the gain that they would receive. They didn’t ruminate over petty slights that I may have caused them in the past. They just did what they did because it was the right thing to do, and they did it with joy and kindness in their hearts. This is what I felt when I attended my 65th birthday party, and this is what I felt when I read my book of memories.

There is no greater gift than to allow the people in your life to love you and to love them in return. Thank you party guests, thank you memory book writers. Your actions say so much more about you than they do about me. With that said, your actions touched me deeply, made me feel closer to you, and allowed me to see how truly wonderful you are.

Wonderful folks
Sugar-free cake!
tearing up with emotion