October 25, 2013

You'll Be My Friend Til' The End, Right?

Chapter 37. 

5 years ago I started compiling a list of the people I admire. No, not people like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Stephen Lewis, or even Oprah. It was a list of REAL people like co-workers, classmates, friends, and even some teachers I've had over the years. It was a list of people that I had the privilege of getting to know a little bit more personally at least on some level. To get on this list, some of these people had overcome hardships: refugees from Eastern Europe overcoming intolerance (in Redneck Alberta), or having to raise a child alone from a young age, or getting up each and every morning living their life in chronic pain or having to face their scariest demons. Some of these people made the list simply because of their outgoing, motivated nature, and desire to just be involved in the world in general. Others made it because they simply showed a good attitude and treated every challenge they faced with the respect it deserved. I could (maybe should??) have made a list of people I DEvalue as their motivations, actions, attitudes, and behaviours were, in my opinion, disgraceful or disgusting.  But who's to say that I know anything about what makes a quality character type and what does not?! "I have not been put upon this earth to subjugate or serve" so I've just learned to leave these character types well enough alone, even if I thought that sometimes they needed a Tellin'.

I write this now as I stop to reflect on the people that have entered and exited my life over the past 3 years, over the past 6 years, and over the past 10 years. Going back to 2003, I find myself thinking of some of the highest quality people I had ever met at my first years at college. Sure, maybe it's because I was DRUNK & 20 for much of that time, but even so those will always be remembered as some of the happiest days with some of the funnest, quality people I had ever met over my first 2 decades on this planet. These were the friends I thought I would have forever. And then life just happens to happen: these few friends finished school, married, divorced, had babies, started careers, went to more school, traveled, and, well - just kind of grew farther and farther away from me. To this day, few remain at all. Yet I like to still think that even if facebook.com or the internet all of a sudden died forever overnight, this gaggle of guys and gals from a decade ago would still be considered some of my greatest friends... 

By 2007, a lot of the kids I had come to "know" were getting all grow'd up. Some had some solid work experience or relationship experience or life experience or all 3. And as a result, the kids were hardly even kids anymore. My friends were developing into the character-types they would become for the rest of their lives (for better or worse, I dunno)! Some already had families, some had already fought cancer, some had sadly departed from this world.  Personally, I felt a little bit behind the curve with respect to my place amongst my peers,  but fortunately found that surrounding myself around the most positive outgoing people in the world: people who were ready to set the world on fire with their passion and devotion to "all the right causes", I might still have a half a chance. Socially conscious, active, healthy, hard-working, hard-partying, environmentally motivated, self-consciously aware. The people that had come into my life over this time motivated me to be a better man: less cynical, non-apathetic, more active, HOPEFUL even... Unfortunately this realm of quality people sllooowwlllly phased out of my life as well, despite my attempts to draggggg out & cling on to a few of these friends/relationships just a little bit longer --- people Just Moved On.  And today, many of these inspirational people continue to do well for themselves, although often more privately and without feeling the urge or necessity to inspire, attract, or motivate others to see things the way they do. These friends may be so far gone doing their own things by now, but I still cherish the impact they had on my life and for them encouraging me to indeed looking at the world - with all its wonders & atrocities - for what it's worth.

Enter 2010. All done school and working away as professionally as I could manage. Punk shows done up equally as professionally.  Becoming closer friends with kids from shows, still seeing friends from school on occasion. Facebook takes my own social networking more global than I could have ever imagined. Then boom. My Mom gets cancer. Plans get changed. I try working for a while then realize that it was not worth it. There was simply no way I could devote the energy into the engineering profession that was asked of me then also maintain that energy to take care of my Mom to the level she deserved.  Ovarian cancer is the silent killer - the 5th most common cancer-causing death (after lung cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and pancreatic cancer). And there was just No Telling if treatment would be effective. After 27 years of my Mom taking care of me, it was time for me to work overtime on taking care of her - while I still had the chance. Work could wait. Family? Family never really got it. They were all always tooo far removed and didn't have all those same values that I have come to realize that I have ultimately my Mom to thank for. The friends that had made an impact on my "adult" life for 10 years were merely other people that had been brought up with similar morals and outlooks on life that I had. And in a lot of ways, these  ideals including sincerity and concern were displayed by the closest of friends, mostly moreso than any family member of my Mom. The values & feelings I had about life only flourished as I was able to listen about and learn from friends' experiences related to cancer (here is one example I wanted to include). Even the friends that couldn't (thankfully) relate would show us empathy and compassion. Empathy & Compassion go a long ways when a person hasn't had to go through the painful experience of having an otherwise young, healthy, loved-one live with terminal cancer for any period of time. Many of them had even come up with various suggestions for "outside-of-the-box" treatment options, pain management options, diet options... I had friends who provided me some comic or intimate or psychological relief just by being able to connect with them on some level. Even if it were just online when I was needed closer to home and couldn't really go out, or travel abroad, or even socialize by the water cooler at coffee break. Those friends were so incredibly important to me that they will probably never even begin to realize it. Being able to outreach online with quality-grade people has made this "journey" all the more bearable for me. Being a full-time caregiver is a tiresome, demanding, tragic, and rewarding role to play. I suppose I have had "breaks" from that role to some extent as I tried working when the cancer was controlled (but not ever gone)  - but between the death of my Grandma in early 2012 & learning that my Mom would have to change chemotherapies only months after being treated for her first recurrence with an ineffective drug, I quickly re-entered the full-time caregiver position - work would wait. Again, the best of friends were there for me and my Mom. Family got used to the idea of Mom being sick: the phone calls & house visits dwindled steadily. The adjustment of getting poison shot into their sister's vein, once, twice, sometimes more, I guess, was an easier adjustment to make than having it happen to themselves. Slowly, I abandoned my own social life all but completely - lost a good girl in the process - so I could devote even more of myself to my family life. Even time online plummeted, along with the relationships that I only ever had with people online. But No Regrets, as I have had this opportunity to make amazing memories and have incredible experiences with Mom this past while: seeing the world, walking down Whyte Avenue, having a couple fancy meals, talking... just everything - it's all just been really tragic and special.

For 3 years I did my best to support my Mom and her struggle against ovarian cancer by participating in a huge cycling fundraiser. By doing so, I believe I was able to raise a lot of awareness about ovarian cancer as well as raising over $10,000 for gynecological cancers over the 3 rides I did. Friends stepped up HUGE in helping me achieve this, as I had more donors than many others on my team. In addition to the funds raised for The Cause, the amount of support provided to me through my team for 3 years was equally as helpful. More Quality Friends. In total, friends and family raised over $100,000 as a team. Think I got much from my family? Not much. Despite e-mailing and making my family aware of my efforts to raise money in support of my Mom, I was able to raise a total of $0.00 from my family members this past year. Stop. This makes a guy really truly think about & appreciate what he has in his life: the support, compassion, empathy, and GENEROSITY of his friends. His friends - whether they be near or far - are often a lot more receptive of the reality of the situation than even members of his own family. Even "close" family often fails to recognize or appreciate the tragedy of this reality... I don't know if they are in denial, disinterested, self-involved, or just plain ignorant but it feels that a lot of my friends have a lot better understanding of what my and my Mom's life has been this past period of time. And for this, I am thankful. My family is my closest friends: those people that at least TRY to empathize with me, offer legit, sincere support, share their own Ups & Downs with me, and allow me to be sad, so, soooo sad sometimes too. MY definition of family, I think, is actually pretty well summed up in this book I have just begun reading recently. 

3 years, 6 years, 10 years, 29 years. Over this time I have come up with some pretty basic qualities that I look for in a friend: integrity, respect, self respect, patience, sincerity, forgiveness, temperance, honesty, and a willingness to just be there when called upon...and when NOT called on too. I find myself thinking what if 60% of my life is over Right Now? At Age 30, I can't imagine that in  20, 25 years it will all be over. And I hope it's not. But if it did end, then I hope I can spend a good portion of the remainder of my days with friends (family) that have the values have been passed down to me and that I have learned to cherish so much as I get closer to this next chapter of my life with each passing day. 

...So will you make it onto my "list*"? 

*note: I do NOT actually have a list like Danny McGrath.