Sunday, June 15, 2008

A passing of a true American friend

When I saw Tim Russert's face pop up on my email news bulletin Friday afternoon I smiled.

It's naturally what I do when I see Tim Russert's image or hear his jovial voice on Meet The Press because good souls just inspire that kind of reaction. But within a split second I was in tears, when I, like many others, realized that this amazing man had actually passed away.

I was stunned and somehow unable to completely take in what I had read or believe it fully.

To me, there is no equal of him in journalism...but moreover there is no equal of him in the kind of integrity he embodied. This is Big Russ's son afterall. Buffalo's own son.

I graduated from St Bonaventure with a degree in journalism in 2000...but I was not nearly as excited about our commencement speaker (Michael Bloomberg), as I was the following year when Tim Russert was scheduled to speak My friend Deidre gave me her extra ticket so I could attend.

Truthfully, it was as though I had a ticket to see a rock star. But the man who stepped to the podium bore no pretenses and carried no celebrity air. He seized the respect of everyone present but managed to do so without the accompanying idolotry that typifies celebrity and he did so with that trademark down-to-earth nature and jovial spirit. It was as if a neighbor was speaking to us, not the journalistic icon he had risen up the ranks to be. Somehow to me he felt like the kind of neighbor you could borrow a cup of sugar from and an autograph in the same breath.

Four months before our nation's darkest day I watched Tim Russert give the St. Bonaventure class of 2001 a speech I will never forget. In all his success and all his many phenomenal accomplishments he chose to speak most about his family and his roots. He spoke with a palpable love of his Dad and the debt he owed him for all the lessons he learned. From my seat in the audience I could feel the sincerity of his words, it was from the heart. That day he was awarded an honorary doctorate and I couldn't help but feel tears rolling down my cheeks when he proudly donned a Bonnies cap to show his appreciation for us. Something about him and his spirit grabbed a hold of us all. Although not his alma mater, he expressed a similair warmth for our school as he had shared with all things Western NY.

Of all the things he could have shared with us, the countless stories of the famous, the infamous and iconic, it was the stories he told about his common working class boyhood that enthralled the audience, and left me spellbound from my seat in the Reilly Center Arena. I laughed as he joked with Bonaventure staff about the rivalry he had with our school...Jesuits vs. Franciscan education.

That day Tim Russert said in that speech that the greatest exercise of the human heart is to reach out and help someone else. I am reminded of that as I look at all the people in my life who have helped me through trials and I likewise. Perhaps we lose sight of that sometimes. We get so bogged down with the attainment of possessions, status, wealth and climbing or ascending to some version of "success". It sometimes seems counterintuitive that a person who does good or promotes kindness in the world can succeed. And of course it challenges a firmly held misconception of success when a person who ascends to such a height keeps their connections with the life before noteriety.

Tim Russert was so much more than a journalist and a tv personality. He was so much more than a political analyst. He embodied things that America used to pride itself on, but didn't push it like a gimick. I have to think he was the real deal...and I will miss my Sunday mornings with Tim.

MY thyroid scan is clean!

Thumbs up for another year.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Scan you bear with me for a moment here?

As time marches on scans become more routine and less haunting...but the anxiety has yet to totally disipate. I try to turn my brain off during this intense week of preparation, injections and appointments...but its hard.

And then there's this blasted iodine free diet! Iodized salt as you may or may not be aware of is almost impossible to avoid in the American diet as it stands. But I have soldiered through with the amazing help of my mom who made me muffins, bread and a bevvy of other carb addict staples to help get me through this week.

It is the nature of the cancer survivor to worry--- at least some---at this time...
So stop telling me to not worry. It is my belief that you can not be prepared to accept the results without acknowledging both sides of the coin, but hoping,oh so fervently hoping, for the best case scenario. It's cautious optimism.

Those of you who have been with me through the thick and thin of my blogs know I've often compared this experience to some amusement park cliches. The scan machine should seriously come with little 3-D projections of the It's a Small World After all characters to make this really legitimately amusing. On Friday I'll hum that tune and just try to imagine myself somewhere else.
I hate thyroid scan week...
But it's all part of the many little tilt-a-whirl moments on the journey so I have to just ride it through.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Life and Times of Blanche

Blanche has passed on. 120,000 miles of good times and 16 years of rolling wheels (10 of them with me). My car no longer prowls the mean streets of Rochester and some say it's better that way. I say it's a bittersweet goodbye to my old friend.
And so I want to honor the piece of machinery that once was.

The 1992 white Plymouth Acclaim that I inherited from my grandma who had passed away was a gift that kept on giving. I was a junior in college when I got Blanche. She, in all her bright shining white glory made the trek from Tucson Arizona with a stranger behind her wheel, who took the job of driving her out to NY. Having spent no winters here and having happily slept in the shade of a carport this pearly gem rested comfortably and saved stamina for the journey ahead. Having only been driven to the store and back, perhaps a few doctors appointments and other around town little errands her energy was rarely compromised. Probably the most miles this car saw was when she made her voyage to me. Not too long after she arrived in NY and Dad told me it was my car, I named her Blanche, figuring luck would christening a ship I supposed. Although I never did the champagne smashing ceremony. French for white, it fit I thought.

As a college student having a car was the ultimate freedom. Seeing as how I was the goody-too-shoes I played designated driver more times than I'd recollect...and I probably carted around more drunk Bonaventure students than I'd care to remember...some I barely even knew. But predicaments ensued and no one was a really a stranger at Bonaventure. Probably the most fun part of the whole D.D. gig was the clock. Actually, I had a "Going to Lunch" clock. The car from practically the day it was driven off the lot had a mechanical flaw. Every time you'd start the car it would say 12:00 and no amount of fidgeting or fiddling ever fixed it. It just so happens that the bars closed at 2:00 AM in Allegany... so when the inebrieated passengers in the back got a glimpse of the clock it was always a tantrum starter. "WHAT...they closed the bar early? Shit, Man!" I'd just laugh from the driver seat. I'd drive them home and they'd complain most of the way, until I decided to let them in on the secret.

Good times. Bad times. This car was a part of my coming of age. It saw me through college, several internships, wandering road trips, ill fated dates, incidents, a close call or two and many misadventures. Once at a school picnic Blanche's tires sank deep into the clay and mud of the lawn where I parked her. It took several staff members and students to push her out. She was no worse for the wear and she drove on like a champ out of the swamp that sunny day.

In our society we grasp for novelty with careless abandon and throw away so we can have new toys and shiny things. But a writer or a sentimental woman like myself can not overlook that which endured. This car braced itself in Rochester winters and remained steady and strong. Sixteen years old and still a reliable and trustworthy vessel.

When I became sick and the costs of illness buried me in bills Blanche soldiered on, allowing me to have no car payments to concern myself with. I felt her dying last year, I was certain it was happening. And I became woeful that soon I'd have to afford a replacement. But when I vocalized my dream, to travel to Europe for the summer Blanche resolved to keep going...and she did...and I went and I enjoyed every minute.

The day before I left for Montana I drove home from work and felt a different vibration, a different sound-- perhaps an uneasy stirring or a softly painful groan in the engine. I shuddered. But somehow I made the short trip with no incident as she whirred and sputtered into the garage. I hoped that somehow while I was soaking up the Montana air my car would rest and recover. It was not to be. On May 20th I drove Blanche to work for the last time. I could feel her ready to stall out, and was sure that I'd be reaching for my cell to call AAA. But I coaxed her like I did so many other times. "Come on' girl" And she did. She rode on little more than my encouragement as the engine was slowly and inevitably dying out...but she got me there last time.
As the tow truck took her away that afternoon I knew without waiting to hear the mechanic's declaration that it was an end of an era. Sitting in the backlot at my mom's trusted mechanic is a relic of once was. A car personified and embodied by its heart, spirit and fortitude now has gone to greener pastures. You see if we look at all things in nature and in our very unnatural world carefully we can see that in life status symbols are false comforts. It's the strong, resilient and unfailing that merit our respect.
Sure, in the end she was not much to look at, but one hell of a ride.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

You might just make it after all...

I am up to 26 states. Montana was the 26th.
I have to tell you now Montana is one of my favorite states!
Beautiful, clean air and just what I imagined it to be. I was there in Gold Creek,
a little ways from Missoula, to participate in Camp Mak-A-Dream’s Young Adult
Survivor conference. The picture here shows me and some friends from the conference at what felt like the top of the world after hiking a butte.
I'll tell you more about Montana in posts to follow but for now you're least if you're a regular reader...what was state #25?

State #25 -- MINNESOTA rates as my quickest visits that actually counts. I’ve said that in order for a state tp count I can not just be sitting in the airport. I have to breathe the air, see the sites and have a meal. So when I found out on the way to Montana I had a four hour layover in Minneapolis, Minnesota the wheels began turning.

Sensible people told me to forget it. "You can't see a city in this amount of time" and in this day of airport security details its not worth it to leave the airport, they advised. I agreed, somewhat.

Yet my pulse was racing as our plane landed in Minneapolis. I have to do this now! I asked a flight attendant "Do you know Minneapolis?" "You betcha," she said in a clearly Minnesota accent. I told her of the goal I was trying to accomplish by November and a smile spread over her face. Before I knew it she was whipping out a map of the huge twin cities airport, making x's and lines and marking the taxi stand. No time to see the Mall of America, she said shrugging her shoulders, unless your a fast shopper. This seemed to be out of the question.

Armed with her helpful directions and advice I hopped a cab and left the airport. My cab driver was Somalian as it turned out and spoke very little English. I told him I was trying to see the city in an hour. Knowing what the rate would likely be in advance to get downtown and back I watched the meter and took a deep breath. Kindly, he pointed out points of interest along the way. Many lakes. We drove past the mall. The cabbie tried to point out as many sites as he could. Yet, I was looking for the statue of Mary Tyler Moore that's supposed to be downtown. I wanted to have my picture taken next to it. Mary Tyler Moore, I said repeating and striking that hat slinging pose she took in the credits and how the statue is posed. But he looked at me like I was nuts. My pose with the gilded Mary just was not going to happen.

"Do you want to get something to eat?" Jahran asked. Ya see we were old friends now. He pulled over in front of a Starbucks and I ran in with the meter running. The barista saw my NY license as I pulled out my wallet and asked what I was doing here. Half jokingly I said...I jsut got here an hour ago and I'm only here for another few minutes. I just wanted Minnesota to count as a state, I continued. He shook his head and the other barista laughed full on as he frothed my drink. "For real?" one asked quizically.

They shouted "NY you're up" as my carmel macchiato was placed on the counter. :) They were intrigued...but I had to book it before the cab ran my entire wallet contents.
"Hope you had fun in Minnesota, come back sometime and see it for real!" one of them shouted at me on my way out. Quickly, I asked a rather bored looking doorman outside this hotel to take my picture in front of this non-descript hotel next to Starbucks.

Such a quick trip, but it was worth the side-trip and it counts according to my rules. I had a meal in that state and ran around there for a while. Jahran got me back to the airport in plenty of time. He found out I taught English and then all the sudden he became Mr. Talkative...asking how he could improve his English. My suggestion was watch a lot of t.v., Wheel of Fortune in particular.

So there you have it 2 states for the price of one.