Saturday, January 9, 2016

A letter to my friends.

An open letter to Natalee and Bryan Gibson:

There is a particular tunnel I sometimes ride through on my bike that always gives me pause. It is probably about 50 yards long, and Joel and I joke that the city must have agreed on the absolute minimum number of lights such a stretch would require, then subtracted 2, then didn't bother to replace bulbs as they burned out. It's dark. It's creepy. It's long. In the direction I ride, it's also a little bit uphill. It usually has shallow puddles scattered throughout, and in the winter months those puddles freeze. And as the water seeps down from the overhead freeway, ice stalagmites grow. I feel better when I have someone with me in that suspense-movie-inspired concrete hall. I feel even better when I choose a different route. But that route is also part of a bigger route which is incredibly beautiful, so it can be worth it.

From outside the tunnel, you can see what is in the tunnel. It doesn't look that scary. It doesn't even look that long. Once I enter the tunnel, however, the darkness engulfs me. The first couple times, I found this incredibly disorienting. I began to panic. I doubted what I had seen just a few yards back. I second guessed myself (was there a body in here? did I miss the pit of snakes?). And as I did, I began to wobble. The first time, I went down. Luckily, the only damage was to my pride. But being so disoriented, I walked my bike out of the tunnel. I was sure that there were secret side tunnels harboring killer rats and cartoon villains. As I emerged on the other side, I realized that, had I trusted what I saw at the opening of the tunnel, I would have been just fine.

A couple months later, after the winter months had set in, I encountered my first ice speedbump. Before entering the tunnel I could see a couple rows of ice. But I could also see a small channel down the middle, paved by previous riders. I sucked in my core and pedaled faster. I hit the first one just a little off center and started to feel myself slide. NO, I told myself, you know the way. I pedaled harder, eyes fixed ahead. I came out the other side wiser, prouder, content.

Since then, I've thought a lot about the tunnel and the light and the second guessing and the pitfalls. A couple years ago, as you know, I was struggling with depression. I was in this weird place where it felt very dark around me. I was accustomed to barreling full speed through life's tunnels, or skipping them entirely (something I actually prefer, generally speaking), and now suddenly I was walking through one. The tunnel seemed long and cold. But you know what? I wasn't alone. I had family and friends who were loving and patient, who let me take my time and let me sit down and then walked the distance with me. I could see the light and I knew the way, but some days my legs just couldn't propel me forward. But still I looked - at the light, at the people whose examples I admired, at my family and friends. You example has always been a huge motivator to me. That tunnel was hard, but it has led me to a more beautiful appreciation for life, for faith.

I write all of this today not because I think you need a parable or lesson or anything. I share this because I often feel guilty, breezing in and out of the PICU, dropping jokes and laughing it up, being disgusted by a doctor's grammar (irregardless is NOT A WORD) or the idiocy of the other parents (NO SMOKING on this floor or ANY FLOOR OR HOSPITAL OR EVER). I see the worry and fear etched on your faces. I've hugged you as you've cried and I've felt scared and inadequate. When Kailee tries to cough while on the ventilator or starts another seizure, my instinct is to cry or worry or yell NO or all of it. But then I remember that Joel told me on day three, as I cried while we drove to the hospital, "Get your crying out now. You can cry before and after the hospital, but your job is to be happy and light. Do your job." And, as you well know, I take any job I may have quite seriously.

So while I bring in stupid entertainment gossip and references to washed up 90s bands, when I tease Bryan and praise Natalee, when I demand you eat the food I bring and tell inappropriate stories, please know my perceived flippancy is a mask for deep concern, great sadness and the unsettling (and rather uncommon) feeling of not knowing what to do. What I do know is that before I leave the parking garage, I say a prayer, pleading that the tunnel will get shorter, that we will remember what is ahead, that I can keep my eyes forward and follow you there. You blaze a beautiful trail, Gibsons. I will be forever grateful to call you friends.