Thursday, March 17, 2011

Firsts and Milestones

One thing I’ve learned, now three months past the one-year mark: the “firsts” don’t really stop. Yes, I’ve gone through the cycle of calendar firsts, but the life journey keeps offering up the non-calendar firsts, like baby buzzins, Packer Super Bowl wins, and 100-year birthdays—all events (with an element of “first”) I would love to be sharing with Dane.

So here, then, is where these “firsts,” or better yet, “milestones” have taken me: they’re helping me choose what kind of person I want to become as a result of this journey. And yes, “choose” is a strong word, but I think it’s the right word.

First, new baby buzzin:
This of course, is August Christopher, new son of buzzin Cara and her husband Aaron. For those new to the blog, “buzzin” is the blended result of “beloved cousin” and is the moniker worn by Dana’s cousins Cara and her sister Kirby. On the first weekend in February I ran down to Nashville to behold this new sight. And I must say, holding him for the first time felt like some kind of convergence of the heavenlies…my mind channeled Simeon in the Bible who, when he held Jesus for the first time commented to God “my eyes have seen your salvation…light to the Gentiles…glory of Israel.” I just felt like I needed something big to say. And I had nothin’. I think I said, “wow.” And then it hit…my mind began running this experience through the filter of experiencing it with Dana. It’s impossible not to do this, so you make the best of it and try to turn it into a strength.

Here’s how that’s going:

In the post about August's arrival “It’s Not All Subtraction” I mentioned how, with the help of Dana’s knitter friends, we were able to have Dana’s knitting be a part of this “first baby” experience. Not only did the knitters knit a hat, booties and a baby bag/wrap for August, but we found a pair of booties that Dane had actually knit! They were for a class and they’re noted on Dane’s Ravelry web page (a knitter’s paradise website) as simply, “a gift.” She had planned to give them away, but did not know to whom. The knitters knitted a hat out of the same yarn. So, on this trip to Nashville I gave those booties and hat to Cara, Aaron and August, but with a twist: these booties and hat will travel from baby to baby in my and Dane’s families. (As I say that, I don’t want to put any undo pressure or expectations on any family members for babies; remember, Dane and I had no babies so this is a no-pressure thing.) This will give opportunity for Dana to be a part of these milestones--to give her "gift." The image at the top of this post is aforementioned August and booties.

Which gets me to the kind of person I want to be out of this journey, as seen through the filter of a new buzzin milestone. I want to think of the thoughtful, meaningful ways to commemorate, to honor, to celebrate. I am historically not a terribly thoughtful person. I am very much “a guy” when it comes to being creatively thoughtful. I learned this about myself a few years ago when I gave my mom a “Mom” mug for Mother’s Day. When I went to get a coffee cup after dinner I saw about five “Mom” mugs I had given in previous years, stacked together in the cabinet. Insightful and convicting. I don’t want to be that way. And I’ve realized that many of my deep moments for the rest of my life will be deep simply because I’ve lost Dane. I want to transfer that deep emotion into meaningful and thoughtful action.

And then there’s the matter of the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.

When Dane and I got married in 1993, the Packers had a 25-year dry spell going (barely any winning seasons, let alone any play-off appearances). Dane was encouraged by my loyalty to the Packers, saying it didn’t matter what kind of wife she’d be, it appears that I’d stay a loyal husband. She was a great supporter of my Packer enthusiasm (although occasionally, foregoing the loyalty thing, suggesting that I might want to choose another team); we even got to go to a game at vaunted Lambeau Field in Green Bay in 1995. We did get to enjoy together their Super Bowl win in 1996. So when the Packers beat the Bears for the trip to this year’s Super Bowl I did what most Packer fans did across the country: I cried. It was a happy-sad combo.

And then I sprung into action—showing my Green Bay colors to the world, not only with a new van decal (I’ve never done that before) but also a Facebook profile pix of some personal Packer items in a “Packer Memorabilia” still life. As I collected my items, I began to realize how many autographed Packer treasures I have…and then I realized that except for a Bart Starr and Jerry Kramer autograph, all items had been tracked down and given to me by other people. From Cogswell, a Ray Nitschke photo; from Bob, an NFL football signed by Bart Starr; from Randy, a mini-Packer helmet signed by Bart Starr; from David, a signed Brett Favre poster; from Bill, a jersey signed by current Packer linebacker A.J. Hawk; and the newest from Sue, a signed card from current Packer punter Tim Masthay. Even the Bart Starr autograph I tracked down came through an opportunity provided by Dane’s parents, Wayne and Mama Sue.

And then there are the countless special Packer items given to me over the years—I think of my “second parents” Weezie and Arkie (Eloise and Arnold Haubach) who kept me fully equipped in the elementary and junior high days; I think of my ordination reception which happened just prior to our trip to Green Bay--it was actually a Lambeau send-off party (spearheaded by Bruce and David I believe) with all the appropriate gear.

Even the Lambeau experience came from friend Dottie working some family magic in Green Bay. And then of course, my fan-ship was initiated from a football helmet I had as a kid, from Dad, with the signature “Bart Starr” machine-etched on the back. I’ll never forget asking Dad, as a third-ish grader, “who’s Bart Starr?” And now here we are. What I realized just a few years ago was that the reason I had that helmet: Dad was already a Packer fan.

I’m moved by how many people have poured into my Packer journey; and I’m taken by the parallel this serves for my loss journey, and my life journey. I have more than my fair share of special people encouraging me, supporting me, inspiring me, challenging me, sitting with me, standing with me, praying for me, walking with me, crying with me. In Dane’s celebration service I used the “Verizon Network” as an image analogy of what I need. I think I’ve experienced those commercials as literally as they can be experienced. I want to walk in gratitude for this special support force. And on the flipside, I want to be this kind of person in the journeys of others.

And then there is my Grandma turning 100 years old.

We had a wonderful birthday party with about 500 family and friends this past Saturday. We had a wonderful party to celebrate a wonderful grandma (and mom, and great-grandma, and great-great grandma, and aunt, and friend). It was fun doing this with all family on hand. I have an awesome family. This milestone has struck me at several points. First off, it blows my theory that I have only 30 more years to tough it out! I guess I better get my act together—it could be longer. Then there’s the obvious contrast of my grandma hitting 100 but my wife only getting to 48. That darker thought was certainly not the prevailing thought throughout celebrating Grandma’s 100th, in fact it was pretty fleeting; but it is instructive in this way: it represents the kind of person I do not want to be in this journey. I don’t want to compare and contrast my life experiences with others. I want to rejoice with those who rejoice. I want to celebrate healing, longevity, advances in cancer treatment and ultimately, the cure. I want to celebrate God’s hand in miracles. I will avoid “elk envy” (a phrase from our dear friend Kay, another story for another time). I want to do this with minimal “why not us?” thoughts (and I’ll settle for “minimal”; I think “none” is too much to ask). And on the flipside of joy, I want to weep with those who weep; I will choose not to avoid someone’s sadness even if it reminds me of my own.

As I reflect on the impact of these three milestones, helping me choose to be the kind of person I want to be out of this journey, I’m seeing that these are all traits I should have been striving for all along: thoughtful, supportive, and sincerely empathetic (entering into the good and the bad). Maybe it’s the emotional shake up of loss that makes one more receptive to, or appreciative of these things. Whatever the case, I will not waste the experience.

Bring on more milestones. Ohio State winning the NCAA Championship would be a nice next.

I leave you with a few pix of the aforementioned events: obviously August and his hat; the family pix (my folks, my sister and fam, and Grandma) was spontaneously taken just after the big party; Grandma was tired, but not as tired as she might look here. There are more photos to come. And of course you'll see the Packer items, along with Pud, who thinks he's a Packer item (and he's pretty sure the Packers were named after cat food packers; was meat packers).