Someone was already at the table, but she looked nice. We didn't need an entire dining set to ourselves, just two chairs. Besides, milling around looking for an open table to eat at during a conference where two thousand other people are doing exactly the same thing gets boring incredibly quickly.
"Is there someone sitting in either of these two seats?"
Her answer was confusing at best. I gathered from inductive reasoning that at least one person was sitting in one of the other available spots. Thirty seconds in, she cleared up the murky waters of her surprisingly complex response by saying "why don't I move this and then you and your Grandpa can sit here with us. We'd love to have you."
Why thank you, we'd love to eat with you too.
Her husband appeared moments later carrying two iced teas with the liquid dancing in response to his shaking hands.
"I'm Lorraine, this is Pete."
I'm James, this my friend Harold.
"Where are you visiting from?"
Harold was excited to be around peers, and he didn't quite know how to contain himself as he launched into introductions for us both. At 75, being excited about something is an amazing idea, and I loved watching him expound on the most unnecessary and inconsequential facts about where he was from. Effortlessly he threw down all the details of exactly what disease it was he'd conquered, why he was attending the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society conference, and how he'd come to learn about what was next for him.
He'd successfully fought off a particularly vicious blood cancer "CLL" he'd say gruffly, "stage 4. But then one day my white blood cell count started to drop for no apparent reason."
Pete and Lorraine were captivated by his story.
"Well, we're in the middle of this thing" Lorraine said, reaching over to touch her husband's hand. "We've been to all the events they've offered, this is our first conference, and I have to say we're learning a lot. Pete's a strong fellow, we're just wanting to soak up as much as we can."
Everywhere I looked there were people from all walks of life with nothing but hope on their faces. Some had full heads of hair, others wore caps to mask their loss from aggressive therapeutic attempts to eradicate their disease, and the teenagers with a war waging inside their bodies against themselves most often chose beanies.
Lunch was a dry sandwich -- no condiments. You never think about how much they matter until you have a dry club sandwich without any of them. Then you realize how important they are to complete your sandwich.
The gentleman who spoke last just before break had lived through a particularly aggressive breed of lymphatic cancer, "macroglobulinemia" and had been on over a thousand different kinds of medication over the course of his disease.
I sat and listened as Harold, Pete and Lorraine exchanged their stories, compared experiences, and spoke medical dialogue so quickly and efficiently it was hard to believe none of them had darkened the door of a medical class. But they hadn't -- they were living, breathing classrooms themselves.
They were a case study, a statistic, and most avidly against the odds.
"Pete and I visited Hawaii for our 25th wedding anniversary. We loved it so much! It was the most special present I think he's ever given me." Pete smiled and his eyes watched his wife as she dove into the deep blue sea of memories to pick out the best ones and show me.
"We went to all four major islands together, but Kauai was our favorite. I wanted to sleep in -- all I wanted to do was sleep -- but Pete got me up dark and early one morning to watch the sunrise on top of that mountain, Haleakala, while we were in Maui."
He was from Boston, they'd been married for 55 years and "plan on making it another 55 together!"
Pete had "acute myeloid leukemia" but refused to say the words. "AML" he interrupted as his wife attempted say the full name for us. "They know what that is." Lorraine smiled and nodded, "well, Harold had CLL and it's in remission, and James is a nursing student. I'm sure he knows more about it than we do!"
I don't Lorraine. I know almost nothing. But after my light lunch of a sandwich with chips and a side of cold pasta salad, I know more about it than the any of my classes could ever teach me.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Pretty much everything.
But it wasn't until tonight that I really understood what I'd been working so hard at realizing.
My wife and I have come together on many, many issues trying to co-discover what we want "our home" to be.
"I want our bathroom to always be clean."
"I want to have just enough mess people feel comfortable."
"There should always be food -- we should always offer people food."
"And booze. Lots of it."
"JAMES. No. We aren't going to be that couple."
"But Jessa, we could reach out to people through liquor, you know, like a reverse-alcoholic thing."
"No. Absolutely not."
"Okay. Then cookies. We always have cookies."
"No to that too."
"Why no to that too?"
"Because I don't want to make cookies that often."
"Well then what can we do? If you say no to cookies, really you're saying no to everything."
"The food idea. I like that. That one was nice."
As we've been slowly working through the countless minuscule, tiny issues that crop up as we determine what type of home we want to be, we are beginnings the foundation of what will be (for lack of a more descriptive term) us.
Wherever we live in whatever home around whoever's close for however long, we'll always be "us". James and Jessa.
That's the most exciting part.
Tonight I found a much better term than just "us" to describe what Jessa and I are creating.
We're creating our own culture.
More than what people see when they first come in our door, what do they feel?
What is a consistent response that they receive from both her and I at any point in time when we're asked certain questions?
Do we sometimes just have popcorn to offer, but our guests know they'll be fed?
Are we embarrassed about a mess or do we simply excuse it as less important to the relationships we're building?
What music plays?
Are we sit-and-talk-all-night type people, or do we proffer a game to keep things moving?
Where does our faith come in?
I would encourage you to find immense joy in and take on the challenge of creating your own culture for who you are.
Maybe you're not an "us" yet -- that's totally fine, hang in there -- so then you're a "you." Who are "you"?
It's pretty awesome to discover what you find important and realize that since it's your home or your life you can totally do things like put up a sign above the toilet that says "Get Naked."
Culture is always changing.
It's mold, it's growing, spreading, adapting to it's surrounding environment and reproducing rapidly.
It's also a part of society that mimics mold in lots of ways.
Instead of being a part of those vile-tasting cold-Christian comments that involve the words "that's what' s wrong with our culture today" or "a big problem with our culture is..." how about you make your own culture?
Create it from scratch.
And if it tastes anything like cookies, I'm in.