On an epiphany

April 10, 2010 - Seoul, South Korea

This is spontaneous.  Three minutes ago I was sitting in my living room, my parents' living room actually, here in Charlotte, drinking a cup of coffee and planning my Saturday.

 

Then I decided that I wanted to write this down.

 

The best way I can describe it, and I use this word casually and symbolically, is that I had an epiphany.  I hate the way that sounds but, there it is.  Not this morning, but Tuesday morning.

 

You get to a point where you think these experiences are over, I did at least.  You're just about done.  I mean, how much more is there really to learn?  How much more is there really to DO?  Years and years of shifting perspective, opening mind & heart, standing on one leg while reciting some mantra a hundred-and-eight times...I mean, I kind of felt like I plateau-ed.  Which was ok.  It was liberating in fact.  All I could do now was implement it, live it, BE it-more & more, little by little in each day in ANY experience.  Then I was sitting in the sauna at the YMCA on Tuesday morning and I had a moment that may have changed my life.

 

So I have my sister, her name is Fran.  She is developmentally disabled, two years younger than me and the light of my life.  I can best compare her functionality, to give you an idea, as comparable to down syndrome.  That's not what she has, that's not her condition, but if you've ever met anybody who has down syndrome, that's a rough idea of her level of disability. 

 

Fran is the warmest, loveliest, humblest, most sincere & unconditionally loving being I have ever met in my life: like a human golden-retriever.  But this isn't about me describing the eternal beauty of my humble sister.

 

This isn't about what she means to me either, or how she has changed my life- although that's all very heavy and significant stuff to me.

 

This is about how on Tuesday I realized her impermanence; that I wasn't going to have her forever.  That someday I would lose her.  I will be sad.  But the feeling that morning was like this: today i have her.  today Fran is alive.  One day I will not be able to say that.  That day is gonna hurt like hell.  today doesn't.  WHAT a gift.

 

Maybe I will describe what she means to me.  here's the best I can do:

 

I do not know what is like to be a mother.  I never will. I can imagine.  Someday I might even know what it's like to be a father: but I'll never know what it's like to be a mother.  Here's what I imagine: I'll use a character in my metaphor.

Say you're early middle aged.  You've got your nine-year old, and he's your only child.  Your husband is successful; you've got your Lexus SUV; a beautiful home; you're some phenomenal dresser-you've really got style; you take good care of yourself so you look ten years youthful and although you are insecure about not being beautiful enough, you really are quite stunning; you're a nice person too-which is virtuous in itself, but also serves to facilitate great relationships: you hang out with good people, and you appreciate that; you've got your friends, you're PTA chair and socially involved; you've got your running friends or the people you've met from the yoga studio and after a nice-workout you go out for coffee and shopping; you may or may not work- but either way, you feel somewhat fulfilled by your days.  You and your husband enjoy nice dinners, go out with friends and take wonderful family vacations with your sister and her family...

Life is good, there are alot of things you value in it, alot of things you can't imagine not having: yet you'd give every single one of them up if it was a choice between losing them or losing that nine-year old son of yours. 

In a heartbeat, you'd live in a shack, take on 40 pounds, lose all your hair, give up your career, your friends, your jewelry.  You'd cut off your left arm, go blind... All of this, you'd take it on, if it meant the choice between losing your son or having him. 

Suddenly all your stuff...you know?

That's what she means to me.

 

My point is this:  Of all of the things in my life that are important to me, all of the things I worry about, think about, work towards, accumulate, etc: they do not make up a portion of a fraction of a percent of what I ultimately value most: Fran.

She's the very last thing on this earth I would dispense with. The value of all the other stuff is immeasurably pale.  And this morning, as I write, she's 30 feet down the hall: alive, breathing and sleeping comfortably in her bed.  In a couple of hours she'll shuffle out in her pajamas and ask me if she can have a pancake for breakfast.

 

So here's the story.

Fran has cardiomyopathy: a weak heart.

She wasn't expected to live very long, yet here she is, 28 years & shining bright.

In 2005 we found one doctor in Chicago-no one else would do it-to put a pace-maker/defibrillator in her...just precautionary.

Last year, for the first time, her defib went off, shocking her when her heart reached roughly 320bpm: saving her life.

This month, for the first time since then, it saved her life FOUR times more.  She'd have died five times by now. 

It's inconclusive what this means, no predictions can be speculated.  I really don't know if I have her for another week or 40 more years (then again I NEVER DID! YOU NEVER DO!).

But as I sat there on Tuesday morning, watching my mind do its normal chattering: should I apply for that job, should I go here this afternoon or put it off till tomorrow, should I bother washing my new car with all this damn pollen in the air, I really am getting fatter in my 30's then I was in my 20's, should I do more cardio, did I do enough cardio today...you get it...I mean, this stuff was really enough to get me down, all that damn thinking...

I suddenly had the realization: hmmmff, Fran's alive today.  Today I have Fran.  Today is a good day.  I will someday have a day when I don't have Fran anymore.  Man, I love today.

 

This isn't a new concept.  I've had an intellectual relationship with this wisdom for a long-time.  I didn't finally understand impermanence; I felt it.  I feel it.  And I am left with gratitude and a perspective, as if looking in from outer space, like when you see a picture of what the astronauts see: of the earth floating in this vast ocean of black space.  I feel this cosmic irrelevance for all of the other shit my mind worries about everyday.  Don't get me wrong, it's still there, a hundred times while I've been writing this memo my mind has thought of something: some worry, some preoccupation.  I mean I'm worrying about some-thing RIGHT NOW!  But riding alongside all that planning and worrying and thinking and analyzing is this internal realization.  A reminder.  And if I sit with it for a split second and let it flow through my body, if I re-member for just one second: I am grateful for today.  Today could be one of the days without Fran.  It's not.  Today Fran is alive, nothing else matters.


12 Comments

shelley:
April 10, 2010
Thank you...needed that today of all days. All my love Billy, Shelley
Frank:
April 10, 2010
~ Namaste ~
Lecia:
April 10, 2010
That was beautiful.
gary:
April 10, 2010
We all have our "Fran(s)" ... thanks for helping us to remember what really matters in life ... God and Family.
Lily:
April 10, 2010
Thanks for sharing. We do indeed all have Frans. My brothers mean that to me too, always have, they were a huge part of the reason of me building a life I did. I wonder if EVERYBODY is FRAN! And I can't really explain what I mean by that. It's more of a feeling that's there when judgement is not.
Michael:
April 10, 2010
Miss you at yoga flex and everything you have written also applys to your parents...thanks for the words....
Niki:
April 10, 2010
I am happy for you :-). Please give Fran a big hug and a bigger kiss from me. Tell her I am thinking about her.
With Love
Niki
Tachi:
April 10, 2010
That was beautiful, Billy. Give her a hug for me. I miss you, bud. I am thankful for YOU.
Lisa:
April 12, 2010
As always I am grateful to have you as my teacher! Many thanks! Lisa
Guy:
April 12, 2010
Thank you... Just when you get wrapped up in life you read something that wakes you up.

Give Fran a big kiss and tell heer hi for me.

Love and miss you all.
Katy:
April 12, 2010
Much love, my friend.
Peggy:
April 20, 2010
Bill:
Your comments were amazing and provided me with an incredible feeling of joy and comfort. As hard as this might be for you to believe, although you are healthy, I feel that X2 every day.
You are an incredible, insightful and humble man and words can not express the pride and love I have for you. I only hope that all parents are fortunate enough to experience the love and compassion you and Fran have for each other.
Fran is a lucky girl to have you for her brother, maybe that's why she's always smiling.
Love Mom
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