Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Had a Mike Moment

One of our very best friends whispered in my ear. "I had a Mike moment the other day." And then he went on to describe it. Sweet remembrance. The hub would be pleased.  So, in that context, I ran across this little piece he wrote; it made me smile. I hope it serves to do the same for you.

(made the hub shiver)
None of us has the right to claim whatever success, big or small, we have had in life as being solely of our own making.  All of us are the products built in part by those who have influenced us, usually when we were children, teenagers or young adults.  For many people the prime influence was a loving parent, a particularly gifted teacher, or a grandparent.  I have had the benefit of positive influence from all of those people, and many more.  But the person who has had the longest, continuous impact on my life, even to this very minute, was not one of those people.  The person most responsible for molding whatever character I have, apart from my dad, was a coach.  His name was Mal Cofield.

I do not remember how it came about, but I ended up in the YMCA pool one afternoon when I was six years old to try out for the swimming team.  My Dad had been a swimming instructor in the Navy (as well as a fighter pilot), so I know that he thought being able to swim well was important.  I suspect that the swimming team idea resulted from the fact that I was a very skinny red head, completely devoid of any discernible muscle, who had displayed no notable athletic promise, so the swim team offered an opportunity to toughen me up, although I am just guessing about that.

 The workout was underway when I hesitantly slipped into the pool.  I think that Mal had the team running 20 100’s freestyle.  This meant that each heat of 6 swimmers would do an in the water start, swim 4 lengths of the pool and recover for the next heat, twenty times.  Since there were heats at both ends of the pool, the heat at the other end would chase you home on the fourth length.  The faster swimmers, all of them in my case, took great delight in running over me as I struggled to get to the end of the pool. My heat had always left by the time I got to the end of the pool, so I was constantly behind.   Within ten minutes I was utterly exhausted, demoralized about how slow I was, and half-drowned.   I dog-paddled over to the side, coughed up half the pool, and hung on desperately.
Looking back on this seemingly miniscule event, which turned out to be monumental in my life, I am sure that Mal did not miss any of what was going on.  Immediately, he was on his hands and knees beside me.  “Thinking about quitting are you?” he inquired.  “Yes,” I gasped.  “Your Dad wouldn’t quit, he’s too tough to quit.  Are you as tough as your old man?”  How did he know exactly the right thing to say to a weak, scared, drowning six-year-old, who he had never met before?  I thought about his question for a few seconds and then defiantly stated “Yes, I am,”   and I started to swim again.  I finished the workout and came back for more.   

 Swimming is not like basketball, baseball, track or tennis, all of which I had tried. Those sports  involve reliance on and participation with teammates.  You can shout at and encourage them.   If the team wins, there is a cheering crowd, slaps on the back from your teammates and admiring looks from the spectators.

 None of that is true in swimming.  You cannot hear anyone cheering.  You are looking at the end of the pool coming up, your heart is going 180 beats a minute, at least, and your entire body is screaming for more oxygen. Your body is so stressed that the “red mist” clouds your vision.  (If you have not experienced this, you have not maxed yourself athletically.  If you have, you know what I mean. Welcome to the club.)  And when the race is over, you can barely drag yourself out of the pool.  You look over at the coach and he flatly states your time for the event. 

 I rarely knew in what position I finished a race, nor did I care.  Mal didn’t care either, because only the time for the event counted.  Had I gone faster than last time?  Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t.  Weeks of agony in practice sometimes translated into a time one-tenth of a second faster than before.  Such is how a swimmer’s progress is measured.  In fractions of a second.

I dreaded Mal’s daily workouts.  Most workouts started the same.  20, 20, 20’s.  That meant 20 lengths of kicking, 20 lengths of pull, followed by 20 lengths of freestyle.  That is a mile, just to warm up.  Mal had ideas about making the warm-up as stressful as possible. 

 Normally, you used a kickboard to do the kicking. Put an arm along each side of the board, tuck the back end up under your chain and start kicking.  It is a pain, but it is doable.  When kicking became easy for most of the swimmers, he took the kickboards away, so you had to do it on your back with your arms stretched out in front of you with your fingers interlocked.  Try it sometime.  It is a good way to take in half the pool up your nose.

Pulling consisted of putting half of a kickboard between your knees, so you had to propel yourself only with your stroke.  The board was held in place by a band of old inner tube. Not difficult, particularly if you put the board up close to your knees, so the main part of your body would float high in the water. When Mal figured out that trick, we had to put the board down on our ankles, which served to bend your body like a bow.  Try it sometime.  

Finally, there would be 20 lengths of freestyle swim.  As Mal looked at the team doing the warm up, he could see when the faster swimmers were transitioning to the swim part.  As soon as he saw this, he would wait until you had about 15 lengths done and start yelling to pick up the pace as we were loafing.  Rarely could anyone finish the warm up and rest before the serious part of the workout started.

The serious part of the workout was always run in heats, with the start of each heat timed to allow almost no rest between heats.   If we were swimming 100’s, which is four lengths of the pool, you might get 10 seconds rest before doing the next one.  Try 20 100’s.  A five or six thousand-yard workout was routine, although I swam a lot of them that were ten thousand yards, too.

 The large clocks positioned at both ends of the pool mercilessly kept track of your times. Mal patrolled the perimeter of the pool, yelling out times on each heat, which was set off by the staccato shriek of his whistle.   Every heat was timed by Mal’s omniscient stopwatch and you never knew when you were being individually timed.  As you can figure out, he knew how fast you could go and knew immediately when you were loafing.  The stopwatch would snitch you out. You did not want to be individually timed.  Loafing would get you a thunderous wallop with a kickboard on the top of the head in the middle of a turn.  Sometimes the kickboard broke.

There are at least five immutable truths about swimming.  One, the stopwatch never lies. Two, since the stopwatch never lies, you can’t delude yourself about your performance. Three, your progress is proportional to the pain endured in practice.  Four, nobody is going to do it for you.  And five, when you win, or your time is two- tenths of a second quicker, it is only you who gets the credit, which is as it should be.

Mal had ways of dealing with swimmers who missed a workout.  Bear in mind that we swam 6 days a week, almost always.   If you missed a practice, you had to get on the high diving board and dive in. All the team would stand on the pool sides surrounding where you would land. As soon as you hit the water, Mal would blow his whistle and the entire team would be unleashed on you. There were no rules. They could hit you, kick you, try to drag you to the bottom, or just try to keep you under water for as long as possible.  The free-for-all against the malfeasor lasted until Mal blew his whistle, calling off the dogs, as it were.  It is a miracle no one died. (ed. note: malfeasor: poetic license)
Did I ever miss a practice?  Was I ever late?  Yes, unfortunately.  I developed a technique to minimize the damage.  I would dive in head first, allowing me to get to the bottom faster.  On the bottom of the pool was a metal grate over the drain.  I could get a grip on the grate with both hands and curl up in a fetal position, with the biggest breath I could hold and  there I would stay, while my tormentors would have to expend energy diving down to get at me.  I never surfaced from this punishment damage free, but it was survivable.

At each end of the pool were two buckets.  Why?  They were there so you did not have to run to the men’s room to throw up. Going to the bathroom would allow you to rest.  Completely unacceptable in Mal’s world. Throw up if you must, but keep swimming.  Over the door to the pool was a sign which read  Hurt, pain, agony.  Which have you achieved today?  Need I say more?

Mal was not without a sense of humor. At a dual meet in high school, John Trent was scheduled to swim the 100 yard freestyle event. Unfortunately, John forgot his team swim suit. Furious,  Mal detailed a swimmer to go to the locker room and get John a suit.  The only suit found was about 8 inches too big. When John got up on the starting block, he had to hold the suit up and told Mal it was going to come off when he dove in.  Mal said he didn’t care and to swim the event.  The gun went off and John dove in, immediately losing the suit.  When it came time to flip the first of three turns, there was a gasp from the crowd, followed by much hilarity, anticipating the remaining two turns.  John finished the race in his birthday suit and was handed a towel when he climbed out of the pool.  Thank goodness he wasn’t scheduled for the backstroke events.

I could go on about how radical a coach Mal was, but I won’t.  We won the state championship.  To Mal’s credit, I will tell you that nearly all my swimming buddies were state champions. Most of them got full rides to swim in college.  Even I got paid to swim at Wheaton College.  (Lest you think I was good, I wasn’t.  I was just better than what they had.)  Most all of us were honor students and I do not know of anyone getting into trouble in school.  We were all too tired to do that. I do not know of anyone who did not graduate from college. Almost everyone obtained an advanced or professional  degree.  I think this is remarkable. In my view, most of the credit should go to Mal.

Mal taught us be ruthlessly honest with ourselves.  If you were loafing the practice, you knew it.  Your times were hard reality.  Either they were dropping, or they weren’t.  If they weren’t, there was no one to blame but yourself. You could not blame the failure --- and that is exactly what it was --- a personal failure, on a teammate who dropped the ball or bungled a play. Nobody was in that pool but you. You were responsible, no one else. What an incredibly important life lesson to learn so young. 

I cannot overemphasize how difficult the daily practices were for me.  To merely say they were hard does not do it justice. I threw up often. Routinely, I could hardly get out of the pool without resting at the end of the workout. But I wouldn’t quit. Quitting would have been dishonorable.  Quitting would be admitting defeat.  I knew I couldn’t live with being thought of as a quitter.  Another important life lesson learned young, before things started to count when you were an adult.

So, what’s the point of all this? It is simple. In addition to learning personal responsibility and to never quit, I learned that almost nothing in life is as bad as swim practice.  I remember lying in a hospital bed for twelve days with 80 stitches running from my breastbone down to where you cannot cut anymore. My colon and rectum had been surgically removed as a result of years of unaddressed colitis. When your rectum is removed, you are left with a gaping hole which must be left open to heal from the inside out.  For two days after the operation I was not able to have any pain medication.  I was in agony, but I told my wife, who held my hand all night, “It is not as bad as swim practice.” And, it was true.

When I broke my neck being careless on my mountain bike and paralyzed my left arm, I told the nurse that as bad as it was, “Swim practice was worse.” Again, true.  Ditto for when I took out four ribs and my left lung in a motorcycle misadventure.

When I had to deal with difficult legal problems, for clients and myself, I told my wife “As bad as it is, it isn’t as bad as swim practice.” Absolutely.

You may think I am overstating my case.  I am not. I am not putting you on, either. I just haven’t run into much that is as bad as those practices.  It is still true to this very day. You might think that being terminally ill with gallbladder cancer would be worse.  I don’t think so. Different, maybe, but not worse.
I am in pain. Most all of the day and night. This is because I refuse to take morphine during the day. I will take it at night in the forlorn hope that I might get a few hours of sleep. When the pain is really bad during the day, I just say to myself, “Well, it is not as bad as swim practice” and go on with whatever I am doing.  It seems to work.

 I know that at a divinely appointed time in the near future I will die.  My beloved physician, Dr. Annette Moore, tells me she will make a house call and that I will not be in any pain.  I worry about that.  I plan on dying in my bedroom with my Lynne beside me.    My dog, the Iverson, will likely be on the bed beside me.  I suspect that there will be many family members present for my final send off.  Knowing them, they will probably stand around looking bored and impatiently tell me to “get on with it,” because they have a lunch or dinner appointment scheduled.  Maybe I will have some last words to say.

So, after I am gone, you might hear someone say “I heard his last words were something about swim practice. What is that all about?”   Now you will be able to say that you know exactly what I said and that my last words were “Well, it is not as bad as swim practice.”  Maybe it will be true.  And then you should smile and laugh.

Mike out.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014

We never did the big meal. We never did the gifts.

I followed what was the habits at the Hayes house, where I grew up.  My children got new clothes, at least when they were small and would let me dress them. The Easter bunny left goodies. Ours was neat: he scattered the treats on squares of paper towel, labeled A or Z.  Before church, the hunt was on but ours was also obvious: stairs, couch, kitchen counter. One kiddo loved Peeps. One loved Cadbury eggs. Mom ended up with lots of jelly beans, especially the black ones.

I don’t know when Easter turned into Christmas 2 but I didn’t go along with that. It may seem contradictory but, although I don’t mind the commercialization of Christmas, I believed and believe that Easter is sacred. No judgment of others….the gifts and such are good for commerce and that’s good for the US. I love the baby in the manger and the gifts reminding us of the gifts of the Magi, although those did come a while after the Bethlehem birth.

But Easter is at the core of our faith: Christ died, paid the price, and rose from the dead. Death is conquered; death is swallowed up in eternal life. I choose to meditate on that and for me, too black jellies get in the way.

This year, I spent Easter weekend in Houston where my brother-in-law performed at the 2nd Baptist Church. Sister Kris and many of their friends joined us. Besides the glorious services, we supped on some amazing Houston cuisine. Later today, I’ll fly back to Indiana and drive to Kokomo. I’ve marked Monday for my last run through at the old homestead and then I’ll take up residence in Winona Lake.

I love the remembrance of the crucifixion and Christ’s resurrection. For most of the Good Friday service, I found myself with tears running down my face. My sis mentioned that last year, the first Easter without our sister-in-law on this earth, she wept through most of the services. It’s good to know. All this glorious truth about eternal life and remembrances of those who have gone on…it’s a sweet sadness. We know, we really know, that Janelle, Mike, and so many others are walking in glory with God and the other saints. We joy in this. And we miss them, oh so much.

(I have found myself weeping in my home church. I was actually glad that my reaction is not reserved to that place where I love the people so.)

Pastor Ed Young gave a rousing message, using I Cor. 15:54-57 for his text. “Death where is thy sting?” Paul wanted us to acknowledge that God has conquered death; so the sting is temporary. But, I can chat with Paul about sting.

Dr.Young reminded us that mankind has two enemies:  sin and death. Christ vanquished sin on the cross; His resurrection took care of death. Because He rose, we who accept Him will live forever.

As we were honored guests, we had a front row seat. Pastor Ed circled but quite often, he locked eyes with me and could see that I was weeping. He made a point find me after. Kris explained me. He said, “You know, we are in the land of the dying. Mike is in the land of the living. You wouldn’t want to bring him back, even if you could.”

True. My love resides in a glorified, healthy body in a place I long to go. For now, I stay here. I can take comfort in the truth of the resurrection.
But, this Easter means tears as I miss him. And now: to get on with my life.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Catching my Breath

501 Administration  Winona Lake, IN  46590

Last Monday, in a move to get me moving, I disconnected all the cable/internet/wireless stuff in the Kokomo house. I was spending way too much time messing with media. My goal was to be in one bedroom and one bathroom by the close of the week. I made it.

However, I discovered, quite suddenly, that I depended on the great out-there world for information as well as distraction. I actually read a few books at bedtime. Also, as my ‘phone’ would do little, I scrolled back through this year in my photo gallery. Quite a year.

It was about this time last year that Mike and I closed in on the reality of his disease. He had kept some things from me, figuring that it was best. We kept going but obvious signs pointed to the end of this chapter.

Except, not so obvious, at least to me. And I think that was the plan all along. I had a friend who said she admired how we just kept going. That was Mike’s idea. We would keep living until we couldn’t.
 The last semester of 2013 was hard for me. I was stretched thin; bosses (not colleagues) had dumped additional tasks on me that I did not understand and I could not accomplish. I tried. My efforts were deficient. I knew it and I had to be content with  doing what I could do and letting the rest go. However, as a formerly competent teacher, my failures felt foreign even as I went about my teaching. 

Several times, I know, I brought up the logic of my staying home with Mike. Finally, he said, “Look, I know you want to stay home. I get it. It’s not time yet.” That might have been the final word had I not been me. But, I had lived 40 years with a man who was raised among men who regularly expressed regret for something they had not done. I had tried to fix it so that my husband would never say, “I wish I would’ve.” Couldn't to it: he still said it from time to time. So my final word on staying home was this:

“Ok, buddy. I don’t care how sick you get. If the time comes that you are lying in bed and you look up at me and say, ‘I should have let you stay home.’ I’m gonna punch you right in the nose.”

He smiled at this. I smiled, too. But he knew I was not kidding. And he never, ever, said it to me. So, no punched nose, at least.

Somehow, being busy with living took the edge off what was obvious to others. I am looking at a photo I took of Mike about a year ago. He is addressing his colleagues at Ivy Tech, telling them how much he loved teaching there and reminding them that these students are the real heroes: so many have fallen and are fighting to get back, into the workforce, into the good life.

He is standing at a dais, gripping it for leverage. His navy blue suit hangs off his shoulders and contrast with pale skin. I took that picture. At the time, it was just a picture. But, I’m sure his audience noted that he looked ill.

I snapped a photo in early March as Mike played with his Oakbrook brothers. By April 14, his last gig, his jacket hangs on him; his jeans hang on him. 

We had flown for a short weekend to our place in Lauderdale-by the-Sea in January. We took another trip at the beginning of my spring break (3/31); Mike had to get back by Friday for teaching. His visage between those trips is startling.

As was our practiced plan, after 4 years, we kept looking ahead so we made reservations for our anniversary in June. We didn’t make that.

He remained hopeful that we would see the summer again at Winona Lake. What a contrast from that first summer (2009) when every thought centered around….any day now…certainly by next month….He had stopped telling people he was dying: he was dying.

Yet, I must say, that by staying busy, by living until we couldn’t this transition was not as difficult as it might have been.

I’m in the final sorting at the Kokomo house, readying it for sale and our what-nots for auction. I’m moving on rapidly; I know he would be pleased.

For this week, as I recalled our last few months together and how sweet that time was, I am also grieving that he stopped living even as I’m confident that he would want me to do what I’m doing.
But today, in my friendly little cottage, I stopped for a while and shed some real tears for this wonderful man with whom I shared my life.

Missing my Budds.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Recalling Hugs

      My brother and I had a chat today: after reading my blog about rain and tears, he gently reminded me of something I said several years ago. Sister-in-law Janelle and I were walking around the Village of Winona during a short visit. The day was gray and rainy. I had 'apologized' for the weather and she, ever a beam of God's light had said,

"Oh Lynne. I LOVE this weather. THIS is Oregon weather. It reminds me of home."

     And I promised to remember her words whenever such a day occurred. Promise forgotten. Now      remembered.
     So, as I have been sorting here, I came across one of Janelle's unique hand-made card..treasures to all of us who have them...that she sent in December 2009. Blog followers may recall: Ken and Janelle's life took a turn in 2011 when doctor found a brain tumor. Janelle left for heaven in 2012. Mike would follow the next year.
     For most of our marriage, Mike and I had observed Thanksgiving nearby as he always worked on the Friday after the feast. But this year, as he was retired and I was on leave, we invited ourselves to a long-standing party in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Precious people
     Brother Ken was famous for putting on the feed. He began with a spread sheet and gathered supplies; he began the day with Starbucks and then at 6:30, he commenced. Celebrants were many and their job was to stay out of his way, wash their hands and sit down at 1 PM. We had heard stories from others. This year, we decided to join in.
     By this time on that year, we had decided that we needed to get on with living, even as the specter of dying hovered over. I had informed my school that I would return for the next semester, even as we figured I would not finish it...I mean they gave Mike a year. We were 7 months into that year.  Mike had faced a crisis of faith; God had lead him through it. He had codified the lessons of putting important things first...he had spoken on tape twice and in person once.
     We had chosen to live until we couldn't. Although we had not idea how long that plan would take us, we felt the comfort that comes when you know you are in God's will.
     With the legion of prayer warriors doing battle, God had opened our eyes to so many blessings, some big and some small. By this time, we had already named these HUGS. And together, we felt God's arms around us.
     And, the party was every bit as grand as we had heard. We met their neighbors, The Smithsons, who became great friends over the next few years, when we re-invited ourselves. Ken and Janelle were not only happy that we came: they saw and recorded God's special blessing on us and them.
Dear Lynne and Mike –

OK – I promise that this will be the last time we gush over how meaningful it was to have you spend Thanksgiving with us.

We just thought you might like to know a few of the ways we noticed that God was ‘hugging’ you (Michael especially) throughout the weekend.

1)  OJ and Sprite…we rarely have either in the house. I did buy OJ because we were having company and Ken uses  the Sprite for his gelatin cranberry salad, but he usually gets a small bottle or can. If he’d done that this year there would’ve been none left for you.

2) Chunky applesauce…Ken has never bought chunky applesauce before. In fact, he usually just grabs the smooth, doesn’t look around and leaves. This time he actually read labels and thought, “Hmm. Chunky. That’s different.”  Different isn’t normal for him.

3) Ham…we’ve never had ham for Thanksgiving, no matter how many people we were expecting for dinner. Always turkey. Always. Never even thought of ham. Never even considered that someone might not like turkey. Now we know. Some people don’t.  In my mind, this was a huge hug from God to you, Mike.

There were probably more, but those are the ones that come to mind now. They might seem like little things, coincidences, to some..but not to me. They were big. Really big. God giving you the desires of your heart because you’ve delighted in Him. Incredible blessings. Love from our God who never stops giving.

With all our love and prayers for a Christmas filled with delightful surprises.

Ken and Janelle   09

I saved this card for many reasons but one is to remember how God hugged us all. You are more likely to remember all that He has done when you write it down.