As we drive to her radiation treatments, Susan often looks out the window and says something like, “Look at all those people out there, living normal lives. They’re going to work, going to grocery stores, and driving their own cars. They don’t have any idea how great that is.” She finishes with her main point: “I wish I could be normal.”
I think I see what she means, from a couple of perspectives.
First, I share in Susan’s sense of the surreal. Last night I was doing the math, and realized it’s been about seven years since Susan and I have lived a “normal” life, when you consider that since the end of the first trimester of the twins’ pregnancy, it’s been one thing after another.
Normal, to us, sounds pretty darned exotic.
Second, it’s hard to picture how — with all we’ve got going on — anyone could be doing normal things, probably not even thinking about how good normal feels.
But then, this morning, it occurred to me: this is a filtered and constricted way of looking at things. While I’ve been thinking about all the normal things we miss, I’ve simultaneously still been taking for granted a lot of the really great normal things that we have.
So, today, here is a list of normal things. The ones Susan and I have, I am making an effort to not take them for granted today. The ones we don’t have, I’d like you to take a moment and appreciate having them yourself.
Normal Things We Miss
- Easy sleep. For a while, sleep eluded Susan altogether. Now she sleeps pretty well, but that’s primarily due to a powerful cocktail of drugs I give her every night. I, on the other hand, have the ability to sleep at a moment’s notice and for any period of time. I no longer take the pleasure of nodding off for granted.
- Automatic actions. Try this sometime: describe to someone how to tie a shoelace. Not easy, is it? And yet, you can probably do this — along with other sophisticated motions you’ve done thousands of times in your life — without giving them more than the briefest of thoughts. When Susan lost the ability to do these automatic, reflexive actions, I realized how difficult they are, and how many of these actions I perform in a normal day: fastening a seatbelt, rising from a chair, swinging a leg over a bike. We do some intricate stuff without ever thinking about it. Next time you tie your shoe, think about how nice it is to be able to do so. I know that Susan was certainly grateful when that ability came back to her after weeks of radiation.
- Walking. Everybody, at some point in their life, winds up off their feet for a while. I don’t think I need to go into how much it makes you appreciate being able to easily get around.
- Energy. The next time you do a little errand and then have energy to go do another one, relish it.
Normal Things We Have That I Am Trying to Not Take for Granted
- A good job. When most people say they have a good job, they mean that they’re not in danger of being fired, and they can tolerate coming into work. I, on the other hand, have an honest-to-goodness good job. And furthermore, it’s at a good company, which has recently made considerable changes to its policy to not merely accommodate my situation, but to go a step further and help out.
- Great kids. All four of my kids are healthy, with no special diet restrictions, allergies, or physical challenges. All four of them are gifted in some way: the oldest in computers and math, the second in all academics, and the girls in art. And all four have a strong ethical grounding — Susan’s most important gift to them.
- Good friends. I look around at most men my age, and they don’t really have many — if any — close friends. I have the core team, which has shown itself to be much, much more than a group of riding buddies. Further, I have the enormous group of friends that make up the readership of this blog.
- A good marriage. The only thing worse than something like this happening to Susan and me after twenty years of a good marriage is the realization of how awful it would be if we had not had a good marriage.
- A good hobby. Everyone talks about their hobbies and what they do for fun. Cycling, though, is much more than a hobby for me. It’s a giant reset button. I can be having the worst day ever; after ninety minutes on a bike, I’ve got my balance back and am ready to take care of my wife, my kids, and anything else that comes my way.
This is just a start. What “normal” things are you going to take a moment to appreciate today?