We Are Tourists/ You Are A Tourist

So I was been completely awol from my blog for far too long. What l happened? Life in flux, schedule demands, and unfortunately, the death of a friend. I wanted to write about this and kept vacillating; it’s like picking at a scab, both uncomforatble yet somehow cathartic. The words would come to me in bits and pieces and then leave as fleetingly as they came.

My reasons are adequate, not half-assed justifications for slacking: working on articles for my writing gig– there’s much going on in sk8 and bmx, thankfully. It’s work I look forward to every single day, something I  love more than any words in the language can express. I wake up every day hyped to write, reasearch, watch video, interface with people and of course check out riding! As I said to a friend recently: back in the day, I could’ve never imagined the stuff people are doing today on boards. I am amazed all day, every day.

“There’s a burning in your heart; an endless yearning in your heart.  Build it bigger than the sun, let it grow, let it grow. There’s a burning in your heart. Don’t be alarmed.”

This is where life went into a sort of free-fall and I abandoned Om Just Sayin’ for a month:

  • Barb, a close friend  and trusted confidant, had been living with/dying from her third and worst bout with cancer. The whole thing, when staring death in the face– all the platitudes I have spouted about spirituality and insight into life…I knew nothing– it’s harsh and it opened my heart to a kind of rawness that only gentleness can remedy. My friends ( and to a lesser degree, I ) took care of her; she had no family except her elderly mother and uncle. She was paralyzed from the chest down from the tumor they were able to partially remove and the cancer was in her blood, spine and all through her.
  • The Maloof Money Cup NYC was pivotal profesionally and personally. Let’s just say it’s miraculous that my husband and I didn’t get a divorce. It’s a strong testimony to how much we love each other because if not, we would’ve killed each other somewhere between Queens Blvd and the Jersey Turnpike.
  • I was in NYC and experienced Manhattan very much as a tourist, as opposed to a (former) resident, staying in Times Square, going to Ground Zero. The whole time knowing our friend was dying hanging over us and my dad with alzheimers blowing up our phones put a weird vibe on things.
  • Upon our return, our friend Bill, who we affectionately refer to as the zen master, stopped over and had a feeling/premonition that our friend was going to die soon, he felt strongly it would be the next day. He had been the one who had been most comfortable with taking care of her hygiene needs and wound care from the surgery. We had felt an urgency to be together, to tie up loose ends, which had prompted our early exit from Maloof to get back to Pittsburgh.

NYC was amazing and our approach through Jersey was epic as always, seeing Manhattan beckoning, glistening on the horizon was too amazing; a tearful reunion with an old and dear friend. My favorite character in every Woody Allen movie is Manhattan; it’s more than a setting, a place– NYC truly is a demanding, delicious, and alluring lover. My favorite gal pal in Sex & the City? New York, of course. So there we were. I had dreamed two years ago of being with my husband, no kids, having coffee and dessert at Cafe Reggio in the Village. There was something so fulfilling and captiv8ing about that dream; it embodied and encapsul8ed a feeling of freedom I once had and a more carefree existence. It came true in June as we sat in Cafe Reggio with our friend, Kevin, whom I’ve known since I was in my 20s.

“There’s a burning in your heart, and you think you’ll burst apart. There’s nothing to fear, save the tears, save the tears. There’s a burning in your heart.”

The Maloof Money Cup was a great experience as well and better than I could have ever dreamed. Two years ago, I was just embarking on getting my voice heard on this passion and crazy addiction to extreme sports I have, so I certainly was having no dreams of that experience. Here I was on a high: going back to NYC, getting to see one of my best friends in the world while in NY, covering a sk8 event, enjoying amazing food and accommodations, loving life and having this sadness all at once.

“Sometimes the best intentions are in need of redemptions, would you agree? If so, please show me.”

I’ll spare my gentle readers the details of our argument on the ride back to PA. It was fueled by emotion, lack of sleep, stress and worry. What propelled the whole thing into motion was when Dan said that the pastry wasn’t all that good; he had better. Of course. But it wasn’t about pastry– it was about sharing that place, that overlapping of dream into reality, and his innocent opinion felt like  he had ripped my heart out of my chest. I will say this: I cried like a baby afterward and I will never do that again. I’m too strong for that now, when no tears were shed for me. I have no pictures of myself on this trip, no documentation of this milestone, as if it had to hurry up and be forgotten.

“There’s a doubt within your mind, ’cause you’re thinking all the time. Framing rights into wrongs, move along, move along.”

The next morning at 5am Dan’s cell phone rang. We scrambled, didn’t catch it and it rang again immediately. The ambulance was on the way and we reeled into action, grabbing clothes, brushing teeth, out the door with a clean shirt and bra in my hand, oh shit where the f are my glasses? Slipped on the Vans and into the car; no time to get dressed when it really is life and death. I don’t remember the drive down to our friend’s.

When we got to her home the Guardian Angel ambulance had already arrived. No irony on the Guardian Angel was lost on me. We went in to see her and she had the oxygen mask on her, struggling to speak to me as I held her hand, like she was behind a wall of cotton. I couldn’t understand her but somehow it was strangely comforting, and simutaneously terrifying and unfamiliar. I was with her but she was already really far away. I did hear her say it was ok, everything was ok.

…And between her and me
distance shrinks till there is none left
but the distance of pain that neither she nor I
can cross.

(from Norman MacCaig’s, Visiting hour)

The EMTs took Dan outside and in this swirling, tangled and high-def situation, asked him what they should do for her. He said to take her out so she didn’t die in the house her mother had to stay in. How he maintains composure in such a situation is beyond my understanding and in my heart I have great respect and compassion for him; all arguments were both forgiven and forgotten.

“If you feel just like a tourist in the city you born, then it’s time to go. Define your destination there’s so many different places to call home.”

So off we went. Bill rode in the ambulance and I took her mother to the hospital. And for a brief while there, she was conscious and able to speak. She reassured us that she was fine – that everything was fine, and managed to interject one last “You better believe it,” her catch-phrase. I was ok until she recieved the final sacrament; “Be with our sister Barb as she faces this, her final struggle.” That really is it: we do go from one struggle to another on this journey, so we have to find joy in between and within, somewhere in that place where reality is pleasant and where dreams and reality can sometimes even intertwine if you’re lucky enough.

Holding onto her mother who sobbed, asking God to take her instead and not her only child.  Her mother in her wheelchair, clinging to me like she was going to fall off a cliff; me with my elbow on Bill’s knee, Bill holding Barb. Bill philosophizing; me…pretty much out of ideas at that point.

I will not feel, I will not
feel, until
I have to.

Nurses walk lightly, swiftly,
here and up and down and there,
their slender waists miraculously
carrying their burden
of so much pain, so
many deaths, their eyes
still clear after
so many farewells.
( from Norman MacCaig’s Visiting hour)

 So she left this earth, and in her life and death her generosity touched so many lives. Enough said. In the process of this whole experience, I got to see how some of my friends react in extraordinary circumstances. I am proud and honored to be their friend.

One book I had been reading, John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: Celtic Spirituality, sat in my briefcase during our trek. Two weeks after our friend’s death, I picked it up and opened it, landing on the section about  death and transfiguration. O’Donohue says this:

  • transfiguration of negativity is an ongoing task in any spiritual path.
  • there are faces of death in everyday life: gravity, negativity, fear

So there will always be many challenges, negativity to face, and fear to stare down if we are really alive. It’s scary but hiding from challenges and who we genuinely are is pretty frightening, too. There is always desire, dreams, fear and the unfamiliar, uncharted. The faces of death every day. We are visitors passing through.

“I want to taste and glory in each day, and never be afraid to experience pain; and never shut myself up in a numb core of nonfeeling, or stop questioning and criticizing life and take the easy way out. To learn and think: to think and live; to live and learn: this always, with new insight, new understanding, and new love.” –  Sylvia Plath

O’Donohue writes that after someone close dies, frequently they remain an unseen presence that removes obstacles in the paths of those whose lives they have touched. We have all had too many weird coincidences recently since Barb passed on and we know she’s still looking out for us.

You better believe it.

“There’s a burning in your heart. (This fire grows higher); don’t be alarmed”


Quotes from You Are A Tourist by Benjamin Gibbard, (Deathcab for Cutie, Codes and Keys, 2011)


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