Gratitude. And relativity.

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It’s true, I have been enjoying my time away from real life. I’ve been wandering around Portland seeing the sights, doing what I want, when I want. I’ve been loving the time with my sister and her husband, getting caught up on the family time that I don’t get at home.

But my trip hasn’t been completely satisfying; my book sales are not as good as I had hoped, which means I don’t have the money to shop or travel more, or eat at all the restaurants I’d like to try, not to mention the various thoughts that pop into my head that tell me I should give up trying to sell my book and go back to my desk job. I still haven’t met the man of my dreams. And I miss home, my friends, and all the activities that I enjoy. I haven’t even once had the desire to dive into the water here, and since so much of my time was spent in the ocean, my motivation for exercise has been slowly waning. But overall, the change of scenery has been good and I shouldn’t complain.

Tonight, though, news from home has brought into focus some ideas that have been floating around in my mind for a few weeks.

I took a train to Seattle to visit some friends whom I haven’t seen in many years. The visit was as big a contrast to happy-go-lucky Portland as I could imagine, and it made me question whether I’ve actually been paying attention to life, or just taking everything I see on facebook as truth.

I was fortunate to stay with friends, even though I had been pretty poor at keeping in touch in the eight years that have gone by since I last saw them. The married couple now has two children, one of whom is eight years old (my friend was pregnant when I moved away). What I learned of them in those eight years is that the children are smiling and happy, one is autistic, and everything is great. That’s what the pictures told me, anyway. In reality, I haven’t met many people who have had to face as many obstacles as this family, and their life has been anything but smiling and happy. I learned about the challenges of having an autistic child, and the incredible amounts of time and energy needed to provide her a life as close to normal as possible. Add to that the ongoing fights with a school system that didn’t believe autism existed; instead of helping how they could, as a school should do, they chose to add the child to the locked room of forgotten, mentally disabled students – which actually had feces smeared on the walls the day before my friend visited her child’s new classroom. Unable to tolerate her child’s potential, whatever it might be, wasting away in a room packed with every type of disability or obedience problem, she chose to sue the school system – not for money, but to give her child access to an education appropriate for her abilities. She spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours, and finally was able to force the school to recognize autism and provide a capable teacher. She now works for Washington Autism Alliance and Advocacy, helping to raise awareness, and fight for other parents and students who are denied help from their schools. Add all that to raising another small child with a strong will of her own, both parents working, and they have their hands full on a good day. But they aren’t defeated; they are a strong family and are doing their best. They welcomed me into their home without hesitation and I enjoyed my days with them more than I would have if I had stayed with a single friend and partied the entire time.

I’m ashamed to admit that I have a cousin with autism whom I haven’t thought about since I saw him last, a couple years ago.

I met another friend for lunch, again I’m guilty for not keeping in touch. His health has declined to the point that we both got teary as we were parting, not knowing if we’d ever see each other again. He will not be able to work soon, and his social security won’t be enough to pay for his meager apartment. And his car was broken into twice in the past month, but nothing was taken because he has nothing to take.

I spent hours walking the streets in downtown Seattle. Poverty and drug addiction were apparent everywhere. It’s hard to understand exactly why it looked different than Portland, where there is a small crowd of homeless people in every space that provides shelter, but it seemed like a harder life. Maybe because in Portland most of the visible homeless have dreads and they’re just trying it out for the summer, ready to go back to college in the fall. Maybe because in Portland they are young and white, as opposed to the greater racial and age difference in Seattle. Maybe Portland has better homeless shelters and programs, or maybe this is just something I know nothing at all about. But life in downtown Seattle looked hard.

Where was I while all this has been going on?

These thoughts were kicking around in my head when I heard about the death of Robin Williams, and that really made me realize that everyone is struggling in some way, regardless of what you see. No one is immune to problems. I already knew this in the back of my mind, having dealt with many of my own problems in the past, and having spent months traveling in third world countries; but seeing friends fighting for their lives, really seeing them for the first time, seeing hopeless, angry people in the streets, has opened my eyes and mind a lot wider.

What this means, I don’t know. Should I stop worrying about my life, my book, money, my love life, wanting to surf better? I don’t think that’s the answer. I haven’t come up with an answer yet; but I do have a stronger sense of gratitude for what I have, for my friends and family, the relative ease that my life is, when held in comparison. I don’t think my life is easy, no one’s is, but each experience I have lately shows me more to be grateful for. And hopefully I’ll see things clearly enough in the future to put my good fortune to better use.

 

My writing tonight was something that I had been thinking about, but hadn’t quite gotten around to – until my news from home. My friend is in trouble, and there is nothing I can do. I haven’t spoken to him since I left home a month ago, nor was he someone I saw on a regular basis before I left. But he was the person who helped me out of a jam when I was in trouble – waking up in the middle of the night to rescue me. I called him after the ‘friend’ I had been out with assaulted me, stole my truck keys, and left me on the side of the road, miles from my house. Without hesitation, he picked me up, drove me to get spare keys, made sure I got home safely, and checked to make sure I was ok. No questions asked, no favors wanted in return. He is a great guy. His life has gotten out of his control, I’m only learning this now.

I’m sending all my positive thoughts to you and your family, J. Please make it home.

 

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