Capturing Life and Love while Dying

Dan poster

My friend Dan died on Saturday. The news was something we had been anticipating, but it was heartbreaking nonetheless.

I met Dan two years ago, at the opening for that year’s photography show. I had gone to listen to a friend sing and I was drawn in to the work of the local photographers and to Dan, in particular.

There was something about him. A genuine passion for the pieces on the walls, an apparent care for the people who had placed them there, and an immediate engagement with me, a perfect stranger.

He invited my questions that day and entertained the possibility that I too become part of the group. I joined the following fall.

For two years, I’ve had Dan as a teacher. He’s taught me about photography: breaking photos into thirds, avoiding white corners, following sight lines, depth of field, and capturing light.

More than that though, Dan has taught me what it looks like to live life fully and to love others completely… not just when we are dying, but in every moment we are given.

Photography gives us a window into a person’s soul. We get to see  what captured their imagination for a moment. We have access to someone else’s truth. We get to ponder their focus and, in that, our own perspective has an opportunity to shift if we let it. Dan was a phenomenal photographer and an incredible teacher.

That’s what I told him the last time I saw him. I told him that my perspective is forever changed. Because he was willing to share his focus with me and others, I see the world in moments worth living and capturing.

layered spring raw file

I was thinking of Dan when I captured the photo I’ll have on display at this year’s show. It is called “Layered Spring”. The light and reflection caught my eye as I prepared to leave the library a few weeks ago. I couldn’t stop myself from walking across the parking lot and up to the water’s edge to catch the image. I also hoped that Dan might have been looking out his window at that moment because, from his house, an elevated view of this scene would have been possible.

The symbolism of this particular photo is appropriate too. I see all four seasons. I see wind, fire, earth and living water. I also see stillness and dark shades of still-present ice. I see the complications of full living. There is beauty, joy, suffering, pain, cycles, and an immediate moment. I love that I see that. I love that Dan is a part of the reason why I do.

I know when I told Dan that my perspective was forever changed because of him, he knew I was talking about more than photography. I know that because when I leaned in to hug him one more time, he whispered, “I love you,” and I believe that to be completely true. His life and his photos say the same thing.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                        @choosingtogrow

 

 

Rain Running:Tracking Life Moments

IMG_4816I ran in the rain yesterday. On purpose.

I hobbled home in a downpour. Because I had to.

For two glorious miles, I sucked humid air into my lungs, celebrated streams of warm rainwater on my face, wrung out my weighted t-shirt, and listened to the birds sing in the patter. I smiled the entire time. I rejoiced in how far I’ve come that a recreational run in the rain evokes complete gratitude. I relished the fact that fullness of life is possible in such simple, pleasant moments.

Two steps before turning around to head home, a shooting pain in my left calf, the leg that I’ve so carefully guarded because it still has an intact Achilles tendon, literally stopped me mid-stride. Staring back down the path from where I had come, I was in a new moment. A moment of pain, a moment of consideration about my new reality, but unbelievably still a moment of sustained gratitude. I’ll get to that later, because I did have to head back down the joyful path that had taken me there, but with painfully, slow progression.

Half a lifetime ago, none of what I experienced yesterday was possible.

When I was a senior in college, and preparing to graduate, I turned down an invitation to walk in the rain. What I believed about such activities was that it was useless. What was productive about a walk in the rain? It has taken me decades to learn what my college roommate apparently already knew: striving, achieving, and controlling is not living. Living is being present in a moment…no matter what that moment might be.

Maturity and children are responsible for chipping away at the version of myself that was too driven to live well.

I now gauge my progression through life on experiences that involve my kids too.

I told my sixteen-year-old yesterday, as I set my phone and headphones down on the desk, that I was leaving them behind because I didn’t want them to get too wet.

“I’m headed to the stop sign at the end of the path, so at least you know where I was running if I get abducted,” I told him.

He smiled, amused, and then went back to watching whichever show he had pulled up on his phone.

Part of the joy I experienced the first half of my run, before pain interrupted my thoughts, was the recollection of another rain run I had nine years ago.

Nine years ago, my children were six, four and one. We were planning another move, from Menomonie to Woodbury this time, and my husband was already in Colorado for his six-week spring stint. I had had one of those days and all I needed was a good, hard workout. By the time I got the kids to bed, it was lightly raining and, when I looked outside, I decided I was in need of a cleansing run.

The decision to run around the circle road just outside our townhouse was a selfish one. I needed independence from the responsibilities of children. I needed a moment to myself. So, I ran. I ran around and around the circle, glancing at the front door of the townhouse each time. I was drenched and filled with endorphins by the time it was done. I bounded in the door and what stopped me in my tracks that day was the immediate visual of my worried six-year-old on the phone with his arm around his scared younger sister.

“Oh, she’s right here,” he said and extended the phone to me.

“Hello?” I breathlessly answered.

“Yes, ma’am, this is the 9-1-1 operator. Your son called us because he couldn’t find you.”

“Oh, I’ve just been outside,” I said, “I’m right here.” Panic replaced my runner’s high.

“Well, we’ve already dispatched a unit to your home, he will be there in a minute or two.”

I managed to adequately explain to the officer my son’s seeming abandonment was a misunderstanding and the disheveled nature of a house littered in moving boxes was totally normal. The situation must have looked as desperate as I felt in that moment. I was a young mother still striving to be productive and willing to traipse my family around the country to achieve something I have since discovered is too elusive to actually attain.

So, yesterday, as I stood dripping at the end of my path, I reached into my pocket for a phone to call my newly-licensed son. I could still walk, but it was a struggle with a fully-cramping calf, and I thought it would be easier if he could drive to pick me up. It took me a moment to realize, I didn’t have my phone.

My slow and methodical walk back in the pounding rain gave me time to enjoy how far I’ve come. I may be outrunning the abilities my body once enjoyed, and my kids may no longer see a brief absence as an emergency, (actually no one even really noticed how long I was gone yesterday) but I am finally in a place where I can gratefully experience the moments I’m given. No matter whether the moment is filled with joy and smiling or pain and grimacing, life’s moments are meant to be relished.

If I could go back to the college-version of myself I would tell her to go walk in the rain. And to my future self I want to tell her: run if you can, walk when you must, and when time takes from you the independence to do either on your own, find the people who will stand or sit with you in a rainstorm.

 

(for those of you wondering…it’s just a calf cramp…I should be fine:))

                     

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2016                                     www.meaganfrank.com

Walking in Dad’s Shoes by Sitting in a Cast

cast and crutches

Injuries mean a loss of independence. It is a loss of the way life has been and a miserable process of acceptance that life is not in our control. This particular injury is providing even further enlightenment I hadn’t expected.

It’s a joke, really, that we have control in our lives. The truth is we can’t control ANYTHING! We can’t control freak injuries or illness. We can’t control procrastination in others or a lack of attention to detail. We can’t control whether people around us want to do the things we ask of them and we certainly cannot control whether they go about doing those things with a smile. We can do things to influence others, but we really don’t control any of it.

I try though. I see tendencies in myself to fill when I’m hurting. Fill by achieving something, fill with food or booze. I am my father’s daughter that way I guess. I find a temporary relief in “feeling” full. I have approached my many injuries as an opportunity to fill with something else.

This injury I am not maintaining the full…I am purposefully emptying instead. Except for one day a week I am restricting sugar, carbs, caffeine, and alcohol. I was scheduled to do a 28-day cleanse starting the day after my injury, so I know God intended for me to endure this injury empty. The process has been eye-opening and HARD.

I don’t like having lost independence. The ice makes it REALLY hard to get around outside of our house. I have taught myself to drive left footed, but I am incredibly hesitant to go any place where I will have to park the car and crutch on the slick surface more than 100 feet.  It is a scary deathtrap and it will stay that way until the temperatures start to rise.

So I’m dependent upon help. Needing help, asking for help and accepting help is getting easier for me, but it is still a struggle. The bigger problem this time around is the struggle with my kids. They have had a hard time transitioning from kids depending on mom to mom depending on kids. And I’m not doing well with helping them. It’s not moving quite fast enough and I’m admittedly frustrated. My dependency needs were immediate and their willingness to pick their heads up from various electronic devices hasn’t happened in quite the way I had imagined it would. They are acting like, well, kids!

This is it. This is what my dad battled, isn’t it? He got to a monotonous part of his life and was struck down by a torn Achilles tendon. He denied the injury for so long he ended up in a much worse place than he would have been: a full-leg cast and weeks of immobility. He could control nothing when he thought he was controlling everything.

He lived in a house with four children (some of whom were similar ages to my kids) who were slipping out of his control too. They were at an age of their own independence and it was excruciating to watch from the couch. All he wanted to do was get up and drive somewhere…anywhere. He couldn’t. He was stuck. He was stuck in a life that wasn’t meant for football gods from small-town Nebraska. He saw he was in a life out of his control: the one that included the 9-5 (or 9-9) job as an attorney with a wife and kids. Those kids… god, 3 of the 4 of them were girls too. What use were they anyway? None of them could even play football or replicate even a small version of his football story. They played soccer: that sissy sport with sissy rules that were worth arguing about with those men who called themselves refs. And his son, well, football wasn’t going to be for him either. He was too cerebral, too much of a dreamer, too naturally gentle to be the reflection of anger and aggression that was filling him.

I wonder whether he ever gazed at himself in the mirror during those dark days. Did he make eye contact with himself and see the demons rising from within? I would bet it was too hard for him to look.

I don’t know that a torn Achilles tendon threw him over the edge, but when he tore the other one playing touch football, it was the start of an unraveling no one could have predicted. Two torn Achilles tendons in 18 months would be a lot for anyone to handle, but if you are struggling to understand the worth of your life, it would be devastating.

I am having a chance to see, firsthand, how truly tough this immobility can be at this stage in life. It may only be 10 weeks, but currently sitting in the middle of it, I can attest to the bouts of frustration, anger, sadness, self-pity and questioning.

Injury is temporary but aging is permanent.

He must have come to that conclusion too. Did he start to wonder whether all the hard work was worth it when he was facing an ugly truth: he was just as mortal as the next guy? His accolades didn’t matter as much as everyone had told them they would, and he was starting to realize it. There was one thing he could control though. No one could tell him to stop drinking if they never saw him do it. His next greatest achievement was hiding that from everyone.

families where grace is in place

My cleanse has been perfectly timed. Also well-timed is a book club book I am reading called Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen. VanVonderen is one of the intervention counselors featured on the compelling A & E series Intervention. One particular section of the book describes an inner circle of self and an outer circle of self. The inner circle can only be filled by God’s grace and love and the acceptance that who we are is enough. The outer circle is the one we create (and fill) to make us feel as though we are complete.

Maybe no one told my dad that he mattered without things or achievements. Maybe they tried, but he didn’t listen. He had been filling his emptiness and neediness with accomplishments and accolades his entire life. He thought covering up shame again and again would be enough.

He probably never considered that God might be waiting with the news that who he is…is enough.

Emptying needs to be happening for me right now. There is plenty to learn and work through for myself and with my children. “Filling” would only keep me from the great work I’ve been tasked to complete.

                     

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2014                                     www.meaganfrank.com

Control of Change: A Big Fat Impossibility

Change builds

Stacked in moments, days, weeks, years.

Change breaks

Instantly… from here to there.

No matter the preparation

No matter the acceptance

No matter at all.

Change is

Big Sprout walks out the elementary arches today. A symbolic exit into that big, scary world that is sure to gobble him up. The 12-year-old who starts this next phase, will not be the kid who comes out on the other end.

No one with teenagers has been able to lie to me about how great these next few years are going to be. No one.

I know what’s coming, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

In six short years he’ll be gone. Visiting occasionally, I know, but essentially…gone.

I’ve tried not to think about it this past week, so instead I have simply chosen to be miserable to everyone.

The thing is, I kindof love this kid. I love that he gives me a thumbs up every morning when I wake him for school. I love that he digs inspirational quotes and witty jokes. I love that he cares deeply for people around him… making the compassionate choice more often than not. I love that he can be friends with pretty much anyone. I love that he has a contagious enthusiasm for life. And I love that he still hugs me goodbye… but it’s the last thing I want him to do.

I’m out of words…for now. I’m actually surprised I was able to write anything at all this morning.

Choosing to grow through this…because obviously, what choice do I have?

                              

Copyright 2012                  Meagan Frank                             Choosing to Grow

www.meaganfrank.com

Choose What Kind of Old Person You Want to Be

When I’m old, I want to be in a weekly flash mob.


There is a book I’ll write some day…Choosing to Grow:  OLD. The tricky part will be that I don’t want to wait until I’m old. I know well enough that if I am going to age gracefully, it starts with the habits I have now.

Age happens, and there is nothing…did you hear me? NOTHING…we can do about it.

There are limited hours in the day, limited amounts of energy to expend, and we have to choose how we use the time we have.

My quick glance through Google this morning identified a problem. There are age-defying skin products, age-defying fashion tips, age-defying fitness programs, turn back the clock regimens, and BE YOUNGER ads everywhere. I am pretty sure this is a multi-gazillion dollar business. The movement afoot is about NOT aging.

SHUT UP!!

What a waste of time! (and we’ve already established that we don’t have very much of it!)

The more time people spend trying to turn back a clock that is stubbornly moving forward, the less prepared they are for the inevitable future.

I would actually listen to a company that sold products to celebrate the age I am while helping me to plan for the age I will be.

I can hear the tagline now: “Be the best at the age you are…and plan to be the best at the age you will be.” Now I just need to find a product to go with it.  The thing is, I fear no one would buy it.  Everyone would rather just pretend they can make themselves younger rather than working to age gracefully.

So here we go…for those of you who want to choose to grow in a beautiful way through your life. Spend a few minutes thinking about these questions.

How do you envision yourself as an old person?

Will you be bitter? Will you be kind? Will you be like a neighbor I once had?

When we moved in, my neighbor Edna introduced herself with a plate of food and a hug. She winked at me when she told me she likes to hug people…especially if they don’t expect it. I adored Edna…and I want to be just like her when I grow old.

If you want some motivation to think like an old person now, check out this awesome article: Think like a senior citizen and supercharge your life with happiness.

We cannot change the momentum of aging, but we can choose how we approach the process.

You’ll have to excuse me, I have to go…I have a flashmob dance to practice.
                                                               

Copyright  2012    Meagan Frank                 www.meaganfrank.com                    Choosing to Grow