Momma

I spent some time thinking about what I should write to honor my mother this year on Mother Day. I couldn’t come up with anything better than what I bogged two years ago. Here it is:

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Mom's hands

Mother’s Day is this coming Sunday, May 12. As I found myself thinking about my mother, who moved on to be with her Lord and Savior July 5 of last year, I went looking for a note I wrote to her back in May 2015. Actually, the note was more to me, since she was well on her way into the deepest, darkest room Alzheimer’s could design for her. At the time I wrote this note, I was spending some precious time with her, giving my sister, the primary caretaker a much needed break.

This note, for some reason, has much more meaning for me now than when I wrote it. I hope you can appreciate the state I was experiencing mentally and emotionally at the time. Here it is:

Momma, as I look at you, I see a foggy image of what you were. At 84, you still possess…

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Folks got to get out of the house

A shot of the state capitol building on the way home

It’s the first Saturday in May 2021. This time last year, people were a lot more afraid than they are this year. The coronavirus had just begun to tighten its grip on the world. Everyone seemed woefully ignorant about the virus, even the scientists. Plans we had made for the year had been cancelled earlier. We were going to top everything off with a Christmas family gathering here in Little Rock. We had it in Sierra Vista, Arizona for Christmas 2019, and everyone had a grand ole time. We were quick to cancel the gathering for 2020. Convincing family to not have it wasn’t a problem.

Some promotions were started a few weeks ago about something called 501 Day in Arkansas. 501 is the aera code for central Arkansas, which includes the capital city of Little Rock, the largest city in the state. Celebrate 501 Day with events, deals in Central Arkansas (arkansasonline.com) Obviously, I didn’t pay much attention to the promotions for 501 Day, because my little drive around the downtown area of Little Rock surprised me. This little trek was impromptu. I had gone down to the church, which is located on the southern edge of downtown, to pick up elements used in observance of the Lord’s supper (Eucharist for Catholics). We observe this most sacred event every first Sunday. Since we’ve not been congregating in the church building since March 15 of last year, all of our services are held on three social media platforms: YouTube, Facebook and our church’s website. Well, we can’t get the elements for the observance virtually, thus we pick them up the Saturday before the first Sunday.

This has to b one of the best murals in Little Rock

There were people around and about downtown. The River Market District was abuzz. I think the farmer’s market was a big contributing factor there. South Main Street, aka, SOMA, where regentrification to some degree has taken hold in recent years had streets occupied a little more than usual. This time last year, it seemed like a ghost town. I guess the introduction of the vaccines in the last few months and the noticeable decrease in the number of coronavirus cases have given people, what I call, a false sense of security. I didn’t take very many pictures to include in this blog, an omission I regretted later, but believe me folks were out.

As I drove through Mainstreet in Little Rock, I decided to cross the Mainstreet Bridge, which spans the Arkansas River. The river separates Little Rock from North Little Rock. North Little Rock is a separate municipality. I’ve always loved sitting on a bench or taking a stroll along the riverbank, or is it a park, in North Little Rock. You can get some beautiful views of Little Rock from vantage points on the north side. The river was flowing powerfully due to rain a few days earlier. We get flow from the west, and it had rained quite a bit in Oklahoma.

The river churns

Folks on the northside were out in sizeable numbers, too.  Bicyclists on the pave trail along the river in North Little were zipping by me, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I decided to snap a few shots of Little Rock from the north side. I’ve included them here.

Little Rock view from North Little Rock

I’m sorry this seems to be a bit rambling; however, I’m writing it as it came. I was rambling about on a beautiful Saturday morning, watching people getting out of the house.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

A few reasons why I’m blessed

Every once and awhile I must take inventory of why I call my blog Old and Blessed. Of course, most of my consciousness of being blessed stems from my years-long survival with Multiple Myeloma. If you’ve followed me in the blogosphere, you are familiar with my journey. It’s been one loaded with challenges galore. At the risk of ad nauseam, I will probably continue to write occasionally about my cancer journey. I do this in the chance that someone experiencing similar circumstances might find a bit of encouragement from my good, God-given fortune.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the time my journey with Multiple Myeloma began. Recently, I could almost feel the fatigue I experienced when I returned to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Cancer Institute after being sent home with my first chemotherapy contraption attached. I felt fine going home and moving about the house, no problem; however, making my way down the halls of UAMS later for my return visit to the cancer center was a new experience. Have you ever been so tired that you just want to be a blob, spread out wherever you are and not move because you haven’t the energy to do so? Chris was driving because my energy level was in the negative. I slowly got out of the car to make my way to the clinic, which wasn’t that closely located to the entrance. A few steps into the building made the case: wheelchair sorely needed!

That first infusion of chemo was traumatic to my body. Chemotherapy did get less traumatizing from that point. My care team had advised me that I would experience mouth sores, puking my guts out (my terminology, not theirs), severe fatigue, and a few other discomforts in the days to come. The fatigue did come, but no mouth sores or constant need to address the toilet for gastronomical purging. I would consider that a blessing. Wouldn’t you?

My treatment called for a stem cell transplant. Normally, close relatives are tested for donor compatibility. Although two of my siblings were more than willing to donate cells, they weren’t suitable donors. This meant the stem cells had to come from me. The explanation of the procedure given to me by my care team didn’t make me feel very good. First, I had to have apheresis done. This procedure, without being too technical, draws blood from me and separates stem cells while returning what’s not necessary for the transplant to my body. I was told that it would probably take three to four days of sitting for this procedure to collect sufficient stem cells for my transplant. It took one sitting to collect more than enough stem cells. Another blessing, don’t you think so?

It was necessary to give me Melphalan (chemotherapy) to essentially destroy my immune system before the stem cells were introduced into my body. This is some nasty stuff. Not too long after being given the Melphalan, my body hair from even the most remote regions of my anatomy simply vacated the premises. I’m skipping forward here to make it very clear that I went into complete remission within a relatively short period of time. Since one of the nurse practitioners on my care team told me sometime later that I was in “bad shape” when I was diagnosed, compete remission was a blessing for sure.

I spent a lot of time in the chemo treatment room for the first year or so, and I spent a lot of time with other Myeloma warriors. I never got used to showing up for an appointment, looking for someone I had spent time with, as we sat side by side in recliners, only to find out they had died. My journey started when I was diagnosed in March 2,000 and it continues until now. I’m no longer in remission. As a matter of fact, I haven’t been there for over three years. With the advancements in treating Myeloma patients since I was diagnosed, I’m now living with this disease and living well. I’ve come to appreciate in ways I never would have imagined back in 2,000 how valuable the OLD in Old and Blessed truly is. Blessed for sure…

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Still thinking about Africa

If you follow my musings, you know that Chris, my oldest child Felicia, my cousin Hansel, and his wife Martha and I made a trip to Africa over the past Christmas-New Year’s holiday. Although I’m not sure if I’ll visit the continent again, it’s important to me that I say I’ve made my first trip. Visiting the land of my ancestors was a spiritual experience for sure. I feel as though I was fed with all the good stuff that has come before me on the continent: the ancient empires, the kings and queens who ruled those empires, the genesis of all things that were introduced to the history of humankind.

Yes, now that I’ve had time to think about the trip, I feel that I’ve made a pilgrimage that needed to be made. It’s a pilgrimage that I wish every person of African descent throughout the diaspora could make. Many are currently making the trip, for a pilgrimage as we did, as well as repatriating. There are currently thousands of folks, not born in Africa, but with Africa born in them living and thriving in Ghana, West Africa. Over the last few years, the tiny country of The Gambia, West Africa has seen a sizeable increase in descendants of former slaves repatriating. The stories these folks tell have a common thread: I felt a longing to return to a place where I feel more at home; I feel less threaten by all the drama that’s been occurring on western shores; I feel a spiritual connection that has long been absent from my life’s experience; I want to defy the words that are written on the doors of slave castles/dungeons (The door of no return).

I wrote a blog back in June of 2018 about a trip to Spain and Morocco we had planned. We never made that trip due to an employee of the travel agency we booked with not performing her job well. The trip was planned around the time of Ramadan which made travel in that part of the world a bit more challenging than at other times. This was a trip Felicia had booked for herself, Cecily (my middle child), Chris and me. It would have been my first visit to the African continent. Although it wouldn’t have been to West Africa, from where my ancestors were kidnapped, it would have allowed me to set foot on the soil of my ancestral motherland.

This trip to Ghana was viscerally quite powerful. I certainly don’t intend to sound anti-anything, but it was an experience like none I’ve had before, seeing people who look like me all day, every day when you move about was strangely comforting. While reveling in the visual signs of connectivity to the continent, one thing quickly became obvious: I don’t have a cultural connection with the people of Africa. My sisters and brothers, who I’m related to from millennia gone by, could tell I’m from the west as soon as I opened my mouth. I would suspect they could tell I was a cultural misfit even before I spoke.

Racists are sometimes guilty of yelling obscenities to people of color while demanding that they go back to where they belong: Africa, China, or some other place that they know nothing about. I’m at a point in my life where some cerebrally dense individual demanding I go back to Africa is viewed as a welcomed suggestion. Africa is the one place on the globe that would probably be more welcoming of me than my country of birth, the good old United states of America. I must caution myself to not paint with a broad brush though. I honestly don’t believe the current attitude seen and read in the media exemplifies that of the majority of Americans. It would be refreshing if the silent majority (the good folks) would find a voice.

Africa is rising. The third millennium will be a time when development will move into high gear on this ancient, huge piece of real-estate. I pray that the dark side of geo-politics doesn’t prevail on my ancestral land.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Grandpa, what was it really like?

Grandpa, what was the pandemic of 2020/2021 really like? We talked about it in school today. Ms. Anderson told us that more people died in the United States during the year 2020 than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. Was it really that bad? I remember you telling me that my great grandpa, grandpa Hosea had it. Did he die from it?

Son, come here and let me tell you what I do know. We did study about that horrible time in world history when I was in school. That was a scary time. I don’t want to frighten you, son, but just about everybody in the United States had a relative or knew someone personally who died from that virus. They called it covid-19. The 19 was used to designate the year the virus popped up worldwide. It started in Wuhan City, China during the latter part of 2019. There were all kinds of stories floating about that the Chinese were experimenting in a lab, the virus got loose and spread among the population. With people freely traveling around the world back then, as they do now, it didn’t take long for the virus to reach just about every country.

Grandpa, Ms. Anderson also told us that the virus hit Europe and America real hard. I don’t understand that, since these two places were known to be advanced in many ways, as they are now. Son, I wish I could explain why the western world was affected so badly by the virus. There were lots of things that couldn’t be explained about this virus. For example, seemingly healthy young people, in their twenties and thirties would come down with the virus, get real sick, go to the hospital, and never come home. Family members couldn’t visit their relatives who resided in nursing homes. Patient with the virus who were in the hospital couldn’t have their relatives come visit; many of them died alone in the hospital. Churches closed their doors to parishioners. Yeah, son, it was a scary time in world history. But you know one of the scariest things was that after a year of the virus creating havoc all over the world, folks got anxious. They wanted to get back out and do things as they had done them before. They wanted to discard safety practices like wearing masks and keeping safe distances from each other.

Grandpa, Ms., Anderson told us that this might happen again during my lifetime, That’s scary, grandpa. Isn’t there something the scientists and people in charge can do to keep this from happening again? Son, I’m not really sure. But one thing I am certain about. We just don’t seem to prepare ourselves for things like this. They happen when we least expect them. We’re far too busy competing with each other to make the most money. Anything that might protect us, but add a little too much cost, we don’t want to do it. Although the pandemic was a worldwide event, people around the world weren’t willing to come together, pool resources and efforts to try to make sure everybody had equal access to vaccines and other measures to fight against the virus. The rich countries, like the United States did a good job of getting vaccines to its people, but poor countries struggled. By the grace of God, the virus was eventually brought under control. I think we can live without being fearful that we’ll see covid-19 spread as it did back in the early 20s.

Grandpa, I hope you’re right, but I can’t help but wonder what will happen next.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

The best of all seasons

We’ve had one full year of the pandemic, encompassing the last few days of winter 2020 and the other three seasons of the year. With most of us being sequestered in our homes, the seasons of the year had little chance to work their magic on us. A couple of days ago, March 15, I jumped into the family SUV and took a ride into the country. I had no location in mind. I simply wanted to roam the countryside with iPhone in hand, looking for some early signs of spring to photograph.  Spring, as usual, has already begun to awaken in Arkansas. As far as I’m concerned it is the best all seasons.

Spring looks for the earliest opportunity to open its eyes and stretch its limbs to all four corners, anxious to revive all that winter has shocked into a form of cardiac arrest. I’m convinced that spring never leaves us; it simply waits quietly, not revealing itself until the nights start to get a little warmer. I’ve seen spring reveal itself in Arkansas as early as mid-February. Of course, it places the flora at risk whenever it jumps the gun too early. If memory serve me well, back in March 2007, after we had moved into our new home the December before, spring couldn’t wait for its time. Our new lawn had turned a beautiful green by the end of March. I was excited at the prospect of giving the grass its first mowing. My excitement was dashed when we had a heavy frost on the first of April. Jack Frost performed his job well, the early, tender green quickly turned to brown. Oh, but spring was still there, and in a few days, it reemerged with its usual vigor.

As I’ve gotten older, spring has come to have greater significance for me. Because it’s a time of quickening, I have begun to wonder how many more of this magical season I will be a witness to. Summer has its heat and humidity, but spring simply moves to stage right, waiting patiently. Fall has its appeal, almost as alluring as spring, but it lacks many of the soothing attributes (temped nights, blossoming landscapes…) of spring. Spring is still there, if only in my mind, waiting patiently. Winter, as I’ve gotten older, seems to present a gray lifelessness to it, that can only add color with wintry, inhospitable frozen stuff from the sky. Spring waits patiently. Spring sees its turn to rise in full force after the new year enters center stage, in Arkansas anyway. I find myself rooting for it by the end of January.

Oh, by the way, I did get a few shots while roaming the countryside the other day. I’ve attached them here. I hope you enjoy these representations of what I saw in their natural state. Spring a most enjoyable time of year, in Arkansas anyway. Father, I pray that I ill enjoy many more of its magical effects.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Another one of my cancer stories

In my oncologist’s waiting room

I often find myself motivated to write about my journey with multiple myeloma; however, I wonder if people tire of hearing about my experience with this disease. This past Tuesday, I had another of my semi-annual visits with my oncologist. These little updates/friendly chats on my health status follow a battery of tests I must suffer to determined how I’m doing. I have a great doctor, who spends more than enough time with me during these little visits. He has a great bedside manner, and we talk just as much or more about topics outside of my cancer. Although we talked about a wide range of topics during this visit, the most important topic was, of course, that my cancer is still at bay. Although I’m not in remission, I’m doing just fine.

I often rib my doctor about the fact that I used to hear a lot about finding a cure for multiple myeloma, especially at the time I was diagnosed. Now, it seems most of the conversations he and I have are about managing the disease. I’m certainly glad and thankful that I’m living a rewarding and relatively healthy life with multiple myeloma. I can’t help but to ask him occasionally what happened to the cure. He always offers this comeback: People with high blood pressure are managing their disease and living long, productive lives. The situation with multiple myeloma has reached that level for many patients, and I’m one of them. I’m still trying to align multiple myeloma with high blood pressure, but I can’t argue with twenty-one years of survival.

After visiting with my doctor, I had to sit in the examination room for a short while, waiting on the nurse to finish up a few things: answering any lingering questions, clarifying my orders for the following six months, arranging lab appointments to collect blood. While waiting, it occurred to me that I should provide an update to my Facebook friends. I’m active on several Facebook pages. The ones most important to share information about my health are my personal page, a church related page I set up for chronic illness support and one called Myeloma Patients. The latter functions much like a support group, with patients ranging from recently diagnosed to old warriors like me. The new patients are usually fearful of their situation, trying to latch onto any amount of hope they can find. Responses to my post started to come in immediately. Some were amazed at the length of time I’ve survived with this disease. Others expressed the hope my experience gives them. A few even asked me what I’m doing to be experiencing such good fortune. Within thirty minutes of the post, there were over fifty responses; likes, positive comments, etc.

I’m at my laptop composing this blog on Sunday afternoon, five days after my post to Facebook made in my doctor’s examination room. Responses are still coming in, at last count over 800 hundred. I used to be hesitant to share the good news of my survival. For some reason, I felt it brought too much attention to me. The longer I live, the longer good fortune surrounding multiple myeloma comes my way, the more I realize my story must be shared. God is amid it all! That’s a situation you just have to roll with.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

The Last Post? – The Silent Eye

I was so moved by this blog post, I couldn’t help but reblog it. I urge you to take the time to read it. It’s worth your investment of time, believe me.

I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

This may be the final post that I get chance to write for the Silent Eye… that decision has been taken out of my hands. I spent much of last week in hospital, having, as many of you know, been diagnosed with incurable small cell lung cancer last September. It has been an interesting and…
— Read on thesilenteye.co.uk/2021/02/28/the-last-post-2/

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Memories

At seventy years of age, I have a veritable Library of Congress-size collection of memories to draw on. I can remember episodes of my life from the point my memory banks became operational to now. My memory provides comedies, dramas, documentaries, and a plethora of mental theatrical productions that Hollywood can in no way match for entertainment value. That old saying about seeing your life flash before your eyes when you’re about to experience a tragic accident couldn’t possibly be true. How in God’s name could all that I’ve experienced be flashed in a few seconds.

The year 2020 put a damper on so many memory-generating opportunities for people worldwide. Think of the number of weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries of all kinds, events of countless varieties we look forward to in the normal world, a world of predictability. Our chances to experience many of the fun things were removed from the menu and replaced with the darkest of experiences one couldn’t imagine before the pandemic came upon us.

The pandemic has in just one year changed things for the worse for so many people. It has caused us to access memories of events that happened not so long ago. For example, my family had one of the best family reunions in the summer of 2019. I blogged about it Familial – oldblessedwordpresscom. Many of us at that event, gathered for a Christmas celebration in Sierra Vista, Arizona at the end of 2019. My cousin Hansel lives in Sierra Vista. He and his wife Martha retired from California to Sierra Vista. They had been talking up the virtues of Sierra Vista for quite some time. It seemed like the perfect location to spend Christmas away from home. If you’ve been following my blogs, you know that Hansel and Martha were part of the gang of five family members who made the trip to Ghana, West Africa this past Christmas holiday season…another great memory-generating event.

Unfortunately, events that birth memories aren’t always joyful and pleasant to draw on at some point in the future. Scenes of bodies covered in temporary morgues, where the Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll, are memories I would rather not draw on; however, they are in my memory banks and they will flash images on the screens within my head whether I wish to see them or not. The death of some of my own family members from the attack of Covid-19 on their frail bodies reminds me that all of us are probably in the crosshairs of this horrendous virus. What’s that old phrase? But by the grace of God go I. That phrase was quite personal a few weeks ago. Both Chris and I contracted Covid-19, but we’re now doing fine and I’m happy to report we don’t seem to have any long-lasting effects so many victims experience.

Memories. They contribute enormously to our lives. They allow us to rewind images in our minds, to review the building blocks of our character, to see much of what has made us what we are right now. A few days ago, the media started to report that the United States had reached a dark milestone. Five hundred thousand people had succumbed to Covid-19; 500,000 of our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and other family members who have ceased to contribute to the precious memories of far too many of us. Considering all this darkness, I’m hopeful that you are, at the least, having those micro experiences that are loaded with joy. I am. When I see the faces of my grandkids; realize that Chris and I still here; or have a brief phone conversation with one of my siblings; my memory banks are charged with fun stuff.  Think often about the good stuff that has happened!

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Am I just too old?

I remember a few years ago when I first started to think about writing a blog. I was somewhat hesitant to start because I didn’t think I had anything worth saying. After much contemplation, however, I thought I would give it a try. After all, I had read many books that didn’t quite reach the level of quality I thought necessary for publication. If some authors were brave enough to deposit their work in the public domain for others to read, why shouldn’t I blog. Deciding on a handle for my blog wasn’t hard at all. I was in my mid-sixties at the time, and I had undergone a health challenge that many folks I knew didn’t survive. Old and blessed just seemed to fit.

If you follow my blog, you know I live in the state of Arkansas, United States. We have nice springs, hot summers, nice falls, and short winters that often don’t provide an opportunity to wear heavy, movement-restricting outerwear. Although I’m not qualified to offer a scientific opinion, I do think our winters have gotten a lot warmer since I was a kid. I distinctly remember wearing heavy jackets and coats in October and having them readily available for use through the middle of March. My grandfather had a rule: Don’t take off your long handles (underwear with long legs and sleeves) until the first of April.

As a kid, I welcomed with joy the snow days of winter. A good snow-day, with six inches of the white stuff meant no school and the opportunity to play outside. The warmth of the inside couldn’t hold me back from going out to frolic with wild abandon. I always applied my undeveloped skills at sculpting a snowman. He never looked that good, but the joy of playing in the snow was the point, after all.

Now, let’s move forward to February in Arkansas 2021. Today is Wednesday February 17 and it’s been snowing since Sunday night, except for the sunny day we had yesterday. Although the day was sunny, the temperature remained frigid, not allowing for any significant melting of the powder that had fallen before. It’s common in Arkansas for snow to fall one day and be gone the next, after being exposed to some of that good Arkansas winter sunshine. That hasn’t been the case this week though. It started snowing again last night, and it’s still snowing all day. The stuff is covering everything, and it’s forecasted to keep coming right on through midnight.

View from our back deck over the fence, across the creek

Unlike when I was a kid, I’ve been secured in the house praying that our electric utility company won’t have to start rolling blackouts. Arkansas just isn’t equipped to deal with this type of weather for extended periods. Neither I nor my dog wants to venture outside. I’ve noticed my neighbor’s kids just across the creek in back of us have been enjoying this strange weather anomaly. I think they enjoy the benefits of wild abandonment in a winter’s wonderland. What a difference a few score make. I think I really am too old to enjoy this winter’s blanket. I prefer the electric one we have stored somewhere. I hope I won’t need to look for it.

View from front window of yard and street

Old and blessed…hope you will be too.