Saturday, January 02, 2010


On Monday August 27, 2007 I started my job as an RN Case Manager -- a home-visiting Hospice RN taking care of around 10-15 patients on a weekly basis. One week later, my dad died.

On Monday January 4, 2010 I will start my new job as an RN Clinical Manager -- supervising around 20 staff including RNs, Social Workers, Hospice Aides, and a Spiritual Care Coordinator who will collectively care for around 40-60 patients.

As I type this our 16 year-old cat Jack is sleeping next to me on the couch, but he is not well. He has declined rapidly over the last few weeks, and may not have more than a week left to live. We're hoping for more, of course, but also don't want him to suffer.

As I reflect, I can't help but see the parallels. Life is so good, so full of promise and potential. But then suddenly events outside my control converge and conflagrate, and life seems so much more tenuous; so fragile and mysterious, and all my questions go unanswered. Problems go unsolved. "Conclusions" seem, at best, elusive -- and at worst, evasive.

While sitting with Jack I've been reading a book recommended to me by my good friend Dave Kellogg. Dave was the High School Sports Editor for the San Jose Mercury News and for the past few years has been the Sports Editor at the Monterey Herald. He ran the Big Sur Marathon and blogged about his training. As a journalist and athlete, he's encouraging and upbeat...but he's also a realist. I'm enjoying the book he recommended: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, who is a Japanese novelist (I'm reading the English translation of his book) and a long-distance runner with the experience of multiple marathons, triathlons, and even an ultra-marathon (100k = 62 miles).

With all that being said, here's the quote I want to share with you which ties it all together. Mr. Murakami is speaking of not finishing the New York City Marathon in his planned time -- how on race day his plans fell through and he never heard the Rocky theme song like he'd imagined. But he's also talking about life when he says:
At certain points in our lives, when we really need a solution, the person who knocks on our door is, more likely than not, a messenger bearing bad news. It isn't always the case, but from experience I'd say the gloomy reports far outnumber the others. The messenger touches his hand to his cap and looks apologetic, but that does nothing to improve the contents of the message. It isn't the messenger's fault. No good to blame him, no good to grab him by the collar and shake him. The messenger is just conscientiously doing the job his boss assigned him. And this boss? That would be none other than our old friend Reality.
He tells the story of his race training, and race plans, and race-day plan-execution...and has no clear answer for why he didn't reach his goal-time. But He doesn't let the failure or setback effect his stride in life. He doesn't let the lack of an obvious solution or "Conclusion" keep him off the road for too long. He keeps on running.
There's one thing, though, that I can state with confidence: until the feeling that I've done a good job on a race returns, I'm going to keep running marathons, and not let it get me down. Even when I grow old and feeble, when people warn me it's about time to throw in the towel, I won't care. As long as my body allows I'll keep on running. Even if my [race] time gets worse, I'll keep on putting in as much effort -- perhaps even more effort -- toward my goal of finishing [my next] marathon. I don't care what others say -- that's just my nature, the way I am. Like scorpions sting, cicadas cling to trees, salmon swim upstream to where they were born, and wild ducks mate for life.

I may not hear the Rocky theme song, or see the sunset anywhere, but for me...this may be a sort of conclusion. An understated, rainy-day-sneakers sort of conclusion. An anticlimax, if you will. Turn it into a screenplay, and the Hollywood producer would just glance at the last page and toss it back. But the long and the short of it is that this kind of a conclusion fits who I am.

What I mean is, I didn't start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn't become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run -- simply because I wanted to.

I look up at the sky, wondering if I'll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don't. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the Pacific. And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn't be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well. Can I see kindness there?
Mr. Muraki goes on and says "No" to his own question.

But I say "Yes" to mine.

I didn't become a Hospice Nurse because someone asked me to. One day in nursing school almost 15 years ago I watched a brief video on hospice care that has ended up changing my life -- because out of the blue I decided I wanted to help people facing the end of their lives stay as comfortable as possible, feel as loved as possible, and maintain as much dignity and self-determination as possible. So when I look inside -- into my well, I do see kindness: not only for others, but also for myself.

And, like Mr. Murakami, I don't run because someone asked me to become a runner. Today I am a runner because one day back in late May of 2008, out of the blue, I decided that I wanted to run. And as I've become a runner I've discovered another well inside me. This one has determination; stick-to-it-iveness I never knew was there. I found faithfulness that, like the kindness, can be for me too.

Jack has just hobbled up onto my lap, laid down, and started to purr.

And right now Monday morning's training run and new job responsibilities are an eternity away.

The mid-January half-marathon is past the horizon and the early October 2010 Portland Marathon (my first) is just a hopeful gleam in my eye.

Right now, for today, a warm purring cat on my lap is enough. I'm content. I really really am.

~ Keith

1 comment:

Joe said...

Great post, Kieth. Very thoughtful and you add wonderful perspective.