Friday, January 30, 2015

Changing the Landscape of Cancer

Mark and I have entered a new space in the landscape of cancer. It began last week after returning from a vacation in Maui when we found out that Mark's PSA had jumped a full point over the past 4-5 weeks. Then came the sharp hip pain that manifested last weekend.

We talked to Mark's oncologist on Monday. On Wednesday morning, we drove to LDS Hospital for a bone scan. When he was first diagnosed, a lesion had been discovered in Mark's hip. This lesion, which had previously been contained, was now shown to be growing and active.  In addition, a new metastasis was discovered in Mark's neck that will require further investigation (MRI) next week.

We have always known that a day like Wednesday would come, but we didn't know how and when we would arrive at that day. The landscape of Mark's cancer has changed: he has now become symptomatic, the cancer is growing, there will be new drugs. And we will wait. 

Meantime, however, we intend to live life as fully as we can.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Daughter's Courageous Post About Contemplating Leaving the LDS Church

My eldest daughter recently published a very thoughtful post on her blog about possibly leaving the LDS Church. I invite readers of my blog to read her essay and, if so inclined, to leave comments and words of encouragement as she continues her journey.

Here's the link: Time to Be Honest About My Church.

My daughter and her husband and her two little children (Batman and sister behind him) are pictured at right in the Christmas family photo.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ten Little Jizos, a Bodhisattva and a Family

I received a remarkable and deeply meaningful gift from Mark for Christmas: one large Jizo statute and ten smaller statues, all of which now grace our back patio. Anyone who knows me will recognize the significance of the number ten - it's how many children we have. Each statue represents one of them. The large statue represents me.

One has to know a bit about Jizo in order to understand and appreciate this gift. He is one of the most beloved and revered Bodhisattvas in Buddhism. A Bodhisattva is an archetypal being dedicated to helping others, and embodying specific spiritual qualities. Jizo is known for making a vow, despite the fact that he achieved enlightenment, to be present with and benefit all suffering beings on their respective paths to enlightenment.

This was the first Jizo statue we saw, in Ueno Park in Tokyo. This depiction is more severe than the many others we saw, but he is recognizable as Jizo because of his staff holding six keys (whose jingling is said to warn animals of his approach, thus preventing mutual harm) and the jewel he holds in his left hand, "the bright jewel of Dharma truth," the light of which banishes all fear.

I first learned about Jizo when Mark and I made our trip to Japan a year ago this past fall. Temple after temple, we ran into him, or rather statues of him. He is a beloved figure in Japan, special to pregnant women and to those whose children have died, and thousands of Jizo statues in Japan are particularly dedicated to children who have been aborted.  

We saw hundreds of Jizo statues at Hase-Dera Temple outside of Kamakura, Japan, all in memory of a child who had been aborted, stillborn or died young.

Jizo statues are often wearing tiny children's clothing or bibs, and grieving parents place toys and other offerings beside the Jizo statue to invoke his protection of their dead child. We ran across the very beautiful and poignant statute depicted below at another temple. Note a small child rests atop the Dharma jewel. The second picture shows items left at the feet of Jizo in memory of a lost child.

In North America, the personage of Jizo takes on a more archetypal and less literal meaning. His qualities include unflagging optimism, courage, and gentleness, and a nurturing love for all beings. He plunges fearlessly into any place or situation to help those in need and is especially concerned with taking care of those who are vulnerable. In this regard, Jizo is said to be the patron saint of lost causes because he never gives up. As the protector of travelers, he seeks to benefit travelers at important life crossroads.

I love Mark's gift. To me, the large Jizo statue that represents me is a constant reminder to strive always to develop the qualities represented by him: optimism, courage, gentleness and compassion. It is also a challenge to remind me of my role as father of my children: to be a guide for them, to be with them and help them in time of need, to never "give up" on them and to love them unconditionally.

The smaller Jizos represent each of our ten children, and together with the large Jizo, are deeply symbolic of life's journey, of my love for each one of them and of the roles they in turn will fill as they go through life - as parents, as friends, as human beings who seek to walk through this life with love and compassion.

Lastly, the Jizos will also be a constant reminder of the role that Mark has played as a Jizo-figure to my children. He has truly been an example to them of love and compassion and nurturance, and their lives have been blessed as a result.

This fact was beautifully expressed in another gift Mark and I received this past Christmas from our daughter Rachel - a video she made in which many of the children express their love for Mark (and for me) and what he has meant to them. As our daughter Hannah so beautifully expresses in the video, Mark filled a need - a gap - that they didn't even know was there. I cannot think of a better definition of a true Boddhisattva.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Out of the Closet and Into the Kitchen

So, Ive started a food/cooking blog. (Here's the address.) Why is a 50-something man who has never cooked much his entire life writing a blog about food and cooking? And, while we're at it, why is a 50-something man bothering to learn how to cook?

Fair question.

Coming Out

The answer, I think, is attributable to one primary fact: I am gay, but I spent all of my life in the closet until a few years ago. I was married to a woman for over 20 years, and I have ten children. My former wife liked to cook and is pretty good at it, so I never bothered to learn to cook. Besides, I was too busy earning a living for my family.

Living in the closet not only hid my natural sexual orientation, it also buried a lot of my interests and natural inclinations. Coming out is, at least in part, about rediscovering who one truly is and allowing oneself to express personal interests without fear of being suspected of being gay. I decorated our house at Christmas for 20+ years (as did my dad, actually). I kept waiting for the whispers around the ward to start about Brother Broom's penchant for decorating.


About a year after I came out, I met a wonderful man who is now my husband. Mark has played a key role in my evolution as the closet gets further away in my rearview mirror. He has challenged me to do new things, things I never thought I could do. Such as becoming a cyclist who has now cycled thousands of miles in France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Corsica (not to mention in Utah, Colorado, California and Oregon) and picking up skiing after a 30-year hiatus.

During the last three years, I have also challenged myself to:
  • join a men’s choir after not singing for over 30 years
  • start several blogs, awakening a talent for writing that had been buried for over 30 years,
  • become a different and better father, and
  • live my life authentically.
Now, a new challenge: learning how to cook and to better appreciate food. Taking up this challenge requires me to analyze and reject (in some cases) previous perceptions of myself – both those created by me as well as those created by others. For many years, I told myself I couldn’t cook or didn’t like to cook. Others told me the same thing. Now, however, I am ready to reject labels applied by myself and others and to approach cooking and food in my own way, not someone else’s. 

The Creative Journey

So, I have issued myself a personal challenge. What about the blog? First, I love to write. Second, I needed the discipline that writing a blog provides in order to meet my challenge. And you know what?  I love feeling creative. It touches the part of me that was in the closet the longest.

I have no idea where this adventure will lead. But I’m certain it will be just that: an adventure. A creative one.