As I stood overlooking the Missouri river far below I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. Life happens while we make other plans, and I was not enjoying the direction it was taking. I wondered again whether the best years were behind and all I had to look forward to was declining health, wealth, and welfare.
This is the very spot where Lewis and Clark had spent the winter with the Mandan tribe on their own adventure in 1802. Now my unknown path ahead had me contemplating the hardships that lay before me. Numerous concerns were filling my mind with dread for worst case scenarios that seemed quite likely.
I found myself grieving for all that was lost. There is a graveyard overlooking the river and that seemed like a peaceful place to walk. As I strolled through the gravestones, I noted the dates. As I climbed higher on the hill the dates got older. I marveled at the gravestones for people that were born as early as 1820 in far away places. What were their lives like? How did they end up here? What does our lifetime count for?
As I stood among the stones on the hill I was overtaken with sadness. I had such hopes for all that I would do and be. But time was slipping by and opportunity with it. To be clear, I acknowledge that I have lived a life of extraordinary privilege. I have managed to have three lifetimes worth of experiences. I had been at the forefront of the personal computer revolution, interacted with many famous people, traveled the world and raised an awesome family knit together by bonds of love.
But on that hill, I saw my own mortality, and all that I had done did not seem quite enough. Greed is a fundamental part of being human, and I wanted more. This made me angry at all of the circumstances that brought me here. I wanted to vent my frustration and find blame, but I knew deep down that everyone faces suffering at some point. Everyone dies but not everyone lives. I had truly lived yet was hoping for more.
On Mother's Day we had a royal feast. The next day we were slated to drive to South Dakota, to return my mother-in-law to her home. We picked her up in Arizona and brought her to Colorado to enjoy Mother's Day with us and all of our family members. She has 18 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. It was wonderful to have a celebration with four generations present.
Stacie didn't sleep that night and we should have postponed the trip. We assumed that it was from all of the partying we had done the day before. But we had plans and forged ahead, despite any misgivings we had.
By Cheyenne we experienced blizzard conditions that made it hard to see the road. But soon the weather cleared and we pushed on. Wyoming is famous for sudden and severe weather that can undo the best laid plans. Eventually we drove through the snow storm and the roads cleared.
By lunch Stacie was in so much pain that she could not eat. We should have gone to the hospital but we didn't. We would get to South Dakota tonight and then we could get help for Stacie. Several hours later we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere with no cell coverage and hours from the nearest hospital.
Another crisis was also brewing. Our son had recently gotten a PhD and would soon start a new job at a bio-tech company. With the job offer in hand they were in the process of closing on a new house. The day after Mother's Day, Josiah's job offer suddenly fell through days before he was to start. We were traveling to South Dakota at the time. With no job, it would be impossible to buy a house. Their lives had suddenly taken a dark turn and ours as well.
We agreed to help arrange a loan for the house but we were traveling. The closing could not wait for good time and they were about to lose the house. We found ourselves trying to arrange loan financing in the middle of nowhere, with spotty cell coverage, from a phone, with a sick woman, and an elderly mother-in-law, on our way to South Dakota. The stress of this situation was well beyond my limit, but I was able to continue functioning by focusing on one challenge at a time.
Our first priority was to get to the nearest hospital. Both the available choices were several hours away. We thought we could make it but it was sobering to realize that calling an ambulance was not an option and that there was no hospital within hours. We checked with locals about the two hospitals and discovered that the hospital in Pierre had a bad reputation. We decided to push on to Chamberlain where we already had a hotel booked.
As we drove the last stretch to the hospital Stacie was in intense pain. She was doing breathing exercises, while I drove faster, counting the minutes and miles. We knew it was serious and prayed that we would make it in time. We did get to Chamberlain and checked grandma into the hotel and went immediately to the hospital ER. Stacie's sister arrived and took responsibility for getting my mother-in-law home safely.
We arrived at dark to the ER, where they did tests that indicated gallbladder problems. After being re-hydrated by IV, Stacie was feeling much better. They sent us to the hotel and we planned to follow up later for potential surgery. Chamberlain is a small town of 2500 people with a 25-bed hospital. This is not a good choice for where to have elective surgery.
After returning to the hotel at midnight for some much needed sleep, Stacie slept for an hour. She awoke to increased pain and we returned to be admitted to the hospital at 2 am. A doctor examined her and ran tests to determine that the gallbladder was acute and needed to be removed. Surgery was scheduled right away.
The elderly doctor had a great deal of experience and was very skilled. He had done over 2,000 gallbladder surgeries and claimed that Stacie's was the worst he had ever seen. This is not what you want to hear. But the emergency surgery may have saved her life.
As I stand in the graveyard overlooking the river I feel both grateful and vulnerable at the same time. I think about the calamity averted but realize that it is never far away. Our lives rest on a precipice which at any moment may topple. I look at the gravestones and wonder about those who have gone before and what they experienced.
The turmoil I was experiencing personally, is mirrored by the chaos of the world around me. The last year has been brutal. I have watched the steady decay of our entire society, churches, government, civil discourse, healthcare, education, racial justice and growing wealth inequity. Events that I never expected to see in my lifetime, occurred monthly and sometimes weekly to leave me in a perpetual state of shock.
Sometimes the intense feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and shame threaten to take me under. The problems around me seem so huge and I feel so inadequate to change the world. It is at that point, where I accept that I did not create the world and do not hold the responsibility to shape it. I can only be true to my destiny and that is enough. Each one gets unique opportunities to have an impact.
Grave markers remind me that the circumstances of our lives cannot be controlled but that we do each have a key role to play. Every day presents us with opportunity to make the world around us a little better. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Lewis and Clark opened the frontier and paved the way for others that would follow. Those gravestones mark the lives of women and men who took the next steps. It now falls to those of us who draw breath to do our part and make our difference. This will become our legacy and mark that we truly lived. The stones will someday bear testament that we traveled this way.