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Eating the Frog

Dear Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Perfect Strangers who may read these words: greetings this holiday season. Yes, I know, this letter is late. Years ago, researching my Scots forebears, I came across the motto of the family Kerr, of whom Alexander, the younger son of the Laird of Graden, is my tenth great-grandfather. Their motto was Sero Sed Serio—Latin, the language of all good mottos, but in English it reads, “late, but in earnest.” To my great delight I discovered that late truly is a family tradition.

In the style of all these types of year-end communications my plan is to talk about the year just passed, and I preface it by borrowing from Dickens—these are the times that try men’s souls. They are times that are trying this woman’s soul as well, and the overriding theme of this year, for me, has been a struggle to keep my faith. Not just my faith in God, in a wise and all-knowing someone who guides the paths we walk, but also my faith in myself, and my faith that we choose our destinies, that no matter how difficult we find the path we’re on, we can only come out the better for walking it. That’s because 2008, with a nod to my grandma, was my year of eating the frog.

A year or so before she died, in the midst of the chemo and radiation that seemed to be killing her faster than the cancer that riddled her body, she sat me down and told me she had discovered the secret of life. No kidding, the secret of life. Grandma talked that way. “Every morning, very first thing after you wake up,” she told me, “you go outside and catch yourself a frog.” Grandma, of course, hardy Texan that she was, saw no difficulty in the first part of this process, though I have to admit, I think I’d find myself a bit hard-pressed to do even this much. “Once you’ve caught him,” she continued, “you have to eat him. While he’s still alive.” If you’d known my grandma you’d have no problem picturing her as she said this, a wicked gleam in eyes that seemed even more lively after she’d lost all of her hair. I was sure I didn’t want this lesson to continue but I knew my grandma, knew the futility of resisting her when she was set on making you understand something, and knew exactly what my role was intended to be. With a sigh I made sure she couldn’t see, I asked, “Why, Grandma?”

“Because once you’re done, I guarantee you’ll have the worst part of the day over with.” She was delighted with her wisdom while I, a new adult and still wet behind the ears, wished for the thousandth time that I had been given a grandma just like the blind one in Heidi.

Now, of course, I know what she meant.

None of the last five years or so have been what I’d call a truly great year; none have even been what I’d call a good year. And 2008 kept up with that tradition. Last year at this time my partner David and I were making daily trips to Coeur d’Alene for his radiation treatments, and I was frantically trying to get at least even with my workload, if not ahead, before I went into hospital for my own surgery. It was also about a year ago that the aging U-Joint I had neglected on my truck (not knowingly—heck, at that time I didn’t even really know what a U-Joint was!) gave up the ghost and, in doing so, took out my shift cable, drive line, and some other really expensive stuff that you never think about but that is crucial for allowing a vehicle to move down the road. In a blinding snowstorm, around 6:30 in the morning, I was hiking along the highway to a spot with cell service so I could call for a tow.

The year didn’t get much better. Each and every month seemed to bring its own special set of crises that had to be dealt with; despite working harder and harder, increasing expenses, never-ending medical payments, and decreasing income combined to make my financial picture look ever more bleak. Slowly, so slowly I didn’t even notice, I lost my ability to laugh. I began to question the direction in which my life was heading. I questioned whether anything I do is worth the sacrifices I’ve made to do it. And then the economy tanked, and people began struggling to pay their bills, and advertisers, dismayed at the lack of customers shopping in their stores or fearful that shopping customers won’t last for long, began to cut back on advertising as a way to save money. Even this publication, something I have given heart and soul to for so many years, became a part of this uncertainty. And the crises continued.

Probably most of you reading this were raised in the same beliefs I was raised in—that if you work hard, do good work, support your community, love your family and try to give more than you take, things will work out all right. Yet it seemed the more I did those things, the further away I found myself from living the life I want to live.

More and more each day I found myself questioning whether I was doing the right things. After all, Einstein himself said that to keep doing what you’ve been doing expecting to get a different result is the essence of insanity. Maybe insanity is going a little far, but I suspect that crazy people don’t laugh much either. I began to fantasize about cashing out, giving up everything I’ve worked for all these years,  grabbing up my kids, my friends and my loved ones, and leaving it all. Heading to the south of France, to New Zealand, maybe even to Scandanavia somewhere (though it’s a little cold there I think) and starting over again. Letting go of the American Dream and trying to replace it with something better. I have found myself finally being willing to let go of much of what I thought was so important—this magazine, my life in the community, my investment in living in North Idaho. And in the middle of doing so, I began to remember how to laugh. Up to my knees in snow with a shovel, trying to dig my son‘s totally-inappropriate-for-North-Idaho sports car out of the driveway, I found myself giggling again.

I am still in this process and I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know if this is the last River Journal you might ever hold in your hands—only the economy, and the willingness of local business to spend money on advertising will determine that.  I don’t know if, after Amy graduates this year, we’ll all take off to bum around Europe for a year, or climb in the motor home and head for South America. What I do know is that I’m okay with whatever happens. Because in eating the frog this year, I am learning what’s really important to me, learning how to be willing to open myself to whatever it is that tomorrow will bring. I can already hear the laughter.

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

cancer, struggle, Grandma, grief

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