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Cleaning Out

Updated: May 27, 2023




to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

Going through stuff...that's part of moving. I actually had looked forward to going through this drawer, for I knew it might contain some treasures-- stuff from the last few years that would allow me an historic lens to these critical, life-changing years...


Images: Right Clavicle, 06-21-2015

I gently lifted the CD of images of my broken right collarbone from the annual family hike, the "Granola Challenge." Started just over 30 years ago by my cousin's husband, Bill O'Neill, the Granola Challenge is as an annual family (family-cousins-friends-etc) hike to one of the huts in New Hampshire's White Mountains. We meet at the designated trailhead Saturday morning, hike together for next 4-6 hours to arrive at the chosen hut, where we spend the night before hiking down Sunday morning. Our group has numbered anywhere from 15 to 50, and ages have ranged from infants to 70+.

Mt. Lafayette, NH

I recently asked Bill, a legendary figure known for his jovial nature, why he started the Granola Challenge:

"...Memories of packs of kids and multi-generations with bandanas on our heads - making memories. Share what my parents and their friends 'gave' me..."

Whether on the water or in the mountains, Bill's adventures are always inclusive. His seemingly constant appetite for celebrating life not only among family and friends but often among strangers-- has many lessons for us all. Bill has certainly achieved his original intent with the Granola Challenge: his gifts for creating memories and celebrating life have a way of becoming organic and timeless.


June 20, 2015

As usual, we all met at the trailhead to Mount Lafayette, and over the next 6 hours we meandered in conversation and sometimes quiet as we wound our way up and across the ridge to the top of Lafayette, and down to Greenleaf Hut which is about a mile from the summit.

We arrived by mid-afternoon, settled in, chose our bunks, cleaned up and just hung out-- conversation, adventures around the hut, rest, reading and just being, all while immersed in the majestic beauty of the White Mountains. After a home-made meal and more celebration of our time together, it was early-to-bed and an early rise, thanks to the "Croo." After breakfast and preparation for the trek down, we were ready to head out. Through the night there had been a bit of rain and mist, so the trail was wet.

We had a few miles to hike out, and we were about half-way out when it happened.

I was with my cousin, Nan, and a guy from Vermont who, fortunately for me, was an absolute BEAST. Most of the group was ahead of us. Unbeknownst to me, Nan and the "Beast" would be my saviors.

I can still picture the rock-- mid-size for a rock on the trail, with a flat surface on top-- stable enough. A small reach and commitment with my left foot onto the greasy surface; in an instant I was face-down on the dirt, struggling to breathe. Hoping and praying to hold on for those endless seconds until I could get air, I lay motionless. Second...after second...after timeless second...I could not capture any oxygen... a tiny amount mercifully seeped into my lungs, and then a bit more at a glacial pace until finally I could breathe. I began to feel the rest of my body and felt something was wrong. I knew what it was.

I had broken my right collarbone. I was still laying face-down with a heavy pack on my back. Some time later-- I don't know how long-- Nan and the Beast somehow managed to get me upright. The Beast, already with his own fully loaded pack on his back, strapped mine on his front without a second thought. We still had a long way to go on a wet, descending trail. "I'll try," I responded to what must have been Nan's question, or maybe I said, "I can."

I tried one step.

And then another, followed by another and yet another. I could not fall again. With grace, patience, faith, and belief in me, Nan gave me the courage and strength I needed to continue to put one foot in front of the other on that fateful day.

Somehow we made it out to the trailhead, and to Speare Hospital in Plymouth. While that day continues to fade into the past, Nan's gifts of courage, strength, faith, and belief in me sustain me today, and will forever sustain me regardless of what my future holds. June 21, 2015 was a tough day, yes, but it was also a very special day. The fall was a sign and an early indication of what lay ahead for me. When I recently found the CD from Speare, I felt a range of emotions as I replayed the events in my head-- the misfortune, pain, and fear. But those emotions were soon displaced with gratitude for the gifts bestowed upon me on that hike in the White Mountains.

Thanks, Nan!


Neuro #1, Meeting #2...Early Days


2 Years Later, Stem Cell HOPE

As I continued to work my way through the drawer, I discovered more hand-written with thoughts, questions, dates, times, CDs, and more. I observe my penmanship, which was never decent to begin with, and look at how it's changed and deteriorated. But oddly, the memorabilia of the early days in my journey with PLS inspire thoughts with fondness and good fortune more than sadness and misfortune.

It's not always a bowl of cherries, to be sure. But as I pick up the drawer's last piece of paper on this silent, now late evening, I am left with one final thought-- "I can't wait to get to the next drawer..."



"...A racism-free upbringing is not possible, because racism is a social system embedded in the culture and its institutions. We are born into this system and have no say in whether we will be affected by it..."

(Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility)


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