Monday, October 13, 2014

Day 1,493: Wedding 2.0: 10 Years and Counting

So on Saturday, I got married.

To my husband. Again.

It was wonderful. Magical. We are so grateful to everyone who celebrated with us. The weather was beautiful. We have a lot of beer left over. No matter. What else can I say? I don't have much to add, so I've posted below the ceremony that I wrote and read for the occasion (except for the poems that Augie, Lenny and Gabe read). I've never written a wedding ceremony before, and I wasn't really sure how it was supposed to go. It seemed like people were crying, so that's a good sign, I guess. Our professional photos aren't back yet, so I've included some of the ones that our friends took, which turned out great!

What a day. What a whirlwind two-day honeymoon. Or is it still a honeymoon, all the time? Well, not ALL the time. Things have happened.

My mom made a toast at the wedding. It was the only one. She said "here's to ten more. and ten more. and ten more. and ten more. and ten more. and ten more."

Everyone cried. Everyone except me.

Some things never change.

Wedding/Vow Renewal Ceremony, Katy and Gabe, October 11, 2014

Thanks to everyone who has come out to celebrate with us today. Damn, there are a lot of you! It’s wonderful to see everyone together. This vow renewal/wedding that we’re doing today is happening for a couple of reasons. The main one is that we have gone through a lot as a family over the last several years. The strange thing about these types of trials is that there’s nothing that marks the end of them, nothing that you really have to show for what you’ve been through but the fact of being able to still be. Early this year, in January, after I finished my treatments—again—we thought about celebrating. But then, we’ve been down that road before, and it seemed like it would be a better idea to celebrate the beginning of something happy rather than the end of something sad. So I thought, huh, we’ve got this tenth wedding anniversary coming up. Maybe we should throw a little party.

And then, well…this happened.

So that’s the main reason. We have learned not to wait to celebrate. We might not be the best planners, but we all know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men. We do know the best people, and that’s what matters.

On that note, the first reading for our ceremony will be done by Augie. My brother gave me this poem for a Mother’s Day present back in 2010, just a few days after my first cancer diagnosis. Go ahead, Augie.

This Paper Boat
by Ted Kooser

Carefully placed upon the future,
it tips from the breeze and skims away,
frail thing of words, this valentine,
so far to sail. And if you find it
caught in the reeds, its message blurred,
the thought that you are holding it
a moment is enough for me.

So, on the one hand, we are here in order to pay homage to still being here, together, more or less in one piece, after everything that has happened. We have had to test our marriage vows years before we should have had to really think about what they meant. Life has been beautiful and it has been ugly. It has been easy and it has been hard. But love is a choice. It is a choice you make over and over again, and no one can talk you into it, and no one can talk you out of it. You can always make a different choice. You can get lost in the idea of how things “should” be, or, you can learn to love things as they are, in spite of, or even because of, the eccentricities.

Next, we will hear Lenny read a poem that succinctly gets to the heart of what marriage is, though you might not know it at first; this poem speaks to what you know about marriage after ten years of living it. Go ahead, Lenny.

I Could Take
by Hayden Carruth

I could take
two leaves
and give you one.
Would that not be
a kind of perfection?

But I prefer
one leaf
torn to give you half

(after these years, simply)
love’s complexity in an act,
the tearing and
the unique edges—

one leaf (one word) from the two
imperfections that match.

So we are here to celebrate love, in all its complexity and imperfection, to celebrate it with each other and with all of you. The next reason that we are here today is related to this day, specifically. Thirty years ago today, I was hit by a car when I was walking home from school. There are a few people here who remember that day. My mother and brother, obviously. Julie and Danielle. I came very close to dying. I was in a wheelchair, missed three months of school, and had to learn how to walk again. Every year at this time, you might see me walking around the neighborhood, kicking the leaves, grateful for the opportunity to still be able to do that. I celebrate what I think of as my second birthday every year on October 11. One of the reasons I wanted to get married in October was to have the opportunity to celebrate a different kind of occasion.

When I was young, I wrote a great college application essay about my car accident. I don’t remember much of what I said, except that I said that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Like I said, I was young. I didn’t know what I was talking about. Of course it wasn’t the best thing. The most formative, maybe. But almost dying in 4th grade is not the best. It was the worst. Having said that, thirty years ago, I began to learn some things that would stay with me for the rest of my life. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called “28 Years Later, Still Walkin.” That was the essay I had always meant to write about that experience. In it, I said this:

In all these things, the epilepsy, the car accident, the cancer--I have been one of the lucky ones. There is nothing to atone for, nothing to prove. I can blend in anywhere. I am lucky. I am still here.

And so it goes. What I have learned is that not all wounds heal, and not all problems are solved, and sometimes realizations come too late. But even within all of that, it is possible to just stubbornly do things that you might not have been able to do, if fate had moved you an inch, if there had been a stick pointing up on the sidewalk, if you hadn’t tried, if you hadn’t done things anyway.

I’ve learned that it is possible to always be nine years old, waiting to fight in the leaves, convinced that the best colors in the crayon box are burnt sienna and marigold, laughing while you eat the candy that some stranger gave to you while you were wearing a costume, wondering how it will be next year, when things will be different, when life will open up around you like a promise, no matter how crooked or stiff or imperfect. I’ve learned to live inside that promise, the promise of turning ten. And so it goes, that I have turned ten again and again, 29 times, each one as glorious as the last.

Someone once said, "the thrill is gone." But for me, it isn't. For me, the thrill will always be there. May it be so for you.

That is why we are here today. To acknowledge the thrill, and to celebrate it. So thank you again for that.

Gabe will now read a poem that has special significance for us. This poem served as our “wedding favor” back in 2004. It is not a poem about getting married. It is a poem about eating peaches. Gabe?

From Blossoms
By Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

OK, we are almost there, people. Before we renew our vows, I’m going to read a poem I wrote for this occasion. But first, I need to say a few things. After ten years of marriage, life looks different than it did at the beginning. There are dozens of people who are here today who weren’t even born into the world when we got married. Many of our best friends have moved far away and couldn’t make it here today. Ten years ago, we had just moved to this neighborhood and didn’t know a soul. And now there are so many families from this area celebrating with us. But as new people have come into our lives, others have left. I’d like to take a moment to recognize the people we love who have passed away. I’d especially like to recognize those who were very much alive and with us ten years ago but have since passed on: My grandparents Marthagene and Linder. Gabe’s beloved Grandmother Harriette. My Aunt Karen. Our friends Sue and Janeen and Bobby. Please take a moment to think of those you think of most when you would like them to be with you.

Of course, while some have left, there are others who are still here. Props to those who came to the first Jacob Sterritt wedding and came back for more! Raise your hand if you were at our wedding back in 2004. For those who were there, you remember that not everything went as planned. It was 38 degrees and raining. The cake almost didn’t get delivered. And, of course, there was that car accident. How appropriate, right? Some teenager went for a joyride in the parking lot of the community development corporation where we got married, and she managed to hit three cars, including the car of my best childhood friend, my boss at the time, and one of my coworkers.’ That didn’t stop us—of course not.

When I sat down to write a poem for today, I couldn’t think of what to say. I have said most of what I wanted to say about love and marriage and hardship in my blogs. One of the things that happens when I sit down to write is that I acknowledge all of the ways that I am cheating. I feel that I have never really written anything at all. The only thing I’ve done is pay attention to what other people say and do, and write about it. If I am not particularly interesting, other people definitely are. And so, I wrote a poem about the girl who was driving the car in that parking lot that day. Sometimes, our decisions have consequences that are bigger than we could have realized at the time, and it takes quite a leap of faith to get us through.

Superstitions for a Tenth Wedding Anniversary
By Katy Jacob
For Gabe

Imagine being 15, going for a joyride,
finding yourself in the parking lot of a community center
on a day that’s colder and wetter than it should be,
when the pavement is slicker than any you’ve experienced.
Imagine losing control as you circle the lot
and suddenly begin spinning wildly,
crashing into not one, not two, but three different cars.

Imagine your mother’s car stopping, your heart sinking,
as the people come rushing out of the building
you had assumed was closed.
Everyone is in their Sunday best, but it is Saturday,
and there is a man who seems to be in charge,
but only because he’s there, when other people aren’t.
Imagine your confusion.

Just think about what she must have been thinking about
as the reception continued inside
and the newly married couple looked at each other
shaking their heads slightly, hoping their car was safe,
since the other one had just been broken into yesterday
and someone once told them that omens were real.

If it were you, you might never be more
in need of your forgotten superstitions.
It wouldn’t seem possible that this could end well.
This day should have gone differently,
or it should have been a different day,
or a different car or a different parking lot
or a different city or a different you.

If it were you, you might not be able to stop yourself
from examining all of the other possibilities
and paths you could have taken, but didn’t.
And so, if it were you, slowly emerging into the October sleet,
you might be left with nothing but your best magic.
Just imagine it: You don’t know what will happen.
You hear your mother’s voice, but she isn’t there.
Someone somewhere is giving you advice:
Accept what you’ve done, and what you are about to do.

But not before you close your eyes.
Take a deep breath.
Count to three.
Cross your fingers.
Knock on wood.
Pick up that shiny penny.
Make a promise.
Say you will.

OK, I think now we’re reading to get married again. Augie, bring the rings over, please. Also, I'm going to ask Amy to join us. Amy and I have known each other since college. She is a legitimate clergy person and is going to help us do the formal part of reading our vows now. Thanks, Amy!


I take you, Katy, to be none other than yourself. As my wife, loving you now and always. I will love you when we are together, and when we are apart. When life is peaceful, and when it is in disorder. When I am proud of you, and when I am disappointed for you. I will honor your goals and dreams, and help you to fulfill them. From my heart I will seek to be open and honest with you, and to make your life easier, rather than harder. I say these things to you with the whole of my being.


I take you, Gabe, to be none other than yourself. As my husband, loving you now and always. I will love you when we are together, and when we are apart. When life is peaceful, and when it is in disorder. When I am proud of you, and when I am disappointed for you. I will honor your goals and dreams, and help you to fulfill them. From my heart I will seek to be open and honest with you, and to make your life easier, rather than harder. I say these things to you with the whole of my being.

Then, we kiss. And let the party start.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day 1,481: On "Why I Hope to Die at 75"

Today is October 1, which marks the beginning of breast cancer awareness month.

I believe that those who read this blog are already aware.

So, moving on.

I am writing today in response to a piece that has already garnered wide attention. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of the Mayor of the city I call home, penned a piece for the Atlantic entitled "Why I Hope to Die at 75." Much has been made of the implications of his arguments. One could argue that there are years or even decades of life past 75. I could tell the author about my grandfather, who was forced into retirement at age 80, and they had to practically kick him out the door because he wasn't ready. We all have such stories.

I am actually sympathetic with much of what Mr. Emanuel has to say about quality of life, and our collective obsession with the idea that death is somehow optional or at least an abstraction that happens to other people. I think we often go too far in attempting to prolong the inevitable. On the other hand, I find it interesting that he seems to believe that prolonging life is the same as prolonging suffering. In the case of cancer, for example, he states that one should not receive treatment after age 75. The assumption is that cancer treatment involves too much suffering, and that one's family should not have to bear witness to such things (I have heard this too many times about cancer treatment--as if it is so horrible that our families will never get over having to deal with us when we were going through it and we would, I guess, be better off dead). Of course, there is nothing silent in the good night of dying from cancer that has spread throughout the body. One suffers with cancer either way--now, or later, or both. There is no quick and painless cancer death. But I digress. I am not particularly interested in making these arguments. I want to respond to one specific theme in this piece; it runs throughout, but is most pronounced in the following paragraph:

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

But here is a simple truth, sir. Many, many people do not have to live to 75 or older to live in a state of deprivation. Many are born disabled, sick, or infirm. People go through the injustices of illness, deformity, disability, and decline at every age and stage of life. We are born helpless. Some of us have lost the ability to do almost every basic thing in life--and we haven't reached 40 yet. Sometimes, the body, or the brain, simply does not work. Old age is not required for that truth.

Further, where is it written that we owe memories of vibrancy to our loved ones? The author goes on to discuss how he would have lived a good life by 75, seen his children and grandchildren, and then states that he wants these people to remember him as the able youngish man he once was. As if children love their grandparents because they are spunky. Sometimes, children deeply love their grandparents BECAUSE they are so old, and slow, and, well...interesting. As a child, the gray hair, the stooping, the fact that they just like to sit, the feel of their skin, these are the things that make grandparents special. These imperfections are part of what makes grandparents simultaneously real and impossible; in the words of some boys who are way too young to appreciate what this really means, "That's what makes you beautiful."

I'm saddened by the idea of the world Mr. Emanuel describes. In this world, our importance as human beings is dependent on various abilities--commodities, you might say--that we perceive that we have that offer value to others. Our contributions are born of energy, vitality, clear-headedness, health, quickness, creativity, humor, brilliance. One could argue that these things do not decline with age. But let us assume that the author is correct, and they do.

What of it?

Is there nothing to be learned from what the old, sick, infirm, and disabled can teach? Is there no lesson in empathy, perspective, slowness, resignation, stoicism, wisdom, and yes, even pain and suffering?

It seems to me that the qualities the author values are qualities that many people value in themselves because they aren't yet at the point where they have learned to value other things.

Sometimes, I lament my old, or, more accurately, my young self. I was hilarious as a child and a teenager. I was extremely creative, bright, and curious. I feel that I am still these things, albeit to a lesser degree. Looking back, I think I know what was happening in my youth. Life was hard; it's always been hard. And yet, as a kid, I had no control over that. What could I do? I used humor and creativity to get by, because honestly? They were all I had.

Now, I have the luxury of control, at least over some things. If I want to be boring, so help me, I will sit here and watch the world go by. No one can tell me what to do, not any more.

Back to the point--what is there to learn in a world in which no one survives past her prime? The idea that we owe our loved ones a memory of ourselves that is fit and healthy and happy and young is truly bizarre. Does the author really believe that in the face of illness or decline, people see nothing but feebleness, ineffectualness, and the pathetic? Sometimes, I think that my best memories, or at least my most important ones, came straight from being faced with the very reality Mr. Emanuel describes with such disdain.

If we were all to live in a world where illness, disability and physical imperfection did not exist, I would be denied the memory of the following:

The young boy who held my hand and told me it would be all right and that my mother was on the way after I was hit by a car at 9 years old and was left in the process of nearly dying in the street;

My parents turning my body so that I wouldn't get bedsores and lifting me onto the portable commode in our living room as if that was just part of every family's routine;

My friends who waited with me at the club because I couldn't go into the room with strobe lights due to epilepsy;

My 6th grade teacher, who was short and slight and had been a paramedic in the army, so he knew what to do when I had a grand mal seizure in front of the entire grade, and though I was unconscious and can't actually remember, I swear I can picture him throwing desks, chairs, and children out of the way and cradling my head in his hands;

The woman who looked at me with some disgust but patted my shoulder, offered me a Kleenex, and asked me if I was all right anyway, as I stood at the train platform vomiting all over myself in the wind and the cold of winter, and no one else stopped or looked at me but her;

My son, asking to kiss my breast to make it better, though it was no longer there;

My daughter handing me a stuffed turtle in the hospital, when I was having heart problems brought on by chemotherapy;

All the people who looked at my bald self as if that was the same face they had always seen, because it was;

and, things like this:

My husband, cleaning up after his grandmother on Thanksgiving, because she had had Parkinson's for more than ten years and she couldn't really walk and yes, she was old, and she didn't make it to the bathroom, and she soiled herself. Mr. Emanuel assumes that this was an indignity to witness, that no grandson should have to be in such a situation, that no wife should have to see her husband cleaning shit off the stairs when he should have been eating apple pie. But the thing is, this is what I remember. I remember being grateful to my husband's grandmother, for having had such a big hand in raising a boy who would become a man who would quietly and without complaining clean other people's shit up off the floor. I remember when I met him, when we were both 27, and he admitted to me on our first date, with no shame at all, that he lived with his grandmother, because she had Parkinson's and was recently in a car accident and couldn't care for herself, so he figured he should do it, because she had cared for him.

I remember a few months before she died, when she hadn't gotten out of bed in more than two years except to use the bathroom, and her mind was addled, and I sat there, talking to her about her daughter whom she said she had just seen though of course it had been years and years. I went along with this story, which I could barely hear because of what the Parkinson's had done to her voice, and I talked to her as if I knew her reality as if it were my own. And if I had felt any pride in my ability to relate to her in that moment, it was replaced with something else, when she grabbed my arm and looked at me with perfect lucidity and said "I'm glad he found you. Now you can take care of him." And she drifted off to sleep.

Who is teaching whom, exactly?

Isn't this what we are living for, not a perpetual state of alacrity, but rather a perpetual state of grace?

If we all died at 75, we would miss so much. I would miss the memory of my then-boyfriend's grandmother, with her paper-thin, translucent skin, who would stand at the kitchen sink washing plastic forks, who could speak English perfectly but just seemed tired of her second language at that point so she no longer bothered. I would miss the memory of how this woman would silently grab my hand as I walked past, and look at me with those wonderful old eyes and smile at me, and her tacit, silent acceptance of me was important even when I was 18.

If we only valued health, we would miss so much. I would miss the memory of a woman who could not move or walk, who had died and been brought back to life only to be in a medically-induced coma for a long time, a woman who could not cook, or play, or talk for long, but who nonetheless took naps with me when I was four years old and taught me that I could stop sucking my fingers and the world wouldn't come to an end. That woman was my mother. She was 29.

If we only valued happy memories, we would miss so much. I would miss the memory of my grandmother's death rattle when I was 17, of the terrified look in her eyes, that look of mortal fear, which is a thing that exists and that means something. I would miss learning at a tender age that the permanence of death is a shock even to those who have lived into the later years.

If we only valued a sharp wit and a quick tongue, we would miss so much. I would miss the memory of telling my daughter "Just wait" when her brother was learning to speak and had quite a stutter. I would miss the look on her five year old face when she understood that "just wait" was good advice, for that and so many things. I would miss the memory of all the older folks I have known who have taken such a long and circuitous time to tell me a story, as they got lost in their memories or forgot what they meant to say, or struggled to find the right word, and after the long time passed and the story came out, it was, to say it simply--worth the wait. Every single time.

If we only valued speed and physical ability, we would miss so much. I would miss the beauty of what happened last weekend, after I went apple picking with my family and stopped at a tiny diner in small-town Indiana, and a family came in, and they were clearly regulars. The old woman was using a walker and was very, almost excruciatingly, slow. The owner told them to sit where they liked and she smiled and said "I just don't want to be in anyone's way." And the waitress laughed and said "Oh honey you know we always keep the best table for you."

If we only valued people whose brains function at top capacity, who can walk, who are never sick or close to dying, well, I hate to say it, but I wouldn't have any friends at all. They'd have set me out to pasture thirty years ago.

The thing is, I don't want to live in the world Mr. Emanuel describes. I don't want to live in a world where no one is sick or old or aware of the fact that they're dying. I don't even want to live in a world where no one is feeble, bitter, or unhappy. I don't want to live in a world where everyone has all their limbs and other body parts and everything works perfectly. I don't want to live in a world with no walking sticks.

I want to live in this world, with its moments large and small, moments of real grace. I want to live in a world where people have seen enough of what the world really is to look at each other knowingly, without pity or sorrow, and silently affirm that when it all started, we were all beholden to someone else to survive, and it will be that way again, and again.