Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER


Sunrise on my wild path!
Originally uploaded by denis collette
There are millions of blogs out there, and in my fascination with diaries of all kinds, I've probably visited hundreds of them. Many are worthwhile and artfully done though I only stop by once or twice. But a couple dozen captured my attention sufficiently that I eventually listed them on my sidebar. Some I checked on weekly, and others just a few times a year, but I always came back.

It's as difficult to explain why one blogger speaks to us in a particular way as it is to describe the mystery of any friendship. Maybe I returned to certain sites because they were asking the same questions I was. Or maybe it was because their answers were better than mine. More beautiful. Truer. Deeper.

One such blogger was Michael who posted photographs and poetry at One Foot in Front of the Other. Michael had been living with a rare cancer for six years, and occasionally he mentioned the anxiety of an upcoming blood test,or another health issue, but that was never the focus of his blog. Mostly, he chronicled his love for all things Japanese, for New York City, and the chess players he photographed in Washington Square Park, for his work at a New Jersey newspaper.

He was frequently wise, and always honest.

Michael visited here, too, but the only time I heard from him directly was in early December after he'd learned of my illness. He offered encouragement and wished me well, but didn't mention his own deteriorating health.

Only after I visited his blog did I discover that that while he was sending me his good thoughts, Michael himself was dying.

In his last month, he wrote about his pain and his fears, about saying goodbye to friends and giving up his cats, but also about the simple joy of a cup of tea. And as always, he wrote about the kindness and the love--the great and incredible goodness he saw in the world around him. He cited his faults and claimed he didn't deserve it, but there it was--"sunrise on his wild path" as photographer Denis Collette aptly titled the photo above.

Michael's last entry was on January 3rd. It was a poem about looking in the mirror and encountering death. But it ended with a personal triumph, a sense of blessedness.

After that, I was almost afraid to return, and when I did, there were no new posts. The poem, I believed, was his final message to us.

I was wrong.

Yesterday I went back and found that his sister had posted two photographs of Michael. She'd also written eloquently about his final weeks, and his death on January 15th. How can I describe my sorrow for this stranger, this friend I never met? Late at night, I sat up in my room in the dark, and pondered it.

But Michael left more behind than sorrow. In a photograph taken after a religious ceremony that was held shortly before his death, he is wasted, but beautiful.

"This picture," he said, "shows all the good and all the evil I've ever done in my life."

They are interesting words from a man whose best photographs were always portraits.

People speak about cancer victims winning or losing their battles with the disease, but I don't see it that way. I think that all of us, both the healthy and the sick, do as the name of Michael's blog describes.

We put one foot in front of the other and keep going. We try to love the world as we find it; and in the end, when we encounter death in the mirror as Michael did, we hope the good overcomes the evil.

Look at one of the last pictures of him shown in the post called Daiku, and tell me you don't see compassion. Tell me you don't see peace.

73 comments:

Sustenance Scout said...

Hello, my friend. How to express the impact of this post? I began today in front of a college classroom of students intrigued by the writing process; when asked to free-write for fifteen minutes, they spent the entire time heads down, filling pages with heartfelt emotion. Turns out most of them wrote about extreme trauma and pain they'd experienced in their lives. I was gratified that they felt empowered by the opportunity to write about such painful things, but I hope some day they'll discover through continued writings that once grief is completely explored and possibly even alleviated, the next step--literally--is to celebrate the lives they lead. It's so obvious that Michael did this incredibly well in his writings, perhaps even beyond all expectations.

And now I'm ending my day by writing this, by thanking you once again for sharing what you're learning and for introducing me to someone very special. I'm off to meet Michael via his blog, his poetry, his photographs. I told the students today that I refer to the Mr. Rogers' song You've Got to Do It when the prospect of yet another big project gets me down. His advice and Michael's advice ring so true; all each of us can do is take that next step. Thanks for the timely reminder.

Much love from Denver, K.

marta said...

The language of winning or losing a battle with cancer is disturbing to me. People who die are not losers. They aren't weaker. People who live aren't winners. They aren't stronger. People just are, and they are with whatever situation they face, and they do so with grace or they don't, and they do so with love or they don't, but none of us gets out of this alive in the end.

I'm sorry to read about someone I've never known. I hope his family are there for each other and have support. Best wishes to them and everyone feeling loss.

tinker said...

I clicked over to your friend's blog, and began reading it, even before finishing reading this post. I found myself caught up in his life story. Continuing to scroll back further and further into his archives, and as I did so, there were moments - when I read posts, saw touching photos - a man giving snacks to two children sitting on a doorstep stands out in my mind, right now - as I saw and read, began to see a bit of his world - there were moments that I found myself nearly clicking on the comment button. Then stopping myself as I realized...what an amazing vehicle this blogworld is, that life stories can continue on reaching out and touching virtual strangers long after the storyteller has left the building...
I'm so sorry for the loss you and so many others must be feeling. Virtual friendships may seem somewhat illusory to those outside of the virtual world, but they feel - and are - very real. Sending you many, many hugs, my friend~XOXO

i beati said...

thank you for introducing me to this beautiful stranger no more..sandy

Susan Messer said...

Patry! I was just beginning my morning by writing a card to you. Then, I thought, let's just see if she's posted anything new since I checked last. And here you are. Lovely and thoughtful as ever. Thanks for this post. I always cringe a little over that "fight against cancer" image (with its winning and losing0, but I like how you set it out. And that thing Michael says about all the good and evil of his whole life, visible on his face. Wow. Now back to the card. Love, Susan

Myfanwy Collins said...

As always, beautifully put, Patry. May Michael rest in peace.

zhoen said...

I cared for a woman dying, miserably, from esophageal cancer. Very near the end, she touched my concerned face, and said.

"It's not that bad." She smiled.

I figured, she's looking death in the face, in pain, phlegm everywhere, and she tells me it's not that bad. I have no choice but to believe her.

Yeah, not a battle, just, This is it.

bloglily said...

"Life boils down to love and compassion." I believe that, although I don't always remember to live it. Thank you for this link. What a beautiful man he was. xo, Lily

Patry Francis said...

K: How fortunate those college students are to have you to lead them toward celebration. I pictured them, heads down, writing out their pain and anguish--and heading inevitably toward understanding, healing, lucidity. For me, there is no better therapy! P.S. Mr. Rogers is one of my heros.

Marta: Beautifully said! I so agree.

Tinker: So glad you took the time to explore Michael's blog. Through his lens, he saw and shared so much.

Sandy: "beautiful stranger no more"
What a lovely phrase.

Susan: Michael inspired me in many ways, but that line knocked me out.
One of his final photos in the post called "Daiku" depicted one of the most compassionate, peaceful faces I've ever seen. Meanwhile, I'll be watching the mail for your card!

myf: Peace. Yes, that's the word. Thank you--

zhoen: A dying friend said something very similar to Ted and me. And yes, we have no choice but to believe them! Thanks for the link to Whiskey River. Quite perfect.

Lily: That line in his Christmas post struck me, too. Like you, I struggle to remember on a daily basis.

Dale said...

(o)

robin andrea said...

We hide death in our culture. Neighbors we don't know, die deaths behind their closed doors. It is the secret that we pretend won't happen to us. How life-affirming it is to find Michael's blog and be taken on his journey, the one we will all inevitably make. He greets death the way I hope to when it is my turn. I wish I could thank him for turning the light on, and taking death out from the darkness.

rdl said...

Well, you've given me a good case of the goose bumps with this one. But i'm heading over now.

Reza said...

Hi Ms. Francis, I have just started reading your first novel (The Liar's dairy). So far I really like it and your way of writing. However, I am doing a research on weblogs and their impacts on social capital (sophisticated word for simply friendship)and I appreciate your participation. Here it comes the official announcement of research.

Dear Friend,
A group of researchers at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are investigating effects of Weblogs on “Social Capital”. Therefore, they have designed an online survey. By participating in this survey you will help researches in “Management Information Systems” and “Sociology”. You must be at least 18 years old to participate in this survey. It will take 5 to 12 minutes of your time.
Your participation is greatly appreciated. You will find the survey at the following link. http://faculty.unlv.edu/rtorkzadeh/survey
This group has already done another study on Weblogs effects on “Social Interactions” and “Trust”. To obtain a copy of the previous study brief report of findings you can email Reza Vaezi at reza.vaezi@yahoo.com.

Patry Francis said...

dale: good to see you here.

robin: "turning the light on and taking death out of the darkness." He did do that, didn't he? You remind me of one of his last posts, which ended with the words: "Things are moving along." There was something so natural, so ordinary about it all--which of course, death is.

r: Goose bumps are good. If you look at some of his old posts, you will love his photographs.

reza: Thanks for reading the novel. I participated in your survey. Good questions!

Carleen Brice said...

Patry, Thank you for sharing his story. Another reason that I love the blogosphere--being genuinely touched by people I'll never even meet.
Peace.

twoblueday said...

This post moved me a great deal. There is nothing more I can say about it.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Patry Francis said...

carleen: Sharing shelf space in Target with your blog friends is also pretty cool!

Gerry: I used to think Valentine's day was too commercial, but now I intend to celebrate to the max. Hope you do, too!

Larramie said...

Put one foot in front of the other, hurry slowly and celebrate today because life -- as Michael and too many other Michaels know -- needs our attention.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Patry Francis said...

Larramie, you are a light.

Sweet Irene said...

I can't write too much in reaction to your post and to Michael's website, because my son died of cancer three years ago and writing about him loosens up all sorts of emotions, but I did want to say that, in Michael's picture, I see the same gaunt and haunted look that I saw on my son's face in his final days and it is very difficult to look at. It is what a dying human being looks like and it makes me immensely sad, as I am sure it will make anybody immensely sad who looks at it. It's when you know that your loved one is going to leave you forever and there is nothing that can be done and you know it and he knows it and you can't stop it from happening. Death is already there to some degree, it has already started and you just have to wait for the end.

Well, that's all I really can say about it now. I am glad for every survivor. Every human being who beats cancer is worth a celebration. It is another soul won!

SweetAnnee said...

Oh I see the compassion and the peace.
May Michael's love leave a lasting impression
on those who knew him

Deena

Maryanne Stahl said...

patry, last night you were reading my blog at the same time I was reading michael's, having got to his through yours. I was deeply moved by his words and pictures and shut down my computer after that. but I felt strengthened by the connection between us all.

Moanna said...

I came here to tell you that I simply loved reading your book and can't get her out of my mind. I also loved the feel of the paper and the fonts, especially the chapter heading font.

Then I read your posting about your friend and visited his blog, looked into his beautiful face.
I loved what he said after finding a home for the cats, where he said "things are moving along." Seems so peaceful.

Patry Francis said...

Irene: As a mother, my heart goes out to you. It must have been so hard for you to look at M's photo. It made me feel immensely sad, too. I see the gauntness there, but I also see a kind of radiance. Sending you peace.

Deena: I'm sure it will--and on many of us who never had the opportunity to meet him, too.

maryanne: I love thinking of you reading Michael's blog while I was reading yours--and then turning off the computer. There's something both commonplace and profound in his words that can only be answered by silence.

moanna: So very happy you enjoyed the book! I loved the fonts on the chapter headings, too--and also the paperback cover. (Much preferred it to the book jacket for the hardcover.)

I'm also glad you had a chance to visit One Foot in Front of the Other. "Things are moving along" was a phrase that struck me, too. So simple. So eloquent.

Becca said...

Patry, you are so right. We all put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, never knowing for sure which day will be our last.

Thank you for reminding me that each moment is a precious gift.

I'm off to meet your friend Michael, and I know his vision of life will inspire me.

Tish Cohen said...

Compassion and peace, yes. I also see a quiet acceptance and a pure human innocence.

I hope he found something or someone loving waiting for him.

xox

colleen said...

Thank you for pointing us in the direction of this blog, this man and his life. We just can't imagine some things but if it is our life what other choice to we have? We often don't have the choice of why, but we do of how. I think of my brothers who passed away five years ago as pioneers blazing a new trail.

I especially loved Michael's post about the India dream.

I'll be thinking about this for a long time.

Patry Francis said...

becca: I'm sure he will inspire you.

Tish: "A pure human innocence." Yes, that's there, too, isn't it?

Colleen: I'm so glad you read the post about the India dream. I loved that one, too. So poignant, but beautiful, too.

NoVA Dad said...

Absolutely beautiful, both your words and the impact that someone's blog can have on so many other people (as Michael's did for you and yours does for so many others). I had never heard of his blog before and just went over and read many of the posts, beginning with his sister's and working backwards. What an amazing man, and surrounded by such love; it seems he shared an overwhelming sense of grace, courage, and peace with so many people. Thanks so much for sharing how you were touched by what he wrote.

Merelyme said...

it is something in the blog world of voyeurs we can even witness someone's death. there have been a few bloggers who have died and i would go to their blog and read their very last posts. it is life changing but it also seems...surreal and makes one wonder if my last words will be included on a blog post.

very fine site you have here. i shall visit again.

Patry Francis said...

nova dad: "Grace, courage, and peace"--it clearly wasn't an easy road to travel, but in the end, he did get there.

merelyme: Thank you and welcome to my blog! You bring up an interesting subject, and one I gave a lot of thought to when I decided to write about my own illness.

Yes, we are a voyeuristic culture, and blogs can encourage that, but I don't think Michael's did. He had too much dignity for that. He wrote honestly and courageously, even wisely about what he was experiencing--a natural process we will all undergo.

Deby Dixon said...

Thank you for guiding me to Michael's courage and heart and for sharing your own.

floots said...

i am left speechless by the power of this post
i want to say many things
but
can only manage warm thoughts and amen
thank you

Marilyn said...

Such a beautiful post, Patry...it brought tears. Heading to his blog now...

Trée said...

I look at his age, one year older than me, and I look at his face and the face he must have seen in the mirror just a few weeks ago and I read those last couple of posts and I try to imagine--and then the question returns--why--why him and not me. I am alive, and to the best of my knowledge, healthy. So I sit here on a grey morning, light rain falling, coffee on my nightstand, typing on my laptop to someone I've never met, about someone I never knew and I ask why. I suppose that question binds us all, makes us brothers and sisters. A post like this touches us all just as the light of the moon, no matter who or where we are in life.

Patry, thanks for sharing. When I shave this morning, it will be with different eyes. Thank you.

paris parfait said...

Patry, thank you for writing about Michael's story. I've just been to visit his blog and was very moved by his words, his willingness to share his truths and his calm acceptance of his ever-changing situation. What a remarkable man! Thank you for enabling us to know a little about him and the challenges he faced with simple courage. xoxox

Patry Francis said...

deby: Thank YOU for taking the time to share your thoughts.

floots: "warm thoughts and amen"--that says it all.

marilyn: I'm sure you will be saddened, moved, but above all inspired.

tree: Thanks for such a beautiful comment. The way we "strangers" connect and expand our vision is a wonderful and mysterious thing.

tara: Michael proved the point that I've been forced to learn myself: you have no choice about the trials life throws at you, but you can always choose how you face them.

Sustenance Scout said...

"You have no choice about the trials life throws at you, but you can always choose how you face them." You are this quote personified, Patry!

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Michael's final poem, "Daiku," is glorious in its simplicity. If only everyone could have such dignity in their final days.

KG said...

Very, very moving, Patry. I went over to Michael's blog. After reading many of his posts, one thing stands out. He and a friend discussed that, after both of them had gotten used to looking death in the face, that all that really mattered in life was love.

All that really matters is the love. Wow. (A bit speechless...)

Thank you so much for the introduction to Michael. He continues to touch people --- I've just met him more than a month after his physical body died. Yet his living spirit has inspired me!

Patry Francis said...

k: Thank you, dear. I have my moments, but on most days, bliss prevails.

Carolyn: We can only hope!

kg: That was a particularly powerful post; and I think I recall his sister writing that Christmas revelation came on his last really good day.

Nancy said...

Wow, this made me want to cry. When I think about the events that so many go through, and how disconnected things can get, and then to see something like this . . . I don't even know how to express it properly. Great post.

chiefbiscuit said...

I have been profoundly touched. Thanks to both you and Michael. People are amazing. Human beings with a strong spirit have an awesome ability to transcend and to turn what could be defeat, into a lasting victory.

Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

Thank you Patry for this beautiful testimony to Michael. And, for your beautiful spirit that continues to inspire us though you too are battling disease. Your readers here, and their moving comments, are gifts to me this day.

Left-handed Trees... said...

Amazing words, as always Patry...I truly needed that link to such an amazing spirit. It inspired me so much.
Love,
D.

i beati said...

I left you an award just some little something to brighten your journey and have people read your powerful blog enjoy for you have made my day !!

Laura said...

I was afraid to go to Michael's blog, Patry. But I did. Thank you for sending us there. Such powerful clarity in his simple words and actions--everything stripped away.
L.

Patty said...

words have such power

st. lucia bride said...

Hello, I came to your blog through Undercover Blonde and wanted to thank you for providing the link to One Foot in Front of the other. He was truely a beautiful person who displayed a beautiful life through his writing and pictures. As I began to read, I found myself going back the beginning of his posts and reading straight through.

Patry Francis said...

nancy: It really does put everything into perspective, doesn't it?

chiefbiscuit: We are stronger than we know! I love finding people who prove that truth over and over again.

beryl: Every comment makes me consider the subject a little more deeply--including yours. It's always a gift to see you here.

Delia: Inspiration deserves to be shared!

laura: After his mirror poem, I was afraid to go back, too, but for all the sadness I felt, I was glad that I did.

Patty: I agree!

st. lucia bride: Undercover blonde has a great blog. Glad to see a friend of hers here. I read M's blog in small doses over the years. It must have had an entirely different--and very powerful--impact, reading as you did.

♥Nova-san said...

Having lost my sister to cancer, I have a particular interest in reading blogs about cancer from people who suffer from it or are somehow affected by it. Thank you for sharing Michael's blog. I have started reading it. I only regret that I did not know of him when he was still here.

Bill said...

Just stopped by to say hello, Patry. Your words are wise.

andrea said...

Amazing story...thank you for sharing it. I spent a long time reading his blog. His insights were astonishing.
Just another critical reminder about how we are all connected in this amazing world of ours.
Hugs,
a.

Sarah J Clark said...

Wishing you peace and strength, Patry. Thank you for blogging.

Much love from the Midwest,
Sarah

Coll said...

This is a loving tribute to Michael. He sounds like such a remarkable man. I am saddened that I did not know of him then.. but I will visit his blog now. I hope you are well Patry.

Jessica Keener said...

What a beautiful and moving post, Patry. Thank you for introducing me to Michael.

Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

Thank you for sharing this post and link to Michael's blog ... yes, there is compassion, peace and love embodied in his picture. Sending you peace & love, JP/deb

debra said...

Thank you for linking to this wondrous site. Michael lived that part of his life from moment to moment, breathlessly breathlessly.
I have shared these incredibly intimate parts of life with my mother (ten years ago today), with my father last July, and with a dear friend in November. Powerful moments.
I have recently read your amazing book. Thank you.

Apple said...

I just finished reading your book "Liar's Diary" and I loved it all the way through to the end. You kept me guessing. :)

easywriter said...

Patry, this was beautiful and thank you for pointing us in the direction of Michael's blog. Truly a gentle spirit as are you. Blessings and peace to all.

Tara Benwell said...

Hi Patry,
I found you via The Writer's Group blog and an old link to your waitress shoes that I stumbled upon. I too was a waitress for years and years and now am a writer. Your post Waitress Gets Book Deal was so inspiring to me as I wait and pray for good news from my agent about my first novel. After reading your old post I decided not to buy any new socks for a while...If you're interested in reading how you've inspired me, check out my response: "Green Socks and Ham" at www.tarabenwell.bravejournal.com.
I look forward to finding your book!

Please accept this hug from afar. I'm praying for your health and comfort each day.
Tara

Alethea said...

Hi, Patry, from across the pond.
I was checking back in to see if there were any new posts and with a silly question that came up for me while reading your absorbing novel, The Liar's Diary.

Then this most recent post made my question seem that much more irrelevant. So I'll diverge to my reactions to it.

Loss of innocence is more than having sex for the first time. It is knowing what it is like to have someone die to whom you have been very close - a lover, a parent, a child, a sibling. We do learn from that experience, but are changed. Probably what one could define as wiser. We know what some others don't. You earn similar experience by coming near death yourself - for whatever reason - and if you survive that, as I am so glad you have, Patry - you have earned a particular empathy with those other people learning what you learned yourself. Like an alumni club, sort of.

I am intrigued by your connection between being interested in diaries, in telling one's story, and blogging. I have the same interest, although unfortunately for me, less skill in constructing a narrative! I suppose it is also tied to my interest in the blogs and diaries of writers :-) Diaries recount a personal story that transcends death, in ways that biographies can not on their own, because of the choice of the author's words.

Oh, here's for my stupid question: when the detective testifies "'A witch,' he called her. 'A witch who deserved everything she got.'" - did your editor (or publisher, or whomever) have you substitute witch for the original word, bitch? (But then again, you use the word in that sense later.) That's what they do for the movies on the airplane, and I was curious if this sort of pressure still took place. (And where I might have once objected to your making the detective trite and unrealistically dogged in going after their one good suspect, after having read John Grisham's An Innocent Man, I lost a little of my own innocence with respect to the power of the truth to come out in the hands of the justice system.)

Thanks!

Mardougrrl said...

Oh, Patry...what a beautiful post! A sobering reminder of how best to live life...by really LIVING it, observing it, and allowing it to break your heart again and again. Your writing does that for me.

Off to check his blog--thank you in advance for introducing him to us.

Patry Francis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patry Francis said...

nova-san: I only knew him through the blog, but I'm so glad I can still visit his poems and photos.

bill: Thanks for stopping in.

andrea: So glad to be connecting with YOU again. I've missed the color and light you always share.

Sarah: Thanks for reading--and for all your good thoughts.

coll: It's easy to pay tribute to someone like Michael. Good to see you here.

Jessica: Amazing guy, huh?

Deborah: I'm not at all surprised that you can see it! I sense the two of you had much in common.

Debra: Thanks for sharing your own amazing moments--and of course, for your kind words about my novel. Much appreciated.

Apple: So happy you liked The Liar's Diary! Thanks for taking the time to stop in--

easywriter: "A gentle spirit"--yes, that really comes through, doesn't it? (It's kind of you to extend the description to me, as well, but let's just say I'm a work in progress!)

Tara: Always nice to meet another waitress/writer! I hope to hear good news about your novel, too. What an exciting time it is.

Alethea: Interesting thought. In a way, facing death is a loss of innocence--the innocence that believes we are immortal. But in another way, it is regaining it as we learn that so many of the superficial things we worry and obsess over really don't matter.

As far as witch/bitch question goes, now that you mention it, bitch would have been a better word in that context. I wish I could blame my editor, but they published it the way I wrote it.

Unfortunately, I think Grisham got the justice system right. Not always of course, but all too often, once investigators identify a strong suspect, the focus is on proving they're right, rather than investigating possible contradictions.

mardougrrl: "allowing it to break your heart again and again." What a wonderful phrase.

Patry Francis said...

p.s. to Tara: I just read your wonderful post, Green Socks and Ham. Thanks for your lovely mention, but I've gotta say, I felt really guilty about the socks with the tiny hole I just threw out this morning!

Kristin Ohlson said...

I haven't visited your blog or any in such a long time. I'm so sorry to hear of your illness. We writers spend so much time worrying about our words and whether anyone is listening to them or valuing them. Almost a shock to be reminded of that very physical world, of which we are an undeniable part.

If you want to ask my lovely Poor Clares here in Cleveland for prayers, they are cyber:
http://www.thepoorclares.com
I know people all over the faith spectrum find comfort there.

Sarah J Clark said...

March 6 -- Thinking of you P! Be strong. Be well. Be blessed! *HUGZ*

Fred Garber said...

Patry...just a little note to say thank you for turning us on to Michael's blog! And thanks for your recent visit to my blog and your very kind comments!

Maithri said...

This is a deeply moving post.

I am glad to have happened upon this place of peace and tenderness.

Sending you soft love on the arms of the morning,

Maithri

Patry Francis said...

Kristin: Thanks so much for the link to the Poor Clares. I have always particularly loved Clare and Francis.

Sarah: Thanks for checking--and also for the hug!

Fred: Glad you enjoyed Michael's blog. And you're welcome!

maithri: What a beautiful message. Thank you-and welcome.

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