January 14, 2006

You thought you had a plan?

In La Paz, while E2 and I sipped vacation drinks outside our hotel cafe, we met another American staying at our hotel. He was there, in beautiful La Paz, alone, to wrap up his father's estate. Predictably, he was sad and lonely, but he was also in awe of the beauty of the town and landscape, and clearly, he was enjoying himself on occasion (how could you not smile at being on the beach in 80 degree weather when there were torrential rains at home?).

The guy, M, was from E2's & my alma mater, and lived in the bay area. His father had been sailing for several months and had died of cancer, leaving the boat in La Paz. M was in La Paz to act as his dad's executor and deal with the confusing legal issues (and I thought my US-based wills & trusts exam was hard) all by himself. He didn't speak Spanish, but when we asked if it was difficult, he shrugged and said, "Sometimes it's hard, but I get by."

As he left, I thought to myself, "Yes, that is how it works. Sometimes, it is hard, but we do what we have to do to get by."

We ran into him again on tecolote beach while having a drink and enjoying the view. Turns out he wants to be an IP lawyer, is getting ready to apply to law school, he has a technical degree and some job experience, and was considering taking the patent bar. I gave him every ounce of advice and knowledge I could scrounge up (very few) and volunteered to help him at any time during the process. He seemed to be grateful to have an idea of what he might be pursuing and I felt good to help someone who had so much to deal with at the moment.

Of course, we ran into him again at the the Applebees on the Malecon where all the Americans gathered to watch the Rose Bowl. Later that night, we had a drink with him up on the roof terrace of the hotel and enjoyed one of those only-while-traveling conversations where you bare your soul to strangers. We discussed traveling alone, his father, the boat, and how life jumps up and surprises you no matter how hard you try to be prepared. The next night, he knocked on our door and joined us for dinner with E2's parents. We went out for drinks afterwards and then wished him well on his return the next day.

Certainly, neither E2 nor I planned on spending so much time on our trip with a stranger from our home region. But, that's one of the things I love about traveling, you never know what's going to happen, even if you plan every detail.

Later, on the same trip, I learned that my father has been diagnosed with a fairly serious illness. I volunteered to come home early (not certain if I could do it, but wanting to at least offer to try) but he asked me to stay and enjoy myself.

Immediately, I started changing my plans for the coming months. I resigned from journal. I abandoned my plans to run the marathon. Despite having ran the majority of the miles in preparation, I could not justify one more month of long runs and a trip to Southern california to run a race when I could just run short runs without the training schedule and spend the remaining time with my family. I looked into taking a leave of absence, visiting at a law school closer to my father's home town, and how I could commute from my current law school to my home town on the weekends, if necessary.

Over the next few days, I found it odd that I could sincerely enjoy beautiful baja, the delicious food, and the additional random travel hilarity, while simultaneously wishing I could be with my family, and visiting internet cafes every day to research, email, and discuss health care with my family. But that's one of the beauties of human existence, we can laugh while we cry. And we should if we can, because life is short.

And now, after the first day of classes, I'm back in my hometown. My last semester of law school will be quite different than I planned. I can do what I need to do for the family in a few days each week, and my father would be angry at me (and truly himself) if he felt that I was putting my life on hold for him. So, this semester, I'll be balancing the wedding, law school, and banding together with my family to help my father. I'm going to live in the bay area with E (and try to be a good fiancee) 3-4 days per week and commute to my hometown to be with my family for the other time.

I'm also going to try to take the normal 3L approach. Read? Only if there's time and I feel like it. Class? I'll try to attend so I don't have to read [grin]. I'm not certain when I became such a diligent student -- I skipped plenty of class and winged my way through much of undergrad and I still graduated. Time to get back to my roots!

Much like M enjoying La Paz, I'm going to be able to enjoy some of these changes. Because this happened now, while I'm a student, I can take a leave of absence if need be, and I can take a less serious approach to my studies so that I have the time and ability to go be with my family for half the week. More importantly, I will be able to enjoy excellent meals with my family every weekend this semester. We will be able to gather around the table and enjoy one another as we do on the holidays, but on a much more regular basis. It's something wonderful that we wouldn't have otherwise made the effort to do.

So, my plans for the marathon and journal are out the window. Life had other plans for me. And in hindsight, I needed to meet M in La Paz and see the quiet strength with which he was handling everything with his father. The random travel friend has given me a confidence in my ability to get through this that I couldn't have found otherwise. It's called life. We deal with it as it comes. We take the good surprises with the bad. Because even in the midst of terrible things, there is good to be found.

"Sometimes, it's hard. But I get by."

That's going to be my mantra. Thanks M.

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