Dollar Store Sunglasses

I’m pretty good about keeping up with my things. Items I routinely use have homes where I replace them so they are waiting for me when I need them: keys on a hook, wallet by my sink, and phone on the nightstand. I try to put things in their place because there is nothing more frustrating than looking for something you’ve lost.

The one exception is sunglasses. No matter what I do, I can’t keep them. I either lose them or crush them. When I buy a pair, it is inevitable that they will soon be gone. Because of this, I buy my sunglasses in bulk at the Dollar Store or when I splurge, Walmart.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I was in college in the height of Top Gun’s popularity. Of course, everyone had to have Ray Ban Aviators – which, at the time, cost about as much as my car. But I sucked it up and bought a pair. I remember the Lexington Sunglass Hut where I bought them. I also remember exactly where I was when I sat on them – about 2 weeks later. Since then, I have never paid more than about $5 for a pair of sunglasses… until now.

Being old for some of us means reading glasses. And a beach trip means reading sunglasses, which I found on Ebay for $12. This price goes completely against my mantra and it’s hard to rebel against a long-held life philosophy, but I took the plunge. Since they are so valuable, I still packed a Dollar Store pair to wear into the ocean.

It ended up a good plan because the first wave that hit me stripped them off my face. The water was clear and I searched during the calm between waves, but I couldn’t find them. I did see them once just before I got pummeled by the biggest wave of the day. And then they were gone. Yes, my strategy paid off. I didn’t lose my reading sunglasses… but I still hate losing things.

You don’t get to 50 without losing some things. We’ve all lost money, time, pieces of sanity, and more important things like family members and friends. Whenever I sit in this sand, I remember the most precious thing I’ve lost: Kylie. I can point to the right and remember where she buried me in the sand, and to the left where we built a castle and discovered moats are hard to fill. Out in the water where she floated beside me, determined to keep up with her sisters.

I close my eyes and feel the ocean breeze, the heat of the sun. I hear the relentless pound of the surf and the call of the gulls. The rhythmic hum and weightlessness of the beach lulls me until I hear a familiar giggle.

“Daddy, don’t sleep. Come play with me.”

“Sure, Peanut. What do you want to do?”

“I want to build the highest sandcastle anyone’s ever built!”

“That’s a tall order for a girl so small. Think we can do it?”

“Sure we can. You dig.”

With a pink shovel barely the size of my hand I dig, filling pail after pail with soft, white sand. She pats and prods methodically, pouting a little when a stray wave foils her best plan. When we’ve gathered all the sand in sight, we sculpt turrets with windows, high towers, a drawbridge, and walls so thick no one could ever knock it down. Together we build a mighty fortress. I am working down in the moat while she is forming the highest tower, almost out of view.

“Should we have alligators or sharks for our moat?” I yell up.

“Um, alligators,” she decides.

“What are you building way up there?”

“This is the tower where the prettiest princess will live until the prince rescues her,” she calls down.

Her voice floats on air. It is a mist… a vapor… I almost can’t hear.

I stop my work in alarm. Lifting my head, I shield my eyes from the blinding sun and look toward where she was…

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Something hits my leg. I’ve grown accustomed to the lapping waves – and even the stray wave that submerges my chair won’t rouse me. This is more substantial. I can tell. I fight curiosity in hopes of returning to my dream of her until I am poked again. Reluctantly opening my eyes, I find my sunglasses lying on the sand beside me. What I have lost has returned.

Yet… what I had…

As I leave the beach, I crush the sunglasses in my hand and deposit them in the rubbish bin. Dollar store sunglasses are not the lost thing I wish returned.

Life Doesn’t Stink

My memory is sputtering. A few things I vividly remember and some come back when I’m reminded or when I see a picture. I fear I am forgetting more and more with every passing day; a fact that scares me greatly since I’ve lost Kylie. I don’t want to forget a thing about her. I want to remember the sound of her voice, the peal of her laughter, and the smell of her head after a bath. I yearn to hold those things in storage for instant recall when my heart aches and the separation seems greatest.

One thing, though. One thing I will never forget.

It was the summer of 2015 and Kylie was in the midst of some of the harshest treatment she would endure. The chemo gave her mouth sores that ranged throughout her digestive tract and made eating nearly impossible. She was also plagued with violent nausea that added to her discomfort. It was rough.

There was a trend going around Twitter at the time. Alicia Keys began a movement by asking the question, “Why are you here?” and people responded. The goal was to have people identify causes that stirred them to action and all over Twitter we saw #wearehere posts.

It’s a daunting question, really. Why are you here? Have we asked ourselves that enough?

I asked Kylie.

At first, she balked. “I’m only twelve. I don’t know.”

But I wouldn’t let her off the hook. I suggested that she was here to encourage others, to help them get through their hard time. Or maybe she was here to be the voice of children with cancer so that we could break through the funding gap. And then, I had it…

“You’re here to show people that you can still smile, even when life stinks.”

I remember her reaction as if it were yesterday. Kylie was instantly repulsed by my suggestion, but not at all in the way I expected. And this is a peek into the window of her soul – what made her so special. She was so quick to point out:

“Daddy, life doesn’t stink. It’s just not fair sometimes.”

I am here

Life doesn’t stink.

Are you sure? I’m sitting in this broken life wondering how I got here… How I went from four children at our dinner table to three. How I celebrated your sixteenth birthday without you. How I’ll never get to teach you to drive, see you graduate, perform on stage, or walk you down the aisle. Are you sure life doesn’t stink, baby?

Yet when I reread that paragraph, I noticed something very important. Something I think Kylie figured out in twelve years that is still lost on me at fifty. There is a proliferation of “I’s”. My stinky life is all about me and what I am missing. What I want. How I feel. I… I… I…

Is it possible that life doesn’t stink regardless of our circumstanced IF and only if we figure out that we are NOT here to waste it on ourselves? How did Kylie inherently know that at twelve?

In the Life Doesn’t Stink category, over the past few weeks, we got a few little Godwinks in the form of pictures of Kylie we had never seen. Her sister completely “stumbled” upon one and others were shared by friends.

 

That doesn’t stink!

We have also been blown away by friends and many strangers as we sought to redeem the day. A week before her birthday, we asked people to celebrate Kylie’s Sweet $16 by donating $16 to childhood cancer research. We started the fundraiser with a goal of $3200. That line was crossed in one day. So we doubled the goal and passed that two days later. Between what was donated online and checks people sent, we raised a little over $14,000!

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That most certainly doesn’t stink!

 

Does life stink or can it stink at times? I don’t know. Maybe, just maybe in a few years I’ll get it. I’ll be able to know like Kylie did that life is meant to be lived unselfishly and it truly doesn’t stink… it just isn’t fair sometimes.