Happy Holidays 2017!

Hi Folks,

I do hope this note finds you happy, healthy and ahead of your own gameplan.

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Paul, 15, Sidd, 14 and me with my eyebrows again
Abraham Pachikara, Copyright 2017 (Click for larger image)

As some of you know, my dad passed away this past January 1. Hence, my Mom has been on the millennia-old journey of a spouse surviving a vibrant marriage, and now traveling without her longtime partner. When Dad was in his last months, she was resilient, focused and tough as nails. I think she is tougher now, although her gently delivered words will never betray this fact. Certainly, on many moments she is deeply wistful. Yet I watch in awe. As always, I thoroughly enjoy my time with her (a constant since I was a toddler), and one of 2017’s pinnacles was when she joined Paul, Sidd and myself for a week in Rome and Florence. For this deeply passionate art lover, visits to the Uffizi and Vatican Museums only energized her while we were left exhausted. Mom’s spunky 78 year old persona shone like a 19 year old art history major for that week. More broadly, in 2017 she’s embraced the online world: not just such aspects as banking and utilities, but also presenting her art work via Saatchi Art such as this collection of landscapes. Her nimbleness and tenacity are deeply noticed by the boys.

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Happily Zipping to the Art Mecca of Florence
Abraham Pachikara, Copyright 2017 (Click for larger image)

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Mom in her Medium, at the Uffizi in Florence
Abraham Pachikara, Copyright 2017 (Click for larger image)

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3 Travelers, Meandering the Streets of Florence
Abraham Pachikara, Copyright 2017 (Click for larger image)

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At the Santa Maria Novella train station, Florence
Abraham Pachikara, Copyright 2017 (Click for larger image)

Paul at 15, underwent more of a metamorphosis that I expected, obvious when compared year over year, but so stealthy on a day to day basis that I have done a poor job to notice & track it. His voice dropped an octave while his body sprouted perhaps 5 inches, made evident by recurring knee aches in the running seasons, and now he matches my shoe size. The formerly rotund toddler is no longer just skinny, but now vividly muscular. Sidd’s observation, “Dad, have you looked at Paul’s tummy? It’s perfectly symmetrical and it’s a bunch of muscles.” Too true.

Yet this is no surprise, it’s simply the outcome of the metabolism of a 15 year old colliding with athletic pursuits (in this case a regime of running 30 – 40 miles a week.) He is sinewy and now so strong that my thoughts of ambushing him with tickle attacks risks the prospect of being neutralized, or worse.

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Paul @15, No Longer the Rolly Polly Toddler
Abraham Pachikara, Copyright 2017 (Click for larger image)

Paul is low key, particularly under pressure, happily introverted, well liked and a real anchor for his brother and for myself too. High school is a handful and he is steadily learning the tricky lesson of balance between studies, sleep, sports and socializing. Some of his endless curiosity as a toddler seems to be resurfacing – why it diminished I don’t know.

Sidd has the headlights of his older brother’s experiences to shine far into the distance, making 8th grade a walk in the park. Combined with a collection of inquisitive friends, he is grooming a tendency as a self-starter. He’s a 6th grade mentor, still a math and soccer junkie, and has an omnivorous reading diet, routinely pulling books off my shelf to curl up with that range from poetry (Gitanjali), to marriage (Gottmann), to comedy (Options) to poly sci (What Went Wrong) to career lessons (Work Rules). At times he is seething with opinions about the contradictory world around him, and the short term view of politicians and people of influence. The 38 Laws of Power, as dismaying as they can be, has offered him some logic to the mess we call living. All of this has not diminished his optimistic view of the world – I routinely here his positive self-talk about his day and of those around him. As important, he is a kind and whimsical brother and son.

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Sidd, the math and soccer junkie
Abraham Pachikara, Copyright 2017 (Click for larger image)

One of 2017’s fleeting but sublime moments was finding Sidd and Mom busily at work in the garage at their makeshift studio. She on a watercolor, him on a sculpture. Staying connected to family pays countless dividends, no?

Myself, I am well. Still on a protracted job hunt. Yet the saying “Life is relative” comes to mind every day – in part due to the cancer – and I am still loving life. My photo pursuits have been more “industrial” in nature, as a pro-bono hired gun covering sports (cross country team photographer,) politics (get out the vote rallies for local state senator Manka Dhingra) and religion (events at our church). It is my effort to contribute to a “life of abundance.” I am still too reclusive, with a laughably bare social schedule, but we all have gremlins to deal with, no? 2017’s travel, including meeting with long-time friends, has been deeply invigorating for my soul.

My Insights From 2017:

  1. Life is even less sequential. My age shows thru in my view of how life “should” work. Formerly, one thing follows another. Now, that’s less the case. Example 1: via MOOCs like Coursera, EdX and Udemy, you learn what you want, when you want to. When Sidd was in 6th Grade, still loving dinosaurs, he took the University of Alberta Paleontology course taught by professors. Currently, Paul needs to bolster his Java coding, so he’s taking a Udemy Java course that 145k other people have taken. Example 2: a local 10th grader, seeming more and more like a unicorn unto himself, Atul Ajoy, ran a 2 day camp for teenagers regarding entrepreneurship, recruiting heavyweights from the Seattle startup community to lead each session. Nuts. AND so amazing. Do what you want now. The old protocols are shattered.
  2. You get out what you put in. I watched again as Paul’s cross country (XC) team dominated the season and landed 2nd in the state of Washington. The secret: as Lilly Singh says in her book How to be a Bause – – “Life has no escalators or elevators, just a lot of stairs.” Paul’s cross country coach is a former Olympian in the 10k, but the core of his secret sauce is from the same playbook as Lilly’s. “Our runners’ worst race is what most teams dream of. But there’s no magic to it. They put in the time, put in the miles, invest in themselves and their teammates.” An important ingredient: the fellow travelers on your journey. Needed are ones who inspire you on when it is cold, wet, your body is aching, your constitution is challenged and doubt is rising.
  3. Eras are puzzling, part 1. I miss my Dad, deeply. Moments of melancholy land hard and unpredictably at times. It’s an era unto its own, like the Jurassic Period. A limited slice of experiences that is different from the next. In my case, “DD” (During Dad) versus “AD” (After Dad.) I still find it hard to believe he is not calling me to inquire about things. To connect it to some historical event, or relate a story from his own life. At times, to disapprove of my choices, and share advice on a different path. That era is fully played out and now his wisdoms are brought to life my myself, “autonomously.”
  4. Eras are puzzling, part 2. I still cannot believe a year ago I was getting treated for cancer. I had no eyebrows. My fingernails and toenails were black. Fingertips were numb AND tingled. Various other side effects reverberating through my constitution. Now, nothing. None of those glitches. It is so different from my “DT” (During Treatment) life that I almost want to ask a family member or friend, “seriously, did I have lymphoma or was it a very elaborate and vivid dream?” Again, it’s simply an era. And I “see” other eras that all of us have traveled through. Some running concurrently. Each with its own thumbprint and ending. Most occur as logical, somewhat fuzzy or gentle transitions from one to the other: infant; toddler; high schooler; college student; single and working; the many flavors where a loved one or friend is alive and well. Some eras arrive abruptly: when a loved one passes away; sickness; natural disaster. I think Napoleon was referring to eras when he said, ” ‘Tis but a moment from the sublime to the ridiculous.”
  5. Reliving Siddhartha, the book. When the character of this novel meets his old friend Govinda, so many years have passed, and so many events have occurred in their lives. I met with college classmates I had not seen in decades and I was suddenly in the middle of the book. Successes. Failures. Laughter. Good hearted comradery. All woven into one. That was my takeaway. If anything, my hermetic tendencies, my self-declared exiles, meant I had missed out on much from their rich lives. Why the choice, I don’t know, it’s a bit of a mystery to myself.
  6. Parenting is increasingly a mental labor of love. As I look back, and in chatting with friends, I see that the caring for the boys has shifted from physical labor (“Yikes, I need to change this baby, he’s a little ripe”) to mental and psychological (“So why are you so frustrated? / Why did you make that choice? / Etc., etc., etc.) I find the latter category is actually harder, yet much, much more rewarding for myself.
  7. Resilience is so vital. Having experienced a few setbacks in the last 18 months has made me aware of the importance of grooming different dimensions of resilience – I think it is life’s version of an insurance policy. These flavors of resilience include mindset (gratitude helps), economic (by staying curious) and physical (staying active).
  8. Physical resilience, Part 1 – Here’s a selfish reason to get and stay healthy. Let’s say you are 40. You have a good 50 years of living ahead of you. And a ~30% to 50% chance of getting a major malady. The malady is bad, yet the drugs will hit you just as hard. Together, their impact is akin to a noiseless freight train barreling across Kansas. And each unhealthy trait you have will add 20 loaded cars to the train. For example, do you: smoke? Are overweight? Drink a lot? Other substance problem? Stressed out from work or other sources like the 10 pm news? Don’t pray, meditate, or take in a big dose of humor each day? Choose to not pay extra to eat organic, so there’s all kinds of growth hormones and pesticides in your system? Each of these will add 20 freight cars to your malady/medication train. This warning leaps to my attention when I am out and about, and I see someone who has any of these traits. Within myself, a fierce urge rises to walk up and ask, “what are you doing? Please, choose otherwise.”
  9. Physical resilience, Part 2 – You don’t know when “winter is coming.” Pardon the Game of Thrones reference. Here’s a pop quiz….
    • Question: what’s the difference between preparing for a marathon and preparing for a major medical calamity?
    • Answer: in terms of the need to elevate your health and stamina, not much. But you chose to run in the marathon race; so you ALWAYS know the date in advance and prepare in advance via a detailed work back schedule. You NEVER know when the medical calamity will hit you.
    • The Upshot: you need to start “training” now and never stop. It’s the only logical choice.
  10. Raising ourselves above of the mediocrity. The solar eclipse this past August was such a joy, as for a moment humanity gained a much larger collective sense: we are tiny relative to this breathtaking universe. I for one, wanted more of this splendor, to board the starship Enterprise, to see more, to do more. And I loved how we lost all attention for the deeply rooted, yet largely inconsequential partisan battles underway for the soul of the country. These were less important. The fleeting escape (or perhaps re-balancing) was intoxicating, to say the least.
  11. Stuart’s Travel Lessons. The boys and I took an overnight Amtrak train from Seattle to Oakland. Phenomenally relaxing. While it had some kinks, I would highly recommend it, even if you or your kids are not train lovers. (Paul is.) One gem – meeting other travelers, which is made easier as Amtrak seats people as foursomes in their dining car. We dines with a retiree named Stuart: white, Jewish, US born and raised, a former lawyer for the US Postal Service. “I like baseball games and the arts, so I was in Seattle to see the Angels and the Mariners, intermingled with museums, live music and plays.” Nice!

But in 5 minutes, I realized my own unconscious biases busy at work. My mistaken takeaway: here’s a landlocked American. How wrong I was. (Traveling on a train was the dead giveaway.) Stuart was more Indiana Jones than a suburban denizen, a true global nomad. How global? 34 countries for the fun of it, many visited more than once. He was “done” with Europe. His fancy? Sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, South America. Wow! He shared nuanced stories and lessons from these sojourns. His #1 tip:

“Clarify what is most important to you on the trip and make sure you do that. Then the 2nd, and so forth. Stop at 5. Plan your trip accordingly and have a ball.”

Hmmm… That’s not just a travel tip. It’s useful to life in general.

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Breakfast on the Coast Starlight from Seattle to Oakland
Abraham Pachikara, Copyright 2017 (Click for larger image)

Finally, what have you read that has captured your imagination or attention? I have listened to books for years and a few that I really liked this past year were:

2017 had some semblance of normalcy for my personal life after the radiation therapy concluded, though the broader world was full of towering, and at times shattering, chaos. So many lives & souls torn asunder. Life is relative, and the tranquility in my neck of the woods made that fact much more apparent & surreal.

I do hope this past year was one of growth, laughter, purpose, contribution and deeper wisdom for each of you, even if peppered by setbacks. Please reply back to tell me the highpoints, the low points and your lessons. And as I like to conclude, may the treasures, experiences and talents applied this year make 2018 into the next fabulous adventure.

Take care and God bless you!

Sidd, Paul and Abe…

(You can find prior recaps here.)

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