[ Belated ] Happy Holidays, 2019!

Hi Folks,

As always, I do hope this note finds you happy, healthy and ahead of your own gameplan.  I hope 2020 is amazing. 😊
I am always curious – – what were your top 3 experiences in 2019? They could have been fun or arduous – we learn and get deeper from all of the, no? I no longer say “good” or “bad” – one quote that has sunk deep into my bones is from Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
The Boys
Overall, I think they are largely out of the “growing like a weed” era. Both are taller than myself, a fact about which they are quietly elated.

3 Spring Tigers, at Temple of Literature, Hanoi
Copyright 2019 Abe Pachikara
  • Seems more self-aware of his time and position in life. He has pushed at the edges of his introverted persona – not in an unnatural way from what I see – and the upshot is a far more diverse social group, and kids that I think inspire him.
  • He is also managing himself better than ever. Not once did I ask about his grades in the fall semester, and yet, he had perhaps his best interim report card. Not a moment too soon.
  • He is in the passage of many – applying to schools. I am securing the boys their Canadian citizenship which opens up places like UBC and Simon Fraser. I think Paul may like living in the Vancouver area actually.
Paul, Loving the Bigger World he is Discovering Every Day
Copyright 2019 Abe Pachikara

  • Sidd has been a method-man since he was a toddler and in high school it is helping his explore far deeper than Paul did. Each person’s path is different, no?
  • He can look ahead, which is a gift. He felt he barely secured a spot on the Freshman soccer team, so near season end he did some interesting research. He a) found a team that was down 2 players on a competitive league that was open to him trying out with them; B) figured out the bus routes from my place and Molly’s to go to and from practices on his own; C) finally came to me asking if I would pay the season fees with the idea he would be in a better place 8 months later. When I realized the homework he had done (he did not mention at first) I had to say yes.
Sidd Loves His Dragons
Copyright 2019 Abe Pachikara
  • Work carries on well and still lets me be wired into the lives of my boys in these fleeting high school years.
  • My proudest chapter? Figuring out how to raise a modest $7k for an NGO in Cambodia. Now I know how to repeat this for every trip going forward. It’s hard to say how raising the funds made the trip “better.” My best analogy is the difference between 2% milk and 2% organic milk. Both are milk, but one has more goodness in it. It took more work, but you feel it is worth it.
  • On balance it was a rock solid year – travel, sports related photography (of high school track and cross country), writing, getting in shape. All goodness.
  • I decided the boys needed to see something non-European – how about Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore? Why? I have always worried my sons’ world view is a very narrow span in terms of culture, economics, topography, architecture, weather, etc. That is, from Bellevue, all the way 20 miles nothward to Redmond. Yikes. Here was a chance to see people living vertically (Hong Kong), new countrysides (Vietnam), old architecture and the merits & vagaries of a true banana republic (Cambodia), and one of the great social experiments of today (Singapore). It was a worthy 18 day education, in my opinion.
  • The 2019 journey ended with the equivalent of two flat tires and a busted windshield. That is, a relapse into stage 3 T-cell lymphoma. The initial targeted drug did not slow it down, which is now stage 4. We have reverted to a 3 drug chemo-cocktail developed by Fred Hutchinson Research Institute. As of this writing, this new carpet bombing (which is what chemotherapy is) appears to be having the desired effect. I will be out of work due to my depleted state and more cycles. But on balance, thank God. To be clear, the lymphoma does not & did not take away from the goodness up until that point or the goodness that continued thru the Holidays. One of my mantras became, “My body is broken, but life is still grand.” I captured notes during my infusions here. Flat tires happen. All you can do is take care of these glitches as best as possible when they occur, right?

Enjoying A Much Anticipated Sunset, Lying Dragon Mountain
Copyright 2019 Paul Pachikara


Do it now – whatever’s important to you
I now know that the 2016 lymphoma did a great job instructing me on at least one thing – – life is fleeting. Hence, “now” is the best time to do what is important to you, or to confirm all arrangements. I have a long list of things I want to do. But, until 2016, I had no firm plans to do any of them. “Sometime later,” was my most common reasoning. Yet, “Sometime later,” is as good as never. The other element of procrastination was to wait for the perfect time, flight, ticket price, etc.
Forget all of that. For me, the 3 years from lymphoma #1 to #2 were arguably full of the best experiences. Like more time with friends, at my boys’ school events, taking photos, writing. And in my case, travel (yes that was sublime to the Galapagos, Normandy, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.) As a dad, one ulterior motive was to expand the world views of my boys. I made a real dent with this travel.
Mesmerizing View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
Copyright 2019 Abe Pachikara

All of these delivered joy for me. So… do it now.

At Mont St. Michel – A Humbling Experience
Copyright 2019 Mary Pachikara

Say it now

A friend of mine, Leslie Tsui is also a cancer survivor. She raised an interesting point. Just in case some untoward event occurred (these happen), she wanted her kids to know with zero doubt that she was their biggest fan. No regrets. No speculation. 100% support for their decisions. So she crafted a note and took them thru it. I loved this idea. Being clear with Paul and Sidd about where I stand with them strikes me as deeply important. So I did the same – you can see mine here.
Setbacks don’t take away anything from everything else
Let’s say you drive out to Yosemite National Park, camp for a glorious 10 days and come home. 70 miles from home, boom! You wind up with two flat tires and a cracked windshield. Sheesh!
Question? What do you choose to remember from this trip. Only the car issues? Only Yosemite? Or both in a balanced manner?
In late October when I had a funny tickle in my left underarm, the first notion was the “flat tire” – – gosh, the cancer is back. Yes it was. But, that did not take away from months of fabulous fun. Unless I chose to block all that out. But why do that. For me, it would have only made the cancer adventure harder, had I jettisoned the great year to date. Hence the mantra, “My body is indeed broken, but life is still fabulous.”
It’s less scary than it first seems, by a lot
Planning out the trip to Vietnam and Cambodia was pretty imposing for myself. At first. Everything seemed so different. Should we do this? It was easy to have many “what if’s” come to mind that suggested, “Abe why not go elsewhere?” And we could have also ensconced ourselves in nothing but private cars, etc. to take us door to door everywhere. How about a canned tour? But I decided my worries were tricks from the cautious side of my mind.
Reading unveiled so many enticing details. Cooking classes. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Free walking tours by college kids wanting to improve their English. Historic sites in the countryside. So many alternatives to hotels. Each detail made the trip less imposing, more inviting.
The upshot? When we landed in Hanoi, we picked up SIM cards pre-ordered from Klook. Google maps lit up on our phones. We chose the city bus from the airport to a local terminal, and wove thru the bustling Old Quarter. The moment we stepped on that bus with its silent AC, our trip doubled in its spiciness. In a great way.
Sleeper cells, everywhere.
When I mentioned the lymphoma to family, friends and a few acquaintances, up leaped clusters of people offering to help. Prayer. Food. Rides. Taking notes at consultations with the oncologist. These people are the oddest forms of treasures in my life. I have thought about this often and one term comes to mind – “Sleeper Cells.”
If any of you are movie buffs, one movie that is part of basic training worldwide for new hires going into intelligence agencies (CIA, MI5, Mossad, etc. ) is Battle for Algiers. The movie clarifies what sleeper cells are in a terrorist or revolutionary network.
Just like terrorist networks have sleeper cells, I believe in the land of “goodness & sunshine” sleeper cells exist that spring to life in times of need. I have an array of sleeper cells working on my behalf. They are friends and family. Neighbors. Parents of the cross-country team. Just to name a few. They don’t intrude. But when summoned they come out of the woodwork. Boom. They joke, they reason, they prognosticate. They ruminate about one’s malady. And take action as needed to help. They bring over food. They drive me to the hospital. I hope I am doing as much for others.
The grandest of trips
Getting to travel to Normandy and Paris with Mom and the boys was hard to beat, not so much due to the destination (which was sublime), but because creating experiences for grandkids and their grandparents is quite amazing. The boys love her irreverent nature and she loves how they don’t worry about life the way adults do.

Mom and the Boys, Mont St. Michel
Copyright 2019 Abe Pachikara
Main Dining Hall, Mont St. Michel
Copyright 2019 Abe Pachikara

Our first meal in Paris was at a creperie. The waitress was perhaps 25, light hearted, and beautiful. Little did my boys know my mom is always on the hunt for a good prank. She has a PhD in this, as the 2nd oldest of 7 kids.

As she casually sipped on a water, she said, “Oh my, look at the smiles on your faces. Both of you clearly think our waitress is VERY good looking.” They looked at her dumbfounded. And flatfooted.
Then the younger one, who litigates everything, rolled his head, and said, “Amma, what a sexist thing to say!”
To which the older brother candidly said, “Sidd, you sound seriously stupid. Sexist? That is not sexist. Amma can see we think the waitress is seriously cute. Admit it.”
My mom just kept sipping on her water, waiting for the food and wine. Mission accomplished.
Keep in mind, the window of opportunity is narrow too. Travel is an athletic pursuit – many grandparents find the sort of trip their grandkids want to do is beyond their abilities pretty quickly.
Some things may be better “over there” – like healthcare costs
When we were in a rural part of Vietnam, my younger son had a fever of 102.5°F fever. Yikes. So a local pharmacist took us to a private hospital. Within 45 seconds of arriving, the chief doctor received us and assessed him. 10 minutes later, they performed an ultrasound on him, followed by IV for antibiotics and fluids. Cost? The hospital fee was $3 USD; ultrasound was $4 USD; IVs cost $7. Grand total: $14 USD. Hmmm…)
You’re Never Too Old
My Mom just turned 80 back in September. What’s on her plate? Well, back around Jan 2019, she landed a slot at the gallery in Southern Illinois University for a show. “My last show! It will be the biggest.”
Yup. About 64 watercolors. Here’s a sample of what will be there. The opening is Feb 21. The worry I hear her mumble under her breath? “What am I going to do next?”

Invitation to Mom’s Latest Show
Copyright 2019 Mary Pachikara

It’s a great question. What am I going to do next? How about you?

Three Quotes

The grapes of my body can only become wine
After the winemaker tramples me.
I surrender my spirit like grapes to his trampling
So my inmost heart can blaze and dance with joy.
One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said “my son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. 
One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?…”
The old cherokee simply replied,”the one that you feed.”

Cherokee Fable

Be kind, for everyone wages a great battle.
Philo of Alexandria

What books, podcasts and movies did you love from 2019? Please let me know – I am always on the hunt.
Alas, I no longer physically read many books. I have failed at setting aside time in my day for this. But I take walks. And drive from place to place. And find many timeslots (vacuuming, lawn mowing, cooking) where my mind is pretty free. And that means audio based books.
Spider Man into the Spider Verse really surprised me in 2019. Yes it is animation but wow the storyline and the animation will surprise you.
Hidden Bullets to Dodge
As far as I can tell, the fall high school sport of cross country, and the kids in it, have helped my boys navigate away from vaping – perhaps my greatest worry in their high school years.
At one point, Paul asked me, “A friend asked if I wanted to try vaping. What do you think?”
I replied, “I am curious what’s your thoughts.”
He said, “I don’t know. That’s why I am asking you.”
Hmmm, how do I say this in terms relevant to him?
So I said, “Two useful things to know.
First, vaping uses a substance called nicotine which is easily one of the most addictive things out there. Right up there with cocaine. So if you take one hit, you are most probably hooked. For how long? Assume 10 years.  Either as vaping, smoking or chewing. 10 years includes the years and years it may take to kick the habit. I smoked very lightly for about 4 years – a half a pack a month. Ask any smoker and they will laugh if you tell them that amount. But it took me 4 years to kick my habit. That freaked me out.
Second, assume it will cost around $2,000 per year. Just to be on the safe side. How many gadgets, cool travel, or upgrades to the future car I know you plan to buy and love will you never see as a result? A lot. Year in, year out. For 10 years. $20,000. From one puff.
It’s a big world. Why narrow it with one puff. Just do your polite, trademark shoulder shrug, and say “that’s ok” as you do when I suggest something you won’t want to do.”
Paul replied, “Huh…” and walked off.
So far, about 2 years later, I don’t think he has tried vaping. Running 40 – 60 miles / week in cross country and track certainly help. They feel their lungs heaving, and I think there is a more obvious connection that this vaping thing will make that harder and lower race times. Thank goodness.
Here’s to a FANTASTIC 2020 adventure
You’ll see I said “adventure.” Because that is life. It goes forward, but also left and right. We all grow deeper from it. Some of it we like at the time. Some is, well, to be appreciated later.
Wishing all the best, Paul, Sidd and Abe…

Another big day for 3 travelers in this wide world, no?
Copyright 2019 Abe Pachikara

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  1. jrosoff January 29, 2020 at 2:56 am

    I miss you, Abe Pachikara! Your writing and reflections are beautiful. We need to get together soon.

  2. Mathew January 29, 2020 at 12:03 pm

    thanks so much Abe – your words, pictures, reflections have always ben profound, rich, inspiring and challenging. It was great to see you in December. Your health, recovery, and well-being remain constantly in my prayers. May Jesus bless you and all your loved ones – Mathew

  3. MJ Spiotta January 29, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you for this Abe. I still think often about a conversation we had at dinner in Las Vegas not long after my brother passed away in 2015. You shared some of your experience losing your uncles, and it gave me perspective that is intertwined in how I grieve (do you ever stop?) and think today. I appreciate you sharing so much, it’s great to see how you are embracing life and playing your hand. Be well!


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