I overdid it on my first day of work and had to spend the entire next day working on my back. We made a makeshift bed under my desk so that I could still work on the computer and take calls all day.
But lots of good came from all of this. In the first place, I’m enjoying food more than I ever have. I’ve so far been able to tolerate everything. Even spicy or fatty foods. I’ve lost my taste for soda—especially caffeine—which I can only drink a little of now. But otherwise, no problems at all. I actually wonder if I’ve been sick for the past 20 years without realizing it and now I’m finally better. I also think I drank so much caffeine with meals just as a pick-me-up because I felt so awful after eating. It’s nice to feel normal and to cut down on something that wasn’t good for me anyway.
I’ve also suddenly got lots of friends among my older neighbors and church acquaintances. Having a couple of belly incisions goes a long way with that crowd. And, honestly, they’ve been unbelievably sweet and wise. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten concerning recovery has been from kind older men in my congregation who have endured a whole lot more than my relatively simple laparoscopic procedure.
One other benefit, as several people noted, was that I lost a bunch of weight right before we took family pictures. Not the best way to get there, I suppose. But oh well. The pictures still turned out great.
Besides all of that, the best feature of my new life—the life following that plate of nachos—has been much greater focus on what I most care about in life. I had at least one day in the hospital of feeling completely helpless. I hurt everywhere. I was exhausted but didn’t want to fall asleep because of the nightmares. I couldn’t get my bowels to wake up post-surgery, no matter how much walking I did. And I couldn’t do simple things, like change socks, without assistance.
I reflected a lot during that time of how quickly life moves by. I still feel like I’m a young man. I easily feel like I’m in my 20’s. But to my nurses (who actually were in their 20’s), I was clearly a middle-aged guy with gray hair, a “dad body,” and gastrointestinal problems.
It made me realize how soon another couple of decades will pass and I’ll find myself toward the end of my career and entertaining grandkids at Thanksgiving.
We are given so little time in this mortal life on earth, and that time moves so very quickly. That really hits you when you’re alone in the hospital with just your thoughts, your sleeping bowel, and your vegetable broth. So what can we do to make the most of this wonderful, fleeting experience? That’s what I spent my time thinking about, and that’s what I gained from all of this.
I came out ready to live my life much more fully. And not just outside of work, but particularly at work. I’ve spent too much of the past few years holding back talents, getting lost in the weeds, and settling for mediocrity or consensus instead of really creating and leading. I don’t think I’ve done bad work. Not at all. But I also know that I’m operating well below my true potential, and I’m done with that.
I also came out of the hospital completely excited about our house and the massive amount of work we still have to do on it. The yard, in particular, has been so bad lately that I felt like we’ve just given up on it entirely. Our home improvement budget is already blown for the entire year, which makes yard work a lot less fun. But there are hundreds of hours’ worth of work we could be doing before our next round of yard money comes next spring: weeding, pruning, trimming, digging, collecting, moving, tilling, painting, chopping, mowing, hammering... all of it needs to be done and costs nothing. I came home excited about that work and eager to get a move on it.
When I woke up on Saturday, I decided to spend the day in the back yard. We are working on a vision we have of planting a miniature forest there with over 150 trees, all native to Idaho. Our plan, which is still very rough, is a modification of a very technical program provided by Shubhendu Sharma, whose website includes instructions, spreadsheets, and schedules for accomplishing the enormous project.
Sharma has been able to produce results like this:
The project has also had side benefits for us as we’ve started planning. We’ve gotten to know our local flora and fauna a lot better. Plus we’ve had multiple trips to the local mountains and large parks just to count tree density and take pictures of leaves and berries.
I’ve also been introduced to amazing resources I’d never have known about. The University of Idaho, up in the northern panhandle, has a whole department specializing in native reforestation. They sell quality saplings for just $2.25 each and offer numerous free catalogues and guidebooks.
The best of these is an out-of-print book, Wild Trees of Idaho. In addition to its $120.00 listing on Amazon.com, this was fortunately also available both at my local library and online for free as a pdf.
The book is just wonderful. It’s full of helpful detail and technical information. But it’s also written with a concise, clear, and whimsical tone that’s uncommon for something as mundane as a field book. It’s like discovering that Bill Bryson wrote assembly instructions for an Ikea cabinet. Here are a couple notable examples:
Picture a small, gnarled whitebark pine growing from a crack in a
granite slab at 7,000 feet in central Idaho. We sacrifice the plant by
cutting it at the base. It is 2 inches in diameter and only 3 feet
tall. The annual rings are counted…slowly, for they are so very
narrow. Eighty-six years old! Is this 3-foot plant a tree?
When the first forest ranger explored Hells Canyon in the early 1900’s,
he discovered an apricot tree he estimated to be over 100 years old.
This would mean that the tree’s establishment predated the first canyon
settlers by 50 years or more. Whence the seed? We can but speculate,
but since apricot fruits dry very well, Indians could have brought them
through trade routes from California, where apricots were established
by the Spanish in the 1700s.
When Saturday came, I rolled out of bed, put on sunglasses, and moved to the back yard. Later in the day we’d spend some time reading the guidebook and wandering around a neighbor’s yard to measure their trees and take pictures of the leaves.
But for the first several hours, I finally completed an early and as-yet-incomplete step in this plan: I made a reasonably accurate, scaled map of our back yard. This has been no easy task because I’m horrible and this kind of work. My mind wanders so much that I can’t pace out a back yard without losing track of what I’m doing and thinking about all kinds of things instead. I had to re-measure at least a dozen times before coming to a passable map. I’d be a horrible surveyor!
But in the end, I was able to produce a workable map for us to plan out the forest and its embellishments. We won’t have the money or time to start planting until Spring, at the soonest. And with all the prep work still to be done, it might be the following Spring when we finally start putting saplings in the ground. But now we can at least start mapping out the project with enough precision to start calculating our needs for dirt, conditioner, manure, and mulch.
As Mormons, we believe that the miracle of creation, like all miracles, was methodical, planned, and natural. We also believe that we are supposed to operate that way: to be creative and to understand and honor nature, within whose inherent limits we necessarily operate.
It’s easy sometimes to forget why we’re here for this short life. It’s our time to become more kind, more just, and more creative. I forget that sometimes when I’m worried about spreadsheets or daily chores. But it was easier to remember it on Saturday as we looked out at our back yard and imagined the future we are creating within it.