Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Tool Cabinet's Legacy

The cabinet in its new home, some tools have already taken up residence.
     About a month ago I was in an antique store perusing all manner of old things, and as I was leaving I found an old tool cabinet. The type that a cabinet maker (or joiner as they used to be known) would make to hold various tools that he would use on any given day. It would have hung on the wall near his bench and afforded him easy access and a place to keep his tools safe from harm, where they couldn't fall off the bench, where he would know exactly where to find them. It's something I've been meaning to make for quite a while but never got around to it. Well, I put down a deposit on it that day, and yesterday I picked it up and brought it home.

A few things left behind...
      When I bought this cabinet I saw it simply as a way to organize my tools and put them in a safe place so I'd know where to find them. I asked my neighbor and my son to help me hang it on the wall in the garage - it's extremely heavy! As we took the drawers out to lighten the load as much as possible we found a few things in them. There was a Kreg jig for making pocket holes, used in cabinet making as well as other small furniture. I also found a measured drawing of a New Yankee Workshop hutch project, a flier for a woodworking supply store called The Woodworker's Emporium and a pen - a very nice pen, the kind I would use in my shop (I'm a bit of a pen snob, what can I say). Suddenly, this utilitarian tool cabinet had taken on a personality. It's craftsmanship isn't that great, the quality isn't the best I've seen or done myself, but it serves its purpose. It's strong and gets the job done. But now it seemed to have a soul, a life of it's own or perhaps a story to tell, the story of where it came from and who it served. This plain, utilitarian not extremely well built piece of shop furniture had suddenly taken on a new life for me and I began to wonder who might have used it. It's an older type of tool cabinet and not many present day woodworkers would take the time to craft something like this. It's the kind of cabinet that generally stores older hand tools, not the whirring, dust-spitting, wood-eating monster machines most commonly used today. Was the previous owner an older man who worked with hand tools? Then there was the plan for a hutch, not something very commonly asked for in today's households. Did that too elude to an older craftsman? The flyer for the Emporium, to my mind, speaks to someone who chose quality tools over cheap imports, tools that would last him a lifetime and that he would want to take care of, to keep in a cabinet specially built to house them. And the pen, a quality pen that seemed to me like one a younger person such a myself might choose. The cabinet was covered inside and out with a heavy layer of dust, so I assume it has been sitting for some time unused. Perhaps another trip back to the antique store might shed some more light on its story, maybe not. Maybe I can just envision this craftsman from time to time as I reach for that hand saw that will hang inside the right-hand door, or the Jack Plane that will rest in the main body of the cabinet. If nothing else I've taken the time as I lovingly cleaned, hung and started to fill the cabinet with my tools to wonder who this person might have been, what they might have built and where they are now... I can only hope that someday when my time has long since passed, and the cabinet has passed into the stewardship of another craftsman, that they too might wonder who I was and what I built.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways

     I have some really great news both for myself as well as for a very good friend and fellow cancer warrior. I also have a story to share with you, but first I need to set that story up with the news. Earlier last month a friend and I went to Fort Bragg, CA and stayed at MacKerricher State Park. It's an extremely beautiful place to stay right on the Pacific Coast and we spent most of our time there hiking along the coast where we saw seals, cormorants, pelicans, oyster catchers, terns, a great blue heron (unless you believe the guy who tried to convince me that despite being new to watching wildlife as well as photography he was certain that it was a sandhill crane, on a huge rock, in the OCEAN!) and I even got to see some gray whales! Our camp was surrounded by small birds of many varied species, and a family of raccoons. We also had a skunk visit our camp almost every night. The skunk had me more than a little worried as it was late at night and their senses aren't the keenest in the animal world. It would wander right into camp while we were still up and it was hard to convince it to leave, it knew we were there but not our exact location... The raccoons were easy to persuade to leave but this little skunk was determined that it had a path to travel and we just needed to acquiesce and allow him the run of the place. Fortunately no one and nothing was sprayed... THAT would have ruined the trip. It was a peaceful and much needed decompression time for both my friend and I.

      Part way through the trip, while looking at a display of whale bones at the park headquarters, I received a text from Sarah. As I read the text message my eyes welled up with tears and the wind left my lungs... suddenly I couldn't stand and hit my knees weeping. She had received my latest lab reports and way relaying them to me. That text read as follows: “Hemoglobin 14.3 – that is so AMAZING!” At this point I need to give you a frame of reference, at my lowest that count was 4.8 and for a healthy male my age it should be 12-16... Reread that and think about that for a moment, it's pretty huge. What this means is that my hemoglobin count is well within “normal parameters,” unassisted by transfusion, for the first time in almost five years. I hesitate to utter the word “cured” yet, as I have no official word from the doctors, and quite frankly this IS my first rodeo as regards stem-cell transplants, BUT... things sure are looking good, eh?

      So, with that out of the way, I can now tell you the story. About twenty years ago my mother in law was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time her neighbor Marilyn, a very devout Presbyterian, gave her a very small gift. It was a white bear fetish. As Marilyn gave it to her she said, "I don't know if this will help (with her cancer)...but it can't hurt." Marilyn had carried the small gift in the palm of her hand so it felt warm, smooth and somehow very comforting in my mother in law's hand. Marilyn gave her a hug and left. My mother in law held that fetish all day, feeling it's smoothness, admiring the tiny little fish carving that was tied to its back. She knew nothing of fetishes, or the meaning of the white bear, she only knew that it comforted her. She carried the small bear in her pocket, often touching it for the next two years. And she lived. She carried it for three more years. And she lived. The day that her oncologist told her that she would live to be an old lady, she wrapped the white bear in tissue and put him away. She was no longer afraid of dying.

      Many, many years passed and she forgot about the bear. I was diagnosed and fighting for my life and still, she didn't remember the bear until one morning several buzzards came and visited her back yard, at least a dozen huge buzzards sitting in her redwood trees. While they are common to this region they're not that common in cities like Modesto. Why were they there? While she was watching them she suddenly remembered the white bear, walked into the house to the old secretary desk where she had placed it all those years ago, packaged it up and mailed it to me with the message "it can't hurt, carry it until you are no longer frightened". So the bear came to me and I carried it. It went with me everywhere and I didn't know if it would help or not, but I knew it couldn't hurt. Over the years I began to believe, slowly with each passing day grew a certain familiarity and it was always with me. As the years passed, the little fish came loose from its bindings and was lost, but the bear stayed. Eventually the bear's work was done, at least with regards to me, and it had done all it could for me. I can't explain how but I knew it was time and I passed it on.

      Now the bear accompanies my friend and fellow transplant patient Danny. He and his caregiver wife just passed through California as they moved from Phoenix to Seattle to be closer to the Puget Sound VA hospital where Danny and I received our stem cell transplants. Along the way they stopped to spend a few days with us. As nice as it is to have family come for a visit there's something to be said for friends stopping by, especially those who have walked the dark and lonely road that traverses the fight against cancer. There's a certain camaraderie with others who have shared similar experiences. They know first hand the troubles each other faces and can lend a kind of sympathy that others just don't have to give.

      Danny's story is one of those that just tears at your heart. He and his wife Nicole have been fighting Hodgkins for ten years and his story alone spans eight binders of test results, doctors' recommendations, instructions and plans of action. Until the bear came to him to lend its power to the fight, the best they had managed was a small victory that was short lived. The best the doctors could offer him, much the same as me, was a procedure that was just as likely to end his life (if not more so) than to save it. It was by no means an easy or comforting decision to make, and much like Sarah and I they chose to wait. Say what you will, but after a battery of tests to reestablish where Danny stands in his own personal battle, the doctors in Seattle recently revealed that, contrary to what Danny had been told in Arizona, his cancer is GONE! I can't tell you with certainty that the bear had anything to do with that, or with my recovery, or even my mother in law's. That's up to you to decide. I can tell you that Patricia, my mother in law, is a devout Christian as am I. Danny, perhaps not so much. In my heart I don't think that has much to do with the bear's power, I think it comes from a vastly different... “place” and that God set things into motion by sending Marilyn, Pat's neighbor, all those years ago to the southwest where she bought the bear at a store in Tucson that was owned/operated by a local tribe. The man (a shaman perhaps) working that day, explained the significance of the fetishes and the power each had. She bought the most powerful white bear and brought it to my mother in law. She and her family are devout Presbyterians, she worked as the ministers secretary and her husband Bill is/was one of the church deacons. It was so out of character for Marilyn to buy something so contrary to her personal beliefs that in retrospect, I wonder what 'power' moved her to buy the bear? God does move in mysterious ways. I was given the bear about four years ago and it has now comforted three cancer victims. I wonder how many more pockets it is meant to be carried in? I wonder what Marilyn think of the bear's story since her first generous giving... perhaps that will be another story for you all to read here in the future.

      Until then, please keep an open mind when it comes to things that you can't explain and don't be so quick to dismiss such things as weird or coincidental. You never know how God will send you what you need and if you dismiss it it may not come back to you again...