Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Inspired By…”

Lost In Translation

“Mei wen ti”.  The Chinese Pinyan expression does not ring a bell to you?  How about, “Hakuna Matata?”  You do not need to have had children to have heard this expression from the Disney classic, “The Lion King,” Pumba the wart hog sings, “it means no worries for the rest of your days, it’s our problem-free philosophy.”

“Mei wen ti” may not have the familiarity of Hakuna Matata, but it most certainly is the way of life that I strive every day to maintain.  You may also have heard of the serenity prayer, and I am paraphrasing, “give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I keep coming back to “Mei wen ti.”  Why?  Because of all the challenges in life that I have faced, too many to list in this post, those three words, “Mei wen ti” changed my thinking and way of life forever.

I first heard “Mei wen ti” at a hotel in Hong Kong.  I had just landed in Hong Kong to adopt my daughter, a blessing from China.  I handed my credit card to the desk clerk to pay for my overnight stay.  Before I left, I notified my bank, a small credit union, that I would be travelling overseas, so that they would not suspect anything with my credit card being used in China.  And then I heard…

“It was declined,” said the clerk.

I told the clerk to try again.  I knew it was working.  I knew there was zero balance on when I left for the airport the day before.

“Sir, it is declined again.”

Beginning to panic, I urged the clerk to try again.  There has to be a mistake.

Our guide for this part of the trip, Ben, came over to me, asking what was the matter.

I told Ben, that my credit card was being rejected and I had no idea why.  I had only enough cash for some expenses during our two week trip, and still needed to pay for hotels and in country flights to finally meet my daughter.  Impossible without that working credit card.

“Mei wen ti.”

I said, “excuse me?”

Ben repeated it.  “Mei wen ti.”

Now completely baffled, as I do not speak Chinese, I shouted, “what the hell does that mean?”

Ben translated, “it means no worries.”

Oh my God.  You have to be kidding.  Does he not understand English?  I hear him speak it.  But I just got done explaining my problem, and all he can say is “don’t worry about it.”

Ben continued, “we are coming back to hotel in fourteen days.  You take care of bill then.  Mei wen ti.”

Ben really did not understand.  I had no working credit card, and I was on the other side of the world.  All he could do was tell me not to worry?

Later that morning, we took the flight to the province where my daughter lived.  We met our guide for that part of the trip, De.  I began to explain my problem, and only got as far as the beginning before he interrupted, “mei wen ti.”

What the hell is it with this “mei wen ti?”  I have a real problem here, and some quirky Chinese expression is not going to get my credit card working.

As we arrived at our hotel in the capital city, my turn came in to check in, with no credit card, and not enough cash to pay.  De joined me at the counter, looked at me and smiled, “mei wen ti.”  While I felt like blowing a major gasket at that moment, in just that instant, De pulled out a credit card, and said something to the clerk behind the desk, which I assume, was informing the clerk that De was accepting responsibility for the room until I got my credit card mess figured out.

De turned to me again and smiled.  “Mei wen ti.”  This time, emotionally choked up, I repeated, “mei wen ti?”  De said, “go take your bags upstairs and come downstairs right away.  It is time to meet your daughter.”

With a thirteen hour time difference, and a turtle-slow internet connection, over a weekend no less, four days later, the problem with my credit card was resolved and by the time it was to check out, I was able to pay my hotel bill.  Now, I just had to worry about the hotel in Hong Kong which would now be done.

Mei wen ti.  I could have worried myself into a frenzy, and all that would have happened in a foreign country, at the least could have led to an international incident with an American going berserk.  Instead, the kindness of two strangers, and three words, spoken in Chinese, taught me a new way of dealing with things that were beyond my control.

Mei wen ti.

A Chapter Has Closed

Back in 2009, as my older daughter was preparing to begin first grade, our school district was in turmoil. The teachers were in the process of negotiating a new contract, and the school board had chosen some very unfortunate methods in dealing with the teachers and the negotiations. Someone from the school board felt it was wise, to take out a full page color ad in the local newspaper, stating the salaries of every teacher, guidance counselor, and school nurse by name. The intent was clear, to rally the community against the teachers, and against any opponents challenging school board members in the next election cycle.

It was a huge mistake for them. A sleeping and ignorant giant had been woken. Like most, up until that moment, I was like many, who had no knowledge of school district operations, and just exactly what is expected of a teacher, which is what makes them worth every penny they are paid (and this was before the constant school shootings we expect our teachers to die for, or be exposed to lethal viruses). If there was one thing about me I knew and despised, it was bullying. And I knew from experience not only when someone was being bullied, but what was behind it.

And so, I attended my first school board meeting, actually my first public meeting ever, just to see what was going on. That first meeting was all that was needed, to set me on a path I never saw coming, running for a public office. There were nine bullies on this board, five were going to be up for re-election, and all five needed to go.

There were several problems that I was about to face as I began the process of campaigning for one of the school board director positions. One, I HATE POLITICS! This was a war cry my campaign cringed every time those three words left my lips. But I was not a politician, and that was the reason why I kept repeating this credo. Another big problem was that our country is mainly a two party political system by majority, something our forefathers warned against (please note, there is a difference between understanding history and not being political). I was an independent registered voter. And with my state being closed for its primaries (being only able to vote for those in your registered party), an independent candidate has an uphill climb to get to the general election. I would have to swallow political “poison” and force myself to choose a side, neither of which I believed in 100% to have a chance. And even this decision was not mine to make as the incumbents on the board, were all Republican, who all had a grip on their seats for decades. Clearly I would not be able to unseat them as a conservative. I had no choice, but to run as a Democrat, and changed my voter registration to do that.

There was one final hurdle to get over. Other well known candidates had tried to go against these power hungry bullies, and lost. There is an expression, “strength in numbers.” That saying applied in this case. Often, only one or two candidates would run against the entire slate of the other party, clearly leaving them outnumbered, out-fundraised, and out-campaigned.

And with that, I met four of the most wonderful and diverse people, a tech guy, an accountant, a lawyer, and a retired school teacher. But we shared one thing in common, we all had a direct connection to our school district besides being a taxpayer. We were either graduates of the district or parents of students either currently in school or graduated. Our greatest quality amongst ourselves, we could communicate with each other, and respected each other. Better yet, spoiler alert, after all was said and done, we became great friends.

We came up with a campaign slogan and theme, from the least likeliest source, and least qualified, me. We were taking a step like none others to change this school board. We were taxpayers who wanted accountability, but we also had responsibility to the children to do what was best for them. And the current situation was not accomplishing that. Things were not progressing as they needed. And that is how I came up with “1st STEP – Students and Taxpayers Expect Progress.” And while as the least qualified on this slate, I was shocked, by group consensus, this was how our campaign would begin.

At this point, I still felt pure, in that my effort had nothing to do with politics, which I was fine with. My running mates were all registered Democrats, so I left the political crap up to them. I was focused on my targets, the bullies sitting on the board. I was not going to lose sight. And then this happened.

Our campaign had started to get the attention from the incumbents. This photo is the front side of a political mailer sent out attacking us. To be clear, I have had disagreements with people in my life, but never on this level, and by complete strangers no less. The intent was to imply that myself and my running mates and I had the support of the teachers, who clearly had been abused by the current board. This would come in the form of an “endorsement.” But the bigger issue, was the optics of this political piece, meant to shock the community. Oh, it shocked the community alright. Using a photo, depicting violence, involving a school body, sent outrage of inappropriateness across the country. That’s right. The local news picked up on this, and the bumbling interviews they did with the incumbents running for re-election showed their plan had backfired, badly. Though, they still stood by their effort.

This was the catalyst that finally brought a movement of change and decency to our school board. Unfortunately, all five of us had lost our bid for school board, but collectively with less than 500 votes, three of us losing by less than 200 votes. We had gotten the attention of the voters in the district.

We would take one more shot two years later, with our relentless efforts to expose what we thought was wrong with the district operations, and what we could do to improve them. Two of our candidates won their seats that year, with a third, just barely losing, again by a small margin of votes, that all it would have taken were some people to think their vote would have counted, it would have. She would run again, and this time not only make it on to the board, but become board president. In fact, the entire board has changed over.

I have since bowed out of politics all together. Though, with students still attending school in the district, I feel I still had a right to express my concerns, and when needed, speak up in defense of our school board. With the boorish behavior of so many attending school board meetings speaking up during public commentary, as was typical, those who felt the board was doing right, either did not attend, or did not feel the need to speak up. Most figured that these negative speakers were doing themselves their own disservice, and nothing further needed to be said. To a degree, that was true. But just as I got involved back in 2009 when my daughter started school, I was not standing for this abuse in my daughter’s senior year.

I do not envy my fellow campaign members, in their roles of volunteerism, that’s right, their position on school board, subject to all kinds of verbal harassment and abuse, was volunteer. Two have since passed away, and one is currently a local judge. I still keep in touch with those who are still with us, and consider them friends. Wherever they all end up, I will always say proudly, I knew them when they started their ride.

But now, it is time that I close this chapter for me. And it was a fun ride.

Remembering Nancy

Though I never asked her how old she was, I know Nancy was close in age to me, graduating from high school in the same year as me. Her daughters are slightly older than my daughters. She was a fellow long term survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, like myself. Also, similar to me, she dealt with a lot of serious health issues related to her treatments for her Hodgkin’s. That is where the similarities will end however. Last week, as has happened with so many other of my fellow long term survivors, Nancy passed away, apparently suddenly. It had been oddly noticed by several of us, that she seemed to be going about her day (as normal as she was able to), as she completed her “Wordle” puzzle and posted her results.

Some time after that, I had begun receiving messages about Nancy’s passing. Clearly, all of us shocked and saddened by someone who not only had so much to offer, but gave everything she could to help all of us. I never got to meet her in person, but she had always offered support to me with all of the surgeries I had faced in recent years, and of course, encouragement through my divorce.

Besides the comfort of knowing that Nancy is no longer struggling with the health issues from her Hodgkin’s past, there is an unbelievable outpouring of kind words being offered by so many, fellow survivors, friends, and family who truly tell the story of who Nancy was, and what she meant to all of us. I would like to share some of those comments (presented with anonymity for privacy reasons).

“So kind and generous…”

“Her legacy will live on through her advocacy…” (besides being involved in peer support with fellow survivors, Nancy was a board member of Hodgkin’s International, a non-profit dedicated to education, advocacy, and support for patients and survivors of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma)

“Someone like me…who understood (what we go through as long term survivors)…kindred. Her faith and patience and wise words calmed my mind and heart often in tumultuous times.”

“A strong spirit… wonderful outlook on life.”

“Grateful for the gift of her in our lives.”

“A beautiful friend.”

“She was good at keep track of us…”

“A big loss for our community.” (her participation on our support pages was invaluable and irreplaceable)

There are literally hundreds of kind and beautiful words and sentiment being offered for Nancy and her family. The grief of her fellow survivors and friends can only mirror in comparison to the family that knew her best and forever in their hearts.

To my fellow long term survivors, each survivor that passes is hard. The upside to having been blessed to know Nancy and having been touched by her kindness and support, is that when the time came, we feel the loss, and yes, we find that we too, may question our longevity. But if there is one thing that we can not only remember Nancy for, but honor her, in that we need to continue what we do every day, for every day that we get to have. Sure, we know the many circumstances we must deal with, but Nancy showed that we can also enjoy life each day, one at a time.

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