More than two weeks ago 2019 was welcomed in by Elise and I in a drowsy state of coziness on the banks of the Shenandoah River, nestled into a small cottage, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We had fallen asleep at 9 pm unremorsefully, knowing that whatever fun we may be missing out on, our absence would be wholly accommodated by the revelry of our many family members in the music community. There is  a peace I have found in this as of late, knowing that so many of you have found a way to somehow include us in your thoughts, messages, banter and dance steps. It is a truly humbling notion to realize that people have taken the simple of message of Love is an Action Word to heights I had never quite envisioned. Not to say that my own aspirations are remiss of lofty goals, but I had never truly realized the power in the message of Love.

I don’t believe I will ever forget the day Elise was diagnosed with cancer. The day was a golden day, like a thought plucked from a gilded memory. The leaves reflected the season of fall and were golden yellow. Flecks of oranges and red littered the landscape and there was a slight chill in the air that lent a crispness to our movements. We had just pulled off a forest road and had parked in Michaux State Forest beside a familiar brook trout stream. Our day was planned around a slow moving walk upstream exploring one of my favorite places, a small valley filled with Eastern Big tooth Aspen and Hemlocks dotted occasionally by large eastern hardwoods. It is and likely always will be a place of peace for my soul.


I had gotten out of the car and began drawing up my waders when Elise’s phone rang. Oddly enough, the area was generally absent of a cell phone signal but on this day, the breeze would carry the message. I had begun stringing up my fly rod and organizing my fly boxes when I heard it was her doctor. I paused momentarily as I pondered if they were calling in regards to her recent biopsy. I thought how perfectly punctuated the day would be upon hearing the news that the growing mass in her breast was indeed benign and no great worry should be invested. That scenario would quickly evaporate as I peered through my glasses at her face recognizing a face twisted with pain and worry. The tears fell and despite already knowing the answer I asked “what’s going on?” Her reply was an agonizing sound that will echo in my mind for the rest of my life, ‘They said I have cancer’, and the beginning of a stream of tears welled up between the two of us. This was the first day of the rest of my life. Everything changed.
On New Year’s Eve we had resigned ourselves to a simple evening in Luray, Virginia at a cottage aptly named, “The Bittersweet Retreat” maintained by a charming lady named Shar. She had made sure to decorate the cozy little cottage for us in full Christmas regalia, which was perfect as Elise truly adores Christmas. She even made a tray of winter sweet breads and placed a small placard before them with a simple message of ‘Welcome” upon it. Keeping true to my own self, I went fly fishing with my friend Ted that morning and came back to the cottage that evening anticipating our “night on the town”, just the two of us.
Strangely, I hadn’t once felt like I was missing out on any fun. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that there were many amazing events going on and that our friends would be out there, drinking it all in with glee and my heart smiled with that knowledge. This year, everything that mattered was at my side and her presence really was the only thing that mattered. Before that fateful phone call on October 29th, I don’t believe I understood, fully, what mattered. I’m by no means implying that people cannot grasp the importance of loved ones prior to a life altering medical diagnosis, but your perspective is abruptly shifted. I no longer value things in the same way or feel like I am missing out on things. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be raging a set of good music surrounded by family, but it now pales to the reality of where I am at in this life. The reality is that those settings must be viewed from afar until time dictates otherwise and it is well with my soul.

Dining Room in the Bittersweet Retreat

Shortly after Elise received her cancer diagnosis, I had stumbled upon an article relating to the Buddhist principles of “The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path”. This was not the first time I had encountered these teaching now was it the fiftieth time, I had actually taken the time to study these principles in a prior life when I was a younger man free of the mental shackles that come with the responsibilities of parenthood. These principle put simply are:

1. Suffering

Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good, we always feel an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty inside.

2. The Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We suffer because of our mistaken belief that we are a separate, independent, solid “I.” The painful and futile struggle to maintain this delusion of ego is known as samsara, or cyclic existence.

3. The End of Suffering

Our suffering temporary. They are like passing clouds that obscure the sun of our enlightened nature, which is always present. Therefore, suffering can end because our obscurations can be purified and awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path

By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take exactly the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the Buddhas do. We too can wake up.

My greatest peace today came in the third truth, that I cannot hang on to the impermanent and that this suffering, all of my suffering, is impermanent and temporary. I recall having some issues and recounting them to our dear friend Nick Macdaniels of Big Something and his advice was simple, “Time heals all brother”. Truth is so often so simple and free of complexities. I complex mind is a troubled soul and a simple mind, while seemingly dull is replete with the happiness that accompanies simplicity. Simplicity is again, little more than perspective, a step to the side from where I once was alters my entire life as my view has now been completely altered. Just. One. Step.

Elise often works from our bed now and she had spent two days in the bed. For four months now I have been sure to make our bed each day, the first action I take. This sets the precedent of order in my day and sets a perspective of task completion in my day. These two days while relaxing also set a tone of urgency when I once again set back to my typical daily rigors. I had discovered some fresh ink stains on the duvet and found myself reeling in anxiety from this. When there is a stain, there is dirtiness and where there is dirtiness there is a lack of order and where there is a lack of order there is a lack of cleanliness and where there is a lack of cleanliness and there is bacteria and where there is bacteria there is infection and where there is infection there is a threat to Elise’s health and on and on the spiral moved. I then found myself vocalizing this and targeting Elise and speaking to her with anger and dismissing her from my side as i began to frantically try and clean the ink. I scrubbed and pressed and tried and tried again, but to no avail, the ink stains remained. I was on the brink of tears. I then stopped, and turned away, took a deep breath and smoothed out the duvet. Upon looking at the stains again I noticed something about the duvet that had gone unseen. On the duvet is a print of whimsical trees. In the trees there are birds. However, on one branch, just barely above the stains, sit two birds facing each other, one slightly larger than the other. I turned, walked down to our kitchen and found Elise silently packaging magazines for shipping. With tears in my eyes I humbly apologized for letting something so insignificant take hold of my emotions and cause so much tension. Perspective is everything. 

There is really no good reason for something so trivial to be so bothersome. However, it is all trivial when faced with the reality that our time is limited. Nothing I do can take those moments back and change them. Nothing I do will ever give me back that time spent on such a trivial and pointless task of being upset over a simple piece of cloth. What is important enough to be upset about? What should you invest that kind of time and energy into? Nothing. Comparatively speaking, what are you upset about? Is someone dying? IF the answer is no, then I likely should spare my self and those around me the inconvenience of being upset. What I have learned and resolved for this year is simple, don’t sweat the small stuff, and from this perspective, my perspective, it is all small stuff.

Please join us this Friday January 18th for a special “Help From My Friends” Benefit show at The Rex Theater in Pittsburgh, PA.

Read more about Elise’s breast cancer journey on her GoFundMe page.