I received a message from an encouraging friend today. It said, “Every day may not be good, but there is good in every day.” It is ever so true.
Here is some of the good I found today:
Power socks. Always show up to battle with appropriately chosen socks. I have a few special pairs reserved for such days when lucky socks are necessary .
Bananas and morphine. You really can’t go wrong. My pump was turned up a bit today to try to help control my pain. I was met with unexpected kindness and understanding, and it made the whole process better.
Signs of Spring. I am so ready.
A gift of an open spot…
Which was especially nice because…
Some reminders along the way…
And an incredible gift of love from a new friend… she brought over a delicious meal from one of our favorites, Cracker Barrel.
The littlest was so tired from all of our going, combined with missing a nap, he got a case of the giggles which proved quite contagious. Conversation was lively as we recounted the best moments of the day, punctuated with chocolate cake.
It was a hard day, but we were carried. Prayed for, encouraged, helped along by generous friends, and there was definitely good to be found.
Thank you dear friends for coming alongside me today; it made all the difference.
Last night I slept solid for the longest stretch of hours I have in weeks. With my other half away on work, I barely started the bedtime routines, gave kisses and songs, and left the littles to finish helping each other tuck in, because there was no way I was going to beat the clock to bedtime last night. A single tear slipped from my cheek to my pillow, because in the end I didn’t even have the strength to cry.
I hoped this morning’s sun would rise with a fresh store of renewed energy, but the early hours found me reaching to steady myself as I shuffled to wake little people for school. Yesterday was a long stretch of sitting for a doctor out of town. Sitting for the drive out, sitting in wait for the doctor, and sitting for the ride back. My small frame is rebelling at having been made to hold the uncomfortable sitting position, and morning tears have fallen with the growth of pain overnight. For a morning that I hoped would bring the hardest already behind me, I am extremely discouraged to face the week ahead. I have smaller, more manageable things to accomplish this week, and right now they feel like mountains.
I wished it would all be easy after Monday, but this morning as I’m vomiting from the influx of sharp pain, I’m overwhelmed at the thought of even making it to the next thing. It’s a tough Tuesday, and I’m fighting hard to find the sweet spot of what I can handle, having to dig deeper to find the fuel to carry me through. My tender-hearted oldest girl is so graciously helping me this morning. Skipping the first class of the day to help me with the little one and getting out the door for another doctor. I will sit quiet in the waiting room, willing time to skip ahead to the snuggling of my little people this evening. I will try to be polite even though the office staff will be detached and matter-of-fact, this pain and weariness making me want to scream. In my mind I will wander ahead to a quiet vacation with my loves so that I don’t feel the needle prick that I hold desperate hope will bring me relief. I’ll push through my day by each tiny step at a time, choosing to sacrifice all my wants in order to simply accomplish the needs. I’ll be pushing through with my eyes on the hearts of the people who make it worth doing, because I know they’ll keep holding me, even in my tears and my hurting, and my near despair.
I know today won’t last forever, and I’ll be able to say that I made it, but goodness, it’s going to be a fight.
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Dark has dropped again, and with it the quiet throughout the rest of the house. I planned to turn in early, gearing up for a full and busy day tomorrow. That is kind of silly, because I know I won’t sleep regardless of what time I crawl into bed.
Tomorrow I meet another doctor. Another new name with an important list of abbreviations after it to add to my growing list of specialists. I’m a list-girl, I love lists. Not this one. I’m tired of having so many people revolve around me. I wish I could tell them, “your schedule has cleared for today, enjoy some time off because I am running away into the brightening sky with my people, and I won’t be back until late!” I wish this appointment, and all the appointments could just hold up for a second; let a girl catch her breath and sit and just breathe… and feel… and be… with nothing interrupting that feeling .
I suppose mostly, I’m struggling with my attitude. There are many things I would rather be doing, and so I’m grumbling about these hard things. I also am avoiding them just for the fear of the matter. I’m afraid of what they’ll say, afraid of the reports and what they will mean, and afraid of what the next thing coming will be. I’m not really sure how many chips I want on the table, and I’m not ready for it to be my turn yet.
Tomorrow will come however, no matter how late I worry over it, and I will best survive it in manageable chunks. So I’ll take big bites of the best things like early morning snuggles and the friendly steam of hot coffee, and I’ll look past the shuffling papers and the nervous hands. In between whatever moments tomorrow is going to mean for the future, there are going to be joke contests, splashy puddles, treasures to find, and extraordinary moments of laughter and love. Because that is life… joy, fear, hope, despair. Rinse and repeat. And it’s still beautiful.
What difficult thing are you wanting to avoid this week?
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I am sitting in in the thick blanket of nighttime, listening to the steady rain beating the drum roll of its sixth hour on the hollow-sounding roof. The intense piercings of a familiar pain keep me from my slumber, and I am delicate in my constant re-positioning and pill-swallowing to avoid waking the mounds of purring sleep close to me. My bedroom started out far less crowded tonight, but as the starlit veil fell, came the padding of feet and the tiny, emotion-filled voices describing fear of the dark, tumultuous dreams, and loneliness that needed the quiet comfort of my presence near by. So here we all are, their chests finally rising and falling with the rhythm of their dreams, and me wondering when things will go back to normal.
This was a headline week for guns. A few state lines over, lives were shattered as another troubled youngster unleashed explosive fury on rooms full of unsuspecting teens and adults, cutting short the futures of many who had planned on having more time. All the articles and bar-room-conversations and social media statuses are blasting loud the positions and rules and amendments and movements that each are convinced will bring an end to this terror. All of this buzz about bullets and laws and security and the NRA, and all I can think is how will these kids face tomorrow? Closer to home, how will my daughters face tomorrow?
Just a few days after the most recent school shooting in Florida, my girls experienced their own kind of horror at the barrel of a gun. My two, along with a roomful of other innocent, energetic young girls had come together to kick off the Spring season of cheer leading. The room was full of ponytails, giggles, and camaraderie. As they finished tying sneakers and warming up tight muscles, a new and horrifying ambiance sliced through the room. My oldest daughter had slipped out for one last dash to the restroom before practice, and when she rounded the corner to go back into the gym, she ran right into him. No one knew, so the coach opened up the door and let them both inside. The next 90 seconds were so brief, but stretched eternally in the burning scars of terror that now streak the memory of everyone watching. A few odd but indubious remarks were made to strike up a conversation with their coach as he positioned himself closer to the cash box where each parent had given the weekly dues. Then, beneath his slouching hood, he grew expressionless and in the longest instant, the dark, round metal of a gun contradicted the innocence of the hairbows and glitter, and the giggles turned to a fear that would not be forgotten. My girl, still the closest to him, tried to make a subtle move for a cell phone, but his instincts were fast and he tucked the metal box and dashed for the door. Then the knee-jerk reactions of the coach slamming her shoulder into the door corner as she lunged after him, the instant tears of the little sister who felt the hysteria of watching her sister so close to a ruthless bullet, and the mayhem of the entire crowd as adrenaline was unleashed.
I am still incredibly grateful that this tasteless man had a thirst for money rather than for blood, and my girls got to come home safely that night. What was no longer safe though, was their security and peace of mind. Tears upon tears from the two of them and the best friend as they clung exhausted in an embrace of profound emotion in my kitchen that night. Panic, flashbacks, sweating whenever they found themselves in a room too far from the safety of knowing a trusted adult was arms-length away. An incessant need for the security of a cell phone pressed closed whenever they have to leave the house. Nightmares and sleep-screaming through the deepest hours of the night, peace divided by having to learn that sometimes these things happen for no good reason.
Tomorrow my girls will face walking back into that gym. My oldest will relive the details of his coat and his birthmark as she walks through the same hallway where he first cut into her memories. My youngest will remember the powerful emotions of watching helpless, wondering if she was going to see her sister’s future rewritten. They will have to come to terms with these memories and these fears, and I will support in them whatever ways that they need, but I can’t help but wonder… what about the kids who watched friends and classmates and teachers gunned down in front of their eyes this week? How will they find the courage to walk back down those halls? I truly cannot grasp it.
Everyone has an opinion about what needs to happen. More guns, less guns. More restrictions, more screenings, more freedom, less. So many different points of view. I have an opinion too, but I’m not going to share it right now. Right now all I can think about is the downright brokenness of it all. The terror, the pain, the distrust and the loneliness that has gone down in irreversible ways. The truth is, regardless of what decisions are made about whether or not guns are legal and what the process will be to get one, there is an issue at the foundation that is something we all hold the answer to. This world needs people who care more for the hearts of their neighbors than about how their status will suffer if they are seen breaking bread together. It needs hearts that can anticipate the needs of others, and read from the eye motions and the face lines when someone needs an extra dose of kindness. This world needs people who are wholly committed to seeing each other for what they are; other humans who are hurting and struggling and trying to make it, and in desperate need of being loved, accepted, and understood.
We don’t need gun laws, whether for or against, in order for this to happen. We simply need to look up, and look around, and reach out with everything we’ve got in order to say, “I see you, and I know you’re hurting, and I’m going to walk you through it.”
We all just want to be seen. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe you are part of the answer? What is it that’s holding you back?
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I have this blank canvas to scribble my thoughts, but lately I have let them recycle, tumbling unsorted in the confines of my mind, timid of what people will think if I speak out loud. Someone told me not long ago that I should try writing about something else. I took it to mean people do not want to hear the confessions and wonderings of my soul; they are probably rolling their eyes and turning off their screens.
After talking with a close friend about what else to write about, I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to write about something “else,” and I don’t know how to. The reason I write about what I do is that it flows quite easily when I need to release and process difficult things. It’s therapeutic for me to free up some space in my thoughts by unleashing the tangle of words and emotion that sometimes becomes difficult to find space for. Part of me also supposed, in the beginning of this place, that someone else would find hope and strength in the raw processing of the journey of my life.
I have been learning more lately that it is okay to let every experience, good or bad, shape who I am and how I view things. Let’s be real; life is never going to be all rainbows and bubblegum, so if we are going to become something other than tainted and bitter, we are going to have to figure out how to filter through our ups and downs and pick out the important growth-inducing bits, and let the rest hit the shredder. That’s what I’m trying to do here; sift through the daily barrage of twists and turns and cling to the slivers of truth that will deepen my character and make me a softer, wiser human for the other people on this expedition with me.
Think back to the last hard, life-changing thing you went through. It might have been the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a difficult diagnosis, a traumatic world-event… you know how you had that numb feeling for awhile afterwards? Thankfully we all have this mechanism that only lets us take in what we are capable of at the time. Our simple minds and hearts would simply explode if the full force of things hit us all at once. So we take it in little by little, in easily digestible chunks that we can begin to process and break down. That movement happens in the telling of the story. Each time you share your story, your mind is able to handle a little bit more and apply a greater understanding than it could the last time, until eventually you can boldly tell your story, maybe still with some tears, but with a confident and understanding boldness that has replaced the initial shock and bewilderment. That is my place here. I will keep on sharing the plot twists of my life as I continue to find deeper meaning and healing in the new details I understand every time I brave it. And if in doing that some of you are able to pull out the important truths, the pieces that make you bold and brave and inspired, then even the more reason to keep shouting it loud. My story. My unbelievable, true, heart-breaking, beautiful, hope-giving story.
Will you share yours too?
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I have been hiding. Well, maybe waiting. Or wishing. Or hoping. I guess I hadn’t really quite realized it until a good friend recently said to me, “/this/ is what you should be writing about.” And I realized I hadn’t. Right away I knew all the reasons I had avoided it, but I also knew as I counted up the months in my head… 9…10…11… that those reasons are not showing any sign of stopping, regardless of my waiting. So maybe friend, you’re right; maybe there will be some healing in the unleashing of it all. Or maybe nothing at all, but at least in the telling of it, the twisting, twirling, never quite predictable story that is mine, it will feel more like just that; mine.
I suppose we all have things we hide, or, try to hide, and some of them are easier than others. For a while, I hid well enough that I almost could fool myself. “Fake it ‘till you make it,” right? I suppose without actually formulating a plan, that had become my default strategy somewhere along the way. See, my big secret is that I cannot be my own hero. Who am I kidding… I cannot be anybody’s hero right now. And for a type A, never quit, refuse to fail kind of girl, it has been a hard pill to swallow. A lot of very hard pills to swallow.
Instead of being the pair of boots that lift the weakest to their feet, I am the one dazed to the sound of boots carrying me. Instead of being the reassuring face that will explain things 5 different ways to calm an anxious mind, I am the fearful tangle of unanswered questions. I am the one needing rescue.
I didn’t say anything at first because I supposed it was temporary. I didn’t say anything a little later because I imagined it could be a mistake, or I would wake up from a bad dream. Then it became not saying anything because I refused to accept this story for my life.
That sounds ugly.
I don’t really know how else to put it though. I have been going through these motions of life-fight ignoring that this could be my future, rejecting the very idea of coming to any kind of peace with it, and stubbornly clinging to the absurdity that this just needs to get figured out and everything will go back to normal. That there’s no reason to even explain to anyone, because by the time they find out, I’m going to be back in the saddle; wrangling smiles from my kids, scrambling mountains with my friends, and feeling the siren thrum with the roll of the next due.
Eleven months of being so angry and scared and just, broken. My friend is right. This is my story. It is my story whether I tell it or not.
We are what we show…
But we are also what we hide…
In the scarred and painful exposure of the unknown, I admit I do not have a tidy word to leave here. My body is sick. Every day is fighting a fight that I will selfishly admit would often tempt me to quit. There are days it feels far easier to stay in a ball in bed; to avoid the pills, the pokes, the tubing upon tubing and meticulous regiment that grows monotonous and wearying, especially when I still feel myself fading away in spite of it. It has shaken my life in every way, and taken me far from the home and the me that I once knew. That is where I am; in a strange body, in a strange land, fighting a discouraging and uncertain battle.
Perhaps there will be more of the days that find me with strength and willpower to share the coming pieces here… or perhaps you will know by my silence that I am simply clinging.
Speechless or not, familiar or not, this is my story. One I am still struggling to contend with; I’m not going to feign sainthood and paint you a picture of the peace and assurance I have in accepting whatever new ending is being rewritten for me. No, I am still wrestling. Wrestling hard, wrestling deep and ugly. Some days I come out on top, and some days I’m pinned quick by all the sharp and broken pieces of it all. But that’s the thing I guess… I dreamed my life would be a beautiful mosaic… I suppose that means I have to begin with the pieces.
This may not be the story I would have chosen for myself, but it is the story that will shape me and color the way I view each of my future moments. I have been learning that the sharing of my story brings healing, and hearing the hard stories of people brave enough to share them has made me brave, and I hope that courage will continue to be passed from one to another. We are all broken in some way or another; meeting each other in those broken places provides a safe and healing place to face our deepest, most painful questions together.
What are you hiding from?
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Earlier this week I swept the floor, hung a bulletin board on the wall of our house which sits almost two months later in a state of not feeling moved in yet, and I folded a load of laundry I had mananged to dump from the dryer into a heap on the couch three days prior. I stalked the clock until nap time, when I gladly collapsed into a heap in my bedroom once the house was quiet. And I wept. A silent pouring relief of tears plopped dark circles on my pillow and I cried of happiness. Tears because I was so grateful to have been able to do those three things for the first time in…. I don’t know. I realized in those moments that I have been so overwhelmed in the grief of losing myself and my normal, that I have forgotten to be so deeply thankful for the triumphs like these. I know by that evening I was scowling at myself again, because it is ever so easy to compare myself to the old me and measure myself by the things I used to be able to do, and it’s a painfully distant gap. I want to remember these moments of victory though. I want to learn to give myself grace and to be quick to gratefulness even over the wins that seem so small. It is the repeated small victories that give me the motivation to keep pressing on and leaning in; how unfortunate for them to be overlooked. Sweeping, hanging, folding… so small, but still proof of something mighty. What small victories are you celebrating today?
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Lying there in the scratchy, unflattering folds of hospital blue, the crunch of paper stuck to the pain-sweat that slicked down my skin. My eyes were fixed on a wavy, colored light that slowly melted from warm blues and greens to soothing purples and golds, and back again. I was startled by the green scrubs that began chanting at me “We are breathing in together. In through your nose, out through your mouth; nice deep breaths. You’re doing great.”
She was wrong. I’m not doing great. In the deep inhales to distract my mind, I still hear the fear even louder. The blurs of soothing light draw my focus only enough to be jolted back by the cold touch and the sharp jabbing of the unnatural. The tearing raw of my skin during weekly routines, and the endless waking and checking and measuring and eternal dripping of the life-giving liquids feels no longer a hope, but a taunting anchor or what used to be.
I hold tight the salty wet of my eyes until the dark refuge of my quilts, because sets of young bright eyes are looking, watching, being brave for me and hoping to find me brave too. Those faces are what give me war-blood to push back hard; to carve giant chunks of living that are difficult and excruciating, but to them are memories treasured. Today’s sorrow leaves me wondering what I have left to give, but just as the sun relentlessly continues to peer over the treetops to light each dark morning, I know night will bring a small refreshing, a renewing of strength, and a little more fuel to burn for each one more day.
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Hope has been a weighty word for me over the most challenging seasons of my life. I have clung to it, believed it, pressed into it. There is much beyond me that I cannot grasp, and I do not pretend to have the answers. What I’ve come to rest in though, is that whatever we are each hoping in, whether it is something tangible or not, is worth pursuing when it keeps our feet hitting the floor on the most suffocating mornings. Hope is worth clinging to when it gives us the will to keep fighting an impossible battle. Hope is worth reaching for when it magnifies our purpose and causes our love to multiply and reach far beyond our own borders. So until the time comes to lay down your battle, keep finding something that gives you hope. Keep waking up and remembering it each morning, and using it as the fuel that propels you through the thick storms and out into the sunshine of triumph.
What do you do when the day comes that you never scripted for yourself? I always joked that the only way I was going to stop working as a paramedic was when someone dragged a wrinkly, gray little me off of the ambulance, kicking and screaming. Well actually, it wasn’t all in jest, I kind of really meant it. From the day I started my career in EMS, I knew it was what I loved and always wanted to do. I never imagined myself doing anything different from that point forward. I don’t suppose we often take the time to imagine our plan B’s when our plan A is what our hearts are set on.
My plan B is a whole other story, but as I’ve been contemplating that my future may look very different than I imagined, it has made me ponder what, if anything, I am leaving behind on my path through my A plan. I believe every person has the same deep-rooted need to know that they matter and will be remembered in their absence. Maybe most of us never pause to consider until we are faced with it, but I surely have found myself wondering what kind of legacy it is that I am leaving in my wake. If I take off my badge and bury my toes in the sand next to the ocean, will the patients I cared for remember me? And if they do, will it be in a good way, or should I have done things differently? After almost half my lifetime doing this gig, what do I turn to my partner and say on the day that I take my stethoscope from around my neck and pull off my polish-worn boots for the final time?
Admittedly, there is a long list of do’s and don’ts and tips and tricks for a paramedic to pass on to her successors. After all, there is a substantial history of education and experience, and trial and error that surely could give the incoming an edge by surpassing all of the “been there, done that’s.” After so much time of sifting through all of those valuable pearls of wisdom though, it was impressed upon me that anyone can work hard enough and study long enough to become a paramedic. Rather, it was my patients that taught me what I needed to know most about caring for another human being. So, standing at the vestiges of a life-changing career, the last time to turn to my partner, I would say this…
Never give up learning, changing, practicing, updating your skills so that you can provide the best patient care possible. More importantly however, never lose sight of the souls which reside in the people for whom you are caring. You can have the best technique, the greatest training, and the most up-to-date equipment, but if you are lacking in giving your utmost attention to the delicate soul which makes everything else in that body go ‘round, then you have failed. Though you may argue that some of them are not delicate souls, I assure you that every single one of the people you are called for have a soft and vulnerable inner being that is craving compassion, validation, and love. Yes, even the pungent, homeless drunk, and the gruff, arrogant abusive man, and the lonely, obnoxious woman that you’ve run on every shift for as long as you can remember. Do not presume to know their stories. Do not come to your own conclusions about how they got the way they are, because the truth is, they have endured whatever life-length of soul-battering their years have brought them long before you even met. They are still somebody’s daddy, sister, friend, baby girl, regardless of the appearance of the hard shell you see in front of you. Their tender inner voice is still begging to be valued, and to be understood.
The greatest achievements in my career as a paramedic did not come from a high test score, a record-setting scene time, or kudos from successful resuscitations. My most valuable triumph was from the tears that flowed when I stopped to embrace a woman standing alone in the chaos, moments after becoming a widow. It was from the giggles that erupted from beneath a blood-stained blanket because I was willing to make a complete fool of myself to distract a little boy who was having the most terrifying day of his life. It was from the marriage proposal I received from the homeless man whose stench was enough that my partner at the time had begged to drive so that he didn’t have to sit back there with him. It was in the transport that I got ridiculously behind on paperwork because I set it aside for a woman whose husband had died previously at the same hospital she was now headed for, and she simply needed someone to talk with her and speak truth and peace to her paralyzing fears. It was in the frail weight of the woman’s hand I held as we transported her to hospice for her final hours. It was in the grateful faces of the parents we stopped by to check on even though it meant re-living the moments in which I couldn’t do anything to save their toddler, the conversation with the defiant little boy who desperately needed someone to see past his attention-grabbing behavior and just hear him out, and the dancing that happened with a topless drunk woman who just wasn’t going to get on the stretcher until someone had humored her. I got through some of my toughest patients by always having the mindset that I should be caring for people in the same way I would want my own parent, grandparent, sibling, spouse, child, or other family member to be treated. It made a world of difference.
One of the most poignant things I learned was when I was still an EMT, working with a seasoned and soft-spoken paramedic partner. We were on a psych call where law enforcement had already been on scene for quite some time arguing with a combative man and trying to talk some sense into him. He had called for police because for whatever reason, this man believed that his garage was full of people who didn’t like him, and who intended to harm him. He refused to leave his house with all those people there, because he didn’t trust what they would do, and he was very agitated that the officers kept telling him no one was there. The police were visibly irritated by the time we arrived and had the man explain his predicament one more time. We peered into the garage, which was as we anticipated, empty. My partner spoke to the man for a few minutes while I did a few medical checks on him, and the man explained that he would be willing to go to the hospital for an evaluation, but not until the people in his garage were gone. *Cue eyeroll from our poor, exasperated law enforcement friends, * and then my partner did the most ridiculous thing. He walked out into the garage and started yelling at all the “people.” He told them they weren’t welcome there and needed to leave. After a moment, my partner turned back to our patient and asked if the people were gone. He said some had left, but several others were still there. So, we joined forces, my partner and I, and we yelled and shooed and stamped our feet in circles all over that empty garage until a look of relief washed over our guy’s face and he announced they had all gone running. We helped him lock his house up tight, and he then proceeded to very calmly and cooperatively climb aboard the ambulance with us to go to the hospital. I’m not sure the officers on scene said anything else to us, but I do remember their faces; the wide-eyed, bewildered, astonished, half smirk, half “what in the world just happened” looks that grew smaller in our rearview mirrors. That may have been the most pivotal day of my career in revealing to me how little about patient care is actually medicine, and how much of it is about caring for the human condition. Not everyone needs a bone splinted or a medicine given or a dramatic life-saving intervention, but what they all need is to be treated like they have value, every single one of them. The frequent flier you’re tired of seeing, the alcoholic who spits on you and calls you names, the suicidal patient you want to blow the shenanigans whistle on. They are all human souls with hurts and insecurities and fears and needs, just like you and me, and if you as a first responder can learn to care for the unseen just as well as the body, then that might be the most life-saving skill in your kit. Period.
Never lose sight of the privilege that it is for us to be invited into peoples’ lives, homes, communities at their most vulnerable moments. Never forget that taking the time to know their name makes them feel like less of a job and more of a friend. Never be too proud to humble yourself and chase away invisible people if that is what is going to make your patient better. Never forget that we all share the same emotions, and the people you are caring for need your kindness and compassion just the same as you need it from others. And most importantly, never grow so callous that you forget how to be soft.
“May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.”
~Oath of Maimonides
Now go, run, learn, excel, amaze, transform the world all with the fuel of 2 hours sleep, a cup of cheap gas station coffee, and an adrenaline rush like a rip tide. And don’t forget to be human.