…and I know he watches me. 🙂 My visit to Jacksonville includes Jesus-stuff, smoking, drinking, new livers, questionable footwear retrievals, reasonable groundskeepers and the most significant milestone of my trip.
OK. I need to begin this post with a bit of back story. I could write volumes about the following story, but I’ll try to cram it into a few paragraphs:
In 2002, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. It had begun in his pancreas and spread into his liver. The prognosis was quite grim. He was basically told that it was time to get his affairs in order.
Fortunately, they were just beginning to do liver transplants for his type of cancer. In October 2003, he received a new liver at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
First walk after his transplant (the drugs do not appear to have worn off completely):
The cancer has since returned, but he continues to live his life to the full. Throughout the countless ordeals of this illness, he has never complained or been downhearted. The way he has carried himself through adversity has been a wonderful example for how I aspire to live my life.
My Dad and his old liver (the white things are tumors):
(Thanks for sending the pics, Mom)
Monday, November 6th
Such a polarizing place: The beaches vs. the bugs. The mild winters vs. the suffocating humidity. The tourist destinations vs. the gridlocked traffic. Love it or hate it, you have to at least visit it once.
I’ve been here a number of times, including a couple of visits about a year ago. My sister and brother in law were living in Orlando as he finished up his schooling.
My first stop in the Sunshine State was Jacksonville (Verse 3 Line 2). I was excited to visit this city for number of reasons. First of all, it would be place 46 of 92 that I would be visiting. The half-way point of this journey. Second, I would get to see some familiar faces, Todd and Lesa.
Todd and Lesa lived in the same town as my parents when Todd was diagnosed with a liver disease in 2003. Through some connections in our church, our families were brought together. Todd has always thought of my Dad as an inspiration of how to handle his illness. They’ve become quite close through their parallel ordeals.
In January, Todd and Lesa moved to Jacksonville as they waited for a liver to become available. On September 25th, Todd had his transplant.
The procedure did not go as smoothly as we all hoped. Todd had numerous complications, even being on life support multiple times. My parents had suggested that I visit them when I passed through Jacksonville. Todd was still in the Mayo Clinic hospital when I arrived.
It was a joy to get caught up with them. They were hopeful to finally be released soon. It had been quite a journey for them. I told them about the tradition of signing on Annie and they were able to come out to add their names.
Since arriving in Jacksonville they have resided at the Gabriel House, a community designed especially for organ transplant patients and their caregivers. The house was created through a gift from Jorge Bacardi (of rum fame), who is a lung transplant recipient.
Since Lesa would still be staying in the hospital with Todd, they offered me their room for the night. I told them “no thanks,” as I had already seen some alluring bushes near the parking lot. (Yeah, right). I graciously accepted their offer.
An extra bonus was a wonderful meal that evening. Most nights, a volunteer group (this one was from a church, I believe) fixes supper and serves it to the residents. I got to meet Justin and Paula, good friends of Todd and Lesa. Justin is waiting for a heart transplant. It was inspiring to see the attitude with which he was handling his ordeal.
I was happy to notice that Lesa had a copy of my Dad’s portrait of Jesus in her billfold.
My Dad started this project after his transplant. Here is the full story from his website.
This place is such a wild intersection of emotion: Hope, despair, faith, fear, trust, trepidation. Even spending a few hours in a place like this helps put one’s own trials into perspective.
Paula and Justin raided some of the cupboards for donated energy bars and portable meals. I left with my trunk almost full of food. (and seeing my trunk, you can tell this is a significant feat) 🙂
I had such a pleasant, peaceful night.
Tuesday, November 7th
I got a decent start to the day and began by eating a leftover box dinner from the previous night’s supper. It was much more than I usually eat in the morning. I beat the worst of the traffic into downtown Jacksonville and began to look around.
I wasn’t completely sure what I was looking for, but succeeded in stumbling into some nice views. This is a WWI memorial:
I continued to the Friendship Fountain and decided that it would make an appropriate backdrop for my picture to represent Jacksonville. I asked a groundskeeper about rolling my motorcycle down by the fountain.
“They don’t really like things like that.”
“But you’re not going to tell anyone, right?”
That sounds like permission to me! 🙂
I pushed Annie down and took a couple of nice pictures.
I continued to explore around town and found a Cancer Survivors Memorial, which seemed appropriate to photograph given the theme of the day.
There were still not many places open, given the early hour, so I decided to proceed on to the Jacksonville Beaches.
It was time to celebrate!
46 places of the 92 had now been visited.
I found a liquor store that was open prior to 10am and got a local stout and a cigar. I asked the cashier if there was a good beach around at which to smoke and drink. He instructed me to go down A1A “until the houses end” at Guana River.
I followed his advice and skipped the first parking area, as it charged $3. Instead I made my way to a lot used for launching on the inland river. This meant that I had to bushwhack my way through ample vegetation to reach the beach, all the while watching for Alligators….but hey, you can’t beat the price.
Here was the spot:
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I emerged on the beach and found myself totally alone. There was no one in view either to the north or to the south.
Part of this may have been the quality of the beach. I was mistakenly under the impression that a beach would have sand. Nebraskans don’t know much about these sorts of things. Instead, the ground was made up of small rocks and an incalculable amount of little sea shells.
I began to wade into the sea, wearing my flip-flops to protect against the jagged terrain. The waves were crashing violently and one of the swells caused me to stumble and lose my right flip-flop.
As it was carried out into the infinite ocean, I debated jumping in after it. I thought better of it. I am OK with dying on this trip. I made peace with that possibility long ago. However, I don’t want to die in an embarrassing way. Being caught in a riptide while chasing a $3 Wal-Mart flip-flop would certainly qualify. With the strength of the waves and secludedness of my spot, letting it go was the right decision.
I allowed myself to reflect on the previous months, the previous 46 places. So much had happened, I could hardly believe this was just the half-way point. I have no idea how much time passed gazing at the waves, an hour perhaps?
I got up and began to walk along the beach, letting the final push of each wave flow over my feet. I walked with a perceived limp, favoring my un-shod foot.
Then I saw it: My flip-flop
It was now some distance south of where it was originally lost, but it was just a short swim out to retrieve it. For some reason, I decided to take a dip. I removed my hat, using it to prop up my still smoldering cigar.
I was probably just in the water for 30 seconds. A brief respite of the waves made my flip-flop retrieval fairly smooth. I didn’t even have to re-light my cigar. 🙂
I walked back to my belongings, now sans-limp.
My thoughts turned to spiritual matters as I thought about the strange parallel of this flip-flop experience. How often can we feel like a forsaken piece of $3 beach apparel? Tossed about with no hope in sight.
One of my favorite hymns came to mind, His Eye is on the Sparrow. I sang it loudly and slowly as I allowed myself to be moved by each stanza. I was not crying, I just had some salt water in my eye. 🙂
I actually found my absolute favorite arrangement of this song, by a group called Soul Support:
As I watched some twig-legged birds scurrying around the beach, I suddenly felt that I had everything I needed to continue through the second half of this journey.
“…I know He watches me.”
I decided to take a seashell with me to commemorate this special time. I did not look for the prettiest one. Rather, I searched to find one that was most like all the others, but looked like it had been through some trials.
Realtime update: It’s still in my pocket. 🙂
I returned to the Mayo Clinic to bid farewell to Todd and Lesa. It had been so great to see them. But my trip was not officially half-way yet. Jacksonville still needed to be crossed off of my sign.
Todd has shown incredible amounts of both faith and fortitude to persevere through his illness. Both are traits that I will need ample amounts of to complete this journey. So, appropriately, this story reached it’s mid-way point in room 323 of the Mayo Clinic hospital with a few strokes from Todd’s hand.
We are over the hill, everybody!
Sometimes people ask me if I have a “cause” connected to my trip. I did think about this at the outset. It definitely would have made for more effective avenues to market my blog. Ultimately, I decided against it since it seemed my motives were less than altruistic.
However, if I would have championed a cause, it likely would have been organ donation. Both my father and Todd have had their lives saved through the gift of organ donation. I would kindly, yet strongly, ask that you consider being on the registry.
If you are not already registered please visit the Donate Life Website for instructions on how to become a donor. Taking a few minutes to do this may save someone’s life.
Alright, let’s wrap it up there. Many more adventures still remain in the sunshine state. Thank you for reading and for putting yourself on the registry. (you did it, right?)
Stay donatable, everybody. 🙂
Realtime update: Tallapoosa, GA and Opelika, AL are in the books. I’m currently sitting in the Opelika library. Tomorrow will be Atmore, AL. I think I will only catch Vicksburg, MS and Little Rock, AR on my way home. Then it will be turkey time! I’m so excited to get some R&R with the people I love. I should be there in less than a week. God bless!