Hill Country SunsetI was shaken to my core. I actually cried for almost 30 miles on US 281 heading back north to Austin from San Antonio. I’ve driven this scenic road so many times from Austin to San Antonio and back. From my trips for Apple business in the 90s to Maureen and my trips with the kids in the early 2000s to Sea World to my bike rides each of the last 6 Mays from the Real Ale Brewery in Blanco, this isn’t a new trip. When Maureen and I moved to Austin in 1994, we took this same road down to San Antonio on the Friday after our first Thanksgiving here. There are well known vistas as you crest hills along the way. Vistas where you look out at the Hill Country, and your heart smiles.

This past Monday driving to San Antonio, I smiled at all the same vistas, remembering the experience of each of them with my Maureen over the years. Maureen and I love Texas, and we knew in our earliest days here from Chicago that we were someplace truly special. As we celebrate Maureen’s 52nd birthday today, I know it would be easier for me to just close my eyes. It would hurt less. Yet to close my eyes to these vistas would mean also closing my heart. And to close my heart would mean missing some of the most amazing experiences of a life time. I simply refuse to miss them. I am a practical guy, so I wish I could put what I experience into concrete terms. I can’t, and what happened on Monday morning in the Pearl Brewery area of the San Antonio Riverwalk just can’t be explained in any other way than this. There is not a heaven and earth. Heaven is earth. Earth is heaven. And, love is the connection. My heart has to stay open. My love story is not ending. It is only getting started. It spans the universe.

IMG_2942 (1)The Pearl Brewery area of the Riverwalk is its newest section. It is incredibly well done, restoring old buildings and fusing them with new concepts. It is connected to the “old” Riverwalk by a wonderful new section of the river with locks to carry you up and down. Taylor, Kyla, Katelyn and I had come down to San Antonio just after New Year’s in 2015 to celebrate some bubbles and powdered donuts. We had a great time just being together and discovering new things from La Gloria for dinner to Local Coffee for an espresso and hot chocolates before dinner.

Several months after this first trip to this area of the Riverwalk I came back down to this same area and enjoyed lunch at the restaurant “Cured,” right next door to Local Coffee and not far from La Gloria. I wrote about that lunch experience on National Doughnut Day last year on my way up to Lake Tahoe for my 6th ride of 100 miles with Team in Training. As I noted in “The Love of My Life | Cured,” this restaurant is special because it not only “cures” meats (really well I might add), but its owner is also “cured.” He is a lymphoma survivor and hopefully soon a James Beard award winner, too. As I also noted in my piece on June 5, I did not dine alone. I was on a date, a date with my Maureen. She was with me, not physically obviously, but I felt her presence.

IMG_5507Love had now been sprinkled in this special slice of San Antonio twice, and love was sprinkled here again last October, just weeks before the one year anniversary of Maureen’s passing. As I wrote in “The Love of My Life | You Will Never Know a Love Like Mine,” music has quickly become Maureen’s way of reaching out to us. From Once In a Lifetime by Chicago just after her passing to that October night’s song from Lou Rawls (lyrics are in the post linked to above) on the way to Cured, you not only have to keep your eyes and heart open but your ears. Lyrics are powerful. They are Maureen and my new language of love. They are how we communicate. And this past Monday, she reached out “across the universe.”

I was in San Antonio for a breakfast being hosted by Chef Steve McHugh of Cured on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. With the crazy traffic on the way into San Antonio, I didn’t even think I was going to make it before breakfast ended. I did. And the next 90 minutes were truly unbelievable. I wanted to make this breakfast because I wanted to look this amazing chef in the eye and share all of this with him. All of these trips to this part of the Riverwalk, to his restaurant, Pearl’s old administration building, originally constructed in 1904. His love for food has opened a window between heaven and earth, and that window exploded in all of its passion and all of its glory as I went next door to Local Coffee for an espresso before driving back to Austin after the breakfast.

IMG_5509I wore green. A green tie. Green was Maureen’s favorite color and the color we all wore at her celebration of life. Green opened the door between heaven and earth as I ordered my espresso at Local Coffee. The barista commented on my tie as I paid via Square, and I not only said thank you but mentioned the breakfast at Cured with LLS. Then, she said this. “Oh, I shadowed in the leukemia department at MD Anderson Cancer Center last summer.” “Oh, really,” I said. “Dr. Kantarjin was on the national board of LLS and helped the little boy, Kethan, for whom I am bald.” The look on her face told me that something amazing was happening. Her next words were these. “Really? Wow. My dad did his PhD work alongside Dr. Kantarjin. I think I’m going to be an oncologist, too.”

No polite way to put it. Holy shit. If this story ended here, the power of the Pearl and Cured would already be complete. But, it doesn’t end here. There was some music playing. Music from the Beatles. Across the Universe. Here is a snippet of the lyrics:

Words are flowing out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe.
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me.

Jai Guru Deva. Om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Images of broken light, which
Dance before me like a million eyes,
They call me on and on across the universe.
Thoughts meander like a
Restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe.

Sounds of laughter, shades of life
Are ringing through my opened ears
Inciting and inviting me.
Limitless undying love, which
Shines around me like a million suns,
It calls me on and on across the universe

Once again, Maureen was speaking to me through lyrics and ensuring that I fully understood the epic nature of the moment, but not just the power of this singular moment but all of the moments that the kids and I had experienced here in this physical nexus between heaven and earth over the last couple of years; the power of all of the moments of love she and I had shared on this same journey to San Antonio over the past couple of decades; and the power of my love for my special friend, Kethan, whose own battle with leukemia brought me to LLS in the first place.

It is in this place in San Antonio that the fusion of old and new is playing itself out in my heart. The emotional locks in my own heart go up and down just like the locks in the Riverwalk. Like these words from Across the Universe by the Beatles, “Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind.” I am both sad and happy; happy that my Maureen has figured out the fusion of heaven and earth; sad that she is not on this side of the divide with me. But “my limitless undying love shines around me like a million suns.

I closed my comments at the breakfast at Cured with these words, “we don’t have to change everything. we just have to change our one thing, and if each of us changes our one thing, then we will indeed change everything.” I said these words looking directly at Chef Steve and ended by saying, “and when we do, we will all be Cured.” In this fusion of old and new, this nexus of heaven and earth, I am coming to learn that the ultimate cure is love, and I love you Maureen. Happy Birthday sweetie.