21. “Once in a Lifetime.” A cup of dirt. You might wonder what any of these things have to do with a powdered donut or the fight with cancer for that matter, but they do. I’m on a flight from Minneapolis to New York City, and now seems like a really good time to add to the Powdered Donut Manifesto series (story of the powdered donut).

Last Sunday, I flew up to Minneapolis with Kyla and Katelyn, our 2 precious daughters born from the love I shared with Maureen for almost 25 years of marriage. Kyla’s team, Austin Performance 15 Asics, was playing in the American division of the Girl’s National Junior Volleyball tournament. It was a fun week. Being a Texan, the idea that the highs were only in the 70s was a blessing in itself, but the time was precious for other reasons. Maureen was reminding us frequently that the line between heaven and earth is thin… I’ve written about “thin spaces” previously and explained the concept in this post. 

One of the “thin spaces” that happened this week was at a Whataburger in Phoenix as my son, Taylor (18), and four of his high school friends, stopped for a “healthy” snack on their way to Yosemite to hike up Half Dome and explore the many other trails and falls there. As he made his order, he was handed this number to set on his table. 21. 21 is a pretty magic number for those that know our story. For you see, Maureen passed on the morning of October 21, 2014. Rather than allow this day, this number, to haunt us, the kids and I have chosen to make it into something special, a day for love, and a day for powdered donuts. Don’t get me wrong. I hate cancer. I hate that my wife is not here. It hurts. Every day. But, hate never leads to anything good, anything meaningful. Only love does. And, so, the 21st is a day of love. And, as Taylor got his order, his mom, his guardian angel let him know that she was with him and with his friends.

I call this #wingprints now, because as our new, yet already cherished, friend, Karen Haycox, in NYC put it, this is what our guardian angels do now. They leave wing prints in her words. Karen, the CEO of Habitat NYC lost her beloved Trudy just over 3 years ago, and as we discussed over a great d
inner just last week in NYC, we hate that it is loss that has brought us together. However, we also know her Trudy and my Maureen through my son, Taylor’s work with Habitat for Humanity, brought us together. Maureen made that quite clear as Karen and I headed to our respective trains after our dinner together. Karen sent me these photos from the Donut Plan that she walked by on her way to her train. “Wing prints” indeed!

And, those wing prints fluttered across my path this week in Minneapolis as I walked along the St. Paul River. After I proposed to Maureen 28 years ago this Sunday at the Statue of Liberty, the song “Once In a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads came on the radio as we headed out from the city to her home in Ridgewood, New Jersey. This song has played at special moments in the last few years since her passing. It is her way of talking to me, and on Wednesday afternoon, along the St. Paul River, she spoke to me again. As I passed a beer truck from the local St. Paul Bicycle Coalition, you guessed it. This magical song was playing. It let me know that she would be with the girls and I as we sprinkle her ashes where I proposed 28 years ago. Where I professed love. My love for her. At the altar, I promised her my never ending love, until death do us part. What I have discovered, though, through her wing prints is that she is not dead. She may no longer be living according to our human terms, but I know that my sweetie is still here with me. That is the thing about love. It leads to “thin spaces.”

So, what does any of this have to do with a cup of dirt you may ask? Well. It goes something like this. As the funeral service makes clear in the Episcopal tradition, “from dust to dust we will return.” As we return Maureen’s ashes to places of love around the country and around the planet, those ashes can rise up like a phoenix. As I shared at the Fall Kick-Off for Team in Training with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a researcher once collected a cup of dirt from outside of Kerrville, Texas, just west of Austin and San Antonio. I was able to share this story because Lee Greenberger, Chief Science Officer, for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, had taken the time to share it with me. Apparently, the researchers at American Cyanamid liked to collect cups of dirt. Seems crazy, but they cook and play with the dirt to see what is in it, not just to grow food but to discover agents to fight cancer.

In this cup of dirt almost 30 years ago, there was magic. In this cup of dirt, there were cytotoxins, cytotoxins that ultimately led to a drug from Pfizer known as Inotuzumab Ozogamicin. This drug is a special drug, because it is the one that almost gave young Kethan a chance at life, as it put his leukemia back into remission ahead of a ground-breaking new treatment supported by LLS with Dr. Carl June at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (story here). Regretfully, side effects from Kethan’s many treatments for leukemia did not allow him to make it to Philadelphia for further treatment, but my love for him (LLS captured Kethan’s story here), along with my love for Maureen, and my love for all who fight cancer drive me forward.

21. “Once In a Lifetime.” #PowderedDonuts. #WingPrints. It is all connected. You never know where the answers will be found, but if you start with love, you will be on the right path to find them… even in a cup of dirt.