I am 58 years old, and 2022 was the best year of my life.
I’ve never been one to put stock in marking time or making resolutions. I just don’t care about that stuff – life happens regardless of time. But sometime in November, it occurred to me just how happy I am – then I started looking back at all the amazing things that have occurred in a year that started out with fresh knowledge that I had cancer. Thanks to a spike in the pandemic, we had to wait 3.5 months for a hospital room to open up for the surgery. So, for the first 3.5 months of 2022, a deadly cancer festered inside my body. A quarter of the year.
Upon hearing the news in December 2021, I was shocked to feel a blanket of confidence sweep over me. I knew immediately that God was using me for something. Again. And so I gave the cancer and all the stuff that comes along with it to a higher power that I’ve come to depend on as knowing way better than me which direction my life should move.
Since the epiphany that changed my trajectory in 1991, I’ve wondered why I was plucked from the edge. Why me? I was then, and remain still, nobody. Early on in my recovery, my ego thought that the reason was because I had something important to share with the world. I’ve since come to accept that it’s not important for me to know why I was spared from my own hand. My job is to simply keep walking in the light. And so from the moment the doctor shared the grim news about cancer December 10, 2021, I turned everything over to God. At no point during the first few months of 2022 did I harbor any fear or feel any self pity. Instead, I was walking on air – elevated just slightly from this plane we all consider “reality.”
Looking back now, I am filled with gratitude for how 2022 turned out. A year that saw my wife and I celebrate 25 years of marriage, and 30 years since the day we first met. I am so in love with Tina that she’s as essential to me as my own heartbeat. She was the one person who was with me every step of the way in my dealing with and recovery from cancer. The beauty of this year is as much about her light and love as it is anything.
A few of the things that made 2022 a year I will never forget:
March 17, 2022 – I have radical prostatectomy surgery. Discovered that the cancer was stage 3 and just 2 mm from the lymph nodes. According to the doctors, “It wanted to spread.” After the pathology report came back, I’ll never forget the surgeon telling me, “This would have killed you this year.”
It didn’t. Instead, having cancer rekindled my faith during a year when I turned my will and life over to the care of God again. Sincerely.
I was hospitalized for three days with a catheter, a drain plug, and 15 staples in my abdomen. The two weeks post-surgery was brutal. But I had my heart set on seeing a concert on April 1, and so the day after the staples and catheter were removed, we attended a Mondo Cozmo concert at an intimate venue here in Charlotte. I wore what was essentially a diaper under my sweatpants as the result of the surgery. In the weeks before the concert, I mentioned on social media that I was using the Mondo Cozmo show as inspiration for recovering quickly. Before playing his most popular song that night, Shine, Josh (the singer/songwriter) dedicated it to me. I was blown away. Tina started crying. If you’ve never heard this song, give it a listen. Then you’ll know why it was so moving for us.
In 2022, we were season ticket holders for the newest MLS franchise, Charlotte FC. I was never a fan of soccer until our eldest daughter started playing, but after attending the very first CLTFC match on March 5, when we set an MLS attendance record (74,479) in a game against the L.A. Galaxy, I was hooked. Going to those games this year was the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan. The community. The love. The pageantry. The bedlam. The fact that at Bank of America Stadium we sang the national anthem every game because at that first nationally televised match in which we broke the attendance record, the anthem singer’s mic cut out and we picked her up and finished it. Talk about goosebumps. Combine this amazing experience with the greatest World Cup I’ve ever watched – including the single greatest championship game I’ve ever seen – and yeah, 2022 became the year I fell head-over-heels in love with the sport of soccer. For me, soccer is now my second favorite sport behind baseball. I have so much to learn and I’m excited about it.
Also in 2022, the MLB team I’ve loved since 1980 won the World Series – the Houston Astros. Of course I thought that in 2017 we had won it, but we learned that that title was tainted. I was pretty mad at them for a couple of years because I knew they were good enough to win without cheating. And honestly, after Game 1 in which Philly came back to win on the road against the Astros, I thought they were going to do what Washington and Atlanta did their previous two trips after 2017. But the Astros were too good and held on to win 4 games to 2 and at long last I feel like my team finally won the World Series. I have not stopped beaming.
We took a few trips this year which included a weekend to Pittsburgh in September to watch the Pirates host the Cardinals. Our incentive was to finally see Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols play in person – as each future Hall of Famer had announced their retired after the season. I’ve long wanted to see PNC Park, and it was just as beautiful in-person as it is on TV. We had tickets to two games and were hoping to see a Pujols home run in his quest to reach 700 for his career. For the second game, I got tickets one row off of left field. I even brought my glove. And guess what? In the top of the 6th inning with a man on 3rd, El Hombre ripped home run number 696 into the section next to ours – tying him with Arod for 4th place all time. We were elated. After the game, there were fireworks. But of course there were.
Speaking of fireworks, on a random Thursday last October we drove to Wake Forest to watch Aggie, who attends NC State, play a club soccer match. All her life I’ve watched her play soccer. Drove her to practices. Stood in freezing rain watching games. This year, her senior year, because of the recovery from surgery, I was unable to attend any of her games. But we finally made it to the one at Wake. She played her heart out. The whole team did. And, as the clock ticked down on a 2-0 victory, fireworks went off over the field that were set off nearby. The players had no idea why it was happening. I just smiled and watched as the final whistle blew – with fireworks lighting up the night. To me it was a miraculous moment. After the game Aggie said, “It’s the best we have played this year.” Of course it was.
In 2020, I wrecked my knee diving for a ball in center field. Ended up having meniscus surgery in the summer of 2021. I recovered quickly and was about to lace up my cleats again, then found out I needed thumb surgery. Shortly after that came the cancer diagnosis. Playing softball is important to me as it’s a way to keep playing the game I love. So when I had the chance to play summer league games this year, I was excited even though I wasn’t sure whether my body would hold up. It did. In fact, in my last game of the summer, I connected on a 320-foot home run. Way over the fence. For a guy who is known for being able to track down balls and throw guys out trying to take an extra base, it was a pretty great feeling. Especially considering all the shit I’d come through the previous year-and-a-half.
I was finally able to show my wife and our daughter Cozette the majesty of the Rocky Mountains this summer. I was stationed in Denver twice during my service to our country in the USAF and have always talked about how amazing it is there. How different the mountains are for people from the east coast and south. We had a great time driving and hiking and biking for 5 days. Plus we attended a Rockies game at Coors Field, and a concert at Red Rocks. We even got to meet up with Ken Wheaton, his wife Cara, and their Aussie puppy Ruby. I met Ken in the early days of Twitter and he’s become someone I trust and admire. It’s cool when serendipity bears fruit. And, as fate would have it, Ken was the first person I shared the news with about the cancer. We happened to be texting about something when the doctor called me.
Our amazing year of live music started with the Mondo Cozmo show, but it didn’t end there. We were lucky enough to see Billy Joel at Bank of America Stadium. I saw him at MSG in the 90s, but Tina never had. So we plucked down the $$$ and I was shocked at how good the show was. I mean, Billy is no spring chicken – but his voice was strong and his wit as sharp as ever. We also saw Elton John perform his farewell show at BofA later in the year which was as moving a concert as I’ve ever attended. People were openly weeping.
One of the reasons we took a trip to Colorado when we did was to see Briston Maroney and Rainbow Kitten Surprise at Red Rocks. I’ve probably attended 200-250 concerts in my life and this one ranks in the top 10. Maroney, who we also saw play again in September at the Neighborhood Theater in Charlotte, was great – and during “Freaking out on the Interstate” when he talks about his father, I cried. Not for my own father, but because I was standing next to Cozette who is so much like me in so many ways that she and I have had our fair share of adversity. I looked over at her and she was just singing away. She didn’t even know I was choked up. It was a beautiful moment for me. After the Maroney set, RKS took the stage just as the full moon started to rise behind them. And for the next two hours it was a spiritual ride I will never forget.
We sandwiched a Jack White show in for good measure, and he of course melted our faces. Finally, in November we saw my favorite band, Wolf Alice, perform in Milan, Italy. It was their last show of a world tour that started 13 months before. And yes, it was magical.
In June, our old dog Sammy lost his 2-year battle with kidney disease. Sammy was more like a Disney character than a dog. With his one eye and pronounced underbite wrapped in a 12-pound orange package, everyone loved Sammy. He was a great friend to our daughters while they were growing up and an important part of our pack. He was old, and his death was not unexpected, but saying goodbye to a best friend is always hard.
About a month after Sammy died, we had to put down our 12-year-old Australian Shepherd, Strider. His death was unexpected. He was perfectly fine one day, and lethargic enough the next to take him to the vet where we learned that he was bleeding internally from a tumor on his spleen. We had to put him down in 48-hours or else he would suffer. I attended basic training. I survived homelessness and suicide. I overcame alcoholism. I’ve had major cancer surgery. But putting Strider down was the single-toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Before we took him to the vet for his final rest, I spent a lot of time talking to him. He was one of my best friends ever. This dog saw me through my cancer just a few months before – little did I know he had his own cancer festering inside of him. During my talk with him that morning, I asked whether he’d be disappointed if I got another dog. Not to replace him, but to fill the holes. His eyes told me that he expected nothing less.
As the guy who started Gone Dogs, after several months you’d think I would have written about Sammy and Strider by now. But I still can’t. One day.
A couple days after Strider’s death I proposed to Tina that we get brother Australian Shepherds. We’d always talked about it and figured we’d do it one day. We just figured it would be a couple of years down the road. We love the breed and when Strider left, it was the first time in 25 years we didn’t have an Aussie in our lives. We told the kids about our plan and Cozette jumped into action. She’d been in contact with a farm about an hour outside of Charlotte to get a dog for herself at college down in Florida. It turned out they still had two puppies left from their last litter – brothers. Tina and I drove out to see them, which to me was as good as agreeing we were going to do it. A week later we introduced Quill and Rocket to Bogart, who had lost his two brothers over the summer. These puppies have been a godsend for my grief and have definitely filled important holes in my life. They adjusted remarkably well and have become bonafide pack members in the six months they’ve been with us. Thank you, Strider.
2022 was the first year in my career where I felt like my contributions were truly valued. It certainly helps that there’s data these days to prove value, but moreover I feel incredibly lucky to work with such kind, professional people. Remotely.
In terms of my side gig, Gone Dogs, we have done something that very few independent publishers can claim. We have a book that’s so important to people, we have sold more than 5,000 copies since launching in 2019 and are currently on our third printing. Over that time I have received constant feedback about how this book has helped people grieve. Going into it, this wasn’t really something we thought about. I mean sure, I knew how cathartic it was write about losing your best friends – but I never considered how reading tender love stories about dogs might actually affect someone who was grieving themselves. Then sometime before my surgery in March, it occurred to me that there must be something more to this endeavor than selling books. So I launched a private Facebook group for bereaved dog parents. The group now has several thousand members and it’s 100% pure love and support. There’s nothing else like it online. I know today that this group was the reason for the book – not the other way around. That said, Laurie and I are planing on publishing two new volumes of Gone Dogs in 2023.
Over the Thanksgiving break, Tina and I traveled to Europe for the first time. You can read all about it here, but suffice it to say it was a magical trip. It even included a fairytale moment as we read our vows atop an ancient church in Milan where a man on the street far below began singing Ave Maria – a song from our wedding.
ALL THE OTHER STUFF
When you sit down to write a catalog of events that cover an entire year, you’re going to forget stuff. Mostly these are the daily miracles that we take for granted. Only, I endeavor not to let these little things pass without acknowledging them. Just know, they occur daily. For example, last week I received news that the results from my recent blood test (for cancer) was excellent. As though I never had cancer at all. And in August, I recognized 31 years of sobriety – which is a miracle that occurs daily. Oh, and a couple nights before the end of the year we were at dinner where they had a Galaga machine – and I earned the high score after not playing Galaga for decades. Miracle after miracle after miracle.
I would be remiss not to mention that our daughters are healthy, happy, and had their best years ever at college. They’ve adjusted extremely well to spreading their wings and leaving our nest. Agatha spent the summer in Europe and is considering a move there next summer. Cozette is thriving in St. Augustine and is probably more Floridian than me at this point.
As for me and Tina, we’ve adjusted well to this next phase of our lives. In fact, we’re talking about our end game with working and our next steps in terms of where we live. As of 1 January 2023, we will have been in Charlotte for 23 years. It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere. Yes, Charlotte has been a great place to raise a family – but we’re eager to begin a new chapter. Perhaps it will be Spain. Or Mexico. Or just back down to Anastasia Island to be close to the sea. Who knows. For now, we’re happy and in love where we are in life.
There have been other years that I can point back to as being memorable. The year in 6th grade when Stacie Shrine kissed me. The year I got sober. The year I met Tina. The years our daughters were born. But I have never experienced a year like this one. A year that should have been miserable because of the cancer and the deaths of two best friends. Only, it wasn’t. It was the opposite of miserable. There was so much light and joy in 2022 that all I feel is love and gratitude. And I owe all of this to the simple and sincere act of letting go, and letting a power greater than me drive.
It’s human nature to say “good riddance” to each year that passes. I don’t know why that is. It’s as though we slog through every year and hope the next will be the good one – but it never is. So we say “good riddance” again. Over and over.
Well this was more than a good year for me. And when they set off fireworks at midnight to signal the flip of the calendar, to me they’ll be in celebration of the best year of my life.
Man, I can’t wait to see what happens next.