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"Kara Was Born for All of Us"

Updated: Mar 8

Kara started this blog on Nov. 5, 2019. Five months after she was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. According to her LinkedIn page, I encouraged her to begin documenting her experiences in this format. I do remember telling her to set a strict schedule and stick to it, once she affirmed her interest in launching the project. Which she went on to do, with grit and unshakeable determination, all the way down the line. She saw it as her duty to shine a light into the swirl of mystery around mortality that eludes the grasp of statistical data. Light it up, and dance with it. 

A good friend recently said, "Kara was born for all of us." And you know what? A few years earlier, he'd suffered a heart attack. Hello, mortality and the swirl of mystery around it! What's that, Swirl, you say, you won't give me a comprehensive guarantee for a long and hardy life?! Not cool! Way not cool. One thing I like about people who have had heart attacks (definitely not the fact they've had a heart attack) is that I have yet to hear one of them say, "I beat a heart attack." (Not that this hasn't been boasted somewhere, probably by someone selling protein shakes or a cookbook.) Instead, if I could tease sound bites from heart attack conversations, the takeaway tends to run more along the lines of, "This thing happened, and wow, I am still here." As are all of us, until we are not. On this material plane of existence, anyway.

And although she had metastatic cancer and not a heart attack, this was how Kara danced through the swirl of mystery that NONE OF US GETS OUT OF HERE ALIVE: With a sense of wonder--"Wow, I am still here"--and curiosity. She was always writing and telling people who doubted her, "We will see what happens." And above all, she kept reminding those who tried to throw her off-course, "I am NOT a statistic." None of us are. Statistics help architects design bridges. Statistics help medical experts form treatment plans. Statistics help insurance companies determine how to charge some groups of people higher rates than others. That last being one of the more obvious examples of how--humans being the social and materialistic creatures they are--statistics carry a pervasive and almost invisible power to divide or exclude people for very specific purposes.

And the legions of us who quite sensibly try to stay on the more secure-feeling side of exclusion? We're asking Father* to tell us we'll live longer if we get the right test. Go to the right gym. Wear the right shoe. Eat the right amount of vegetables. Read the right book on mental health. Get the right meditation app. And so on. And Father will oblige from every industry that applies statistics to its own objectives and programs--in other words, every industry. I can be Father too, for example, as a self-employed personal trainer working out of my own private gym. I can and have used data to show how you can avoid a biceps tendon injury if you pull a deadlift with pronated forearms. And it's sound advice with no agenda behind it. (Well, maybe just a little... thank you for coming to my gym and please shoot payment to my Venmo!) But I can't really guarantee you'll avoid a biceps injury picking up weights with an overhand grip. And I certainly can't guarantee that lifting weights itself--for all its recorded benefits--will make you live longer.

Now, the counter-move here is to point out I am throwing shade at people for wanting to feel confident, let's say, or move in the right direction with their health. But I'm not throwing shade at individuals working on their health, I am casting light on the frustrating tendency of what I've called "the swirl" to outwit our smartest efforts to contain it and all that it implies. A broad, curmudgeonly light, granted, perhaps just a smidge influenced by caregiver-widower trauma. Which is not to say that life is pointless or hopeless. Just shorter than we like to think sometimes, regardless of what population(s) we can be said to belong to.

Yes, do all the things that make sense or feel right to you... but having something make sense or feel right to you is not the same thing as living longer. So sayeth Father the Former Obituary Writer. I would say this distinction seems obvious enough, but I'm not so sure. I'm not even sure why I'm going on at length about it, except that my gut is telling me to. But this is where I risk sounding like an angsty, condescending version of one of the grumpy old men from The Muppet Show in stark contrast to Kara's charm and effervescence when she wrote critically about difficult subjects. So, if you've made it this far, thank you. And now let's get back to the Adventuress herself... the one who saw and danced through the swirl as if the spirits of Walt Whitman and the Beat Poets were following her around playing air guitar.

When we first started dating--I was seventeen and Kara was eighteen--I wanted to do all the things with her that I saw all the cool kids doing in high school. I wanted to walk down the street with her holding hands. I wanted her to wear my letterman jacket. I wanted to impress her with my skills on the basketball court. See, Father, we're doing all the right things, aren't we? (Not my actual father, although he was relieved and pleased to see I was dating finally). And Kara? One night on the sidewalk in front of our house, she asked me to link arms and skip to the corner singing, "We're off to see the Wizard." Huh? I thought. Why on earth would I do that? I felt incredibly silly as she pulled me into this public reenactment of a bizarre Thanksgiving movie. Suddenly we weren't just boyfriend and girlfriend anymore... we were feet and elbows and a catchy duet tossed up to the stars. It made no sense to me, although it did leave me feeling elated, sort of.

And looking back, that is what was so magical about our little performance that night. Not that it was whimsical or spontaneous. But that it made me dance for just a moment through the expectations and conventions that try to contain the swirl of mystery around what it is that draws and binds a boy and girl (in our case) together. It helped me see that nothing really makes sense... which is an opportunity. Nothing makes sense, so why not do more things that make no sense and be in greater harmony for it? It's kind of fun to drop an illusion or two, isn't it? You don't have to appeal to Father for sense, who, not coincidentally, turns out to be the Wizard with his machinery of predictions behind the curtain.

And that is what I think our friend means, in my own mind, when he says, "Kara was born for all of us." She's shined a light on the swirls of vastness outside the human systems of measurement that make life possible and improvable, but also very often neurotic, reductive, and miserable. That sounds grandiose, but it's just a way of accounting for her power to awaken, inspire, and connect those who know her. I wish those words didn't sound like buzzwords, or key terms for some wine-countried dream weekend retreat, but they're the best I have while I look at her picture by my desk and think how nothing makes any sense... which presents an opportunity.

If at least one person reading this sees some sparkle in my mortality hot take, I will feel one step closer to envisioning what that opportunity might look like.

And grateful to have reached someone, 100%.

Until next time.

--Charles Austin Muir

P.S.--Check out this tribute post to Kara on the Air Guitar World Championships Facebook page!

*I'm playing loose here with the Father Archetype, a collective image of authority, protection, wisdom, both in and out of balance. Not actual parental issues with the father or the patriarchy, either.

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