Oh, Henry!

Everything’s blooming! It’s Minnesota at its – finally – best! We wait through autumn, when we’re not waiting at all, and in fact, wondering expectantly at the big brown die-off, through the darkening fall, then Christmas and New Year’s and a slight warm reprieve from the deepening doldrums, and then the real winter, the one that stays long after its welcome, through February, March, even April, May. This year was brutal on our souls. Brutal and unforgiving, unstoppable. The strongest among us whined like kids kept out of the carnival.

But here it is! Glorious! Yet we always forget. Every year. Holy shit! A flower! Green grass! Like we’ve never seen it before. The soil lets loose its gases, which hop us up like goofballs. The air mists moisture, smells sweet, coats our lungs. The flowers shock and bushes burst. The trees all leafy, some big blooms above, fluttering, breezy, then petals scatter all over the ground. Soft, sweet snowflakes, warm and oily.

It’s just June 2nd. Twenty days to the actual Solstice. So much summer to enjoy! We feel guilty. Haven’t we had enough already? Let’s not get fancy. We’re better than this. Stronger! Forgetting the brutality we’ve just suffered, suddenly so forgiving. It wasn’t that bad, right? I know you’ll do it again, but I forgive you this one time. Because now is good – really, really good.

 

 

Tell it like it is

My dad’s obit appeared today in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press and the Sioux City Journal and will also appear in the Lake County Chronicle on Thursday. What does that mean? Our little final story will hit three papers near to where he’s most recently lived and soon one where he really recently lived.

I’ve read the obituaries every Sunday for the last 25 years of my life. Since I was 25, I guess. I don’t know what got me into that habit, but the habit I got. It’s become a ritual for me because I find myself wanting to know who’s dying. And more than that, and here’s how most obituaries so fail, why. I was certain to mention what ailed my father before he died because I think it’s terribly important. An obituary without a cause of death is just a greeting card. With a cause of death, it’s a statement of fact.

We, the living, need to see what’s killing the rest of us – no matter how awful or what we think wrongly is embarrassing. It’s the truth that we need to recognize together. There’s no shame. Suicide or aneurysm or cancer or car accident. The truth of the matter is what matters. It’s what will touch us to be aware of what is killing the rest of us. Lewy Body Dementia isn’t pretty, but I’ve now heard from others that have loved ones that suffer similarly. That’s good. Because they find solace in the diagnosis, reason and love. And shared experience.

When I read those that do tell the whole truth, I feel alive. When I read those that don’t, I’m not sure exactly how to feel. Yes, I revel in a life well lived, but beyond that it’s what behind door number one. You guess. But you could never possibly figure it out.

Death by any means is noble – whether it is an old woman dying in her sleep at 95 surrounded by family or a young person suffering from mental illness who commits suicide. It’s entirely equal and important. Obituaries need to spell it out and allow us to respond as human beings. Even a suicide bomber. We should know that, see who they were and who loved them, and we’ll be that much closer to knowing what causes something so hideous, and maybe be there to affect such a decision in the future.

But that is extreme. What about the rest of us and all the diseases and accidents that take us out of this life? The more we know, the more we can understand and be prepared and aware. Cancer, stroke, old age, [insert that which killed your loved one here] – let the people know. Let them know what took this great person’s life so they, the rest of us, can be aware with the ones we love.

We hear statistics, trends, numbers, chances, but they’re just that. Not human beings, but numbers. Give the body a reason. Give the people a chance to understand and maybe respond. All death is noble, if we take the time to understand why. Life is what we’re living, death is not just a concept, it’s more true than you can ever be yet. Tell it like it is. Let that be your favor to the future.

The death of a loved one quickens life

The death of a loved one quickens life, it really does. Like most things around death, it’s slippery and hard to explain. But the sadness seems to open windows and let in the light of life as if something of that which animated them shines through you. I can feel that now with the passing of my dad a week ago today.

Clarity’s a good word – the same thing that comes with presence, but a bit more Technicolor than anyone of us sees on any given day or through any daily meditation. I certainly see more clearly than I did last Friday, despite the tears that muddled my eyes.

It mimics the freedom those with the worst diagnosis often eventually feel. To understand one’s mortality is to gaze deeply at the wonder of living. It’s once removed but profound nonetheless. It’s beautiful and I know exactly who to thank.

Thank you, Dad, for life and for this. I thought you had already done enough for me.

First a father, then a friend

See ya, Dad! Glad you could finally get the hell out of that memory care crap. As much as those people are saints and angels, it was a living hell for you, sir. You spend the last thirty years of your life on 13 wooded acres with streams and deer and fox and bears and a view of “the largest fresh water lake in the world,” as you were wont to say, then the last three months in a glorified hospital room, dubbed your “apartment”. You were a “resident” but I preferred a “guest” hoping your stay wouldn’t really add up to any sort of actual residency.

And it didn’t. It was as if you looked around you and said, “No, thank you.” You rallied for a few weeks and seemed darn good – if all the mumbling, confusion, hallucinations and falling down constitutes darn good. But it’s all relative, and you quickly crumpled and exited with great class.

You and mom must have had quite a connection. She up north suddenly struck with the thought – the compulsion – that she needed to get down here to see you on Friday. “Mom,” I said, “you’re coming next week.” “No, I need to see Bob.”

We saw you Friday early and you smiled when I whispered to you, “Dude, mom’s coming today and it would be a perfect time to get the hell out of here.” When we left you almost broke my hand squeezing it and you almost hugged Jana and I inside out. I wondered if you didn’t have a plan.

She came, you sat on the deck in the sun together – as you did on various decks, docks and beaches throughout your 57 years together – you had a little dinner and when she ran to the store, you took the opportunity to leave this strange little planet in the care of the nurses, who gussied up the old bod in some nice pajamas, combed your hair and laid you down on the bed like the best of open-casket moments. Brilliant! Mom got to be there and you know just how important that was! God, I love you, Dad. And Mom.

I know you had no time for religion, the afterlife and all the rest. You were a scientist – a surgeon who had to go into work at 2 am and piece together some poor kid whose parent’s station wagon was t-boned by some drunk in a big old Buick. That boy never did anything to deserve a skin-bag full of crushed bone. And you did everything you could. And mostly it worked, but sometimes it didn’t. And the little boy, or girl, or teenager, mom, dad, grandmother – whoever – would die. There was simply no room for some sort of caring god who answers prayers in that world. What god would answer this mom’s prayer over here for the new couch and then allow this mom’s kid to be crushed to death on a dark highway, whether or not she thought to pray.

We talked about the afterlife and you were curious – as any good scientist would be. But you knew you could not know, nor could anyone else without proof, real proof; stories in old books and old men’s promises from pulpits do not constitute any sort of proof whatsoever.

So we left it at that knowing we didn’t know… but now you do! I’ve no idea where you are – let me rephrase that: I’ve no idea where your soul is (if that can be separated from the body; if there is such a thing as a soul) but your corporeal self is lying in a drawer awaiting the great cremation oven. It’s got to be great, and by great I mean, big. Some a bit more religious might see that as a metaphor of you burning in hell for your agnosticism. I see it as the incredibly unselfish choice of someone who really doesn’t believe they should take up 28 square feet of earth for eternity.

We’ll toss the ashes out on Lake Superior and maybe some on South Long Lake. I know you think that sort of thing is silly, at best, but we’ll enjoy it. I’ve got to tell you that the guy at the cremation society said that if you’re tossing ashes outside anywhere you should “mind the wind!” Can you imagine? We make great speeches, open the lid, toss the ashes that are you (not really) and whoosh! It all blows back in our faces! You’d love that just to drive home just how silly all this is. I know you would.

So where are you? Can’t you give us a sign? Move a chair, or a lamp, jeez, how about the cursor? That can’t be all that hard. Are you IN some sort of heaven? Or OUT there in the firmament? Jetting from star to star, universe to universe? Are you everywhere? Flowing with the energy that moves all things? Or will you be reborn a black bear? (Colin came back as a rabbit. I see him everywhere.)

I’m just like you, Dad, I’ve no idea how that all works, and will never take it on faith from any man – ever. You instilled that bullshit alarm in me from an early age and it’s there and it’s calibrated and it has never, ever failed me. For that, I thank you dearly.

I also thank you for that sense of wonder and curiosity that is the flipside. You instilled that in me as well and it’s made my life richer than I could imagine. In fact, we had many a cocktail conversation about the existence of the god concept and what that might look like if it did/does exist. These were wonderful conversations that, of course, didn’t really lead anywhere. Instead it was the journey, as they like to say.

So now you know – or at least you know where death leads us – all you dead people know! Good for you, dead people. But maybe in death you learn what death is, but all of you are still knocking around wherever with no more proof of a god than we have here on earth. Who knows? Well, you do.

I’ll keep that curiosity and sense of wonder at the world, nature, the universe(s) and pass that right on to Olivia and Ben. I’ll hold my hand out in front of me, like you did, and think, “Look at that thing, it’s absolutely brilliant!” And it is! I told that to some people at work just the other day and they also looked at their hand, moving their four fingers and the mind-blowing opposable thumb, and I’m pretty certain that they will also never see it the same again. You taught me that there’s enough right here in our physical world to explore, learn from, and wonder about without conjuring all-knowing and eternal gods and the like. We don’t know how gravity works, but we’re running around telling people what the creator of everything thinks? Good Lord.

We were best buddies at the end. Even after that sick disease wrecked your brain to a place where I only got glimpses of you, we still connected. We could sit in confusion for an hour and then you’d suddenly give me a look that said, “Don’t worry, Luke, I’m still in here.” I loved those moments. I loved all the moments. I even loved the shitty moments that pepper the care of a guy with your disease. I learned a lot in the last year. You taught me right up to the very end.

I love you. I will always love you. Godspeed! (Yes, I had to say it!) And don’t forget to stay in touch! I’ll be listening, my friend.

I don’t know. Did you pay attention in school?

One day I will have a website – idontknowdidyoupayattentioninschool.com – which will sell all sorts of items – from coffee cups to t-shirts to bumper stickers (trinkets and trash) – all of which will say just that: “I don’t know. Did you pay attention in school?”

Because I’m convinced that most of the problems in America are due to not paying attention in school. Think about it, if you look at the kids who really paid attention in school when you went to school, you are now looking at adults with fewer problems than those who did not pay attention in school. It’s like this almost foolproof anti-problem process. The more you pay attention in school, the better your entire life will be.

I know, it sounds too simple, and granted, it’s not entirely foolproof. Other extenuating circumstances come into play certainly and some people who pay attention in school end up with many a problem. And even more sadly, for some kids the problem is the inability to pay attention in school for one reason or another beyond their control in the first place.

But there’s the big group in the middle – the big bubble of people who didn’t pay attention in school – who could have paid attention in school but did not pay attention in school and are now wondering just what went wrong. What happened?

I don’t know. Did you pay attention in school?

I don’t know. Do you wanna buy a stress ball?

I forgot to wear a belt today

I forgot to wear a belt today and lord was I annoyed. I was constantly pulling up my pants, in fact, holding them up at particular moments throughout my day. It was a relentless bug in my bonnet. When I had a belt, my pants sat exactly where they should sit, as they should, and I was free to go about my business. But not today. I was in a constant battle with the level of my pants!

But then someone noted that and said, “Are you saggin’, dude.” And I said, “What?” And then realized that my missing belt made a fashion statement – by me – that I would never make. Look, I’m all about fashion statements, it’s how we physically speak to strangers about who we are. Long hair, short hair, t-shirts and jeans, bangs and rhinestones, fat ties and afros, skinny jeans and speedos, tattoos, caps, hats and mustachios, blue hair, gray hair and hair nets.

But this? Shit, I might as well pluck an eyelash and poke it into my eye so all day I am constantly irritated by the pain and incessant tears.

God bless the dudes that can pull it off – running down the street with the belt line down around the knees, undies flapping, and hopping as if they just crapped their pants, and yet, looking cool, right on, with this new fashion sensibility.

I can’t pull it off, for a host of reasons, the main reason, I will not be annoyed by myself. I annoy myself enough already.

Good writing and all that good stuff

Writing. I have nothing to write about so I will write about writing. I wanted to be dramatic and say something like Writing is a lost art! Yes, I would just get it out there! But how stupid is that? There’s so much great writing happening right now that to make some ridiculous blanket statement like that is, well, ridiculous. How’s that for losing the art?

In fact, there are so many books of poetry, essays, fiction and nonfiction; movies, even television shows that showcase spectacular writing all of the time that one couldn’t possibly read, watch or otherwise experience in a decade that which is created in a single year. It’s truly astounding. I’ve read mostly unread blog posts that brought me to tears. How cool is that?

One of the things that I don’t necessarily cotton to is off-the-charts shockadelica writing. I remember a long time ago watching ER, which had great writing, but they were one to often go a bit over the top. A patient comes in, impaled by a tree! That was knocked down by a crazed killer’s car! Who had just abducted an innocent child! And the patient was a nun – who had AIDs! Sometimes it was all too much – like when the helicopter crashed! It’s like our threshold for shock had become so numbingly inflated that they had to raise the bar – constantly. Now we have/had serial killers who kill bad guys. Nice, that.

But, whatever, people love it – and the writing is still really, really good. I wonder if there’s an upper limit. Will simple love stories disappear lest they make certain they are vampires in love? Will we be bored unless the love includes one person who is not just a bad guy, but a flesh-eating bad guy?

Took the family to see Frozen today. Nice movie, kid-friendly, visually pretty stunning and all that good stuff. On the way out, my 9-year-old daughter said that it would be cool if it had real people in it, echoing a sentiment I felt throughout the movie. I’ve grown a little weary of the Disney/Pixar and the like cartoon characters. They’re just not all that expressive, although they certainly try, and those big ballooney eyes they like and particularly on the female characters, while once pretty compelling are a bit empty now. The reindeer was the most expressive character in the whole movie strangely.

But the writing was very good. Some of the song lyrics set the teeth on edge with a saccharine coating, but that’s a small complaint. Maybe they’ll bring it to the stage.

But I digress. We’re having a veritable renaissance of writing – and especially in the entertainment industry. That’s where the money is so that’s where a lot of great writers are going. It’s exciting. Let’s hope it inspires lots of young people to take writing seriously. I can’t imagine it won’t.

I Resolve to Tweet More?

I struggle with the social media landscape only because it moves much faster – quicker – than I do. My mind is old school. I prefer a conversation or an article and find a tweet or a post lacking. I know that’s the point – the whole 140 character limit and all that with Twitter, particularly – but sometimes it feels like someone walking by the house, opening the door, shouting “Check out this great article on winter bicycling!” slamming it and leaving. “What? Who? Where?!”

But I’ve made it a resolution to embrace it as best I can. Hashtag that, my friend, and wish me luck.

I dig resolutions. I dig New Years entirely. It’s an opportunity to do a time-check. Feels a bit like flipping that Etch-A-Sketch over and giving it a good shake. (RIP Etch-A-Sketch inventor, Andre Cassagnes, who passed in 2013.) I can make grand statements about what I plan to do better, more, less and so on. And sometimes, though not often, they stick, a little.

Every year I resolve to be more focused, follow through, drink less, run more, yell around the house less, hug the kids more (impossible, they’d be smothered), eat out less, eat in more, drink less (that deserves a second nod), pay more real attention to my lovely wife, fix up the house, fix up the yard, …

And I feel hopeful, like it might happen – or some of it. And why not? It’s a brand new year! The perfect opportunity make today the first day of the rest of my life! (That’s from an old commercial, I think. God bless the marketers.)

I told my kids this morning that 2014 is “The Year of Daddy.” They said, “No, it’s not.” “The year of listening more to mom and dad!” “Nope.” “The year of being nice to one another!”

How about that? That’s a good one for us all – politicians, priests, family, strangers, friends and foes. Let’s resolve to be nice, accept differing opinions – we can disagree without demonizing, tearing one another a new one, lying, cheating, bitching, complaining, or even blowing up a teeming marketplace.

Less horrifically in the particular instance, but plenty rotten in the aggregate: What inspires someone, say, BlueBlood42, to feel the need to rip into, say, LadyFirst63, in the comments section of some article? BlueBlood42 hides behind a pseudonym and attacks another pseudonym. The result is simply, well, there is no result. Resolve that crap out of your life.

I lift my beer (struggling with the drinking one) while burping up a little Taco Bell (ditto eating better and eating in more) and say to one and all, Happy New Year.

Stay tuned for my next tweet. It will be momentous! Although frustratingly short, at least, for me.

Let’s first look and then think

Let us all stop.
pay the attention that the rest of the world deserves. travel.
puts our own life into some sort of matrix with the rest of the world.
We have our one percent, god bless em,
and then there’s the true reality of our
one world.
I once read that one in seven people on our planet is a Chinese peasant.
Think
create some semblance of equality, fairness and decency
in the most basic of all human needs – the care of ourselves,
our loved ones
and our families’
health.