As it should be, beauty, meditation, ourselves, poetry, truth

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.

aminimals, art, As it should be, beauty, common human decency, cool, honesty, kids, meditation, ourselves, poetry, SCIENCE!, The Future, The Past, the rest of us, truth

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.

Aliens, common human decency, devil, honesty, Information, meditation, ourselves, poetry, SCIENCE!, The Future, The Past, trouble, truth, Uncategorized

Lewy Body Dementia

There but for the grace of God go I. Lewy Body Dementia. Look it up if you’re looking for yet another chink in the armor of this loving God of grace. Or if you’re more modern, explain to me why evolution would evolve such a thing. It’s a cocktail, not to be enjoyed surely, but jammed down the throats of the unsuspecting; a mix of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease with a double-shot of hallucinations tossed in for good measure. Shaken. Stirred. Scared. To death.

“Dad, are you all right?”

Eyes of terror, hands shaking, trembling in the middle of the familiar family room.

“No.”

“Can I get you anything?”

“Yeah, a casket.”

It’s one of the sickest parts of the sickness, this in and out of reality, with little of the blissful ignorance that can accompany some forms of dementia. Just confusion, then awareness, then terror, then anger, then anxiety, then awareness, then frustration, then and again and again and again.

The hallucinations started out fascinating, even funny. “Do you see that garden party over on the Johnson’s lawn?”

“No.”

Or

“Do you see the couple standing on the rocks down by the lake?”

“No.”

“Well, then, what about their dog?”

They got less funny over time. Long, complex hallucinations he recounted later. The three women who put him in a car and took him across the country, stopping at gas stations, not letting him out of the back seat. The same three women who would show up unexpectedly in the house. “I don’t know how they get in here.” Then maybe funny: “But damn they work hard around here. Never seen anything like it.”

He’s moving into memory care now and if anyone’s memory needs some care, it’s his. It’s the sickest thing I’ve ever seen, this Lewy Body business. Reduce a once proud, hyper-intelligent, orthopedic surgeon, to a trembling, mumbling “resident” (read “patient”).

There are moments of transcendence, fewer and farther between these days, but, still, and occasionally.

I love my dad. I hate this fucking disease.

As it should be, kids, ourselves, SCIENCE!, The Future, truth, Uncategorized

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?

Aliens, art, beauty, brands, cool, God Bless America, Information, kids, ourselves, SCIENCE!, seasonal affective disorder, television, The Future, the rest of us, truth, weather

Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina

(And how it applies to the Winter Olympic Games)

My younger brother Daniel and I were talking on the phone last night and commenting on the Winter Olympic Games. He said, “The U.S. is kind of sucking this year.” And I said, “Yeah, but doesn’t it blow your mind how many of the athletes are such freaking Hotties?” And he said, “Yeah, and they’re all fucking each other all the time! As soon as they finish their events they go back to the Olympic Village and fuck each other over and over!” He’s right, by the way. I read about that years ago. If you don’t believe it, look it up.

Anyway, when he said that – PING! It popped right back into my head: Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina. I remember the exact day of its origin. Many years ago my two brothers, my sister and I were riding in the back of our parents van and passing through Edina. Edina is a very wealthy suburb of Minneapolis, and at the time, around 1976, it was the quintessential wealthy suburb of Minneapolis. So I looked out the window of the van at a group of girls standing in front of the Edina Theater and said, “Man! Why are there so many hot chicks in Edina?”

My other brother, Jonny Pie, looked up from whatever technical manual he was reading (for fun) and said:

“It’s really quite simple. The fathers in Edina are wealthy men and their wealth gives them certain advantages in picking a mate. One of those is in the looks of the women. In other words, they can choose more beautiful wives – whether they are handsome themselves, or a troll. So it follows that, over time, the prevalence of beautiful children will increase. And it follows then that if the families stay in Edina for generations, the genetic probability for good-looking children continues to increase. Therefore, ergo, you are absolutely right: there are ‘so many hot chicks in Edina’. Simple as that.”

Bam! He knocked that fucker right out of the park! His simple logic stunned my young mind. It was suddenly obvious. Rich men = hot wives = more hot chick babies! Simple as that.

“It’s not the same in Minneapolis where we live,” he added, and we all glanced up to see if Mom and Dad had heard that.

So now I see that Jonny Pie’s Theory can easily be applied to the prevalence of Hotties at the Olympic Games; and it’s not because they are all having sex in the Olympic Village like Daniel was quick to point out, as you might be thinking. That story was actually about all of the condoms that are provided by the US Olympic Committee for all that sex which would, hopefully, avoid any unwanted, albeit off-the-charts cute, babies.

It’s because the Olympic athletes in the winter games are all basically Edina kids. Every last one of them. Yeah, yeah, NBC likes to drag out the one story of the middle class kid from Indiana who mowed lawns to afford to become a snowboard sensation, but seriously, how many lower or middle class families can afford to send their kids to luge camp, or snowboarding school, find them a Romanian skating coach, or buy them a four-man bobsled? None. That’s how many. Most of those families couldn’t afford a day pass at one of the Utah ski areas these actual, and decidedly hirsute, snowboard sensations no doubt basically live in.

You don’t learn how to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever the hell they make up to call that shit, in a few runs. It takes hours, days, months and years, and ain’t no poor kid gonna get that opportunity. No, sir.

So, really, we have Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina, Postulate 1 (As it Applies to the Athletes at the Winter Olympic Games), and it really simply states: There are so many Hotties at the Winter Olympic Games because they are all the offspring of rich parents, therefore, rich kids, ergo genetically predisposed to be Hotties. Rich Parents = Rich Hottie Kids = Kids with the time, money and resources to spend a lifetime learning to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever.

Simple as that.

brands, Civics, cool, God Bless America, running, The Past, truth

My evolution of running (aka jogging)

I was talking with a good friend who is going through a rough patch on Friday night and he had just gone running and I launched into a helpful little monologue about how important exercise is to his emotional well-being – healthy body/healthy mind – and all that good stuff and it didn’t occur to me at the time that I had not done any exercise myself for months.

I’ve been a runner, which is a serious misnomer, since I was about twelve or thirteen. It’s a misnomer because what I do is not running, but jogging mostly, sometimes just glorified walking. Unless bears are chasing me, or cops (“the fuzz” as they were known then), I really don’t ever actually run. So yesterday and today I did run (jog), inspired by my own words of encouragement or embarrassment for having talked so glowingly about it while not actually practicing what I was preaching.

On my run today I was thinking about the early days and remembered the first time I set out to run for running’s sake, but it wasn’t exactly that even. You see, I had the great fortune of growing up on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, which is a lake smack dab in the middle of the city, part of a string of lakes actually that include Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and the other one, the name of which escapes me and always has for some odd reason.

Back in those days, and this would have been around 1975, very few people ran for the sake of running. Kids who ran track or cross-country in high school ran and other athletes ran but mostly on or around the field. You could sit on a Saturday in summertime and see few if any runners circling the lakes. There were certainly some, but nothing like the throngs that now pack the paths like some circuitous mass journey to Mecca.

I remember my buddy Ben Johnson, two doors down, and I deciding to “run around the lake.” I put that in quotes because we would never have said, “Let’s go running,” and then run around the lake. In the same manner, no one would have said, “Let’s go painting,” when in fact they wanted to “paint the shed.” To “go running” came about later, I don’t know when, at least within my worldview. We weren’t running for running’s sake. We were running to run around the lake.

So we put on our crappy flat-footed Converse All Stars, which at the time had not yet been inducted as the quintessential icon of alt-rock coolness by our neighbors (who lived closer to Isles than Calhoun), The Replacements. They were simply all we had. Pumas, Adidas and Nike were just about to explode onto the scene, but at this point it was the Converse, or a shoe we called Bumpers, or P.F. Flyers to choose from, as far as I can remember. And they all came in only black, white or blue. Mine were blue.

And then we ran around the lake, which set into motion a lifetime of running (jogging, glorified walking) for me. It’s cool to distinctly remember a day almost 40 years ago that was only unique at the time in that we ran around the lake, and yet profoundly changed my life.

I’m still a little old school (although I definitely wear better shoes) in that I tend to be in sweats – real sweats, gray or blue or whatever, the same style as I would have in 75, rather than any sort of tight, bright, modern, expensive running gear. I honestly cannot imagine my butt in those “pants” if that’s what you call what looks like spray-on nylon. Nor do I think anyone else should have to imagine it, let alone actually witness in real-time bouncing down the street.

I often wonder standing at a red light who looks more ridiculous: Me in my baggy sweats looking like a Rocky wanna-be on his way to sprint up a long flight of stairs punching at the air, or the tall, skinny, rainbow-ed Oompa-Loompa next to me running in place, apparently unable to stop moving lest his legs turn to ice beneath that thin veneer of elastic something or other. It’s probably a wash.

Speaking of ridiculous, I spent a month in a smaller city in Serbia, Jagodina, back in the 90’s. For some stupid reason I got it in my head to go running. Now at the time, this was a place where personal health and exercise had evolved to mostly smoking, drinking and fighting. I took off in purple shorts and a t-shirt (I had not at that time seen a single human being in shorts throughout Serbia despite the fact that it was in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit) and ran by some guys who said something in Serbian, which I did not speak and no longer remember. When I got back I told the people who I was staying with what the guys had said and they laughed. “Fucking purple underwear.” I didn’t run anymore in Jagodina.

Aliens, aminimals, brands, Civics, common human decency, devil, God Bless America, honesty, revolution, SCIENCE!, The Future, The Past, the rest of us, trouble, truth

Vladimir Hitler (okay, that’s over the top)

Kudos to the Russians for the Olympic intro. God bless ‘em, yes, it was an extravaganza, as it always is. Beautiful and poignant and then, ultimately, please make it stop, super bowl halftime style. But I think they made some recognition of their own not so perfect history, which was good. I’m not sure even we juggernaut Americans would have done so. Some recognition of a not so Pollyanna past which they’ve been prone to as Soviets and now new Russians. Something tells me we would have draped a flag over all of our own ugly past. But there’s still the 50 billion dollar price tag (what happened to that?!), which the Chinese would have parlayed into an Olympic games and then maybe Disney Beijing. Putin’s a megalomaniac, no doubt. And this is his moment. But is it enough? I don’t think so.

But let’s watch the games!

Sadly in the end, Putin will do what Putin wants to do. Shit, Hitler had the Olympic games at his peak and look how that turned out, how history sees it, Vladimir.

But let’s just watch the games!

devil, honesty, ourselves, poetry, revolution, seasonal affective disorder, Seriously sad, trouble, truth, weather

Minnesotans are beside themselves

Minnesotans take a certain pride in winter. Lesser mortals couldn’t survive here and so we go so far as to sing the praises of blizzards and below zero temperatures. It builds character and culls the herd. Population control. Let the weak leave, and leave the strong behind!

So why then is this particular winter bringing out the mad whiners in so many of us? Everyone is pissed! I went outside one morning recently and saw five inches of new snow, with drifts over my driveway and screamed: #$#@#%!!!!! A neighbor a few doors down thankfully didn’t hear the actual message but only the sound of the shout and turned and waved.

I would argue it’s the worst winter in recent memory. Biggest snowfall? No. Coldest temperatures? No. But a constant onslaught of cold and snow and snow and cold. The best of us are bitching like teenagers forced to stay home, eat only broccoli and do advanced placement homework – every freaking day of the year.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like this. Our proud stoicism has frozen to icy anger. We feel let down as if winter had always been this devil to which we’d sold our souls and agreed that you kick our ass some and we’ll stay by you as long as you keep the hoi polloi at bay. But it seems winter has changed the details of our deal. Winter just keeps on kicking and kicking and kicking, and we’re getting a little ticked off – no, a lot ticked off! And the hoi polloi? I’m constantly pushing them out of the driveways they didn’t think to shovel at all.

I used to see a cross-country skier and think, way to go, man! Now I see them and recognize only the stupidity of their actions. You, my friend, are giving in to the enemy. You cannot enjoy this torture! Go home! Drink bourbon in front of a fire and let us plan together our flight to the land of the weaker mortals. We could rule those fools and that simple land! We will never again scrape thick ice from our cars! Never again spin our tires and slip backward on tiny inclines! Never again will we spend untold hours shoveling and shoveling and shoveling, just so someone can walk down our clear sidewalks!

Instead we will sit upon a beach with our toes in the sand, the salt water washing over our feet. That is what we will do! Together! It will be spectacular!!

That is, after tomorrow, after the plows go by and leave a three foot ice wall between our cars and the icy roads. After we take our plastic shovels and slowly chip away at that wall as our fingers devolve to tiny, dying icicles. Right after that! We all leave! Together!

As it should be, common human decency, God Bless America, honesty, ourselves, poetry, Reading, revolution, The Future, truth

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.