Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Inside Baseball

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I have been a baseball fan my entire life. Although there was a time when I was far too busy to follow the game or attend any of my brother’s games. I do not feel any regret for dropping any of the professional game’s doings, but I do have unending guilt for having missed my brother’s games. I was in the midst of starting a family and cultivating a career. There was no extra time in my life to allot to following the careers of those being paid millions to play the game I would have played freely only a few years before. Nor did I have any time to follow my favorite team. With 162 games to follow and 30 teams, there was no room in my simple brain to shoehorn in anything more than my job, keeping up the house, nurturing my young marriage and learning to be a father to twins. However, I should have made the time to see my brother play or at least to have inquired as to his success more often than I did.

Now the kids are all but off on their own and my wife has died. My career is a priority again after seven years as I focus once again on my job instead of my wife’s disease. I have just purchased a condo, so most of the upkeep that previously occupied my mind has been alleviated. And so, now I return to the game I love. I still only have so much room in my aging mind to keep track of statistics, so I find it easier to follow the local team instead of my boyhood team. To be sure, I still keep tabs on the Cincinnati Reds, but I also enjoy watching the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. I am one of the few people that can be a fan of both the Yankees and the Red Sox. In fact, I will usually root for the team behind in the standings whenever they play one another.

I spent the majority of my life hating the Red Sox. I was raised deep in Red Sox Nation and found that their fans were not baseball fans but Red Sox fans, a crime profoundly egregious to me. I found that those who followed only the Red Sox could not name many other players on any other team, nor tell me much about any other team. I was raised that this was an affront to true baseball fans. Now that I have reached middle age and have interests and obligations beyond baseball fandom, I understand why some limit their exposure to the local team. I try to keep track of other teams and succeed for brief periods of time; however, it is infinitely easier to keep abreast of the goings on of your local team when the news and newspapers are flush with necessary information. Unfortunately, due to my wife’s passing, I have an exceedingly large amount of free time now. I find that watching baseball on television not only fills the house with necessary sound to drown out the din of my ringing ears, but it wards off the loneliness being alone causes.

And it is not a question of latching on to a winner as the Red Sox are, I believe, destined to land in the middle of their division by season’s end, mostly due to the fact that they are both young at most positions and the fact that they do not have a starting rotation to compete throughout the year. I will keep track of other teams and certain individual players and once October rolls around, I will be wholeheartedly invested in the post season.

Baseball has been accused of being an old and dying game by some, including some big league players. However, I think it is a game which demands the best of a player on several layers, unlike most other team sports. Much of the mental game going on in a baseball game can go unnoticed by the casual fan. There are set plays in football that either work or don’t. There are very few set plays in baseball as each pitch represents a variety of opportunities. Should the pitcher throw inside and low, outside and high, off speed, a curve, slider, knuckleball, or bring the high heat with a two-seam fastball or a four-seam? Will the batter be thinking the same as the pitcher and try to take the outside pitch to the opposite field or try to pull the inside fastball? And what of the player on first base? Will he be looking to run? Will there be a hit and run, a bunt to move him along, will the batter try to hit behind the runner? And where does the defense align themselves? Are the middle infielders set to turn a double play, are the outfielders pulled in and on the lines to prevent a ball getting past them in the late innings? What signs is the manager flashing to the catcher? What signs have the catcher and first baseman worked out together? What about the signs the third base coach is flashing to the batter and man on first? Most of this invisible game is missed by the casual observer and it all resets after the next pitch.

Don’t get me wrong, baseball is not inhabited by brilliant people. Most players are no brighter than the average jock, but they are dedicated and knowledgeable of their profession. And it is incumbent upon the fan to follow along or risk having the game seem slow and boring. There is usually so much going on inside the game that there are rarely boring periods of the game. To get into a game at the deepest levels as a fan is to see a chess match played out in front of you. And it sets up the fan to participate in conjecture before each pitch. This is anything but boring. And that is not mentioning the physics involved in the game. Consider how difficult it is to hit a small sphere with a thin cylinder. Only one spot on the sphere will ever come into contact with the thin cylinder at a given time. Now try to place where you want the small sphere to go while the deliverer of the small sphere takes advantage of the effects the atmosphere has on the lacing of the small sphere by throwing it in order to have it curve inside, outside or down, seemingly in defiance of the laws of physics. Now do all of that while 50,000 people are staring at you some expecting you to hit the small sphere a long way with your thin cylinder while others are hoping the deliverer of the small sphere can get the small sphere past you and into a predetermined zone acceptable to an arbitrator standing behind you. No, baseball is not an easy game, nor is it boring.

Baseball has been very good to me even when I was not very good to it. I have gone from a rabid fan to a father/husband and now to a fan again. Play ball.

Steel Blue

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My children, twins, will graduate from the University of Texas at Austin in three weeks. This a full summer semester before campus carry takes effect. I am so thankful they will have enjoyed their time at college before the advent of guns in their classroom. In addition, we will be moving to Rhode Island in the weeks following graduation. This will exempt us from seeing Texas open carry zealots who cannot shop in a grocery store or visit a restaurant without their trusty firearm by their side, like some deranged metallic playmate.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, Texas has embraced the gun like never before and this in the face of a plethora of withering facts against such a position and against the wishes of the majority of the public. By all means, don’t let facts dissuade you from carrying out unwanted legislation in order to enhance the state’s swagger well beyond reason. Both open carry and campus carry were passed during the last legislative session. And don’t be lulled into believing that with such measures the gun lobby will be sated and have no other bills pending in the next session. In fact, the next session has already been tagged as the “constitutional” carry session as the gun lobby will push for both open carry and campus carry without any restrictions, training, or registration; another step in the guns-everywhere mentality where even those time travelers from the old Wild West would feel uncomfortable.

And Texas isn’t the most responsible when it comes to its guns. Last week, the TSA announced it had set a new record for the number of guns confiscated at American airports. In a study done in 2015, three of the top 6 airports listed by the number of guns confiscated were based in Texas. In fact, two of them were located in Houston. How can anyone be trusted to carry a firearm when they can’t be trusted not to bring it with them aboard an airplane?

Gun violence prevention organizations have done a good job keeping pressure on legislators and in state houses throughout the country. However, it is still considered a marathon and not a sprint to get meaningful legislation passed at the national level (and in some state houses, like Texas). And there are still too many individual organizations working toward the same goal where economies of scale could be realized if they joined forces. I’ve written about this before, and there has been some consolidation, but the resources, both physical and monetary, are still spread between too many organizations to counter the behemoth that is the NRA.

They say Texas is turning blue. However, it is still a deeply red state in many locations and blue in the larger metropolitan areas. Eventually, there will be a transition. I just hope Texans of common sense don’t turn blue from holding their breath until then.

Mirror, Mirror

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The country is getting further and further away from any semblance of cooperation or debate. Neighbors and family members are pitted against one another like at no time since the Civil War. The generational differences experienced in the 1960’s seem cordial compared to the intransigence we see now. The era of the computer and the Internet, where information flows freely like at no other time in human evolution has left us in cognitive dissonance and mired in epistemic closure. We only listen to those radio programs that share our positions, we only watch the news from those carriers with the same political bend as us. We only discuss difficult topics with people we know we already agree with. We never engage in debate or discussion with those with whom we do not politically agree. The congress is in a perpetual state of obstructionism.

The “other side” is terminally wrong. We cannot engage them on any level other than to disparage them, dismiss them, and call them wrong on all manner of topics. In fact, we are disposed to dismiss a person who agrees with us on one topic if they disagree with us on another. Thus epistemic closure.

No topic exhibits this disconnect more than the fractious presidential campaign we have seen this year. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Cruz are the most polarizing candidates we have ever seen in modern politics. All three have negative ratings among likely voters higher than any candidate upon whom this measure has been taken in American political history. The “#StopTrump” movement, a branch of the established Republican Party, will do anything to deny this man from getting the nomination of their party, despite being the front-runner. Trump himself has the highest negatives of any candidate and has alienated enough demographic categories to guarantee him not winning in November should he be the nominee. Hillary Clinton has enough of a track record in the pubic’s eye to garner either very positive or very negative reactions in most of the population. There is very little middle ground left from which she can harvest votes. Ted Cruz finds himself in the unique position of being hated by all of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and yet the man with the best shot of unseating Trump for the nomination causing those with whom he has little in common to back him in order to get to the second or third ballot of a contested convention in Cleveland later this summer.

The other two candidates, John Kasich and Bernie Sanders both suffer from a lack of recognition among the public to one degree or another. Kasich telling everyone that he is the only candidate to regularly beat Clinton in a straight up contest in November has less to do with his popularity and more to do with Clinton’s negatives. Kasich positions himself as a moderate candidate (and compared to the other two running he is), however, his record is that of anything but a moderate. Sanders does not claim to be a moderate and while his brand of Scandinavian socialism resonates with the youth of the country, there is no slice of the electorate less likely to actually vote than the young, condemning Sanders’ chances to fantasy.

There are real issues facing the country. Real issues that demand the focused attention of the wisest men and women this country has. And in another example of our cognitive dissonance, Congress continues to have an overall approval level of under 20% while most incumbents will win re-election. How can that be? It is, again, because we believe the person with whom we are most familiar and dismiss as out of touch the person with whom we are least familiar. The problem is always with the other guy. The left and the right stare at each other in distrust and disgust, not realizing that they are really looking in the mirror and the ugliness they see is their own.

We deserve better than this. The age of the Internet has given us an unending supply of data and little increase in usable information. We must do better. Listening helps. Mirrors help, too.

Trumpeter

 

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“The first sign of greatness is when a man does not attempt to look and act great. Before you can call yourself a man at all, Kipling assures us, you must “not look too good nor talk too wise.”     ― Dale Carnegie, The Art of Public Speaking

 

Play to your audience. Anyone who speaks publicly knows this truth. You must know your audience. Donald Trump plays a part whenever he speaks. He plays the petulant child, name calling and telling untruths in order to manipulate his audience into mindless chants and savage beatings. He is a very bright person, a narcissist no doubt, but very smart. He has motivated a portion of the Republican base disenfranchised by years of political correctness (read equality and empathy) and sinking political clout as the aging white male vote shrinks in influence nationwide. Whether he believes what he says is immaterial as his words are taken at face value by his crowds and they leave impassioned and validated.

However, one area that seems to reveal the real Trump behind the curtain is his relationship with women. Whereas his rants on Mexicans, Muslims, and any other minority he feels like denigrating is done for the benefit of his audience, his comments on women seem genuine and therefore especially troubling. Whether it is his comments about Megyn Kelly or Rosie O’Donnell or his feud with Ted Cruz regarding their respective wives, his words ring with a certain veracity that escapes his comments on other groups and reveals him beyond the part he is playing.

Don’t get me wrong, I find Ted Cruz to be far more dangerous than Donald Trump, and while I don’t believe either of them can win a general election against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, Cruz’s beliefs are calculated and cold. Every time he speaks my skin crawls as he slowly forms each sentence in an effort to cause maximum damage. He truly believes what he says. And while his honesty is refreshing, his goals and methods are beyond frightening. Even the tea party and their minimalistic government stance overwhelmingly find Cruz dangerous. His colleagues in the senate despise him and neither his Ivy League pedigree nor his debate championship skills can overcome his personality or end game. And his Morton Downey, Jr.-esqe war with Trump is now childish, unhealthy, and boring.

But it is Trumps position with women that genuinely disgusts me. “No one loves women more than I do, I can tell you that,” claims Mr. Trump. However, he’s been married three times. Does he mean that he loves all women but he’s only gotten to three so far? Nothing in his relationships with women is encouraging and to alienate such a demographic before the general election, when women make up the majority of voters is political suicide. Especially if he intends to make up for the loss of the female vote with other demographics. His approval among all minorities is woefully low. There is no mathematical formula that garners him the White House without women and I believe women are far too intelligent to be convinced of his “love” of women at this point. He objectifies women and dismisses them as things to be possessed.

Know your audience is something about which Trump knows quite a bit, but his blindness toward the females in his audience will ultimately be his undoing.

Dear Lisa

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Dear Lisa,

It’s been seven months now since you left. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re not suffering anymore, but from a selfish perspective, I miss you dearly.

In case you haven’t been able to keep up, let me tell you a few of the things we’ve been up to since September.

As you can imagine, none of us wanted to do the whole Christmas thing, not even putting up the tree. Instead, we took a trip. We went to NYC and saw a couple of plays. We spent some time with Sue, Phil, Bella, and Jackie. They were kind enough to invite us to spend Christmas dinner with them. From NY, we flew to Burlington, VT to spend a couple of days with Mark and Martha. It was beautiful. You would have liked it so much. Then we went to Rhode Island for a few days just to relax. It was the first time (and probably the last) that I had to get a hotel room in Rhode Island.

Since Christmas, the kids have been running flat out toward graduation. Cam has been writing feverishly on his thesis. He completed both parts and the conclusion late last week. Now he has to edit it with his professor and prepare for his defense in May. Sam has been working on her painting and installation projects. She laments the fact that she doesn’t have studio space this semester. She’s a lot like you.

I’ve been working and trying to get the house in shape, so we can move back to Rhode Island after the kids graduate. I bought a condo in East Greenwich. You would like it. I’m relying on Sam’s interior design sensibilities, a talent she got directly and completely from you! I’m sure there will be a call for milk pail paint on the walls. I’ve involved a realtor here in Texas to get our house on the market. He thinks it will go quickly thanks to the beautiful job you did designing the interior.

The kids and I have been doing the best we can with the fact that you’re gone. The hardest part for me is when I’m in that space between sleep and being awake when I begin to dream and then snap out of it. Invariably, I want to talk to you about something. Then, like someone with the beginning stages of dementia, I learn all over again that you are gone. I can’t tell you how much that hurts. No amount of rationale can remove that pain.

I’m also worried about meeting people. As you know, I’m not the most outgoing person in the world! I don’t want to go to a restaurant alone or a movie alone, much less a bar. Also, since I’ll be working from home, there is even less opportunity to interact with people. It will be good having the kids around until they go off to graduate school, but after that, I have to come to terms that I will likely be alone after that. I can’t imagine how I’ll meet people. And don’t even get me started on dating again.

As I’m sure you know, Delbow died last month. I can only hope that he is with you, and you are keeping each other company, both of you happy and healthy. He is missed, especially by me because he was my only companion at home. He wasn’t just a dog; he was my friend. The house is even more desolate without him. No amount of television or music din can replace life in the house. The kids were with me when he died. It was awful but the right thing to do. He was miserable and in so much pain.

I donated blood again this past week. I donated plasma, which took about half an hour. It was an interesting process, but I got such a headache from it, along with being lightheaded with chills and nauseated. I can’t imagine how you did it with all of the sticks you were subjected to during your seven years of treatment. And yet you never complained. Even now you continue to amaze me.

Anyway, that’s what’s been going on since you left. The kids and I miss you so much. If you have the power, take away some of Sam’s and Cam’s pain. I’ll figure it out myself, but bring some peace to them. That’s all I’ll ask.

Missing you like crazy and still deeply in love,

Me

Madness

“You say the world is full of bullshit so you kill just how you see fit. They say your fanatic with a mission.”   -The Kinks, Killer’s Eyes

There is madness in the world today. Brussels is still smoldering from the latest terrorist attack, Paris and Ankara live under the continual threat of follow-up attacks and the United States guards against a similar attack. There are pain and suffering on all sides and there is seemingly no end in sight.

And yet, it is our reaction to these horrific events that will define us. Our initial reaction is seldom based on facts but almost always based on emotion. No amount of terror can justify our lashing out. We have a responsibility to weigh our response against our humanity. To do otherwise is to lower ourselves to the level of those against whom we seek to respond. Blown out windows and screaming children will always garner our attention and foster thoughts of retribution. However, it is our clinical response that results in the best outcomes.

To blame these vituperative remarks on anything but our blood lust for revenge is to discredit our humanity and liken us to those who wish to do us harm; best to leave it to the professionals. We have the greatest military the world has ever seen and it is their job to root out terrorists and keep us safe. It is beneath us to judge our Muslim neighbors and paint with a broad brush a religion practiced by one-fifth of the earth’s population any more than it is reasonable to judge Christians by the Crusades, the Westboro Baptist Church, or the KKK.

There is always a knee-jerk reaction to want to elicit revenge. I would urge us to tamp down that reaction and allow our intelligence community to do its job before engaging our military to do its. The loss of life and terror inflicted on Brussels today is horrific and the result of the cowardice expressed by several individuals and an organization bent on the destruction of western society in favor of a world view already eclipsed by 500 years of civilization. No amount of retribution against the innocent practitioners of the same faith as those who carried out these attacks can be justified.

Pain is universal and we cannot trade in that practice if we expect to hold ourselves above the lowest common denominator of mankind. Please don’t misunderstand, I want these barbarians to be brought to justice as much as the next person, however, I don’t believe it is the job of the individual to do the heavy lifting, rather I believe it is the responsibility and duty of our government to find and prosecute terrorists.

Sharks and Cancer

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So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest…”  Quint, Jaws

It has been a very difficult year and a half. First, in November of 2014 my father died after a brief but excruciatingly painful fight with lung cancer which had spread to his bones. Almost one year later, last September, my wife died after a long fight with breast cancer which had spread to her lungs. And then only six months later, my dog died after a painful fight with a soft tissue cancer which had spread to his bones. One year, then only six months, part of me wonders what horror will befall us in three months. But I have to believe that the pain and suffering have ended now.  I can’t help but appropriate Quint’s quote to, “So, five of us went to Texas, three of us come home, cancer took the rest…”

Cancer has targeted my family for far too long now. I don’t want it to have any more power over us. My children have spent fully one-third of their lives living under the threat of cancer taking their mother and then their dog. Almost their entire teenage years, years difficult enough without cancer moving in to live with us, has been spent living under that dark cloud. They are 21 years old now and, in spite of these added pressures, will both graduate on-time from the University of Texas at Austin, each with over a 3.5 GPA. How they have been able to stay focused amazes me and is a testament to their strength of character.

I know people have had it harder than we have. I don’t claim to have a corner on suffering. And I am grateful for the seven years we were able to steal from cancer by moving to Texas and seeking treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I’ll never regret that decision. But if we could have a break from any additional pain for a short time, that would be great.

Each of us is dealing with these losses in our own individual manner. Certainly, grief counseling has helped, but we still face a world in which neither Lisa nor Delbow will walk with us any longer. We have had long discussions about faith, heaven, philosophy, and all of the accompanying topics. We disagree as much as we agree but the discussions are always lively and fascinating. I hope that we can each find some comfort in our positions.

Finally, there is the issue of moving forward. The house, already quiet from Lisa’s absence is now even quieter without Delbow’s rambling about. The kids are on spring break this week, so I have a respite before facing that still house alone. I now have six months of experience without Lisa and living alone. I hope this serves me well when the kids return to school. But before we know it, school will be over, graduations will have been concluded and we will be packing up for our trip back to Rhode Island. I hope it goes well and we can begin our new lives healthy. No sharks, no cancer.

Rhode Island Bound

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In three months, my children and I will be moving back to Rhode Island. And while Texas has been very good to us in some ways, we are eager to leave all of the bad memories behind as we try to build a new life without Lisa or Delbow. It will be incredibly difficult.

We will make our home in East Greenwich, a town I know very little about but which had the size and type condo I was looking for. I am excited to live there. It is centrally located in the state and will allow me to get to Providence or the beach with equal rapidity. My sister lives in North Kingstown, which is easily gotten to and my mother and brother live in Middletown, which is on the way to the beach.

Moving to Texas was the right move at the time and I do not ever regret that decision. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center bought Lisa, at least, six and a half years that she would otherwise not have had had we stayed in Rhode Island and sought treatment. I cannot say enough about the physicians and nurses at M.D. Anderson. To be sure, there are always bureaucratic snafus that occur and I was always Lisa’s best advocate to permeate the sometimes confusing maze of departments and silos. But, overall, the facility has earned its position as one of the best cancer centers in the world.

We have lived in this house now for over six years. And in all that time, it still does not feel like our home. Lisa decorated it with many of our belongings from Rhode Island and we painted it the same color as our home in Rhode Island inside. However, it never became “home” for us. It always seemed that we were leasing the space until the catastrophic happened. And now it has. The kids will be graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in late May and we will then pack up all of our belongings and make the trek back to Rhode Island and that which we know and love.

Wish us luck on our move and starting our new life without Lisa or Delbow. I would like to think Delbow is sleeping on Lisa’s lap right now as she looks down on us approvingly on how we have handled everything so far. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am grateful to my children for their support and love.

Delbow

 

We lost Delbow Ploppers today. He has gone on to live with Lisa in heaven.

Throughout his life he endured a number of medical procedures, none of them easy. He tore the CCL ligament in both back legs and had to have them surgically repaired. He lost one eye to a detached retina and had to have emergency surgery in Chicago to save the other eye. He endured three different battles with cancer. And he lost most of the remaining eyesight to a cataract. Our little bionic dog saw it all. And he never showed anything but love to us.

And now he is gone. The house, already silent because of Lisa’s absence, is now doubly silent because Delbow is gone. The loneliness I felt after Lisa’s death was mitigated somewhat by Delbow always being there for me. And now he’s gone too.

Will Rogers famously said, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” I couldn’t agree more.

The lone male in the litter of five Coton de Tulear puppies, we brought him home with us and he slept in Lisa’s elbow the entire ride home. We had just seen Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V with the kids and were reminded how the French princess, preparing in case her father’s army lost to the English, learned the new English language. Instead of saying “elbow,” she kept saying “d’elbow.” And that’s how Delbow got his name.

He lived to be twelve years old and encompassed most of the kid’s childhood. An era is gone. The kids are seniors in college now and will be off on their own soon. First it was my father in 2014, then it was my wife in 2015 and now cancer has taken my dog too. This continues a difficult time for us and closes another chapter in our lives. Cancer sucks.

Kindling the Flame

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My birthday was last Monday. This was the first birthday I’ve ever been alone. Yes, people wished me a happy birthday at work (in fact, they took me out to lunch), and I heard from several people in person and many people wished me a happy birthday on Facebook, but when I went home at the end of the day, I was alone. That was a first in a long year of firsts.

I have been alone a lot lately and I understand that is the nature of things at this point. Friends seem far away and while I have a spark that my life is beginning again, the sparks right now seem only to flicker and then fade. I am hoping some of them kindle and flame. I’ll keep going because as Winston Churchill said, “When you are going through hell, keep going.”

Things will change. I’ll be moving back to Rhode Island in June. I found a nice condo in East Greenwich big enough for me and the kids (who will be with me until they start graduate school). Getting back to Rhode Island will be going home. There is familiarity in it, even though I know nothing about East Greenwich. We will be close to family and friends once again and life will further kindle for me. I look forward to being home.

I know I need to start my life again. Whether that involves new hobbies or new people, I do not know at this point. I know that I want to get out of Texas. I want to leave all of the bad memories here and start anew. A friend of mine told me that I needed to find a meaningful life whether that involves happiness or not because it will be rich with significance. I hope I do have a meaningful life rich with significance, but I also hope it involves some happiness.

Soon, I will be putting the house here in Texas on the market and begin packing all of the belongings Lisa and I took to Texas to fight her cancer.  I do not consider it a lost battle. We gained seven years beyond her initial horrific diagnosis. I still marvel and shudder at what she endured to survive those seven years. More blood sticks that I can count, radiation burns, the barbaric side effects of systemic chemotherapy, radical surgery, wild clinical trials, nausea, neuropathy, headaches, coughs, colds, trips to the emergency room on holidays, and she waged this all-out war with an easy going manner to everyone else around her.

I still want to talk to her. I still reach for my phone to text her something funny. I still miss her every single day. When I’m especially down, I hear her in my head telling me to get on with my  life. And so I try, try, try again. I am alone, but I try not to be lonely.

I think the ultimate kindling is friendship and I am grateful for all of my friends. The ultimate flame is meaningful significance and I hope to be living that life. Happiness would pour gasoline on that fire.

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