Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

He Who Hesitates is Me

Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,

Light half-believers of our casual creeds,

Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d,

Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,

Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill’d;

For whom each year we see

Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;

Who hesitate and falter life away,

And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day—

Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?

Matthew Arnold, The Scholar Gypsy, 1853

I used to love to write; not because I believe I have any more wisdom to impart than anyone else or am so confident in what I have to say that I feel it must be committed to paper. In fact, I adhere to Darwin’s belief that, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge; it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” However, I believe writing online is the practice of allowing a piece of you to fall onto the page for all to see. It is a way of exposing yourself to others and being willing to accept their criticism. There is a strong need to expel thoughts as printed words and to invite any ensuing discussion. What begins as a kernel of an idea ferments internally and eventually decants through the keyboard onto the page.

However, I feel that I have been reduced to a frozen mute since Lisa’s death. Where once ideas for discussion poured out of me, and I reveled in researching them in hopes of producing a cogent argument, now I find myself devoid of concepts. My mind utterly wanders, day after day. I have had a waterproof notepad in my shower since June (a gift from my children because so many of my ideas originated under the scalding water), and I still have nothing written on it. This paralysis is disorienting.  I want to write, but there are no strong theories upon which to expand.

I recognize the irony of writing a blog post about having nothing to write! But it is the process of thought rather than the finished product that has me worried. I hesitate now where I once forged ahead. That which I held dear has been taken from me. It is as if my confidence died with Lisa. Is this an aftershock of grief? Is this normal? Will it subside in time? I don’t know the answer to these questions, and it preys on my soul. No amount of concentration yields fertile ground upon which I can plant a question or thought in hopes of harvesting an argument. If he who hesitates is lost, then I need a map because all I do is mentally wander every day.

I understand this is not the most monumental problem to have. I have a roof over my head and a full belly. My children are safe and provided for, and we no longer cry over Lisa’s suffering, but this lack of confidence is dampening my efforts to establish a new life. Thank God for my children! They are the anchor holding this rudderless ship in port. Without them, I don’t want to think where I’d be. Where I am lost, they are home. It is simply this lack of confidence, this new hesitation which is hamstringing forward progress.

I have no conclusion to this post. I have no answers. It just feels good to put it down on paper.

To Live Again

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Friends, both near and far, have helped me navigate this past year without Lisa. For that, I will be forever grateful. The current world in which I now find myself is both dystopian and exciting, but mostly just foreign. No amount of research could prepare me for the world in which I now live. The changes I have endured over the past year have been as dramatic as they have been challenging. Moving from Texas back to Rhode Island was the smart thing to do, and I appreciate being near family more than I ever have. To be close to my mother, sister, and brother brings me comfort and peace as much as living in Rhode Island brings me reconciliation, familiarity, and appreciation.

Attempts at a social life have so far resulted in few successes and some crushing defeats. This is one area in my life where, while I am incredibly grateful to have my children at home with me, I know I have few prospects. Having the kids around since their graduation has kept me moving forward with purpose. Getting used to a new home is difficult enough, but to have to do it alone would have been far worse. Starting a new social life is very hard for me. I am not the most outgoing person in the world! But starting to reach beyond my comfort zone is what I now find myself confronted with if I ever want to “have a life.”

Unfortunately, a problem far greater for me beyond getting out of the house is my constant need to get out of my own head. This has always been an issue for me. I tend to overthink everything while pessimism erodes healthy feelings or hopes.  Some friends have been kind to me beyond all reason as if they signed a pledge with Lisa to look out for me. Other friends have been standoffish, probably unsure how to address my situation. I cannot blame them for their squeamishness; it is a difficult situation and one with no easy solution. I find myself mourning one friend in particular who ended things with me after telling me we were headed in different directions in life. She was right, but that doesn’t make the wound hurt any less.

I cannot help but think that I am destined to be alone now, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I long to be in a relationship, feel I still have much to offer and need, while on the other hand, I feel guilty for having these thoughts because I will forever miss Lisa. One year has gone by now, and I’m both better than I was following her death and more confused than ever. I don’t know if this is normal, but the “normal” I am now living is very different than the normal under which we have been living for the past eight years. No longer do I see cancer hiding behind every smile, determined to undercut our happiness. No longer do I go to hospitals and doctor’s visits; no longer are we Hospice clients. But too, no longer do I have that epic battle to wage every day on behalf of someone for whom I would gladly have given my own life. I tend to do better when facing a crisis than normal life.

Ultimately, a new life will require me to get out of the house regularly and out of my head even more. Any thoughts on how I can do that would be greatly appreciated!

Two Stages, Two Women

On May 21, 1919, following years of efforts by thousands of suffragettes, the House of Representatives passed the 19th amendment. Two weeks later, the Senate passed the amendment.  On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, allowing the amendment to pass its final hurdle of obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification on August 26, 1920. A mere 27 years later a young girl was born in Chicago. She went on to become Secretary of State herself. And last night, Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination of her party for the office of President of the United States in Philadelphia.

Hillary Clinton

Two hundred seventy-five miles away in Providence, a 19-year-old was speaking before 6,000 people on the importance of education for young women across the globe. This young woman had been speaking out for the rights of girls to be educated since she was 11 years old. Her father owned a school in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, and while living under the control of the Taliban, this girl began a blog for the BBC’s Urdu service. On October 9, 2012, while riding home from school, two masked men boarded her bus, asked specifically for Malala Yousafzai by name and proceeded to shoot her in the head at point-blank range. The bullet traveled through her head to her neck and then her shoulder. Remarkably, she did not die. In critical condition, she was transferred for treatment to a hospital which specialized in military injuries in Birmingham, UK. In 2013, after being released from the hospital, she began the Malala Fund “to bring awareness to the social and economic impact of girls’ education and to empower girls to raise their voices, to unlock their potential and to demand change.” On December 10, 2014, Malala accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest recipient of the prize.

Malala

Two women on two different stages on the same night. As I sat between my daughter and son, listening to Malala speak, I couldn’t help but be moved by the significance of the evening. Eleven months ago, my children lost their mother, my wife, to cancer and I could only think of how proud she would have been of them for being there in the audience listening to Malala. How they would have gone on and on with her about sexism in America and around the world; how each of them, strong in their own right, would have enjoyed talking with their mother about the importance of an education and the weight of the evening. We went out to dinner after the speech. We talked for over an about the value of believing in yourself and the significance of education. The conversation was witty, intelligent, and sophisticated. I can’t help but think that both Malala and my wife would have been pleased. I am so proud.

As Hillary Clinton said last night, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.” No woman should be forced to think less of themselves than any man and no society should consider women an inferior subgroup. And no woman should ever be quieted for speaking out against what they believe are wrongs in the world that need to be corrected. Regardless of your political position, last night was a night for the ages as two women took two stages and promised to bring change to the country and the world. As Malala said last night, “The terrorists wanted to silence me forever. They made a really big mistake.”

 

Sick of the Sickness

Once again, the earth has been rocked from its axis by the deaths of our neighbors. It is becoming harder and harder to maintain a list in my head of these atrocities. Humans are finding ever more inventive ways of killing one another. In 2001, no one had ever thought to use an airplane as a weapon. Now we have trucks racing through crowds of people to kill them. And I worry we have become numb to the violence. We offer thoughts and prayers for a short time and then move on to the next act of violence forgetting the cost of the violence on those left behind. I’m sick over this.

I am also sick; sick of the violence, sick of the heartache, sick of the pain caused daily by anger, callousness, and hatred. The hatred we see across our country and the world has led us to a dangerous precipice. There are those in our country who yearn for the day when we can raise up arms against our government. There are those in our country who cannot wait for a race war to start. There are those in our country who shoot first and never stop to ask questions later. There are those in our country who no longer engage in civil discourse. There are those in our country who base their freedom on religious distinctions or skin color or geographic location or gender or age or any other subcategory of which we don’t find ourselves belonging. The same can be said about the world. Religious differences, nations of origin, and other random segregations pit us against one another. I am sick of it.

So what is the answer, because if we continue down this dangerous path, we are headed toward a breakdown of civilization here and across the world, and that never happens without millions dying in war? We have a presidential nominee who welcomes torture and xenophobia. The world has gotten smaller through technology and transportation, and yet we seem to be drifting farther and farther apart. Nationalism is the concept that your country is the best simply because of an accident of being born in a particular place. We cannot let this be our sole guiding principle. Neither can we exclude others because they believe in a different god than we do. Wouldn’t it be nice if God, if there is a god, finally reached out to us and set the record straight? Imagine the clarity we could glean from that. Nations that exist due to arbitrary lines on a map might see one another as neighbors instead of threats. We have this one world, and we are doing everything we can to destroy it. What will be the result of such acts on its inhabitants? It can’t end well. I am sick.

Carl Sagan wrote about our little planet based on a photograph of the Earth sent back by Voyager 1 as it left our corner of the solar system. It was about 4 billion miles from the earth at the time, and the Earth is a pale blue dot in the photograph. From that distance, there are no prejudices, there are no guns, and there are no countries. It is John Lennon’s Imagine in a photograph. How can we internalize these concepts? My dog knew love and only love. Why can’t we be as smart as my dog? I’m sick.

The sickness of prejudice, any prejudice, is a learned sin. We are not born that way. The hatred and anger we see in the world is kindled by an epistemic closure. We only listen to those with whom we already agree. Debate and conversation are dead. We answer disagreements with guns and claim to have stood our ground. We have a Congress that cannot agree to keep guns away from terrorists or fight the Zika virus but feel vindicated as they leave on a seven-week vacation. We have the most divided Congress in history. Obstructionism has been taken to a new art form by this Congress as a way of stymying anything this president puts forth. No amount of spin can paint this as anything other than sick. I’m sick to my stomach.

Everyone battles their own problems in life. Perhaps if we stopped to acknowledge that and give each other the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions and anger, we might forestall the hatred permeating society. Perhaps if we stopped to acknowledge that we are all in this together, we can put the earth back on its axis and prevent us from slipping down that slope toward more sickness. Our health starts with each of us. Look inside to see the spots of hatred and purge them. Take the stump out of your eye before complaining about the splinter in your neighbor’s. It starts with you and me.

Enough Hatred

There are times in one’s life when we may feel that the world is coming apart at the seams. Life is difficult, and the reasons for our strife are complicated. Likewise, the remedies always seem burdensome and untimely. However, there is no excuse for us not trying to make the world a better place. Our children deserve it, and we should demand it for them.

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love – this is an old rule. –The Pali Canon, Twin Verses, no.5

This has been a week of such strife. The murder of black citizens at the hands of law enforcement, the assassination of law enforcement by a heavily armed citizen, and the vitriol expressed throughout social media has done nothing to heal society’s wounds. The naïve claim that love is the answer. And as simplistic as it may seem, they are correct. We should listen to them. Listen to the children who know no racism, no hatred. The comedian Denis Leary stated it best when he said, “Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a 2-year-old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”

Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins. –Proverbs

We look at the police and see their militarization. We look at American society and see a citizenry armed to the teeth. One begets the other, and this arms race sees no resolution other than a conflict between sides. Gun zealots seem to crave a chance to take up arms against a perceived tyranny of government. This is not unlike religious zealots hoping for an end of days within their lifetime. It is irrational and dangerous.

My life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart. –James Baldwin

The result of all of this hatred is more hatred. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Politicians will make the most of this dissension and attempt to be the answer rather than listening and hearing the needs of their constituents. Where one is hurting, all are hurting. We must try to tamp down the anger and recognize what we all have in common. Under the skin, we are all the same. We are each composed of muscle, nerves, and bone. And a high powered firearm will tear through all of those components, never stopping to see the color of our skin. The carrying of firearms openly in public only caused greater confusion for law enforcement this week and did nothing to stop a deranged shooter. The “thoughts and prayers” of politicians didn’t do anything to bring back the dead or heal the wounded. Some of those politicians who spoke out in support of police officers ignored the reasons for the protests. Indeed, some blamed the protesters for inciting the violence, completely ignoring the reasons for the protests.

Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds. –Henry Adams

Police departments throughout the country need to understand the causes of the anger and do their part to rid themselves of less than exemplary officers. The chief of police in Dallas said this week that his officers need to be perfect 100% of the time. He’s correct and is right in expecting nothing less from his officers. Nothing, nothing warrants the execution of police officers. And nothing warrants the execution of people of color by police at the levels we see year after year. Again, the militarization of police forces is being done in response to the ever more lethal weaponry obtained by citizens. No citizen needs an AR-15. There are no reasonable, rational arguments to support the ownership of these weapons by the public. I’ve heard them all and none of them hold up. On the other hand, I know people who have lost loved ones to the carnage that these weapons can inflict on the human body, whether they be six-year-olds in their classroom or innocent movie goers in a theater.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. –Saint Francis of Assisi

Hatred will solve no problem. Anger will only cause grief. Our country has seen enough grief this week and this year. Let us put aside our prejudices and see those around us as simply people with their own problems and their own issues. Everyone is struggling with something. You cannot see it on their face, but it is there. Give them the benefit of your kindness and we will create the society our children expect of us. Enough with the hatred. Call me naïve and I will thank you.

 

National Day of Action

13495181_10208951353837365_94521619094688861_nToday, I was one of the thousands of people across the country to attend an event tied to the National Day of Action. I was fortunate enough to attend a sit-in with Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin, along with mayors, local elected officials, survivors, clergy, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and my children.

We attended adorned in our Moms Demand Action swag and were surprised to see that Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts was there. We have been “friends” on Facebook for several years now, but with me having lived in Texas until three weeks ago, it was a wonderful surprise to see her here in our little state. Everyone started the event sitting in chairs in the auditorium at the Providence Public Safety building in downtown Providence, however, it became apparent that Congressman Cicilline, who had just attended the sit-in in the well of the US House of Representatives with civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis only the week before, wanted us to sit around him on the stage. So we all got up and went to the stage while Congressman Cicilline continued his comments. Today’s speakers included elected officials, clergy, survivors, and advocates. And then Shannon Watts got up to speak.

After having worked with Moms Demand Action for several years now, it was incredible to be in the same room with Shannon and more amazing to hear her speak about the reasons we were all there. Just by way of background, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon in her kitchen as a Facebook page to vent her anger and frustration following the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. Quickly, her Facebook page grew into a grassroots movement. Today, there are over 3.4 million supporters and there are chapters in every state in the country. As I wrote in my previous entry, the tide is turning in this country toward those concerned with preventing gun violence and in opposition to those elected officials defending the desires of the previously dominant (and unobstructed) gun lobby. Change will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Taking the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving as the foundation for this movement, remember that it took MADD many years to achieve a significant shift in public opinion and legislative action. As Shannon says, this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Having now seen the work of chapters in Rhode Island and Texas, it is apparent that there are passionate members of this organization in both states. I have no doubt but that this passion is replicated across the country in all chapters. I thought my friends in the Texas chapter had a much harder road ahead of them until I saw that the speaker of the Rhode Island House is an “A” rated NRA lapdog, not unlike the leadership in Texas. Several important and reasonable pieces of gun violence prevention legislation were left off the docket as the Rhode Island legislature wrapped up its most recent session. Shame on him.

Because the Republican leadership in the United States Congress, in both houses, has no intention of addressing gun violence, gun violence prevention organizations across the country are taking the fight to state houses. Across the country, sensible legislation is being passed against the wishes of the gun lobby, but in agreement with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans (even the majority of gun owners). It was the intention of this National Day of Action to show the national Republican leadership that the people want there to be a vote on two key pieces of legislation. First, a bill limiting access of those on the no-fly list access to firearms, and second, closing the background check loophole allowing the purchase of guns online and at some gun shows.

It was incredible to meet Shannon today. She is as wonderful and determined in person as she is online. She not only remembered me from Facebook, but she remembered that my wife had died and offered me her condolences. I will continue to offer my help to this organization in whatever way they find valuable. Equally impressive, to me, was that my children were there with me because they wanted to be there. Everything I do in this movement is for the benefit of my children and the children of parents everywhere. To have my kids there, wearing their orange and Moms Demand Action t-shirts was heartwarming. Again, they were there because they wanted to be there. I was very proud.

As Congressman Cicilline introduced speaker after speaker, it became apparent that there were several gun rights activists at the back of the room glaring at the crowd. One wore a t-shirt that read Ban Idiots Not Guns. Now I’m not sure what that was supposed to convey, perhaps an allusion to those mentally compromised having access to guns, or maybe it was a comment on the people in the room. Another person tried a strawman argument with Congressman Cicilline at the end of the event, attempting to put words into the congressman’s mouth and then argued against them. Following Congressman Cicilline’s rebuttal, the crowd roared their approval and shouted down the individual, thus bringing the event to its proper conclusion.

I look forward to continuing to work for Moms Demand Action (and any other organization in Rhode Island) to put an end to the daily slaughter of 91 people in this country and the heartbreak it brings to their loved ones and friends. Nothing else is acceptable. Thank you to Congressman Cicilline, Congressman Langevin, Providence Mayor Elorza, Shannon and the moms from Moms Demand Action in Rhode Island. Together we will make a better tomorrow for our children. We are on the right side of history. It’s only a matter of time.

The Tide is Turning

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.     -George Orwell

 

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Two days ago, the United States Senate, led by Republicans, shot down two sensible amendments designed to prevent terrorists from getting firearms. In their place, they submitted two meaningless NRA sponsored amendments which were also defeated. The votes for all four amendments were primarily along party lines. However, the tide is turning, and there is hope that eventually there will be consensus on a meaningful bill in the Senate.

Elections matter. Voting matters. The parties are not the same. There are always swells and troughs in election cycles leading to whether the Democrats or the Republicans are on top. And in spite of the fact that there has been a Democrat in the White House for almost eight years, it is the Democrats who seem to be riding a wave right now while the Republicans are being washed away as if by a rip tide. Perhaps it is because the person at the top of the Republican ticket is so divisive. Perhaps it is because the Tea Party has run its course, or perhaps it is because the country sees that the Democrats have the most rational response to gun violence. If greater than ninety percent of Americans agree that there should be background checks on all gun sales, it begs the question, just who are the Republicans representing? If the overwhelming majority of Americans do not believe that a person on the terror watch list should be able to purchase a firearm, to whom are the Republicans answering? The answer could be as simple as the gun lobby. The gun lobby has spent over $36 million to get politicians elected, and they want something for their investment. If this is true, then Republican constituents are without representation as their elected officials do the bidding of the gun lobby instead.

Both Senator Cornyn’s (R-TX) amendment and Senator Grassley’s (R-IA) amendment were seemingly written by the NRA and submitted under the senators’ names. They were designed to give the appearance of addressing the problem of gun violence and terrorists’ continued access to firearms, but their actual purpose was disingenuous and deceitful. And finally, the public is beginning to see the difference. The win the NRA chalked up on Monday as all four amendments failed was likely a Pyrrhic victory because by defeating the reasonable amendments offered by Senator Murphy (D-CT) and Senator Feinstein (D-CA) Republicans emerged as the party defending the rights of terrorists and ISIS. Finally, the Republicans obstructionist activities were on full display (and this only months before the next election). Republican senators were forced to go on record to vote against limiting terrorists’ access to firearms and voting against forcing gun sales at gun shows and over the Internet be subject to a federal background check. Their votes were on the record. And the progress made in this movement to prevent gun injuries and deaths in America, a country awash in guns and the carnage they dispense, is measurable. The Overton Window is shifting.

Following the murder of six educators and twenty schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012, a horror so visceral that all Americans thought it would result in a flurry of new gun laws, it took Congress four months to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. It failed because of Republicans. Now, as a result of a much better organized gun violence prevention movement and the support of Senator Murphy’s filibuster (along with the support of Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Booker (D-NJ) and 37 other senators) it took four days for a new piece of legislation to come to the floor for a vote. Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded after Newtown,  generated 8,000 calls into Congress in the months leading up to the vote following the school shooting. Following the shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, Florida, they generated over 60,000 calls. And that is just one of the gun violence prevention organizations working to curb this epidemic. What started out as a Facebook page from a frustrated, angry housewife in Indiana has become a juggernaut in its own right with 3.5 million members and chapters in all 50 states. This fight has been taken to statehouses across the country and victory after victory is being notched because of it. The tide is turning, and history will be the judge as lives are saved.

So, the NRA and their paid for politicians will continue to obstruct meaningful measures to stem the slaughter, but common sense, compassion, and logic are on the side of the gun violence prevention movement. The NRA’s victory on Monday will be viewed as a hollow victory because change is coming and the NRA’s political influence is about to be washed away. Elections matter and your vote matters and I only hope that reason, logic, and compassion win the day in Washington before the nation is subjected to another mass shooting. These are the silver linings in Monday’s defeat, and they have emboldened those in the gun violence prevention movement to work ever harder to elect a Congress willing to do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed caused by gun violence in America. The tide is turning.

Happy Birthday

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Happy birthday, Lisa. You’ve been gone from us for over nine months now, but some days seem to last nine months. I miss you so much. Today is one of those days.

I wish you were here to see how well the kids are doing. They prop me up when I am down and remind me that the small, daily frustrations are nothing compared to what we’ve been through together. You would have loved their college graduation, and you were surely missed. The day was beautiful but hot. Samantha and Cameron each graduated with honors and the commencement the following day was very special. All of your efforts throughout their school careers paid off. The work ethic you infused in them has brought them to this point in their lives. They’re still working on where they want to attend grad school, but that effort, like all of their others will reflect your hard work and their determination. Samantha looked beautiful at graduation. When she radiates your confidence, she is stunning, and nothing can stop her. Cam’s thesis was printed and looks great. I still have to read it and, no doubt, he’ll want to discuss it with me beyond my capabilities.

I wish you were here to see the new house. The “bones” of the condo are fine, and I think it will fit with our lives well, but the decorations leave something to be desired. Again, though, these are small things compared to everything else. I wish you were here to help me design each room. As good as you were, I’m not (remember the dining room chandelier?). Sam has offered to help me, and she gets her excellent fashion and design sense from you, so I know we’ll redesign the house well.

Today is one of the tougher days. Your birthday was always a cause for celebration for all of us and your absence today is deafening. I miss your laugh. I miss your smile. Everyone’s roses are having their first blooms of the season right now, and people keep commenting that it makes them think of you. How special that you had such a wonderful impact on so many lives. The void you have left in us can never be filled, but the wonderful memories we have get us through.

You continue to inspire me. Whether it is admiring the chipmunk as he scrambles over the grass or seeing mulch in the front of the condo as a ready-made planting bed for your favorite rose, you inspire me. Whether it is facing a tough situation head on or dealing with an uncertain future, you continue to inspire me. I continue to talk to you, and you continue to lead me to my better self.

So the kids and I will celebrate your birthday today. We will be somber and reflective, but we will also laugh. Your absence will be felt acutely, but our love for you cannot be impacted by death. We miss your presence but love you just the same. We hate the cancer that took you from us but love you as much as ever. Keep inspiring me, Lisa. I love you, and I miss you so much.

Hello, Rhode Island

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After three and a half days of driving, we finally arrived at our new home here in Rhode Island. The trip was everything I expected it to be, uneventful, and that’s the best thing you can say when you are driving across country.

The first night we only made it to Shreveport, Louisiana because the second truck that came to gather our belongings left early in the afternoon, leaving us little driving time before it got too late. The weather was terrible as we left Texas, terrific downpours tracked us as we headed for the state line. After that experience, I was glad to settle into the hotel in Shreveport for the night.

The second day, we made it to Nashville, Tennessee. For dinner, we found a little place Cameron’s friend had recommended. We had chicken tenders in the special “Nashville Hot” sauce. It was delicious, but the after effect of the sauce was a fire in your mouth. We all survived it and would go back for more. Cameron wanted to go to the Third Man Records store, Jack White’s record label in Nashville. So early the next morning we found it and Cam enjoyed every minute he spent in the place. Cam has a podcast called Effortless. He writes the episodes and records them with his friend Tristian. Inside Third Man Records, they have an old-time recording studio which presses your recording onto a 45 record while you wait. Cam wrote a special episode of the podcast the previous night in Shreveport and performed it in the recording booth while Samantha and I watched. It was fascinating and fun to watch.

After Cam had finished, we were back in the car and off to Roanoke, Virginia, the last stop before making it home to Rhode Island. The day’s travel was easy compared to driving in all of the rain we had encountered. With only one more long day ahead of us, we all went to bed early and looked forward to the next day.

I was nervous to show the kids the condo. I had purchased it after having flown to Rhode Island last winter and seeing several condos in the area. I had flown back to Texas the same day and made a decision the next afternoon. I wanted the kids to like their new home, even though they would likely only be living there until they went off to graduate school. I have never lived in a condo, and the area is new to us, so I wanted them to be as excited as I was to see the place.

The drive to Rhode Island from Virginia was equally uneventful, and we drove in good weather. The kids were as excited as I was to finally see the “Welcome to Rhode Island” sign on I-95. As I didn’t even have the keys to the new place yet, I had my real estate agent leave them in a flower pot on the front step for me to find when we arrived. The place was just as I had remembered it and the kids were genuinely excited to see it. They both took to their rooms (Sam’s is significantly larger than Cam’s) without complaint, and we toured the house eager to place our belongings in every room. Unfortunately, our belongings would not arrive for several more days. With nowhere to sleep and my mother in law with us, I tried to find a hotel nearby, but the only one I could find with availability was in Newport, so off to the island we went.

We spent three nights in the hotel while the first of two trucks found its way to Rhode Island. As with any move, there were some small breakages and crushed boxes, but overall, most everything made the trip unscathed. That first day was warm and with the doors open all day while the movers moved all of our belongings into the house, the house heated up. Unfortunately, it was later that evening when we found that the air conditioning was not functioning. Fortunately, it cooled down that night, and as we slept with the windows open, it was very comfortable.

There have been the usual hiccups, minor plumbing issues, etc., but the move has been smooth compared to what we’ve been through over the past few years. Every time I got frustrated with something, the kids would remind me that we have been through much tougher situations and that this was a minor inconvenience. They are so wise, and I am so proud of them.

My mother in law managed the trip better than I expected, thanks to the excellent care the kids gave to her. She will be living in a senior memory care facility three miles from our home. She understands where she is and should blend into the new facility easily.

So we are finally settling into our new home. It is not decorated the way we like. Wallpaper needs to be taken down and paint colors need to be changed, but that is minor stuff. The largest pieces missing from our lives are Lisa and Delbow. They would both like the new place, I think. I can picture Lisa redesigning everything in her mind and all of us pitching in to see her vision materialize. I can see Delbow running through the grass, sniffing where the woodchuck, chipmunks, and wild turkeys had just been. I miss them both dearly but carry them both in my heart.

There are far too many boxes that need to be emptied now, so I’m off to do some unpacking. Wish us well in our new home. It is lonelier without Lisa, but we will, as we always have, make the best of it, smile, remember the good times, and have some laughs. My kids are the most resilient people I’ve ever known, perhaps because it is all they remember, but I will work to get them through this, and they will help me get through it. Together, we can conquer anything.

Goodbye, Texas

We moved to Texas seeking medical treatment for my wife. I found the people friendly and honest, the streets clean and free from potholes, and the weather devoid of snow. We were renting our home in Spring, about 30 minutes north of downtown Houston. We arrived in town just in time for Hurricane Ike to hit; fortunately, we didn’t suffer any damage. Treatment at M. D. Anderson was going well and my wife was responding to the chemotherapy. Her surgery had been a success and she was enduring the radiation as best she could. The kids were freshmen in high school and adapting well to the new “normal” in our lives. Their grades remained high and they immersed themselves in extracurricular activities such as theater and debate.

Following Lisa’s successful treatment and a declaration that the doctors could find no further trace of cancer, we packed up our belongings and made the long ride back to Rhode Island, our home, and the friends and neighbors we had known forever. Nine months passed and we were readjusting to our life in Rhode Island when the news came, following her third follow-up appointment, that the cancer had returned. We determined that we were too far from the hospital and all of the medical expertise and technology that M. D. Anderson could bring to bear so we put our beloved house on the market and moved to Texas permanently. We bought a house, again in Spring, and re-enrolled the kids in the same high school. However, this time, the glossy varnish of southern hospitality wore thin to show an ugly side of Texas. Say what you will about northerners, but we have a thick skin and a good sense of humor when it comes to handling adversity. The same cannot be said about Southerners, or perhaps some Texans in particular.

The ugliness appeared after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. Driven to action, I began reading and reaching out. What I found was a gun culture enmeshed with religious self-righteousness that defied understanding or explanation. Rather than agreeing that something needed to be done to prevent another mass shooting I found a society determined to double down on protecting the guns instead of the children and then watched as the Texas legislature passed several pro-gun laws, including open carry and campus carry. As I spoke before democratic groups, I found tepid approval of my message or blank silence. I felt as though I had been transported back to the Wild West of the 1850’s. Fortunately, I met the most wonderful mothers from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. They began speaking at the same meetings I was being asked to speak at, and they were kindred spirits in gun-crazy Texas. Together, we made the rounds speaking out and protesting easy access to guns, including protesting outside the NRA Annual Paranoia Jamboree held in Houston several years ago.

Now, perhaps my initial illusion of southern hospitality was misplaced. Perhaps I saw what I wanted to see, perhaps I had bought into the travel brochure’s salesmanship and had assigned characteristics to all of the people here before they had earned them. However, the fact remained that I was seeing people all over who flared with road rage at the slightest infraction (even though they were usually at fault!) and the initial kindness I saw displayed was revealed to be a thin veneer beyond which an angry populace lived. Again, perhaps it was my fault that I expected kindness to go along with their initial genteel hello. However, the initial hello was shallow and provided no shelter to the storm of their real feelings, especially to someone from “up north.” The least informed tend to have the firmest convictions, and here the stupid were downright rigid in their unexamined beliefs.

As Lisa continued to fight against the ravenous cancer, we came to an understanding of the culture in which we found ourselves and tried to make the best of it. I attempted to let go of the mixed up anger I had at both the people and our situation, especially as it became evident that the cancer was killing my wife. When she died, part of my world became frozen in time. I cannot convey in words what telling my kids was like. The pain is too real.

And yet, as we close in on our moving date to move back to Rhode Island, less my wife and my dog who cancer finally took over the past nine months, I have a soft spot in my heart for Texas and the medical center here that brought us seven years together we would otherwise not have enjoyed. Granted, it’s not a big soft spot. Along the way, I have met good friends at work. My job has been fantastic to me, and their kindness, compassion, and comfort have made this situation a little more bearable. Nothing can break the pain I have associated with Texas as the place where Lisa drew her last, labored breaths and where we had to put our beloved dog down because of his cancer pain. Nothing can change the past nine months and the grief we have endured. My heart is shattered, but we are going home where we belong. We will be going to a new town for us, but back to a culture we understand.

The last chapter of our Texas odyssey is being written, and the kids and I are in a mad packing frenzy right now as the truck is soon to be on its way to pack all of our belongings and take them to our new home. The kids have graduated from college (with honors), a true testament to their work ethic and determination and are scheduled to apply to graduate school in the fall. Samantha has been challenged to apply the design lessons she learned from Lisa and school to the new house. God knows I don’t have a clue! We will make the most of our home while the kids research the grad schools and work on their portfolios. I’ll be working out of the house and trying to balance a new social life. A new chapter is beginning, and we will do our best to live up to the expectations Lisa set for us. Texas will soon be behind us, home to immeasurable pain. The pain will travel with us to Rhode Island, but a new beginning carries with it the hope of better days ahead. Goodbye, Texas.

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