Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: 2015

The Distraction Trip

imageThe snow is finally falling in Vermont. We seem to have brought it with us. We have been here for two days now and have had a wonderful time with my cousin, Martha, and her partner, Eric. We ate our way through Waterbury and spend a great night at my cousin Mark’s bistro where we had the most amazing seafood etouffee. We were not able to hit all of the top places we wanted to see, nor were we able, because of the lack of snow,  to ski. However, the inn we stayed at was charming and had a fireplace which we kept roaring whenever we were around. Tonight we will have dinner again with my cousin and see a mountain lodge at the base of the ski lift.

Prior to Stowe, VT, we spent four days in NYC and had the best time. We saw three Broadway shows and three movies while we were there and spent a terrific Christmas with Lisa’s cousin Sue and her family. The plays we saw were, in order: China Doll, starring Al Pacino; Therese Raquin, starring Kiera Knightley; and Hamilton, starring its writer and creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Each play was better then the last and all were wonderful in their own right. We also saw the 70mm roadshow version of Quentin Tarantino’s new film, The Hateful Eight, the limited release new Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard version of MacBeth, and the new Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie, Sisters. The Hateful Eight was terrific and MacBeth was flat out incredible. Sisters was entertaining and that’s usually all I ask for in a movie.

We walked around New York and took cabs when necessary as the rain fell and we witnessed New York’s warmest Christmas ever. We saw the tree at Rockefeller Plaza, ducked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a few minutes and spent a wonderful afternoon with Sue, her two girls Bella and Jackie, and her husband Phil, who knows more about the art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art than any docent working there! We also spend several hours at the Museum of Modern Art where Sam took us to the pieces she wanted us to see after having done a considerable amount of homework at the hotel to make the most of the limited time we had at MoMA. Speaking of the hotel, we stayed at the Library Hotel located one block from the New York Public Library and Bryant Park. The New York Public Library had the most beautiful Christmas tree displayed in the lobby’s. Lisa and I had stayed at the same hotel about ten years ago when we first took the kids around NYC. Each floor of the hotel and each room on each floor is based on a specific section of the Dewey decimal system. When we were taken up to our room this time, Sam noticed right away that it was the exact same room we had stayed in the last time, the Law room. And the same as last time, at the end of each night, before we turned in to sleep, we would head to the second floor to have a cookies and a drink. What a wonderful hotel.

This trip was an attempt to distract us from the holiday season at home with all the trappings we usually associat with Lisa. I knew we could not avoid all of the feelings from which we were suffering because there is a giant hole in our hearts where Lisa once lived. Overall, the trip has been somewhat successful as we have had some fun and know that Lisa would want us to laugh. Still, the loss is still fresh and we miss her incredibly. So many times during the day something will happen that we will want to share with her or we think how much she would have enjoyed something. I don’t know when (or if) that feeling will ever subside. We are doing the best we can right now and know we still have a long way to go before the hurt turns to happy memories.

And now we have just tonight left here in Stowe before we head off to Rhode Island to spend a few days with family and friends. We will drive to Rhode Island tomorrow morning leaving behind some great family and great memories. One of the main reasons for our trip to Rhode Island is so I can drive around to look at condos. It is our intention to move back to Rhode Island after the kids graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. Rhode Island is home to us and while I don’t know where the kids will end up for grad school or what their future holds career-wise, it will be good to go home. If home is where the heart is, then we need to get back to Rhode Island. I don’t know where in Rhode Island we will end up, I just know that it’s home.

Opportunity Cost

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There was a time when everything the world had to offer seemed available to me.

But the decisions we make to go in one direction close off avenues in others.

Economists call this opportunity cost.

What would have happened if I had gone to the University of Maryland instead of UConn?

What would have happened if I studied more or partied at all?

What would have happened if I had gone to grad school instead of taking that first job out of college?

Where would I be today?

 

Perhaps I would never have married.

Perhaps I would never have had children.

Perhaps I would never have known their love, or

Perhaps I would never know the pain of losing my wife to cancer.

Perhaps.

 

What would have happened if I had never met Lisa?

What would my life look like now?

Would I be even madder than I am now?

Would I even be here?

 

Perhaps I would never have left Rhode Island.

Perhaps I would never have left the island.

Perhaps my world would have remained small and I would have remained closed off.

Perhaps it would have been nicer that way.

Perhaps.

 

But while there is always pain in expanding ones horizons, there is often no choice in the matter.

Activism reaches out and grabs some.

And in spite of all of the pain I have both endured and caused,

I would never wish I had not met Lisa.
I would never wish I did not have my children.

I would never wish that I hadn’t been born at this time and in this place.

Never.

 

And now I stand at a crossroad.

The path I choose will carry me for the rest of my life.

I hope to have my children with me always, even when they are far away with their own families.

I hope to find peace internally for the rage and guilt I feel following Lisa’s death.

I hope to find peace externally in dealing with the issues facing the world.

I hope to never stop learning, to never stop reading.

I hope to continue that which is deemed positive.

And I hope to jettison that which I feel is negative.

I hope.

 

I promise to try.

A Note To My Children This Christmas

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Christmas is supposed to be the time of year when you indulge the child within; a time when the twinkling lights and Christmas songs fire the imagination and spark precious memories. When decorating the tree reminds us of all the Christmas’s past as we hang our favorite ornaments. When a trip to the Providence Civic Center to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and their “frickin’ lasers” would indulge both the seasonal sentimentality and the rock show need in us.

However, this Christmas there will be no Christmas tree, no Trans-Siberian Orchestra, no lights or lasers. When we lost your mother, we relegated those good times to memory, never to be added to – only to be recalled. There will never again be nine Christmas trees decorating 3 Deerfield Drive. There will probably never again be a house built with an outlet beneath every window so that electric candles can easily be displayed.

We always had a beautiful garden. I say we like I had anything to do with it. I pruned and weeded, but your mother designed the garden and hand-selected all of the plants within it. Now I will move to a condo with no garden, and the best I can do is a patio tomato and a house plant. No more luxurious rose bushes, the names of which I had committed to memory. Now it is all only a memory. I will miss those roses. I almost cried the other day when we went to Kroger. As we filled the carriage with supplies, we passed the florist section. I would normally buy a dozen roses. Mom and I had a ritual. I would buy them and bring them home. She would complain that we couldn’t afford to buy roses every time I went grocery shopping. I would lie and tell her I had a coupon. Now there is no need for me to buy roses. Another painful reminder that she is gone forever.

Nothing makes you appreciate what you have until it’s gone. I had life by the balls. I had a wonderful wife, two great kids, a beautiful home that we had built, and a job at which I could make a decent living. I had a fluffy white dog and two nice cars, everything but the proverbial white picket fence. I thought I appreciated everything I had and, to a point, I did. However, it wasn’t until cancer visited our house in 2008 that I began to see how fragile my grasp on this reality was. And now, my wonderful wife is gone, our beautiful home is gone, you two are one year away from beginning your lives apart from me, and Delbow is old and in constant pain. I had my time. I had my life. Now it is your turn. I do not begrudge you the incredible futures before you.  I simply wonder when it was agreed that cancer could shatter my future at fifty. I still have a nice car and my job is better than ever, but my world has slipped over the event horizon.

I am so grateful for you both. You have been through hell. And despite that, you both completed the fall semester of your senior year with amazing grades. But I know you are hurting. As long as we continue to talk to each other we will get through this and into a different “normal.” It has been three months, and this is a difficult time in our grieving process. We realize Mom is no longer coming home now.  We are beginning to understand that and wow, it hurts.

Some memories are fading, like the names of all of the medications she was on at the end. Something so important at the time has begun to fade and, despite all reason and rationale, it begins to fester within me as guilt that I am beginning to forget her. I know that is silly, but the guilt is incredibly real. I also feel guilt for being the one to survive, given how close you were to Mom. I wish it could have been me that had cancer and died. Not because I would want to miss anything of your lives or the incredible things you have yet to experience, but because I know what an amazing person Mom was and how disgustingly unfair this all is to her.

Seven years of fighting did nothing to prepare us for her loss. And I know that any smiles or laughs we have are met with the urge to share them with Mom. The fact that she’ll never be there again is the sharpest pain I’ve ever felt. My one wish this Christmas would be to stop your pain by having Mom back –and healthy. But I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore and even if I did, I believe that this wish would be beyond his reach. I’m so sorry. I hate this new normal, but I love you both so much.

Three Years

NewtownIt has been three years since the shooting at Sandy Hook that took 26 lives. Three years with no federal action to prevent the almost 33,000 gun-related deaths every year in America. But that is not to say that there hasn’t been action. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded shortly after the Newtown shooting, has grown into a juggernaut and only added to its power when it joined forces with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to form the umbrella organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. Fed up with federal inaction, Moms and Everytown have taken the fight to the states and squared up directly against the powerful NRA and gun lobby, with meaningful and measurable successes. As Moms Demand Action founder, Shannon Watts writes in today’s CNN:

“Since Sandy Hook, six states have passed background check laws. In 2015, nine states have enacted legislation to protect victims of domestic violence by keeping guns out of the hands of their abusers. We’re playing defense, too: this year we helped defeat 64 gun lobby priority Bill’s, including bills that would have forced guns into schools and bills that would have let people carry concealed, loaded handguns in public with no permit and no training.”

History will prove we are on the right side of this issue, but change will not happen overnight, much as we may like it to. So I urge you to consider standing up with us to change the United States’ outlier position compared to the rest of the developed world in regards to gun violence.  This is a seminal moment in American history. On which side do you want your children to remember you?

Where Has Common Sense Gone?

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“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.”  George Eliot

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated that he will push again for a vote on a bill that would prevent suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from purchasing guns and explosives. A similar bill failed in the senate last week. However, Schumer considers the chances of passage better this week now that the attack in San Bernardino has definitively been labeled terrorism.

Not surprisingly, the NRA has come out against the measure because it feels there are people on the terror watch list listed inaccurately. This brings me to the above George Eliot quote. Ms. Eliot is absolutely correct that we cannot wait for the perfect list in order to engage this legislation. There will never be a perfect list. As Senator Schumer said, when quoted in the New York Daily News (12/6/2015), “We should just make the list tighter and better. It’s never going to be perfect, and we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

But then the NRA has never seen a gun violence prevention bill it liked. And that is part of the problem. The NRA’s intransigence is quite literally killing people. To quote George Eliot again, “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” And until the NRA acknowledges that there are some people who should not have access to guns, the political landscape will scrape by without significant action. You would think we could all agree that terrorists should not have access to firearms in the United States. Instead, we have to listen to people like Wayne LaPierre, Alex Jones, and Ted Nugent. Of course, Eliot also said, “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.”

In the vote last week, only one Republican voted for the measure. Every other Republican, including presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, voted against the measure, thereby continuing to allow those on the no-fly list to purchase guns and explosives. In fact, 2,000 people on the list have purchased weapons, legally, because of this loophole. If we cannot agree that terrorists should not have weapons, let’s not pretend you have the safety of our fellow Americans at heart, senators, or that you are tough on terrorism. Your voting record proves otherwise.

Reliquary

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Sacred items and memories dominate my thoughts now. There are the design elements throughout the house, all selected with great care by my wife. There are the memories of daily events now lost forever. There are the fountain pens bequeathed to me following my father’s death. Everywhere I turn in this house I am reminded of cancer’s cost and the future’s lost. This house has become more museum than home. I don’t so much live here as exist; a docent residing after hours at the gallery.

I am told that I need to move on, to build a new life, a new future. But I am shy to begin. How can I be confident enough to embark on a new future when the one I spent 25 years forging was so easily destroyed? It has been three months now since her death and I am lost.

Small things both ground me and terrify me. I find comfort in the daily routine. However, I now carry a debilitating loss of confidence I never expected. I also have a terrible time concentrating. Both of these developments are troubling to me. I can’t read a book without my eyes glossing over after two minutes, regardless of the content. I love to read and have too much free time in which I could theoretically be reading. However, I cannot concentrate enough to read. It is incredibly frustrating. I feel like Burgess Meredith in that famous Twilight Zone episode where he is a quiet librarian who’s single wish is to be left alone to read. After a catastrophic nuclear attack, he finds himself the lone survivor with all the time in the world and all the books of his library at his disposal. However, at the very end, he accidentally shatters his reading glasses.

Photographs set off a cascading series of memories, and the house is flush with photographs. However, there will never be another photograph, never a new memory. How can I understand that this is forever? This new “normal” is terrible.

I do not remember my dreams, if I do dream. The kids dream of Lisa, sometimes it is sad, sometimes it is fun and I don’t know how to feel about that. I am not burdened by dreams of Lisa sick or dying, but I am not visited by her in better dreams either. All I have are memories. I am living out of a reliquary.

Twenty-Eight That Never Was

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Twenty-eight that never was

A life cut short in America because

A monster got his hands on a gun

No one stopped to wonder why

The troubled man needed to buy

One thousand rounds of ammunition

 

They gathered together for the midnight show

A happy crowd but no one could know

The monster was there because he’d been shunned

Twelve lives were lost

Countless families were tossed

Into the realm of the perpetually stunned

 

The monster had planned and carefully mapped

His apartment to be boobytrapped

But the neighbor did not open the door

Thankfully, his gun jammed

An unforeseen hole in his plan

In an effort to kill many more

 

Now the monster’s in prison

And some make it their mission

To fight for the legacies of those lost

Grief knows no sense of time

We go through life in pantomime

Knowing a gun culture’s true cost

 

Beautiful Jessi will never get older

That green shawl wrapped around her shoulder

We celebrate her birthday alone this November

She was smart, she was clever

She is lost to us forever

But this is how we choose to remember:

 

Thanks to Sandy and Caren and so many others

Too many brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers

Please know the we’ve only started to begin

Jessi’s message is clear

And the people will eventually hear

That in the end, love will win

 

Happy birthday, Jessi

My Shifting Memory

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‘Tis in my memory lock’d,

And you yourself shall keep the key of it.

Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, iii, 85

In an episode of The West Wing, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman experiences a breakthrough in his repressed, post-traumatic stress disordered memory when he realizes that the sound of music reminds him of sirens following his being shot during an assassination attempt on the president. Pleased with himself, but wary of any ongoing associations, he asks his therapist why he shouldn’t be worried. The therapist, while packing up his belongings at the end of the long session, replies simply, “Because we get better.”

This scene reminds me that while time goes on, if we’re lucky and listening, we understand ourselves a little better each day. So it is with my grief and the grief of my children following my wife’s (and their mother’s) death 80 days ago. We seem to have undergone, while no one was looking, a transition in grieving. We have all felt it and didn’t know why we were being buffeted by our loss differently than before. No longer are we, exclusively, thinking of the night Lisa died or the days and weeks leading up to that day. Rather, because of daily life, we see the future and are having a similarly difficult time grappling with the concepts of never seeing Lisa again and that lasting forever. “Never” and “forever” dominate our thoughts now.

I don’t know where any of this falls on the great wheel of grieving, and I don’t care. I find the entire Elizabeth Kübler-Ross paradigm, as presented in popular culture, flawed. I do not see it as a linear progression, while acknowledging it was never intended to be. However, society seems to think that you go cleanly from one phase to the next on your way to eventual acceptance and a return to “normal.” Instead, I find that through each step of grieving, as we did in our various phases of Lisa’s illness, we establish a new normal each day. Some days string along neatly with the previous while others strike us as different. However, each day presents us with what we consider to be normal. We get up, we shower, we go to work or school. When we repeat this structure enough, it becomes our “normal.” When our thoughts focus on a specific concept of grieving, that too becomes our “normal.” And so, we each seem to have transitioned to the difficult process of understanding and accepting “never” and “forever.” That is not to say that we cannot, at a moment’s notice recall the last night or last few days, but the details are becoming fuzzy around the edges. No longer can I recall the names of all of the medications on which Lisa was dependent at the end. I can recall their color but not their names.

This transition to a new normal also carries with it significant guilt. If I can no longer recall the names of the medications, which were so important to her comfort and survival, doesn’t that, by extension, mean that I am slowly forgetting Lisa? When details fade, it portends an overall and irrational fear that all will fade. When I think of Lisa now, the first thing I think of is not her death or even her illness, but her smile and her laugh. This reordering of thought worries all of us. The mind is an amazing thing, and we carry memories in our mind the way we think we recollect the actual event having unfolded. And what was critically important to me might not have been important to either of the kids, while something so critical to them might have escaped me and faded in my mind before it settled into theirs. This is another form of guilt. How can I not find the important events in my children’s lives important enough to remember?

Memories are ethereal and, ultimately, shapeable. Just as witnesses to an accident fail to make reliable reporters, so too, I find, that our memories morph into something we can easily recall. And each time we recall that memory we recall the memory shaped in our mind, no longer the actual event. Over time, the recollection of the actual event fades, and we can only recall our individually shaped memory. Perhaps that is why I can no longer recall all of the medications. My memory is being reshaped. I would like to think that Lisa has had a hand in reshaping my memory. Over time, perhaps, she will reshape my memory to no longer feel the horrible pain of her loss. It is locked in my memory, and she has the key.

Simplicity Fatigue

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There must be a term to describe simplicity fatigue, that feeling you get when your Uncle Know-it-all posts something on Facebook or Twitter which stuns you into open-mouthed disbelief at their lack of a fundamental understanding of a situation or their simplistic, childlike solution to the problem. Fatigue occurs after seeing “solutions” like this posted repeatedly by simplistic, linear-thinking people. Let us face facts. The problems facing our state, country and world are not simple. There are no more low-hanging fruit. To assume that there is a simple solution to a complex situation should invite derision. The mind-numbingly simplistic solutions I hear to these complex issues make me shake my head and fear for my children’s future. I’m not saying I have the solution, but I know enough to look beyond the basic. Politicians, who, with access to intelligence and reporting should know better, play to the simple-minded in the public for support of dangerous, short-sighted solutions.

Gun violence prevention is not an easy problem to solve. ISIS is not an easy development to understand. Neither is Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, or Israel. Or race relations, curing cancer, or parsing different religions. But to assume that there is a simple solution to all of the myriad complications within a given issue is feeble minded at best and dangerous at worst. The inability of most of the public to see more than one chess move ahead is frightening. I would worry about these people moving more than one Twister move ahead without causing bodily injury to themselves. Some of them should wear helmets.

But there is a fatigue that builds up over time reading comments to news articles online or in some cases the news article itself, never mind trying to follow the logic some display on Facebook, Twitter or some other social media. In some cases, they would be hysterically funny if they weren’t so deadly serious. And I’m not talking about grammar. That’s a discussion for an entirely different day. I’m talking about the rabid, linear “thinker” who cannot possibly understand the nuances of a given situation enough to rationally attempt to apply Occam’s razor.

Perhaps it is the fact that I’m still grieving the loss of my wife and father. Perhaps it is the downcast mindset I wake with each day because of this. But the social media fatigue I feel right now because of these linear thinking people makes me want to walk away from the computer, turn off the television and go read a book. And then I think of my children. If I walk away, who will fight for them? If I take a step back from any activism I engage in, are there those who will take up the slack? If decisions are made by those who show up, what right do I have to abstain and then complain? I need a way to regroup, recharge, and replenish in order to keep engaged. Perhaps turning away from it all for a while is the solution. I just hope there are enough like-minded people to carry on without me for a while.

Home

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In light of the terrible attacks in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, and the 88 who are killed with a gun in America every day, I am reminded of the quote from Carl Sagan regarding our pale, blue dot:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”