Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: future

Rules

Rules

 

Following the news that the Trump family cheated us out of over $497.80 million in estate taxes comes news that son-in-law and senior White House advisor Jared Kushner paid little or no federal income taxes between 2009 and 2016. Couple that with the “still being audited” bullshit being run by Trump as the reason why he “can’t” release his tax returns and we can only guess whether we, as taxpayers, are subsidizing the current kleptocracy at an over or under $1 billion price tag.

And yet, at this point, we have been conditioned by the daily shitstorm of Tweets, rants, insults, and societal oversteps that we simply yawn. Shame on us. Our gag reflex at the absurd and unacceptable has been blunted by repetition and callused by social media. But Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” That is the freedom we should be seeking, that is the independence we should be searching for and celebrating, not whether our president weirdly hugs a flag or misrepresents a football player for kneeling before a game.

My life is extremely important to me and me alone. My story will appear in no history book, my children my only legacy. I get up, go to work, do my best and I pay my taxes. We are all the result of our circumstances and our decisions based on those circumstances. I have raised children the best I could while making mistakes for which I will forever be ashamed. That said, they are the best thing that has ever happened to me and the best thing I will ever leave this world. I have willingly sacrificed a career to be a caregiver. I have buried my wife and tried to find happiness in a world I hardly understand. In other words, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about me. And I pay my taxes. I am happy to do so. I enjoy driving on paved roads. I complain about potholes. I enjoy living in the United States. I complain about military spending. I enjoy pizza. I complain about being too heavy. I still think I can hit a fastball and I see wrinkles in my neck.

But I am tired of playing by the rules when the rulers do not. I doubt Donald Trump has paid any taxes in the past 20 years. None. And he claims to be worth $10 billion. Jared Kushner paid little or no taxes over an 8-year period. And he’s worth $324 million. How many potholes would that have filled? How many schools would that have built? How many teachers would not have to buy their own supplies with that influx of taxes? Not to mention the $497.80 million Donald’s Daddy bilked us out of over the years by funneling money to his children. How many veterans, that the president claims to adore, could he have been personally treated or outfitted?

Having been raised Roman Catholic, and hard-wired with intrinsic guilt, the old saying, “How can you sleep at night?” always played in my head. That was always the guilt trip for past transgressions. Too late for future improvements. I always liked to play it in advance with the opportunistic, “What would I do in that situation?” This has afforded me the chance to make decisions, not always the correct ones, that I could defend to my children at a future date. “What did you do about gun violence after the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, dad?” I can answer that.

But kleptocrats answer to neither guilt nor history. To the question, “How can you sleep at night?” Trump answers, “Fine, either in the White House or in one of my gold palaces.” To the question, “What did you do about climate change?” Trump will answer, “Got us out of the Paris Climate Accord, watched the icebergs melt and the polar bears starve to death (before poor Don Jr. and Eric could shoot them to death), watched Florida sink into the Atlantic, and spent my gazillion, tax-free dollars golfing and eating KFC. I’ll be dead before the air is too toxic to breathe and burns you to ashes. Now go pay your taxes, suckers.”

 

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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!

Sharks and Cancer

quint

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.

Today’s Tomorrow

Seneca

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote the above 2,000 years ago and yet his sentiment is as prescient today as it was when he was a tutor to Roman emperor Nero. In De brevitate vitae (On the shortness of life), he continues:

“Can anything be more idiotic than certain people who boast of their foresight? They keep themselves officiously preoccupied in order to improve their lives; they spend their lives in organizing their lives. They direct their purposes with an eye to a distant future. But putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining?”

As I look back on the life that might have been this advice seems obvious if cynical. The future plans I worked toward, only to see cancer obliterate, seem like wasted time. However, was it? Are we not supposed to make plans? How can one go from day to day, “living in the moment” with no care for tomorrow? The clue comes in another Seneca quote, “Life is long, if you know how to use it.” But how do we tease a life out of this kernel of truth?

We all seek to leave a mark on history as we careen through time at the speed of life. The uncertainty with which we live is like the cosmic dust trail left behind a comet, slowly sapping the comet of its size and us of our time. John Lennon, appropriating a sentiment from decades earlier wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Drawn out to its ultimate conclusion, it is captured again by Seneca as, “Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.”

So how do we live a life full of todays, without sacrificing our wellbeing tomorrow? My wife and my future died a little over a month ago. Everything we worked toward is gone. I am fifty years old and alone. How do I start again? What am I working toward? How can I have any faith in a future I now build now knowing my recent future died with my wife? Where do I turn to begin? Neither time nor money seems important now. With whom will I share either? I do not want to travel alone, hell I don’t even want to eat dinner alone. Where I will live next year is based on no future plans with anyone, no school system for the kids, nothing. I am rootless, floating on the ocean of time with neither heading nor concern. Where I land means nothing.

Thankfully, I have my children. Without them I would not even carry an anchor. However, I know that they will settle someplace and I will want to be near them. But graduate school and careers stand like so many seasons and storms before I reach land. Perhaps it is a good thing that I am uprooted at this point. Perhaps the grieving process requires a certain amount of time and the kid’s blowing about like dandelion seeds will afford me the time to find myself and see a future alone. But that takes me back to Seneca. How do I live a life now without concern for the future and without sacrificing my sanity? Does living for today have to indicate a rudderless life? Seneca was a stoic and lived frugally. Without material goods, it is easier to ignore the requirements the future, but that is not how we are groomed. I would like a balance between Seneca’s today and propriety’s tomorrow. However, today I simply attempt to stay busy and tomorrow means nothing. Maybe in time it will change. I guess the question is, how many todays will be wasted? Seneca has no answer to that.

Zerrissenheit

Shattered FutureGive sorrow words; the grief that does not speak                                                         Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.                                                                              Shakespeare, Macbeth, IV, iii, 209

A very dear friend of mine gave me Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book Gift from the Sea following my wife’s September 2nd death. It was a wonderful little book and contained a German word that accurately describes my emotional state: “zerrissenheit.” It is described as “torn-to-pieces-hood.”

The thing I am learning about grief is that it does not follow a linear path. One does not travel from one emotion to the next, leaving the first entirely contained in the rearview mirror. Rather, from minute to minute, I can wander from disbelief to acceptance to anger to sadness back to disbelief. This emotional whiplash takes a physical as well as an emotional toll. While I am back at work, my mind is not. This mental “zerrissenheit” manifests itself in a lack of confidence, second-guessing, a lack of focus, and sudden confusion. I was so much more confident when Lisa was here. I check my pockets a dozen times before leaving the house to make sure I have everything I need: keys, wallet, phone, etc.. In a word, I am lost.

And it isn’t that I don’t smile or laugh. I do. But so often I find myself reaching for my phone to text or call Lisa to tell her the joke only to realize that the call will never be completed again. I am having a hard time with the concepts of “never” and “forever.” I know that someday I will be glad for the time we had, but right now I am angry over the time that has been stolen (not to mention the time wasted fighting cancer when we should have been living our lives together). “Never” and “forever” are as daunting to me as the size of the universe is to a child.

It has been two weeks now, and the house is silent. I don’t know what the future holds anymore. We are taught to plan, to prepare as we enter adulthood. I did. This is not what I planned for; this is not the future I wanted. I am alone. My best friend was stolen from me. And while she would tell me to snap out of it and start living my life, this grief-triggered “zerrissenheit” is involuntary. I miss her so much.