Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: future

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!

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A Note To My Children Upon Their College Graduation

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First off, let me say congratulations. You have both earned this special day. I know you have worked incredibly hard over the past four years under unusually stressful circumstances. College was always in the cards for you both. There was never any indication that you wanted anything other than to pursue a degree. It was always my dream for you both to find your passion and pursue it relentlessly and you’ve both done that. I know you can’t count the number of all-nighters, papers, quizzes, tests, books, textbooks, or notes you have endured, but know that they were all worth it and combined to make your college experience whole and worthwhile. I know you’ve had your share of bad professors and unfair grades, but you’ve seen them for what they were. There was no handholding for you in college. You went to one of the biggest and best public schools in the country, and you survived. No one can take that way from you. But beyond that, you made it your own and thrived.

When you went to college, I asked that you get as much out of it as possible. That this was a rarified environment in your lives when you were branching out on your own and becoming the adults you would carry forward into your life. I know that you did get as much out of the experience as possible. You worked hard, you went to football games, and you made friends. Now that it is behind you, no one can take those experiences away from you. You earned everything for which you worked so hard.

Second, I’m very proud of you. And Mom would have been so incredibly proud of you too. The fact that she didn’t survive to see this day in no way diminishes your accomplishment or her determination to see it. She loved you with all her heart and wanted nothing but everything for you. She was so proud of how hard you both worked and always knew under how much pressure you lived. The fact that we were also in a strange state far from home and everything you knew while watching her slowly slip away only makes your accomplishment that much more amazing.

We never hid the facts from you. When we knew something about her case, we shared it with you. The fact that you were able to stay focused on your work and obtained the terrific grades you did (increasing your GPA almost every semester from an already impressive beginning) speaks to your work ethic and determination. You learned how to think, not what to think. You learned to think fast and argue a point. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed our conversations over the past four years as you’ve learned something and applied it. You’ve both become incredible adults before my eyes.

Third, both of you have incredibly bright futures. I know this will be another year of uncertainty as we move back to Rhode Island and you both work on your portfolios in preparation for graduate school. I don’t know where that will take you or how far away, but I do know that the hard work gene is well implanted in both of you and you will make the best of our situation and do your best to get into an excellent graduate program in your respective fields. What you’ve endured over the past four years in college under this particular set of circumstances makes you incredibly strong individuals. There is nothing you can’t accomplish.

It has been my privilege to be your father and to watch you both grow into such amazing adults. I wish nothing but the best for you going forward, and while I hope that things will settle down for you, I know that you will be able to handle whatever life throws at you, kick its ass, and thrive. I love you both.

 

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.

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.

Death of a Party

Really Texas, really?

It is the inevitable third act of every recent election.  The defeated side demands a recount or legal recourse.  It’s the adult version of “It’s not fair. Do over!”  Whether it’s the Democrats (remember Florida in 2000 with their “dangling” and “pregnant” chads) or Karl Rove’s on-air hissy-fit last Tuesday, sometimes facts are ignored and argued as if unfixed.

The presidential election last Tuesday saw a decisive win for President Obama, winning 332 to 206 in the Electoral College and 62,613,406 to 59,140,591 in the popular vote, garnering 62 more electoral votes than he required and winning the popular vote by 3,472,815 (roughly the same as the populations of Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and Wyoming combined).  These are the facts. To ignore them or dispute them is unproductive folly. Like it or not, President Obama (and the Democrats) will continue to control the White House for four more years.  But before the Republicans began to lick their wounds and regroup, or begin the painful process of self-exploration, too many of their adherents have taken to crying publicly and stomping their feet.

Bertrand Russell said, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” Truer words have never been uttered.  When someone is convinced of the sanctity of their position with absolute certainty, expounding with vitriol and ferocity against the “uneducated masses,” I instinctively dismiss them, protect my children and grab for my wallet.

I always thought that the young, in their idealistic naiveté of wanting to save the world voted Democratic until they began to make some money of their own.  Gradually, their position would change from “save the world” and “help the downtrodden” to “not another slice of my pie” and a NIMBY attitude.  I used to think of Republicans as the party of Alex P. Keaton and Gordon Gecko; market-based capitalists firmly in the Ayn Rand camp of egoism, self-control and material gain.  Perhaps it is a consequence of my having to relocate to Texas in search of the country’s best medical care for my wife, but I now find myself redefining my definition of Republicans.  Nationwide, there has been a shift in the ideals of the Republican Party, carried on the heels of right-wing Christians centered in the Bible-belt.  Every Republican running since Ronald Reagan has run on an outdated, idealistic, fantastic, revisionist historian view of American life in the 1950’s. “If only we could go back to the way it used to be.”  Forgetting, for example, the treatment of women, homosexuals, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, (essentially, everybody who was not a white man), a government that took us to the brink of nuclear annihilation and created a foundation of lies for what would become the Viet Nam war.

Having learned our lessons, through the hard fought civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement and the return of 11,000 body bags from Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos (and a generationally divided country where the youth (who were called upon to fight in the war) mistrusted a government that abused it), capitalistic market forces marched on, taking us from the upheaval of the 1960’s to the anti-war crescendo of the mid-1970’s with the overthrow of a sitting president, to the debauchery of the 1970’s and drug-addled 1980’s. The 1990’s saw baby boomers acknowledge that they were the capitalists after all and return to making money, content that they could save the world once their summer home in Maui was paid off.  This brings us to that historical fulcrum, September 11, 2001.  All at once, as the second plane hit the South tower, our insulated, global ignorance shattered with the World Trade Tower glass.  When 3,000 of our neighbors were incinerated that day, we saw in all its naked anger the effects radical religion can have on society.  We did not deserve this assault, but neither did we prevent its happening.  Content to let our government back one Middle Eastern dictator after another (from the Shah in Iran to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, from the Saudi family to Mubarak in Egypt) we lived our lives in happy oblivion under the dated misconception that we were protected by two oceans. Once we circled the wagons and held each other for comfort in the new and terrifying world order where enemies did not march under a recognized flag and so-called “smart bombs” assuaged any guilt we had bombing civilian neighborhoods where our enemies used schools and hospitals as human shields, the Republican party reverted back to a world view that neither existed nor should have existed; a world where minorities, women and homosexuals were heeled under by white middle-aged men and religious zeal validated any injustices.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, the ensuing six decades since the 1950’s saw the “melting pot” of America change the flavors of the stew.  As the number of Asians and Hispanics increased, the percent of the population comprised of whites diminished accordingly.  Republicans continued to ignore this demographic paradigm shift and catered to an ever decreasing slice of Americans.  Emboldened by the Christian right and using all manner of euphemisms for “middle aged white men,” the soundly beaten Republican Party now finds itself at a crossroads.  One road leads to a future based on personal responsibility and social accountability while the other terminates in a dead end in less than ten years.

Nowhere is this battle more evident than in Texas.  In fact, with California (and its 55 electoral votes) and New York (and its 29 electoral votes) solidly blue, Texas (and its 38 electoral votes) is the future of the Republican Party.  As the immigration wave continues to push northward through the country and the young migrate south, typically Republican Texas demographics dwindle.  Seen as reliably red since Lyndon Johnson proclaimed to Bill Moyers after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come,” minorities now hold sway over the party’s very existence.  And rather than face this fact, some Texans threaten to do again what they did in 1861, that is to say secede.

Welcome to the new country of MadaNASCAR!

The White House website has created a “We the People” site allowing citizens to create petitions for government consideration.  A cursory view of the site shows that forty-two states have petitions (some multiple as if their citizens cannot read) requesting to “peacefully be allowed to secede from the United States and form their own government.”  However, while most of these petitions will fail to reach the 25,000 signature threshold, upon which a formal response will be generated by the administration, the Texas petition is closing in on 100,000 signatures as of this writing.  Only those petitions from Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana have eclipsed the 25,000 signature mark, the second highest tally being Louisiana with just over 33,000 signatures. Ironically, and no doubt created with some caprice, there is a petition which has gathered over 4,000 signatures requesting that the city of Austin be allowed “to withdraw from the state of Texas and remain part of the United States!”

Current Republican intransigence and Texan hubris guarantee the party’s extinction.  There are estimates that Texas will transition to a blue state within the course of the next presidential election cycle.  If that is allowed to occur, if California, Texas and New York are solidly blue, there is virtually no mathematical chance for a Republican to garner the requisite 270 electoral votes to become president.  Covering one’s eyes does not prevent the bus from hitting you.  Threatening to secede does nothing to prevent your losing your seat at the table.  Republicans must acknowledge that it is not 1950 any longer and that minorities (who will not remain “minor” for very much longer), women and homosexuals may soon make up the lion’s share of the electorate and have learned to make their voices known.  Mitt Romney won the male vote 52% to 45%, the 65 and older vote 56% to 44%, the white vote 59% to 39%, the religious vote 59% to 39%, the anti-immigrant (self-deporting is a good and viable idea) vote 73% to 24% and married people vote 56% to 42%.  However, it was clearly not enough. Will we look back upon the 2012 election as the last run by Republicans using the old game plan, having embraced change while encouraging personal responsibility or as a sacrosanct platform used again in 2016 and saw the party of Lincoln fade from relevance and disappear?  In a word, should we help those wanting to secede pack or show them their seat at the new American table?