Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: love

365 Paper Cuts

 

bleeding heart

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”     ― Thomas A. Edison

It was one year ago tonight that my best friend died. God, it hurts to write that. It seems like a lifetime ago and also as if it happened last night. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. I rest my hand on her pillow every night before praying that sleep will gently take me away to her, but I never dream, about her or anything else. I have come a long way since that night in September, but in other ways, I feel I have never left that room. The kids and I have experienced the “year of firsts” without Lisa as if this is some magical milestone beyond which grief is forbidden to pass. I miss so much about her that my heart aches just thinking of the reasons.

I miss her laugh. I miss her smile. I miss her voice. I miss her nose. I miss her driving. I miss her honesty. I miss her eyes. I could go on for as long as my fingers can pass over this keyboard. Edison’s quote seem particularly applicable today because I don’t feel that I’ve survived one year without Lisa as much as I have endured 365 daily paper cuts without her that will never heal.

 

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”     ― John Wayne

One thing I do not miss is the suffering she had to endure. I taped the above quote on the refrigerator of the house we rented in Texas during her first round of treatment. I put it on the fridge for her to see, but now I see that it was meant for me. From chemotherapy to surgery to radiation, she never questioned or hesitated. She enthusiastically embraced every option offered to her until her physician assistant (in tears) told her there were no more options. Lisa was prepared to do more, but medicine had failed her. I look back at that quote now and see that the courage I wanted her to embrace is now exactly what I must adopt to survive her death and carry on.

My brother was in the hospital recently for treatment of a minor infection. It was the first time I’d visited a hospital since Lisa’s death. I hadn’t given any thought to how visiting a hospital would affect me. It was just what you do when a family member is in the hospital. My children were both concerned how visiting the hospital would affect me. As soon as I walked through the doors, all of the emotions swarmed me. Fortunately, my brother was well enough to be discharged the next day. However, shortly after that, my mother in law was taken to the hospital because she bumped her head when she fell. It was nothing serious, she was only taken to the hospital due to a state regulated precautionary requirement, but it required me visiting another hospital in the same week. As I sat there with her, waiting for her discharge papers, I can’t tell you how much I wanted to get out of there. Nothing happens quickly in a hospital and the memories exposed while sitting there were not healthy. Everything took me back to Lisa and her seven years of treatment. After having called M.D. Anderson a second home during all of her cancer treatment, I can’t conceive of a situation where all of the hospital memories won’t come flooding back to hit me in the face. We knew every corner of that hospital and felt like unofficial ambassadors because we ended up helping newcomers so often. In the end, there was no longer anything they could do for her so we both went home where she would die. Thoughts of hospitals paralyze me now.

 

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”     ― Seneca

Lisa’s suffering is over, and we’ve had a year to establish a life, living only with her memory. We have made progress because life goes on. The kids have graduated from college. We have moved back to Rhode Island. We live in a condo in an area we’re not familiar with but which is close enough to family and familiarity to provide some comfort. However, the idea of starting a life without her is at times challenging and at other times seemingly impossible. I still feel guilty for living. I feel guilty for never dreaming about her. I feel guilty for not making the most of this time with my kids, who will be gone this time next year. If our roles were reversed, I could imagine Lisa doing much better than I am now. I feel as if I’ve aged 50 years in the past 365 days. But life goes on, and I am trying to do the best I can. I hope the next year sees me and the kids continue to develop a new “normal” where we can laugh about the good times and not dwell on the bad; where we can think of Lisa as the beautiful, energetic whirlwind she was, full of flowing blond hair and a joie de vivre rather than the pained shell we saw at the end. I’ve survived 365 daily paper cuts without her. The wound will never heal but hopefully, the nerve endings will dull a bit. This week will be particularly strenuous. In addition to today’s commemoration, the kids’ birthday is Tuesday, and Lisa and my anniversary would have been Friday. At least I have the kids to lean on. I treasure my children and am so glad to have them around for the time that I do. They have gotten me this far. I can’t imagine where I’d be without them.

I’m ending this post with a poem by Hermann Hesse titled Stages. I hope you appreciate its message and hug your loved ones tighter today.

 

As every flower fades and as all youth

Departs, so life at every stage,

So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,

Blooms in its day and may not last forever.

Since life may summon us at every age

Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,

Be ready bravely and without remorse

To find new light that old ties cannot give.

In all beginnings dwells a magic force

For guarding us and helping us to live.

Serenely let us move to distant places

And let no sentiments of home detain us.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us

But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.

If we accept a home of our own making,

Familiar habit makes for indolence.

We must prepare for parting and leave-taking

Or else remain the slave of permanence.

Even the hour of our death may send

Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,

And life may summon us to newer races.

So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.

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Dear Lisa

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Dear Lisa,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing you like crazy and still deeply in love,

Me

Phoenix (or Ashes and Brambles)

compass

 

Too often during this process of grieving, I have been angry. As I addressed in the last post, I had been charged with creating an imaginary entity to which I can assign the anger. I chose God. The next chapter in this process is to determine what will make me happy. How do I want my life to look in five years? As one who has been burned by planning in the past, with ashes the only remaining vestiges of the future I once built, this is an immeasurably more difficult assignment.

I want my children to be happy and successful in whatever endeavor they choose. I want them to live wherever they want but I want them to remain close to me emotionally. I want to be the person from whom they seek advice or from whom they seek comfort when life throws them a nasty curve. Outside of that, I want to continue in my job, which brings me joy and satisfaction. I would like to travel. I want Sam to be my tour guide in Italy and Cam to be my guide in the UK. I would like to learn French or Italian. Not because I plan on living there of traveling extensively, but because I have always had problems learning a foreign language and I like the challenge. I would like to learn to play the piano. I would like to read all of the classics. I would like to learn art history.

But will doing these things make me happy? What will people say of me five years from now? Will they say that I survived my wife’s death well? Will they say that I was able to move on and formed a new life outside of my new identity as a widower? Will I be alone? Will I find love again? Will I survive?

The answers to these questions plague me. In many ways, the question is the same: What will make me happy and what will people think of me five years from now? These both boil down to having a fulfilling life following a major upheaval. When I applied for the job I currently hold, I was asked by my boss’s boss where I saw myself in five years. That was four years ago. Rather than dazzle him with my ambition and tell him that I wanted his job in five years, I reflected on the future which lay in tatters before me. And so, I told him that I did not know where I would be in five years. That I respected that I was new to the company and that I would need to learn the company and the industry before laying out a career path. I don’t know if that was the perfect answer, but he told me I was correct to temper my ambitions with reality. I got the job.

Today I feel that I am being asked the same question. Where do I want to be in five years? But rather than a career path question, this is a life path question. Again, I feel that I must have the same response. I need to learn the landscape of this new life, acknowledging that it is new and different than the life I lived before. In many ways, I am newborn. I have the second part of my life before me. But I must respect that I have little in the way of plans or ambitions that bear any resemblance to the life I led before. True, I’ve always wanted to travel, but now I face the prospect of travelling alone or as a third wheel when my children take their eventual families on vacation. This does not excite me. It’s a little like being the afterthought invitation for a party after you’ve heard about the party but hadn’t been originally invited.  Other ambitions (reading, learning a foreign language, playing the piano) are nice wishes, not life plans. True, they will bring me joy and occupy my time, but are these life plans? I don’t know. My life plans before were to work until I was ready to retire, then Lisa and I would travel together around the country and around the world, with or without the kids, depending on their station in life. We would spend our time in our home together or on the Cape. But as I pull at that thread now, there is little desire to travel alone and the thought of an empty, silent home (soon to also be devoid of our little white ball of canine love) terrifies me.

And so, to this question, I have no firm response. The future before me is a blank slate, equal parts terror and excitement. Perhaps over time, I will see the shimmering outline of a path through the thicket, but right now there are only brambles and thorns, silence and loneliness. And so I read my classics, look forward to studying piano, and tackling French or Italian. My future, in ashes, will rise like the phoenix, whether I want it to or not, whether I plan it or not. Better to have a say in the process than be overrun with other’s expectations. To the question, how do I want people to see me in five years, I can only say that I hope they see me as living my life, a different life, maybe a better life maybe not, but a life denied my wife.

A Note To My Children This Christmas

Broken Ornament1

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.

Thanksgiving (or Fortunate Enough to Hurt)

45604227_mIf you’re lucky, once in a lifetime a love comes along that shakes you to the very center of your being. If you are lucky enough to have been afflicted with such a love, you must acknowledge that one result will be that time will speed up. There is a phenomenon known as Vierordt’s Law, which states that short-term time is overestimated and long-term time is underestimated. In short, days seem to last incredibly long and years fly by. This can be best summed up in an example. When the kids were first born, everyone we met told us to enjoy these times because time would quickly pass. At the time, all I wanted was one good night’s sleep. That was 21 years ago, and I finally understand what those wise people meant.

Now I suffer from another phenomenon, hiraeth, which is a Welsh word meaning “homesickness for a place you can never return to.” It is when you lose that special person that these two phenomena fuse in a pain we simply call grief. Time has slipped away, and we cannot go back to that happier, simpler time. It is simplistic to suggest that one has a choice to appreciate the time spent with that great love or to begrudge the time stolen by disease. To choose the former is to ignore the heart-wrenching hiraeth felt by the loss. To select the latter is to ignore the joy of a lifetime spent in Vierordt’s miasma. Rather, it is reasonable to expect to experience both options (often within the same day). To acknowledge both the joys spent with a great love and the pain of their loss is the price of having such a great love. To easily overcome such a loss indicates that the love was not as interwoven into your soul as you thought. To find the loss debilitating at times means a genuine, deep love and an equally devastating loss.

And so, today I must give thanks for both the time I had and the pain I feel now because I now know I cannot have had one without the other without preceding her in death.

There was a time when I was alone and happy to be so. At least I thought I was happy. What I was was lonely and determined that I didn’t need anybody. High school friends were off doing things I was not comfortable doing (drinking, drugs) and I was unwilling to give up that kind of self-control.

Now I find that I am lonely and determined that I do need people. However, after spending a lifetime eschewing friendship as an unnecessary protuberance of my streamlined and happy life, I find myself without friends when I need them most. I have many acquaintances, genuine and sincere, but no friends. It is my own doing and based on the platform that I had married my best friend so any more friends would be superfluous. Besides, I was not bright enough or socially sophisticated enough to handle more than one friend. Now she is gone, and I am both alone and lonely, left to my thoughts and memories. I miss her so much. And I acknowledge that I must suffer this great pain because I have such wonderful thoughts and memories.

To all of my acquaintances, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving and hope you appreciate, most importantly, your family and friends. Thanksgiving is a day to appreciate those who have given you so much, especially love.

Quirks

She had too many clothes

She drove like a madman

She was always running late

She was honest to a fault

She shoved her leg under me while I was sleeping

She drank Diet Coke for breakfast

She never put milk on her cereal

She put too many lights on the Christmas tree

She recited silly campfire songs

She was not perfect

Thankfully

It is the differences that make us interesting

It is the differences that attract us

It is the differences that can repel us

When we accept the differences in another

We call them quirks and learn to live with them

Now that she is gone, it is the quirks I miss the most

I don’t have too many clothes

I don’t drive like a madman

I’m never running late

I believe in the value of a white lie

I miss her leg under me

I now drink Diet Coke for breakfast

But I still put milk on my cereal

I don’t want to put up the Christmas tree

I miss those silly campfire songs

Because she was perfect to me.

Inhuman

PainPublilius Syrus in the first century B.C. wrote “when Fortune flatters, she does it to betray.” Plutarch reinterpreted this as “I see the cure is not worth the pain.” Somewhere over the past two thousand plus years we have lost the connection between humanity and the humane.

Setting religion aside and ignoring the politics and ethics of Dr. Kevorkian, it is, none the less, barbaric how we treat our loved ones at the end of their lives.

We have somehow bridged the moral abyss with compassion for our beloved pets by “humanely” putting our beloved pets out of their senseless misery, ending their meaningless pain, answering their pleading eyes with the selfless, heartrending compassion of euthanasia.

We have somehow sanitized capital punishment of the worst criminals from fatal and barbaric corporal punishment to a “humane” (although still debatably barbaric) dream-like sleep out of existence.

And yet, we allow our loved ones to face “natural” death filled with a fear, pain and confusion making anything that happened at Abu Ghraib look like Walt Disney World.

This suffering is multifaceted. Of course, there is the physical pain, which is no better controlled today than it was 50 years ago. The opioids still rule as the best we have to offer. The problem is that they are systemic, meaning that they travel throughout the entire body. If the pain is in the hip, the hip gets the morphine, but so, too, do the little finger, the ear lobe and the brain. The result is that the little finger and ear lobe are no better or worse, the hip suffers an incomplete relief of pain and the brain suffers the confusion, paranoia, nausea and narcolepsy unnecessary to treatment. This is the best medicine has to offer in 2014? The other suffering it brings is to the family members who must endure watching the physical suffering of those they love hampered by the incomplete relief of pain. Meaningless suffering is the worst kind. Love of another means the willingness to shoulder their burden. The helplessness felt by the family member watching their loved one jerk in pain or crying out as they try to move them or comfort them is an indelible stain on their soul.

The suicidal mission of cancer adds to the frustration. Bent on destroying its host, even at its own annihilation, cancer never rests. To paraphrase Siddhartha Mukherjee from his book The Emperor of All Maladies, cancer cuts the brake lines of some cells and jams the gas pedals of others, stopping the natural cell regulation process and sending the cancer cells into a proliferating frenzy steamrolling every other cell in its path. In his or her clearer moments, so too, the cancer patient undergoes a civil war; one side, engrained in all of us, pulls us to live, to continue fighting, while another force, armed with logic, understanding and ultimately love, forces the patient to begin facing the inevitable truth with no regrets and peace.

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, concentration camp survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl describes inmates of the camps as surviving long stretches if they could find meaning in their suffering.  Some held on to the hope of outlasting the Nazis and returning to their loved ones (should any of them have survived), others found peace looking up at the sky and imagining conversations with their loved ones wherever they might then have been. Life was worth living if they held a kernel of meaning in their suffering.

I have searched and considered and yet find no meaning in the suffering loved ones endure at the end of their lives given the current state of medicine. Pain is pain and on a scale of 1 to 10, anything above a 1 means the medical field has failed. The root word of both humane and humanity is human, from the Latin humanus. However, we reserve those words for our treatment of pets and prisoners, not our loved ones. For them, and for ourselves, it is inhuman what we put them through, for them and for us it is nothing short of torture.

Mother’s Day

Mothers Day

 

In honor of my mother, my wife, my sister and all of the mama bears of Moms Demand Action, here are a few quotes on mothers. In short, thank you.

 

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”

Washington Irving

 

 “I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”

Mitch Albom, For One More Day

 

 “Perhaps it takes courage to raise children..”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

 

 “He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

 

“My mother is a poem that I could never write”

Unknown

 

“Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but it cannot be the pride of a mother in her children, for that is a compound of two cardinal virtues — faith and hope.”

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

 

“My mother said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping somebody who was worse off than you.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

 

“If I were asked to define Motherhood, I would have defined it as Love in its purest form. Unconditional Love.”

Revathi Sankaran

 

“Sometimes when you pick up your child you can feel the map of your own bones beneath your hands, or smell the scent of your skin in the nape of his neck. This is the most extraordinary thing about motherhood – finding a piece of yourself separate and apart that all the same you could not live without.”

Jodi Picoult, Perfect Match

 

“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?”

Milton Berle

 

“Having kids — the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings — is the biggest job anyone can embark on”

Maria Shriver

 

“The phrase “working mother” is redundant.”

Jane Sellman

 

“With children the clock is reset. We forget what came before”

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

 

“My most important title is still “mom-in-chief.” My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.”

Michelle Obama

 

“I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.”

E.M. Forster, Howards End

 

“A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.”

Victor Hugo

 

 

A Conversation With My Daughter

feminist

 

“Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

I am lucky. As a heterosexual, white, American man, I found, out of the millions of available women, the best. Does that sound right? “I,” “I found,” “I am lucky.” Let me try to rephrase that. A strong, compassionate, brilliant woman, a woman with talent and brains and limited tolerance for fools, a woman destined to positively impact the lives of countless people, chose me. Better. Although I was right, I was/am lucky.

I had the most incredible conversation with my 19 year old daughter last night. It was a text message conversation, but, in many ways, the technology was not a barrier to thought or feelings, but an aid. Perhaps it is the inherent delay in responding or the necessity to distill thoughts into typed words. Whatever the cause, the effect was blinding, pure logic bathed in compassion. The subject: Feminism.

Again, I’m a guy. But that does not preclude me from discussing or even embracing feminism. Ultimately, feminism is one wavelength within the light spectrum of equality.

Plato wrote in The Republic,“If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.” That was in 380 B.C.

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban on her school bus for having the audacity to think, “Let us pick up our books and our pens,” I said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” (I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban)

Clearly, in 2,392 years we have done little to evolve as humans. Why do some (males and females) see feminists as the enemy? Why have some vilified them as militant, anti-men?

To help answer this question, I need to back up to a 30,000 foot view of “civilized society.” My daughter is an artist, and the best kind. She is infused with talent, an incredible work ethic blended with a strong desire to learn and stirred by passion; truly a recipe for greatness, both as an artist and as a compassionate human. As we chatted last night we wandered into a metaphor that, I think carries some veracity. The idea that while seeing all issues in pure black and white is easy (read: requires little or no thought), it is boring and excludes the rainbow of colors that make life (and art) joyful. Seeing (or rather acknowledging) the gray in an issue requires us to pause and consider differing opinions, perspectives and, potentially, shaking the ledge upon which we base our morals. It is neither comfortable nor easy, but it is necessary and should be required! Somewhere along the line, Descartes argument cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) has been bludgeoned into “I am, therefore I need not think.” How sad.

Feminism is not the charge of a select group of women but rather the obligation of all rational thinkers, therefore, all of humankind. Where it is the weak minded and threatened man who disdains feminists, so too is it the weak minded and male-oriented, society-molded female who defends organized subjugation. To subjugate one is to imprison all. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best, “”No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Our willing abdication of thought may inevitably lead to an Orwellian future of newspeak, doublethink, thoughtcrimes and perpetual war. How far down this road are we already? Who wants to drive?

I am proud of my daughter. She is strong-willed, passionate and compassionate, thinks for herself and wants to make the world a better place. If that is the definition of a feminist, sign me up.

Gold

Gold barsWe live in a disposable economy; neither secret nor revelation there! We also live in a society where we, through technology and media, demand instant gratification and are easily bored with work and distracted by shiny objects. It is easier to walk away from a problem than wrestle with it, but seldom right. It is easier to think of oneself rather than another, but rarely without consequence. We eschew effort as well as personal responsibility and popular culture celebrates this behavior. The existentialist will tell you that we are all, in fact, islands; that no one can truly appreciate what we, as individuals, think or feel. At the same time, however, we are all cogs in the various and intricate machinery we know as society.

Many of us, either through nature or nurture, seek to live our lives with the company of another; to see if the teeth on our cog mesh with those of another’s, thereby (it is hoped) creating a larger, stronger organism. It is often a disruptive union, calling on an island to expose its perceived weaknesses to another in hopes of reuniting Pangaea and weathering life’s storms together. Marriage forces two individuals to add the moniker “couple” to themselves, making each participant defend the ethos of the other before society while at the same time trying to maintain their own sense of self. And therein, lies one of the two reasons these unions fail. Statistics tell us that half of marriages fail. Maybe “fail” is not the right word. When reduced to basics, the individual cogs simply do not work together, despite love’s miasma and an individual’s sometimes tortuous effort. There are many different reasons for these failures, not all of them assignable to one party or the other. However, “facts is facts.” According to the 2010 census, only 82% of Americans who married reached their 5 year anniversary. Sixty-five percent made it to 10 years. Fifty-two percent made it to 15 years.

Of course, divorce is not the only reason that couples fail to reach these milestones. The other way that marriages end is through the death of one partner. You needn’t look at an actuarial table to see that as people get older the overall number of them still living decreases. You may have graduated 43rd in your high school class, but with enough luck and a genetic lottery winning ticket, someday you will be 1st! George Burns wasn’t the tallest in his high school at graduation, but by living to 99 he assumed that title from all those who were taller but preceded him in death. Consequently, the number of couples reaching higher milestones drops significantly as the years pass. Only 33% of couples reach their 25th anniversary, again, through a combination of avoiding death and divorce. Only 20% of couples reach their 35th anniversary. Of course, while only two things can end a marriage, either divorce or death, not even death can hold sway over love. The remaining cog may still turn as part of society but it forever misses the other.

This September, I will celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary with the woman whose cog fit mine; who softened the rough teeth of my cog and kept our machine moving where teeth on my cog were missing or broken. To reach such a height is to know the wonder, pain, strength and suffering that sharing your life with another affords. Experience can neither be taught nor bequeathed and, for those who make it through, would not be traded for all the world’s gold. The tapestry we have woven together, comprised of the countless threads we call memories, warms me, comforts me and leads me toward tomorrow’s challenges armed with confidence.

Tomorrow also marks a milestone fewer than 5% of couples attain. My parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In a society where we are encouraged to trade our gold for cash, it is nice to see a couple whose determination to face life’s challenges as one reach their Golden Anniversary, a milestone more treasured than treasure; something forged in life’s furnace like no one else’s, answerable to no one else and more precious than cash. No life is easy, no journey without challenges, but it is the challenges that create character and we celebrate couples who have weathered these challenges and persevered. Thanks to my wife, and the story we are still writing, and my parents whose own book is now gold gilded, I understand a quote from Dr. Seuss today better than yesterday and hope to appreciate it better tomorrow than today.

 “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Happy anniversary to my parents and Lisa, I love you.