Ruminations on a Decade

Graduation from college.  You KNOW it's the early 1990's by the teal necktie.  You just can't get a good teal necktie anymore...:)
College graduation. A proud day for the both of us.

Ten years ago this evening, I was on my way home from having beared witness to my father’s passing. Lost, and more than a little alone, the drive home from my sister’s was surreal.  I honestly can’t remember much of the half-hour drive. Even today, ten years later, I still goof the details.  Like scheduling my remembrance on July 1 instead of July 6 for some reason.

I could get maudlin and tell you about how that flub fits in with just about everything about my dad – despite my best efforts, I always let circumstances get away from me instead of taking control of them. Even at his funeral, the priest almost forgot to let me deliver the eulogy and I didn’t stand up vociferously enough.

Instead, I’m going to choose to focus on what I did do, because I’m pretty sure that’s what he would have chosen to see – effortlessly, doubtless – because he didn’t spend too much time on himself, he did however spend a lot of time on his family.  On duty, and on love.

When I had the opportunity, I asked him to be my best man. I wanted him to be beside me at my wedding.

Honestly, that’s the only thing I can think of. Literally the only thing. Everything else seems disappointing. I didn’t make the speech for him that I wanted to because I let the coked-out wedding DJ blow past it.

I didn’t spend the time with him that I needed to. I don’t think I ever really showed him how much I wanted to be like him from the time I was 12. I don’t know that he ever really understood just how important he was to me. Christ, 24-hours before he died I was telling him that I had something else to do other than seeing him. Why is it that everything I can think of has me failing, why can’t I seem to match up? I’m not at all sure that he held me to that standard, why am I holding myself to that?

So, here I am, ten years to the day, perhaps even to the hour, that I’m ruminating on my relationship with my father on the day he passed. Holding myself to a standard that I’m not sure he held me to. I’m sure he didn’t see his value: his brothers both fought in World War II, he spent the Korean War in military school. He chose a cemetery plot in a direct line from his father’s. He spent a life time trying to live up to his father and brothers and I wonder if because of that he let me off the hook. Perhaps I was the beneficiary of low expectations.

He was a good man, and he deserved so much more from life. I’m proud he was my father, I just hope he knew that. I loved the man and I’m sure he knew that, so perhaps I wasn’t as big a failure as I fear. I just wish I knew for sure.

 

 

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It happened yesterday

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Ten years ago today, My father died. A number of years that not that long ago would have seemed incomprehensible.  The expression is cliche: It seems like yesterday and so long ago at the same time. Cliches are overused for a reason: they lack original thought, because so many people experience what they convey.

I know you, dear reader, know and understand what I mean when I express to you I can still viscerally feel that last time I kissed him, held his hand and told him I would see him on Monday. It happened yesterday.

I had told him only the day before that I would see him on Monday; I didn’t know he wouldn’t live another 24-hours never mind the 48-hours Monday assumed.  On that Sunday, I had gone out with my father in law on a deep sea fishing trip we received for Fathers’ Day. My sister messaged me and told me Dad really wasn’t feeling well and can I come by today.  Later, while on my way there, I asked her if I could get him some coffee. I can still feel the blood empty from my face when I learned he was gone. That happened yesterday.

I stopped and bought him a coffee anyway. Black, two sugar. The man loved his coffee and he ought to have one last cup with his kids before his journey. I bought a coffee for my sister and one for me, and we shared them while we awaited clergy and the ambulance. I silently reflected with regret for not having been there sooner, for not having spent more time, for a whole host of short-comings as a son while the Priest granted blessings upon him. I saw his lifeless body slumped in his chair almost as though he were sleeping – I’d seen him “rest his eyes” while sitting in his chair so often over the course of my life, but never once imagined I was being conditioned to witness this moment. So clear it’s as though it happened yesterday.

Then there was my sister. She kept it together, until the Medical Examiner’s office came and packed him up. Out of her living room, they wheeled a sealed plastic body bag out on a two-wheeler, and she lost it. Fell apart. That was the moment of permanence to her, even though she sat with him as he felt his eyes become infinitely too heavy to keep open and slipped out of this life. She sat with him as his blood finally became too toxic for his heart to continue pushing through his body. It was to her he spoke his last words. It was only seeing him as the outside world now saw him that she lost it. I’m quite sure that were I to ask her, she would say that it could easily have been 10 hours ago.

Coming home was a long, hollow drive. Alone with my thoughts. That empty feeling of suddenly being quite alone in the world, that the one person to whom I meant the world was no longer. The fogginess of my thoughts and emotions of that drive home still has no equal in my life; I should be thankful, grateful for that and yet, as I write I’m sobbing as though it really did just happen yesterday.

I remember lying in bed, looking at the ceiling. Emotionally drained and empty. We all knew this moment, this day would come sooner than later, and yet when it arrived there was literally no way to steel myself. Like knowing a lava floe was coming and all you can do is stand there and take it. He knew it. I was with him at the hospital when the doctor told him that the transfusions were becoming less effective – that his body was losing white blood cells faster than they could replace them. I was with him when he told the doctor that he wanted to stop the transfusions because he was using resources better used by someone whose body wasn’t failing in the way his was. I was there when she told him that decision was “not compatible with life.” He knew what his choice was, he knew and still abided. Either way it was a matter of time, but his way meant sooner rather than later. I lay in bed thinking about that before at some point drifting into some degree of sleep. Sad. Empty. Drained. Knowing that the next day held telling my kids that Papa had died.

All of that seems so real and raw. All of that was ten years ago today. All of that could have been yesterday.

XLVII: Random to Semi Perfect

Image result for number 47The number 47 is something called a “safe prime” number.  Now, being a social science guy myself, I really can’t wrap my mind around the “safe prime” definition, other than to say it has something to do with other prime numbers – 2p+1 – and that its useful for cryptography.  How? I cannot say.  I’m just leaving it at “it’s a thing” and moving on.  In some circles, it’s regarded as the quintessential random number – apparently when asked to pick a number at random, 47 is the most likely one picked.  That’s a concept I can more readily accept, perhaps because it’s decidedly a social science study about people and less about the inherent value of the number itself.

And hence the rationale for the post.  Today is the last day of my 47th year.  It’s been an interesting year, one in which I challenged myself to bigger things. I demonstrated endurance and, to a lesser extent, resilience.  I screwed some things up wildly. I did other things very well.  Much like the “random number” that 47 is, Mo at 47 was a bit of a mixed bag. It definitely wasn’t “safe.”

I took some calculated chances this past year and tried some things I wasn’t sure I could complete.  I completed some, failed at others.  I think I was a better friend this past year than I have been in the past, I hope I have been a better parent and partner.  I try to be the best me I can, but I fail at that sometimes.

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The Flag of New Mexico

New Mexico became the 47th state in January 1912, about 9 months before the Red Sox beat the New York Giants in the World Series. That’s relevant because ’47 brands designs some of my favorite Sox lids; Recently acquired starting pitcher Tyler Thornberg currently wears the typically un-baseball number 47 for the Sox.  Alas, they’re not playing this time of year; The Patriots are, however, and little known rookie Jacob Hollister, a Tight End, wears 47 for the Pats.  Over the last two decades, it has been a not uncommon feature of my birthday to get Patriots gear – 8 times since my birthday in 2002 I’ve gotten AFC Champion or Patriots Super Bowl gear.  It’s mind boggling, and as a fan I love it.  I know it’s not common and I cherish every time it happens because you never know when or if it will happen again.  The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII (47) after having knocked off the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, which was a drag.

We took a trip I never expected to take this past year – a week in Italy.  It was an amazing experience, and I’m so thankful for having had the opportunity.  A week in an ancient mountainside castle in Umbria with amazing views; we spent Easter Sunday in Assisi. We drove the Italian countryside, visited a vineyard and made our own Italian dinner.  You never know when or if that will happen again; if it happens to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me, it will absolutely be one of my favorite memories.

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Umbria, Italy. As an aside, I also got my only international traffic violation while driving around the Coliseum on this trip.

Apparently, 47 is the new “Middle Age.” Apparently, according to this article, I can be expected to live to about 86.  While, that’s all well and good but that bit of information reminds me that I am on the clock…at least there would seem to be a little more time my clock.  I’ve made it farther than Alexander Hamilton who died at 47 years, 183 days (showing you shouldn’t play with guns), Jack Kerouac at age 47 223 days from complications of cirrhosis (kind of not a shock, really) and Francis Gary Powers at 47 years, 349 days when his U2 spy plane was shot down. The difference between those guys and me, though, is that while I’ve outlived them in terms of how many days on  the calendar I’ve been on the Earth, it’s hard to say I’ve “outlived” them in terms of how they lived.  We still talk about these guys no less than 49 years after the last one passed away. I’m pretty sure no one will be talking about me.  I still have some time to give back, but I am on the clock. Time to step it up.

It’s also harder to keep what you’ve gained.  I started exercising regularly at 45.  I’m not likely to ever be the fastest runner out there, but I have gained speed, I have gained strength. Now, comes the hard part: keeping it.  That’s part of what freaked me out when I was hurt a couple of times this past year – I was afraid I wouldn’t get it back.  I found that it was a lot harder to get back than I expected. This last time I’ve found it’s more difficult than it had previously been to lose some of the excess weight I had packed on.

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I’m also pretty far behind saving for retirement.  I can chalk that up to all kinds of things, but at the end of the day, I made choices.  So there are two choices now: sit around and hand-wring or do something more.  I’ve chosen to do more.

The last time I wrote an entry like this it was for year 38.  It was 9 years ago today to mark the passing of my 38 years, the year my father had passed away.  I can’t believe this July will mark 10-years – almost 20% of my life – that he’s been gone.  I miss that man and his influence more than I can say.   I don’t know that I ever adequately made sure he knew what he meant to me.  A significant regret, but I’ve come to find regret to be a powerful motivator to being a better person.  My hope is that I’ve become a better person in that time, and that the people close to me know what they mean to me.  That’s a regret I never want to have again.

I very clearly have a lot to work on and a lot to look forward to in the coming year.  And perhaps that’s the key: giving yourself the opportunity to be proficient while building additional capacity.  In a sense then its good I’m headlong into middle age, in theory I’ve got some time to figure out that which I haven’t figured out and to learn what I don’t already know.  Who knows where year 48 will take me, but I feel like I’ve given myself the opportunity to make something good and different from it.    48 is what’s called a “semi-perfect” number, a number equal to the sum of all or some of its proper divisors. In way, then, it’s fitting I find myself at this place in life. Not quite perfect, room for improvement, but not wholly imperfect either.

Here’s to what 47 was and to what 48 will be.

Puzzles and Time Travel: 3 Minutes with the Class of 2021.

I’ve not only been honored to be elected to my community’s school committee, I’ve been honored to have been elected by that committee to be it’s vice-chair.  By the time they were my age, both John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton were President of the United States, and I’m pretty sure Barack Obama was running for said office when he was my age if not already President.  In other words, I’m not putting on airs that School Committee is the be all end off of public life or of  honors.

I can’t imagine running for nor serving in another capacity than this.

As part of my role as Vice Chair, it’s my responsibility to act as counter balance to the chair.  Where he delivers the School Committee address to our graduating seniors, the Vice Chair addresses the 8th Graders moving up to High School.

As such, I’ve struggled with what I’m to say for several (read here, approximately 48) weeks, but I’ve finally put together the message I’m delivering our 8th graders…the purpose of this post is to share it with you.

It begins thus:

A few weeks ago, the class of 2017 graduated high school.  The class president’s speech drew an allusion to the class members as puzzle pieces, having spent their school career coming together as one, all held tightly together by each other, ultimately now to come apart to discover how they could now join other puzzles

Graduation is a time of reflection back on the previous four years with gratitude, with fondness   perhaps and with accomplishment:  “You’ve done it!” “A job well done.”  “Onward and upward to better things.”

Today, you’re taking the first step toward that day. Four years from now, you’ll be looking back at this day and all the days between.

You have before you the opportunity to build great things, achieve great things, learn great things, and most importantly become the full expression of your potential.

THIS  is the day you start that narrative, THIS is the day you start the work you will be celebrating on a June evening four years from now.

As Vice Chair of our School Committee, my job here today is to welcome you to  High School, and that I do.   There will be opportunity here that you have only thought about.

  • If you see the opportunity to fill need, be a leader and fill it.
  • If you see the opportunity to participate, be a community member and join it.
  • If you see the opportunity to learn and experience new things, be the student you can be and learn it.

In the next four years, you will become adults.  You will emerge from this place different people than who you are now.  High School is an amazing, transformative experience where you will learn just how you fit together with others.

A puzzle is a great metaphor for the next four years – it’s not an easy or clear cut path finding out how the pieces come together, but eventually through trial and error, they do.  There will be fits and starts, missteps and times where the pieces just do not fit.  It can be messy.

But keep working at it.

It takes work to complete, and when it’s done   it’s truly a job well done.

Congratulations on the completion of your elementary and Middle school experiences.  Onward and upward to better things.  Take the opportunity in front of you – This is the day the puzzle begins to come together for the class of 2021.

Lessons Along the Path

Intellectually, we all know our lives have a path along which we must travel.  The length of that path is undetermined, and often we’re not sure where it leads.  There are many inflection points, opportunities to course correct, and fellow travelers to influence and to be influenced by.  Perhaps most profoundly, though, is the thought that we travel these paths without knowing how the journey will end.

Perhaps it comes via our choice of direction, perhaps just by circumstance, or it’s set in motion the day we’re born.  Perhaps it’s that lack of knowledge that allows most of us to continue along our way, blissfully unaware where and when our travel ends, when we become one with time.

The longer I’m on my journey, the more comfortable I am with the idea that it’s short and by necessity the closer I am to its end.  By saying I’m more comfortable I am decidedly not saying that I am comfortable, just moreso.  I get it intellectually and I resolve to do better to reach the end without regrets…but yet I continue to do things and fail to do things that would help me come to a place without regret.

I don’t tell the people I love how I feel nearly enough.  I don’t make the time to connect with the people in my life often enough.  I allow grievances and irritations to get in the way and let myself more fully express negative emotions rather than more fully expressing positive ones.  It becomes so easy to let the time pass instead of doing the work of maintaining those relationships.

Today, I mourn the loss of a colleague and friend.  Some weeks ago she had a cold or the flu that she just couldn’t shake, only to find she had Leukemia. Where only a few months ago, she was watching her young daughter grow up, mourning the loss of a beloved dog, basically living her life, today we’re mourning her passing on.  Never in her wildest imagination did she even for a second consider that  anything other than a particularly virulent strain of the flu was causing it to linger.

I’m of course sad for her family, especially “her little” who will now grow up with only memories of her mom – a truly sad proposition on its face, made even moreso knowing what a wonderful person her mom was  – but I’m sad for my loss of opportunity to check in with her just to say “hi” and “you’re on my mind today.”

I just started to write that it’s almost as if we (I) have become emotionally lazy, making friends and just assuming they’re always there.  There’s no work at all in curating a Facebook feed.  Everyone you meet is now your “friend,” all with the same relative ranking of “friend.”  But it’s not “almost as if.” Lazy is exactly what it is.  I know I have become increasingly lazy about putting in the work of maintaining my friendships and other relationships.  It occurs to me that I’m rarely the one who reaches out at some random point and time to make a call.

So while I’ve become much better at setting goals, it’s now completely clear to me that I’ve neglected to make developing, enhancing, maintaining friendships/relationships a goal.  I’ve not demonstrated to the people in my life that they’re important to me, and thus making it increasingly likely that someone will come to the end of their path with regrets.  If I were to reach my journey’s end today, there wold be plenty of regret to be had.  I’m not willing to let that go unchecked; I have to do better.

Today, Shannon’s family replete with grief sets forth to plan the details of saying goodbye, something just a few short weeks ago would have been unthinkable.  I’m sorry I didn’t make more time to give her a call.  We just don’t know how long or short that path is, yet we pretend it goes as far as the eye can see and allow ourselves to be lazy about the things that matter most.

She made the world a better place, I want to be sure to honor that memory by letting other people know that my world is a better place because they’re a part of it.  This should be a simple goal, but I suspect it’s going to take a lot more work than anything else I’ve set forth to do yet.  Simple is not always easy.  That’s why it’s important to keep working toward it.

2016 The Year In The Rearview

Be sure to be thankful for the past year.

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Lemmy From Billboard.com

One of my all time music idols passed away last December 28 – Lemmy Kilmister passed away from an aggressive form of cancer days after having been diagnosed.  2016 was not  to be an auspicious year on that front: David Bowie, Maurice White, Prince, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake.  Just a tough year for the classics…and some of the names of my childhood.

The most bizarre Presidential election cycle of my lifetime came to a close in November…in the most unlikely ways.  I’m still letting the phrase “President-elect Trump” sink in.  He may well be President before I can swallow that phrase.

The mother of one of my oldest and dearest friends succumbed to the cancer that she had willed at bay.

As we close the year, I’m anticipating the flood of “So long 2016…” and “may 2017 suck less than 2016” posts all over social media.  With all of this, by and large, 2016 has been an amazing year for me. I learned some things about the power of goals and endurance.  I learned some things about humility and being willing to step out of my comfort zone and try something different.

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2016, a year of goals

On January 2, I set out amongst the snow and slush, making my way on an 18-mile round trip walk to a nearby dam. It took me a little more than 4-hours to make the trip.  Tired and exhausted, it was awesome. It also helped set the stage for more than a few workouts this year – up and down the stairs, along the trails came to be known as the “Pain Cave” in my strange little circle of compatriots.

I began with a goal of 50 Obstacle Course races by age 50 – something I may still strive toward, as that’s my real passion and interest – but my short list of a handful of races, eventually became a goal of 46 races for my 46 years.  I honestly had no idea how low I had set my target and why would I?

On February 13, I ran the first race of the year; a 5k in 17-degree weather.  A couple of weeks later, I jumped into a pool of ice water to raise money for a kids’ camp.

It wasn’t until May that I dared try anything longer than a 5k – although the day before I ran 2 5k races – and it was kind of important that I do that because somewhere along the line I had joined a Ragnar Relay team and I had never run more than a 5k at one time.  I guessed at a 10k pace time for Ragnar, and tried to match it a couple of weeks before hand.  I did well enough – not great, but well enough – that I agreed to take on a longer set of legs for the relay, and I’m glad I did.

328 racing miles on the year.  I did so much more than I ever could have imagined.  Ragnar.  Ragnar Trail. Killington Spartan Beast.  A half-marathon.  11-races in July.  An overnight marathon relay so far into the New Hampshire darkness I saw the International Space Station traverse the sky.  I met some really cool folks.  I made stronger connections with old friends.  I ran 4 races with my daughter.  I either lost 20 pounds and gained 5 or lost 15 – I prefer to think of it as having lost 15.

Completed the #22Kill Challenge, did “The Murph,” a round of T25 and of “Insanity.” Lots of stuff going on for a pudgy, middle aged guy.

Interestingly enough, that icewater fundraiser I mentioned earlier, set the stage for another key aspect of the year for me: we gave more to charity this year than we ever have, and over a wide breadth of causes.  We had international guests for 2-months this summer; what an amazing experience. We welcomed yet another dog into our home – but this time we swear, no more.

So, 2016 didn’t see us get suddenly wealthy or even progressively so.  BUT it sees us through together, healthy.  Our bills are paid.  My daughter has completed her college studies a semester early and will be going to Europe for a couple of months in celebration.

Before complaining about how crummy 2016 was to you, maybe take some time and think about all the ways 2016 was pretty good to you.  365.25 days can’t all be bad.  I can’t wait to see what 2017 has waiting; I’m ready to go.  Happy New Year my friends.

Some Stats:

9 Pairs of sneakers

  1. Reebok (3)
  2. New Balance (3)
  3. North Face (1)
  4. Asics (1)
  5. Saucony (1)

66 Races (9 Obstacle Courses)
64:33:24 Hours:Minutes:Seconds Racing
Raced in 5 States (MA, NH, CT, RI, VT); Ran in  9 (NY, NJ, NC, FL)

 

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 23

75th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg

Last night the Chicago Cubs erased a 108-year championship drought in the 10th inning of game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland.  This effectively passed the torch of longest active championship droughts from the 1908 Chicago Cubs to the 1948 Cleveland Indians.

Just 5 years after the Cubs last World title, there was a gathering of Civil War veterans at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 50th Anniversary of the battle.  There was consternation as to what may transpire when the some 53,000 veterans of the war – now aged men – from 46 states came together to mark the occasion.  However, according to the event’s Wikipedia page: “the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”

Twenty-five years later, there was one final reunion in 1938 for the 75th Anniversary of the battle.  My dad was a 7-year old boy.  I let that sink in from time to time; that my father was a little boy at a time civil war veterans – however few – still carried with them a time when the fate of this country was less than secure.

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 On July 6,  John W. Cooper (91), a Confederate veteran of Largo FL., and Union veteran Daniel T. Price (91), of Marion, IN., and David T. Weaver (95), a Confederate veteran of Muldrow, OK passed away at a local hospital. photo from newspapers.com. Veterans’ stories from civilwartalk.com

The ensuing 25-years reduced the number of gathered civil war veterans from 53,000 to  about 2000. In 1913 there were about 8000 Confederate soldiers in attendance now there was an estimated 8000 total living veterans of the war – only about 70 gathered had actually fought at the battle of Gettysburg.

The veterans average age was 94 and they began arriving June 29 in 12 special Pullman trains.  Not on veteran died en route to the gathering, but two or three died before the celebration closed and five more passed away making their way home. It was apparently important for them to be there, at that place, one last time.

And this gets me to my point: it’s important to us as human beings to share experiences with others, it’s important to us to have goals and to have a meaning beyond ourselves.  It was somehow spiritually important to these men 50-years after fighting each other to come together and recognize the nation that remained.  It was important to share this common bond with others, even those who were on the opposite side of the conflict, and it was more important to share it than it was to have been on the victorious side.  It was more important to come together than to be “right.” 2000 veterans of 8000 still living – that’s a commitment beyond oneself.  90-year old men coming together for closure and for the historic record.  Above all, the healing for the good of the county – just one more time. For me, this event stands for the proposition that despite differences, despite having faced each other in anger, several times over the course of that 75 year period, these men gathered together to reflect on their service to their respective armies, and to bond together as brothers once again.  Time sometimes does heal old wounds, but the desire has to be there – as it was here.

It’s important to take those steps while you can.  By the end of August 1956, 7-champions after the Cleveland Indians had last won the World Series, the last of the civil war veterans had passed on: the last verifiable Confederate, Pleasant Crump, passed away on the last day of 1951, and the last surviving Union soldier Albert Woolson passed away August 2, 1956.