Amicus Brief

I’ve been thinking about friendship, particularly since Jack and Gregg commented about the desire to call a group of friends together after this COVID isolation. Friendship — The ancient Greeks had a name for it: Philia – and they held it separate from affection of other sorts: Storge: nurturing love given to children and those dependent upon you; Eros: erotic, sensual love; and Agape: transcendent, spiritual love.

Taken to a deeper dive, Aristotle declared there were three types of friendship: a) utilitarian friendship based on mutual help, b) friendships that involve activity around mutual pleasure or interests – Birds of a Feather friends, and c) friendships built on mutual respect and admiration: shared principles and goals. I wonder if such strict separation is necessary – doesn’t friendship include some or all of those aspects at different times? Maybe Aristotle was off the mark — he also believed that women had less teeth than men. So who is a reliable authority on friendship?

Well, it may be anthropologist Robin Dunbar. His research indicates that the average human has an upper limit on the number of friends that can be maintained. This number tends to be around 150 individuals – and only includes those folks who you know, and in return, know you. This number is widely known as the Dunbar Number. For the purposes of his research, ‘friends’ are defined as “… people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” I suppose that would corral everyone in Aristotle’s a, b, and c – and for some individuals it could substantially increase that upper limit.

Now Dunbar went a bit further. He hypothesized that the energy needed to maintain a friend network of 150 must necessarily cause a person to do some ‘social layering’, that is, to group certain players according to the level of intimacy. The research generally supported the conclusion that one individual usually has an inner circle of five buddies, followed by a grouping of ten mates, then thirty-five old faithful’s, and lastly, the centurion pack of 100 friendly relationships.

Hmm… how many friends were in the Rat Pack? I recall it was Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop. There are other notable quintets: the Jackson Five, the Dave Clark Five, the Spice Girls, the Scooby doo gang, and the Cincinnati Gang of Five. Maybe Dunbar is right? But wait, I guess that if you have five people in your BFF chain, then it is really a sextet, counting yourself. Then Dunbar has to be right, because the cast of Friends included Rachel, Monica, Ross, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey. Now this is all very difficult to square with the Four Musketeers and Ocean’s Eleven (or twelve, or eight). And what is Rocky VII all about? Very confusing.

Now, I’ve maintained that friends are like asteroids (as opposed to hemorrhoids). There might be 150 of us that kinda fly in the same orbit, tumbling through space/time; sometimes together; sometimes at distance. But more importantly, friends are asymmetric. Each has striking features, majestic promontories and smooth plains. But there are parts of an asteroid that are generally not observed, aspects that are inhospitable, perhaps icy or rough terrain. However, we find some mutually attractive gravity which helps pulls us closer; we celebrate the beauty and help each other maintain stable flight. After all, we are only small entities flying around in a large cosmos. Together we have greater mass … and there is shared laughter in the universe.

And of course, laughter is the key – at our foibles and misadventures; at enjoyment of successes; and mutual discovery of hope after disconsolation. C. S. Lewis wrote this about the joy of friendship and it still rings true:

 “He is lucky… to be in such company [of friends]. Especially, when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us [or six?] after a hard day’s walking have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens up itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life – natural life – has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”

Friendship, Friendship, Just the Perfect Blendship…

Friend-  the Miriam Webster Abridged dictionary defines friend as “a person one likes.” I don’t buy it, well I did cause it is on my shelf, but what if that person doesn’t like you back? Is that person your friend because you like him/her even if it isn’t reciprocal?   I think the definition of friend is flexible and evolutionary and varies as one ages (or should I say matures?)

As little kids your friends were whoever was out in the street playing ball, especially the kid who owned the ball! Now he was your friend… there were always kids playing in the street when I was growing up.  Our block had probably 20 or so kids of all ages.  You knew them all as well as their parents because you would go ring the doorbell and ask Mrs. Jones politely and respectively if  Johnny could come out and play.  Occasionally there was a kid from the next block who ambled in to join us which was good cause it evened up the sides. 

Then came junior high and we stopped playing in the streets and started listening to music and going to dances and  instead of friends you were part of a clique, and playing in the street was replaced by going to parties in people’s basement on the weekends and hanging out on the phone.  High school brought changes too.  You were part of a group now-  there were the preppies and the hippies and the hoods.  But it was the first time I had a friend who I would confide in and tell serious stuff to. Things were maturing as we were! You’d tell these people about your secrets, girls you liked, things you were mad at your parents about—and relationships were becoming more precisely defined and specific.  You had friends who shared your interests, and friends who you shared your fears with. 

College was when deep friendships developed for me. Feeling things I never felt before toward people developed. Long talks, and confidential sharing  of who we were, cemented these connections.  And then graduation and a whole new world comes at you.  Previous relationships became a little distant as we geographically separated and the focus changed to professional pursuits knowing that if the connections were strong enough those relationships would last through the expansion of locations and interests and ideas.

All the while you never took the time to appreciate  what these relationships provided you. But as the years pile up you begin to value the connections you made and continue to make in a way you never appreciated before. Through your professional lives you accumulate people into your circle, and then they start to retire and once again you are re evaluating, encircling those people who have contributed to your life.  You re-connect with people who were important to you, kids from the street all grown up, teenagers from junior and senior high school, who are in the same boat as you and also reaching out. And as a senior citizen, all of a sudden you finally realize what you have been working toward your whole life. The people who you still call friends know so much about you, share your secrets and your desires and are willing to be there for you!

I am a lucky man. My high school friend is still my dear friend.  She knows a lot about me  and my family that no one else knows. The painful secrets we shared are still confidential but the burden is gone cause it was shared.  The college friends who reconnect at a reunion 50 years later and decide to write a blog reconnect with ease and grow more connected than before. The new friends you met after retirement with common interests brought you together add to your wealth.  Finally you realize the real value of friendship.  The importance knowing there are people out there who care and have your back if needed, is the currency that friends trade in.  It means so much more than anything measured in dollars!  A wise old man once said that a friend is someone who will listen when you need to talk! That wise old man was not Aristotle, nor Galileo nor Zorba the Greek—— it was me!

On Being a Friend

Wal returns to the subject of friendship.  And while we have written about it before, it is indeed, a topic with multiple facets and ever-changing impacts.  I agree with Wal that even though Aristotle categorizes several types of friends, when we’re in a relationship with them, it’s not clear-cut and, I might add, the overlap often enhances the original interest in the friendship.

George challenges the notion that friendship can be a one-way street and talks about the benefits gained by both parties.  This concept is grounded in most of my experiences and makes perfect sense.  Yet, I was in a very close friendship with someone for over thirty years and even though he ended the relationship, I still refer to him as friend.  He was and always will be my friend, even though I am no longer his.  Semantics, perhaps, but friendship often elicits strong emotions and, for me, emotions often determine the status of a relationship.  George also ends with his definition of a friend that reminds me of both sides of friendship.

While we often give much thought to what we look for, desire, and expect in a friend I suspect it’s not as much as we give to being a friend.  I’m reminded of a book written by Dr. Gary Chapman  (author, speaker, counselor, and pastor) entitled, The Five Love Languages – (Quality time, Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Acts of service.)  The notion he puts forth is that of the five ways people often show their love for another, (I will substitute the word caring for the purpose of this post) we typically have one or two that we consider primary. In my case, I know which are most meaningful to me and I tend to give the same ones to those who I care about.

Of course that behavior makes the assumption that what matters to me, must matter to you.  What if, I really like someone and consider us to be friends.  Of course, I’ll want to be there for that person and to let them know that they matter to me.  And what if gifts and words of affirmation are what I need to know someone really cares about me and I give those selfless offerings to my friend who really wants quality time with me more than gifts or kind words?  Over my lifetime I can remember being confused by the lack of response and connection I was feeling from someone to whom I was being extremely caring.  And, the less they were moved by my generosity, the more I increased my efforts.  Duh!  Of course matters only got worse. All of this is to say, that being a good friend means understanding what the other person wants, not what I would want or even what I think they want, or worse, what I think they should want!  Sometimes, I even think to ask what they need from me during times of need or stress.  This is easy to write about but difficult for me to regularly remember when I’m with my friends.  I intuitively offer what I think is helpful, important, or supportive without stopping to think about what they need.  George talks about the importance of listening in a friendship.  I agree completely.  And, even though I might enter into a zoom meeting or a personal interaction with the intention of deeply listening and understanding before I speak, I find it hard not to jump in and even interrupt when I’m reminded of a related story or anecdote.  It’s easy to blame the reduced contact I’ve had with others throughout this pandemic but it still begs the question of how well am I listening and am I being a good friend?

Evolution of a Recluse

I have always loved to be around people.  Coming from a loud, touchy Italian family I rarely was alone.  Actually I disliked being alone and still do. My careers lent themselves to enabling me to be around people most of the time.  A class full of children or an innful of guests was what was comfortable for me.

After retiring from both I found myself for the first time in my adult life living alone.  But I filled my days and evenings meeting colleagues for lunch or dinner, and going out with friends in the evenings.  Shaking hands, hugging, a slap on the back helped me feel connected.  In my family, a regular conversation included touching at various points for emphasis or emotion. That was part of learning to speak.  All of this helps explain why I have had such difficulty with Covid 19 self distancing and the subsequent isolation it required.  At first it was just uncomfortable.  The touching, hugging, shaking hands was adjusted to a fist bump or elbow tap when accidentally I ran into someone. Awkward, it still provided human personal contact.  As the year progressed we all seemed to withdraw more and more into ourselves.  Loneliness crept in especially at night. From a social being I had become a recluse. From a social society we became a society of hermits. 

As the months of masking and isolating passed, I fell into a routine.  My house became my world.  One day just bled into the next and routine became inertia for me and loneliness slipped into depression.  All I wanted was to be with people again and it is still what I want!  What I need.

Then, last week, my daughter and I were going to pick up food and go to her house and watch a movie which we had been doing once a week for several months.  I looked forward to our movie nights.  But then something came over me.  All that day I was resisting the idea of going out. I didn’t even want to get dressed, the effort to get ready to go out seemed overwhelming.  Suddenly, I didn’t want to make the effort to go.  I just wanted to stay in my chair and watch TV. This was not like me.  The other contradiction I realized was that my house was a mess.  The dust was pretty thick, the newspapers were piled by the door to be recycled but never got into the bin in spite of all the time I had on my hands.    I have become the exact opposite of who I always thought I was. 

I’m smart enough to know depression can do this kind of stuff and believe once this pandemic has eased enough to go back to where we were last February, my Italian traditions and inclinations will return.  I like myself much better as a social insect rather than the spider who sits alone in its web waiting for its next solitary meal!  This too shall pass……..

Now, in an attempt to make this pass sooner, last week I was rummaging around in my basement trying to better organize it.  I stumbled upon (not really stumbled upon but forced myself to climb up on the cement shelf) boxes and boxes of my model railroad stuff.  I think I have mentioned before that that particular hobby was the only thing my brother, dad and I ever did together.  Every Christmas Dad would drag out the platform, claim half the living room floor and set up our Lionel Christmas village. The three of us would be crawling around on our knees arguing over whether the Plasticville church should go near the overhead trestle bridge or near the firehouse.  In an effort to feel a little close to them and as a definite distraction from inertia, I started opening up boxes and smiling at what was inside.  Later in my life I actually had a layout in my house in Woodstock, NY at which time I built structures from models and  from scratch. I built a model of every house I had ever lived in up to that point.  Though I have more exploration to do in those boxes I pulled out some very nice structure kits that got me excited and brought many of them upstairs to the dining room table- a perfect work space since I wasn’t doing any formal dinners at the moment.  Naturally, I had to go and buy some supplies as most of the paint and glue I had used some 25 years ago had pretty much dried up.  I now own a brand new Xacto knife set, multiple use brushes, glues of various varieties  and a plethora of acrylic paint bottles and am in the process of setting up my work space. 

Right now the resistance is… which kit to start first.  I remind myself that inertia is a strong force to be dealt with that requires fortitude to overcome and encouragement, mostly from the dog, to get at it.  That is my primary objective for this week…….to get at it!  I have promised myself that I will beat this inertia!  Could someone give me a little push please?  More to follow!

Nil Desperandum

Don’t despair, George – we’re here to nudge! I recognize the feelings you expressed. When you are under duress, the world gets smaller. A body at rest stays at rest… bits of your repertoire tend to disappear; motivation lags. It’s sort of a confinement syndrome.

The lovely aspect of people is that we are so adaptive. We can even get used to our Covid gulag. It’s easy to lose ambition in the process. 

I appreciate Hen’s point of engaging in a new project and taking satisfaction from projects undertaken. When I’m stuck, I break large problems into small packages. Even if it seems to take forever to overcome some of those issues, focusing on limited “wins” keeps me on the right road and helps me avoid becoming disoriented or overwhelmed. 

It’s important to keep on moving, physically and mentally, particularly at our stage of life. Lately, I’ve been more aware that there is limited time remaining for me to engage in activities that have been taken for granted up to now. That is what is so telling about our constrained period of social interaction during the time of COVID: it has stolen a precious year (and more) from our remaining time.

Even if the task is not something I prefer to do, I encourage myself by saying a prayer of thanks that I’m still able to do it. Small wins. Look for areas of enjoyment and set goals that support some measurable achievement.

And, of course, share your victories with your buddies! 

The Big Test

George captures the feelings of many as we sludge along this unknown path of living.  I expect, at times, we’ve all know what it feels like to be uncertain about our future or the outcome of a path chosen.  In my experience, this occurs infrequently and even more rarely when one or two of my network of supporting friends and family were also in the same boat.  However, as we move into year 2 of the pandemic, it feels like everyone is significantly impacted and in need and, to make matters worse, the timeline for managing it to a point of renewed stability keeps being pushed just beyond our reach.  Truly, we are, together, in uncharted waters.

I also have encountered evidence that I might not be as together and happy as I might think.  The other morning I found myself calmly pouring orange juice into my cereal bowl and, as I watched from what seemed to be another being, realized how long it took for my brain to realize I was in control of my hand and could stop at any point.  Yikes!  And then there was the time I texted a friend to wish her good luck on her upcoming workshop, knowing full well it wasn’t for three more days but simply responded to an incorrect reminder from my iPhone.  Duh!  Last, but certainly not least, is how quickly I can turn from a calm, easy-going mood into anger and upset over meaningless, even laughable triggers.  Yup, George, something is definitely out of whack!

To the rescue comes George’s project.  More than just a distraction from daily sameness, it stimulates old and new brain functions and brings back a purpose that results in joy and satisfaction.  Then, the next time we connect with friends via phone, Zoom, email, or in person at the supermarket, we can replace the distancing conversation of politics or COVID with something that is “new” and that brings an energy to our voice.  

I’ve found the time I’m spending with my GoPro camera learning everything from scratch and the continued culling of stuff I no longer need or want in my house, to offer the same effect.  I look forward to the progress I make each day as well as the related (yet unexpected) activities that spiral outward from this work.  It also lends credence to looking beyond to even bigger “new beginnings.”

As with all experiences, if I am able to step back and look at what I’m going through from afar, I get a more comprehensive perspective.  In this case, when I’m not caught up in the negative emotionality that isolation, sacrifice, and limited choice can bring, I recognize that this is just another test that life presents.  A query of how I can continue to appreciate what I have rather than what I’ve lost, to remember it’s temporary, no matter how long that may be, and to learn from these events so that I will emerge even better prepared for the next test.  So far, perhaps a “B” but hoping for, at least, a “B+.”

Putting Down Roots – Pulling Up Stakes

Extending the question of self-reflection from our last post, I wonder aloud if I’m still in the right place.

Putting down roots has been fairly clear and straightforward for me.  It took two years of weekends to find the place I now call home.  As soon as I stepped out of the car I was drawn to a nearby deer path that led down to the stream.  Before I set foot in the house, I knew this was where I wanted to live.  This was the place where I would grow old with my wife.  It was to be the place where family and friends visited often and stayed long.  It was the place to joyfully integrate with nature until my dying day.  And, despite an unexpected divorce, it remains a sanctuary for me as well as a retreat for friends and family and pets.

For nearly twenty-one years I have enjoyed this space.  It has healed me when I needed healing, provided joyful celebration when I wanted to celebrate, and has given me nurturance each and every day.  But with every choice for the many things that matter, comes an acceptance of not having all that matters.  And, it seems to me, as I move into this last season of my life that it may be time to exchange this space for one that gives me more access to those other things/people that matter – my children.  

As I seriously consider whether I still want to live out my days here or consider pulling up stakes and moving closer to my family I am both energized and anxious.  Do I leave what I know so well and what has given me so much, in search of being a more integral part of my children and grandchildren’s lives?  Leaving the comfort of what I know and starting over with a new home, new friends, and all the people and services associated with daily living is scary.  Being able to regularly spend time with family, meeting new people, and blazing new trails, is exciting!  

I’m a firm believer that given careful thought and ample time, whichever decision one makes, will work.  How well and for how long it works depends on keeping an open mind and trusting that we have the power to find happiness and fulfillment in all choices.  So, for now, I’ll explore my options by looking at the proverbial pros and cons, consult with family and close friends, and then decide.  I love where I live and I would love to be closer to my family.  Whichever I decide will be good.  

Leaps of Faith

Often major life changes are accompanied by tremendous leaps of faith.  As we go through life sometimes such changes are brought on through careful deliberation with the hope of improving our lives and sometimes they are thrust upon us.  Significant life changes like marriage, divorce, death in the family, moving, retirement and many other things- seen and unseen, can be very traumatic or wonderful and we strive to make the best of them.  In my life, perhaps the biggest life change occurred at the crossroads of several altering events.  I was in a new relationship, my kids had moved out and I was living alone in the big house, I was retiring at the end of the school year after 35 years in the classroom.  Retirement hung heavily around my neck as I pondered what I would do with the rest of my life.  Anyone of these events was stressful enough and combined it was overwhelming.  One day my partner asked if I would like to join him in following one of his dreams.  Since I had none of my own, I took that leap of faith and agreed to take on his dream as my own.  He had always wanted to own an inn!  I listed pros and cons, read up on innkeeping,  It would give us freedom to travel, visit our families, and be productive professionals.  After 35 years of teaching I defined myself as “teacher.”  It was as much a part of me as my name was.  After much deliberation and conversations I jumped in.  I put my house on the market, we contacted realtors who specialized in hospitality and for a year before my retirement we visited 30 or 40 properties all over the East Coast.

I had purchased 4 houses throughout my life and each time I knew the minute I walked into a place whether that was my new home.  Just a feeling I got, a sense of comfort and safety, and yes – style.  Every weekend during my last year of teaching we went looking at real estate.  My house sold quickly and I moved temporarily into an apartment.  One weekend we went to New Hampshire, the next to upstate, NY, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and in the first week of January we spent the weekend in Vermont.  We were pretty discouraged because the places we looked at were lacking mostly a nice place for the innkeepers to live.  We didn’t want to just live in a spare room that wasn’t rented out.  This particular Saturday, we had almost decided that we would give ourselves a break until spring if nothing materialized.  Our realtor took us to the beautiful community of Woodstock, Vermont and brought us to an old farmhouses, built in 1820.  It had been a 300 acre dairy farm but over the years the land was sold off and a small development off the main road was made into a nice neighborhood for about 10 families. The farm house sat right on the main road across from a babbling brook they called a river.  We met the innkeepers who were selling the place and they toured us through the building.  Great place, they had build an addition in 1985 for themselves, finally a place with owners’ quarters and each bedroom had a private bath   This was definitely a possibility.  As they were walking us up the stairs to the guest rooms I was struck by a familiar smell.  I didn’t recognize it at first but then I was thrust back in time to my grandfather’s house in Pennsylvania.  It was a sweet, country air kind of smell and that was it!  I knew this place was to be our inn.  We made an offer, it was accepted only after we stayed for dinner and met the entire family because they wanted to be sure we were the right buyers for their baby!  We all hit it off, they loved us, we loved them and sometime that night it sunk in… What the (expletive deleted)….am I doing?  And  here is where the biggest leap of faith I ever had to take kicked in.  What the hell did I know about running an inn?  I depended on my partner for knowing about the business end of it.  Are there reasons for people to stay here?  what kind of rates would we charge?  how do we handle unhappy guests……. that was his jurisdiction.  SO the remaining months of the school year dragged slowly by until closing over Memorial Day weekend.

Things were hectic for my last month of school ever.  I raced to Vermont every weekend, back to NY every Sunday.  We were learning the trade from the previous innkeepers.  She taught us her recipes, how to clean a bathroom, haw to take a reservation.  It was  un while she was still in charge..  The next leap of faith came after the closing and we were doing stuff to freshen up the place and put our touches on it.  We worked all day and well into the night painting the living room and hallway and staircase one Saturday.  It was a long day, and as it got dark we turned all the lights on in all the rooms so we could see what we were doing.  Just before midnight we were done.  We sighed with relief and went from room to room shutting off the lights and turning down the heat.  We collapsed into bed as I had to return to NY the next day for the last 2 weeks of school.  The next morning we got up and decided to go upstairs to see what the paint looked like in the daylight.  In Room 3, every light was on in the room and the heat was blasting.  I asked my partner if he had gone up during the night..  He hadn’t and I hadn’t.  Odd, yes but these things happen.  I returned home, finished the school year, had my retirement party and moved into the inn full time the next day.  We had a few guests and were learning the ropes.  David did the cooking, I did the cleaning, we both greeted and schmoozed with the guests.  I was cleaning Room 3 one day after a lovely couple left.  I Vacuumed, changed the linens and cleaned the bathroom.  I placed a nice wrapped bar of soap on the sink and a fragrant boxed soap in the shower, finished up and moved onto Room 4..  I had to go back to Room 3 to get the vacuum and noticed that the nice boxed soap was on the sink and the wrapped soap was in the shower.  Was it me?  Was I crazy?  The previous owner was also our Fed EX guy and he dropped off a package that afternoon.  I asked him if anything strange like that had ever happened to them.  He  said, “OH, you mean the presence?”  The presence?  And you are just telling us now?  He assured me the guy was friendly and mischievous.  By this point I was playing leap frog with my leap of faith.  To make a very long story short I grew to like Mr Kole (it had been the Kole Farm) as we were able to identify who he was.  Everyday when I cleaned his room I would talk to him.  He continued to switch soap bars for 15 years, Occasionally gave the guests foot massages in the middle of the night which led to great breakfast conversation, and became a part of the lure of our inn.  People came requesting that particular room.  The point is we took several leaps of faith and became very successful and had a wonderful span of 15 years.  I discovered that being an elementary school teacher and an innkeeper  used pretty much the same skill set. We were selected innkeepers of the Year in 2010 for the State of Vermont and I loved my life there.  Leaps of faith can be wonderful things if you believe in them.  Changes can be exciting life experiences.

Fast forward to Covid 19 and a major life change would be an exciting adventure.  Henry has some exciting times ahead. Right now the most exciting thing to happen to me is when the dog and I run to the window to see who is passing the house!

A Grand Adventure

Hen is not alone in contemplating a move and starting a new chapter in life. What a grand adventure! If you believe that ‘where you sit determines what you see’, then it’s a good practice to change your seat from time-to-time, if only to gain a new perspective. 

In practice, it’s not easy to walk away from an environment that you’ve worked hard to create – and all the memories that are linked to the bricks and mortar you touch every day. In my case, we’ve spent almost fifty years in our home – it was a starter home we never left. In truth, I have a love-hate relationship with my abode. I know we should have shifted gears long ago and left it behind. I guess grad school and work left me distracted… and even a five year stretch of commuting 200 miles a day should have been enough impetus to address a decision to move. But we didn’t and now the starter house fits us again, even as it ages along with us.

The house has a story which is only partially ours. We bought this place from Mr. K. who was 92 at that time. Quite a character. Mr. K. built the house while he was in his sixties for Caroline, whom he then married. A bit of a scoundrel, folklore has it that Mr. K. went afoul of the law for some type of fraud. I know that Mr. K. blackmailed his neighbors into buying some of his property – basically a drainage ditch – by telling them that he was allowing the fire company to install a siren there. People talk about him with a scowl which gradually turns into grudging admiration for his scheming ways. A character you love to hate.

He made his living as an itinerant carpenter and his houses were simple, but overbuilt. If you needed 10 nails to attach a board, Mr. K. used 20. Of course, if you didn’t have a board the right size, well any two pieces might work, even if one had been used as a cement form. He milled his own walnut wood to use as door trim, but left it plain and poorly joined. Not one with an eye for detail, Mr. K.

However, the main point is that I believe that Caroline saved Mr. K. She had long passed by the time we bought the house. He still grieved. Mr. K. cried when he showed us the bedroom where his wife died. Her touches around the house were evident by the old fashioned plantings around the property: bleeding heart, mock orange, honey suckle and lilacs were well established. I think her spirit still imbues the place. He picked up her deep faith and joined a fundamentalist church (many “Jesus Saves” reminders were pinned throughout the house and workshop). Of course, Mr. K. also enjoyed the attention from the church ladies who knew Caroline. 

Caroline’s bedroom is now the kitchen. Walls have been removed to provide a sense of more space in this small building. The structure is a one-and-a half storey cape: balloon construction. The downstairs is plaster over lath, but the second floor was done quickly with knotty pine and beaver board. And yes, Mr. K. actually rented the second floor as an apartment: a unit with kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bath accessible by a separate entrance. A very strange floor plan for a cape cod design.

I’ve spent years reworking the house: every window has changed, siding, decking, enlarged entry porch – all the services. You name it. Woodshed, chicken coops and dog house have bit the dust. The fieldstone barbeque Mr. K. built in the front yard is demolished – he’d be very unhappy about that, since he gathered all the river stone from the trout streams he fished. 

Unfortunately, all of those changes now need a version 3 renewal. Yikes, there are times when I feel like I’m yoked to Mr. K. toiling fruitlessly to further the project he started – and probably with the same limited skill set. Those are the times when I’d like to join Hen and look for a totally new experience! But Hen is a man of action – he will act on the decision that makes most sense. Me, I just like to dream!

Reflecting on a Lifetime

I have reflected back on my life at several different times.  Taking an honest look at yourself is scary and sometimes dangerous.  As a young kid I often wanted to be anybody else but me.  I saw my friends on the block and was envious for all kinds of reasons.  Stephen and Brian across the street had wealthy parents, Bruce up the block had cool parents, much younger than mine, Adele’s dad was a doctor and I could find a million reasons to be envious.  As I matured that envy morphed from wishing I were them into wishing I could be more like them. This one was 6 feet tall and athletic, this friend was kind and thoughtful.  I wanted to be more like them, a more realistic and mature approach than wishing I were them.

High school and college went by and I was comfortable for a long while pretending I was like everybody else but that pretense had a price attached to it.  I knew I was different  and thought I was the only one.  I pretended way up til my 40’s.  The toll it took was enormous and as the marriage fell apart once again I had to reflect, consider and accept the truth.  I came out at 46 after months of considering and  reflecting.  Knowing full well that if I came out it would have to be all the way out-  to friends, fellow workers, my school district, my kids and they would have to find out from me personally.  It was a tough time, consequences were difficult but surprisingly not overwhelming. Most people said they were wondering when I was going to tell them.  My best friend, over a drink at the Woodstock Pub, asked me when I was going to tell him about my alternative life style. So I did!

Reflecting has always been significant for me!  Just as an aside, to those people who think being gay is a life choice please let me assure you no one would CHOOSE a life style of pretense and denial if there was a choice! Honest!  People of my generation didn’t have a choice!

In spite of all this I have been fortunate.  I had two wonderful careers that I loved, a family to love, I traveled all over Europe, I have had a good life.  I always gave everything I had to my jobs and was rewarded for it.  For that I am truly grateful.  Fast forward 15 or so years and along comes Covid 19.  With so much time on my hands, another opportunity to reflect on my life has arisen. This time it is coming toward the end of my span and with new appreciation for what I have experienced and what I have become as well as with a realistic recognition of how this could be my very last reflection period.  

At this reflection point reality has imposed its heavy hand on an unedited evaluation of a life lived. No more self deception, no more rationalization, just pure and simple honesty.  And surprisingly I have learned some things about myself that surprised me.  As Wally and Henry will tell you, as can just about anyone who is close to me, I am a glass half empty kind of a guy.  That was self defense as a kid and served me well for years to cope with life. Breaking a life habit that was a shield for years is difficult.  But I don’t need that anymore.  I have to stop now before I react to anything and consider how I want to perceive things.  I indeed have a choice!   Yell at me if you catch me falling back.  Life is generally good and before Covid my life was comfortable and fun. I have also been quick to judge and not very forgiving but I have noticed in roads in these categories as well-  unless you hurt an animal or a child  and then you are dead meat to me. But probably the most unrecognizable feature I have noticed in me is patience.  I miss being with people in person.  I miss shaking hands, hugging, patting on the back, kissing on the cheek.  No Zoom meeting can replace that.  I miss sharing meals with friends, and I miss laughter.  LAUGHTER! Living alone I realize that sharing something amusing or comical with another person makes it funnier, and I guess that is true of a lot of things, like seeing a beautiful sunset, or a parade passing by with another person makes it more beautiful or more patriotic.  But what I realize now, is that I can wait for a better time when I once again can shake a hand, share a secret, giggle over some silly thing and the joy that it will bring me will be intensified because of the void we have been forced to experience.  I will be a better person for it….I will feel more compassion, more empathy, more alive because these things have been denied me for almost a year now. Reflecting is hard work!  It makes us accept our shortcomings and file away our accomplishments. Life will be so much richer when this is over!  Patience……

Could sure use a hug now!

2020 Hindsight

George challenged us to write about what we learned about ourselves in 2020 – and here I’ll include  the horrific events of Dec 37th.  Each of us wrote without seeing the others’ responses. It will be interesting to see if our thoughts intersect.

I worked at my son’s restaurant most of the year – thirty hours a week washing dishes and scouring pots and another six doing accounts payable/bookkeeping operations. Last year, via a dozen webinars, I learned to talk PPP, EIDL, and PPE grant language. From this experience, I determined that I have a strong aversion to filling out government forms – but that’s neither original nor meaningful.

Instead, I’d like to share three conclusions about myself that became clear during the time of COVID:

1. My color is now gray. Once, my color might have been wide-open blue or deep green the shade of the holly leaf. Gradually it had morphed into a warm chestnut brown – at times even a burnt orange. But now it’s gray. Johannes Itten, the Bauhouse color theorist, said that in equilibrium, our brains resolve the sum of all colors to gray. Gray is peaceful and soothing. 

This has been a tough year. While trying to keep a heartbeat going in our business, my wife Linda almost relinquished hers. We’ve lost more friends this year (although not to COVID) than would have been imagined. It’s almost as if this past year offered incentives to give up the ghost.

Now, entering a new year, I don’t feel isolated, lonely, or depressed; just beat-up. I need healing and the soothing power of gray.

2. I have stopped taking things for granted. This year banged hard on the reset button. COVID pressure per square inch has squirted excess emotion in unpredictable directions. Imagine people being murdered for requesting facemask usage; police stations burned; swarming the capital of the US. We’ve witnessed a storm surge of acting out. Not to mention that it was a bad year to be a statue.

It’s doubtful the social environment will simply revert to what it had been pre-COVID. Competing ideas always result in a new thought profile. Can’t un-ring the bell. That’s dialectic, baby! We synthesize and move on. Now is not a time to take anything for granted.

In a way, this is healthy. We have the freedom to rethink… which leads to my last conclusion.

3. I need to empty and refill my cup: The question is not whether the cup is half empty or half full – or even whether the cup is overflowing. The question is what is in the cup. I have come to appreciate that I have spent a lifetime both fashioning my cup and refining my drink. It’s time to analyze how I take nourishment.

My cup often contained a measure of anger and judgment when life didn’t offer me what I wanted. A dose of entitlement, preconditions, and control confused a clean aftertaste. While I won’t completely eliminate those ingredients, I intend to add a bit more acceptance, humor, love, and gratitude in the mix. I’m also looking for that small bottle of wonder that used to provide the high notes.

 In order to do this, I need to empty my cup, so that it may be filled once again.

Reflections During COVID-19 Restrictions

Many of us are living in the great “Pause.”  For me this means an interruption in the everyday, automatic, often, unconscious way of going about our daily lives.  George encouraged us to take advantage of this shift and to consider what we’ve learned about ourselves.

In some cases it is more of an affirmation of what I thought I knew about myself rather than a wide-eyed epiphany.  I’ve always loved spending time in nature, especially in the woods.  Given that I spent more time there this year than in my last ten years, I can verify that, yes indeed, I love the serenity, exercise, and fresh air it provides for me.  Encore!

I also reaffirmed how important family and good friends are to me.  It has given me the impetus to make time to be even closer to them.

I learned that I could do without much of what I thought was necessary and still be in a positive and often happy state of mind.  As I continue to discard items from my closets, basement, and garage, I realize that I no longer need what I felt was important.  Lightening the load helps me feel freer.

I’ve learned that more time at home provides me with opportunities for developing new habits.  I have gone from occasional grilling to preparing relatively sophisticated meals in ten months.  I went from finding any meal preparation a burden to looking forward to cooking dinner.  I’m surprised but happy to realize that I still have the capacity to make significant changes in my outlook on things I believed would never change.

I’ve also learned to develop a more critical eye when listening to the news.  The inherent bias of most major television news networks rings loud and clear. Having time to really listen and think about what was reported has given me some pause to consider whether I am as open as I thought I was.  Now that I can more easily separate out judgmental comments and derogatory remarks made by newscasters who promote my viewpoint, I can better monitor my own dialogue.

Finally, I can say that I’ve discovered my capacity for greater patience.  Now, I’m not saying I’m a patient man.  However, I am more patient than I was last year.  The question remains, will I maintain this more desired state, or will I relapse when the more rapid and busy pace of life returns? 

Overall I’ve learned that I can have a smile on my face and in my heart whether I’m out and about or in isolation.  So far, I’ve been able to accept what is and still be content.  Knowing that this is temporary helps.  I prefer to look at this year of pandemic restrictions as a test that I’ve been studying for my whole life.  Luckily, I’m the only one who decides how I did.  And then I can begin preparing for whatever next test comes along. 

It’s Time

We have been trying hard to turn the page of the calendar to a new year, but the bad karma of 2020 wants to linger. The unimaginable events of Dec 37 makes you wish we could skip ahead in time – or go back and change decisions. Usually, when I think about time, it’s from the vantage point of examining time as a commodity, as in, ‘wish there was more time for this or that’. Time usually seems in such short supply. Don’t you wish it could be mined and saved in a repository like a bitcoin?

What really is the nature of time? Can we suspend time, reverse it, or experience an alternate timeline? I don’t have the chops to figure this out — we need a quick trip to wiki! George is going to hate this, but I‘m going to need citations.

Reworked detail from the Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

There are a number of definitions that can be found on the web. Some take the easy way out: time is what is measured by a clock, and so forth. Others approach time as a fundamental quantity, experienced as a sequence of events. Hen sent George and me an article which defined life as change. Is change also the essence of time as well: Time = Change? Simon and Garfunkel sang about the “leaves that are green turn to brown” – is that a function of a life cycle – or simply time? Does life depend on the action of time? Some philosophers, including Anne Conway believe that. In the 17th century, she put forward a view that life cannot exist without time… and that time is change.

Stephen Hawking* wrote a book, A Brief History of Time. He concluded that the arrow of time only moves in one direction: forward. In fact, he identified three arrows of time:

  1. Psychological arrow: the inexorable flow of existence – a sequence of events
  2. Thermodynamic arrow: the sense that in a closed thermodynamic system, time is represented by things losing coherence or degrading; the entropy of green leaves turning to brown
  3. Cosmological arrow: time was only introduced at the big bang and is measured by the continued expansion of the universe. If that’s true, then time may not be infinite.

If time is not infinite, what happens when time ends? Could it be that there is an eternal ‘Now’? If life is change, can life exist in an eternal Now? A great deal of meditative discipline is devoted to the goal of being ‘present’ and attuned to the NOW. Where does Now exist? The 6th President of the US, John Quincy Adams, wrote in The Hour Glass:

“…Time was – Time shall be – drain the glass –

But where in Time is now?”

Heidegger used the term “Dasein”, meaning that while we are all in the present, we are simultaneously anticipating and planning for the future. And if you consider that technically, our nervous system has a built-in delay in reacting to stimuli, our ‘present’ is already an artifact of history. The Now balances on a knife-edge.

Not only is time a finite quality, according to physicists, time is also relative. Einstein described it as follows:

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”

Dr. E continued that time is affected by gravity, which can bend space-time and slow it down. That is why time proceeds faster at the top of the Eiffel tower, than at its base. Experiments are in process to physically slow time, as well as to measure its speed across quantum particles. These experiments are closely connected to properties of light. One such experiment recently measured the speed of light in zeptoseconds — one millionth of a second. This approach may change our lexicon:  “In a New York Zepto”, or ‘just a zepto, Honey, I’ll be right there’. This could put “one Mississippi” in a bad spot.

However, I’m more interested in the experience of time – Hawking’s psychological arrow. Mainly, I view it as island hopping – from memory to memory. There are no objective time distances among these memories: some old memories seem vivid and close by, while other more recent memories have faded. Research suggests reasons: heightened emotional states can alter a person’s perception of time passages. George wrote about this in an earlier post, As Time Goes By; that for him time is measured in events – not necessarily in a linear progression. He’s in the same line of thought as Heidegger, who felt that time can only be understood as events in the past and only from the perspective of a fixed lifespan. I’d agree that time is only experienced in the rear view mirror of memory. Because so many moments are simply repetitions of daily tasks, they are completed with little ‘present’ attention. So when we talk about ‘being present’, what does this mean to you?

*Funny anecdote about Hawking. He decided to prove time travel was impossible by hosting a time travel party, but sending invitations after the event. Since no one showed up, he jokingly “proved” that the arrow of time cannot be reversed.

Time, Time, Time is on my Side

I’m trying to think of a way to define time without using the word “time.”  I’m not smart enough.  It is a measurement of the passage of WHAT? I can tell what it is measured in-  seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, years, decades, centuries, eras, ions…..but that doesn’t help with the definition.


My perception of time is more based on experiences in my life. Time doesn’t appear to be a standard measurement.  An hour today is much shorter than it was in my youth.  A day used to be an eternity when I was in grade school but now it goes by so quickly that sometimes I feel I get up in the morning and the next thing I know I’m climbing back into bed.  I find it is variable from day to day.  Some days I can’t find enough time, or there’s all the time in the world and I can take time or I have time to give. Sometimes I’m ahead of time or it’s about time.  Time is very flexible and isn’t consistently the same unit.


Time can be evaluative.  I had a good time last night or I had a great time or even I had the time of my life!  OR, I wasted my time, I had a bad time , or I had the worst time ever!  When I evaluate my time I divide it into sections: childhood, college,  marriage, post marriage, retirement, future. I can evaluate each section. College and retirement are in the time of my life category.  Where other sections were good to great, and fluctuated therein. Fortunately, my bad times faded as good times replaced them. 


That’s another aspect of time-you can do things with it.  You can waste time, spend time, share time, you can even take time and even do things in timely fashion.  Time has a mind of its own.  It can lapse, drag, fly or be sensitive or even stand still, and sometimes it is even on my side, yes it is!  And time is even different from one species to another.  At the end of a year I am a year older but my dog is seven years older, whew!


I guess the point is we can’t live without time.  Try to count the number of times in a day you say the word TIME.  Sometimes you are referring to the scientific definition of time but more often used in different contexts: on time, in time, overtime, time and a half, once upon a time, time capsules, times up, yada, yada. OMG, I’ve had too much time on my hands!  It’s bedtime anyway…

On Time…

Wal has given me so much to think about in his presentation of time.  It seems, as we grow older that its passage gives us pause to reflect upon it more and more.

For me, it is no longer the commodity it once was.  Working full time took, well, lots of time.  As Wal mentions in his piece, there never seemed to be enough time.  Never enough time to get all the work done; to be an attentive parent/partner, or to adequately care for my emotional and physical health.  As I got older I slowly moved from wanting to “find” more time, to realizing I needed to “make” more time for the things that mattered most.  But still, there never was enough time.  But now, mostly retired, single, and easily enjoying my completely independent children, I have all the time I need.  Upon my retirement, I remember being asked by a colleague, what I’m doing differently with more time on my hands.  “I can now change a light-bulb as soon as it goes out!” I replied.  The hurried world I created in which every waking moment was accounted for, was no longer.

I like Wal’s comment regarding living in the now;  “Our present is already an artifact of history.”  I agree.  Now is only here for that Zeptosecond before it’s behind us.  However, can we not flow with the now?  Isn’t our quest for mindfulness and awareness staying with where we are for as long and often as we can?  The present always becomes the past but, not falling prey to thinking of what just past, can keep us one step ahead, in the present.

I had another thought about the notion Wal brings up from Heidegger’s explanation that time can only be understood as events in the past.  Does this preclude the impact anticipated time (imagined time in the future) can have on us in the present?  According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.  Perhaps the perception of time that hasn’t yet occurred but has had a measurable impact on one’s present life, can expand its understanding beyond past events.

As to the speed of time passing more rapidly for us when we’re older, some research suggests that over time the rate at which we process visual information slows down.  Thus, we end up interpreting less information than we did when we were kids.  As a result it feels like we get to the end of the day faster than we used to.  The March 2019 blog from Harvard University entitled:  No, Its Not Just You:  Why time “speeds up” as we get older, explains this in more detail.  I also remember reading that the more we remain habituated to our daily routines the more quickly we get to the end of our day.  But, if we seek to insert new and creative challenges into our lives, the more the brain has to consciously process and our days seem longer, time seems to slow down.

On a related note, I want to recommend a wonderful four-minute movie created by artist and musician, Prince Ea.  He puts time in perspective by overlapping the 4.5 billion years the Earth has been in existence with the approximately 140,000 years of mankind.  If we were to consolidate that into a 24-hour period, we will have been around for 3 seconds!  The video is entitled, “3 Seconds.”

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t include my relationship with being on time.  I never was.  I would usually leave for an appointment at the latest possible moment and then hope against hope that nothing would hinder or slow me down.  Life almost always does!  I was late for meetings and late picking up my children, and when I did arrive, I was usually stressed. One day, someone who also kept a calendar with a very busy schedule told me to write down the time to leave, so that I would arrive fifteen minutes early.  Problem solved!  I’m almost always where I need to be with time to spare and in a much more relaxed frame of mind.   

Questions for Reflection

One year ends, another begins.  

According to Wikipedia a New Year’s resolution:  “is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere, but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to continue good practices, change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve their life.”

While the intentions are sincere, more often than not, people find they are unable to sustain the quest to change and the resolution is dropped, reduced, or entirely forgotten.  As a result, it appears that people of my vintage no longer make promises to themselves. One T-shirt I recently saw captured this notion:  2021 – Eat, Sleep, Fail my New Year’s Resolution, Repeat! Another stated their goal simply and clearly:  First Rule of 2021 – Don’t Talk about 2020!  (Yeah, Good Luck!)

However, I like the idea of looking back over the year to consider what worked and what didn’t and then making a plan for moving forward.  Perhaps asking myself some questions might give me the foundation from which to be more successful in my commitment to change.

Question:  What do I want to get rid of?

I’m tired of feeling defeated, deflated, angry, and surprised when I expect life to be fair!  I’m tossing that out and replacing it with fairness as a preference but not an expectation.  If I can remember to chuckle or say, “Isn’t that interesting!” when something turns out unfairly, I might have a chance!

I’m concerned that my children will be forced to sort through all of my “stuff” when I’m gone.  I’m going through file drawers and basement shelves each week and am throwing out, recycling, and donating.  A secondary benefit of less clutter and more room is also appealing.

Question:  What do I want to do more of, less of, and keep the same?

I want to spend more time laughing.  I need to spend more time with people who are uplifting, sincere, energizing, and enjoy a sense of humor!  Applications are now being taken!  Grumps need not apply.

I want to feel more of the creative energy and sense of purpose I used to get from my work.  Recently, I had a conversation with my granddaughter about creating a video collection of daily, interesting experiences.  She is interested in working remotely with me on the artistic and editing end of it.  What a wonderful opportunity to kick off the New Year in a joint venture with Kylie!  Delicious!

I want to spend less time agreeing to situations that drain my energy.  Warning!  If I say no to you for something you may request, I’m really saying YES to me.  

I want to maintain the time I now spend communicating with my children.  (Due to COVID, we talk and FaceTime more than ever before!)  Amen!

Do you have an “end of year” question to suggest?

Nevermind!

Before addressing Henry’s questions let me preface this by saying that I always approached New Year’s Resolutions in the same way I gave up stuff for Lent.  As a kid I thought I was so clever giving up homework, peanut butter (which always made me gag), Brussel Sprouts, and the like as sacrifices for Lent.   If you are going to give something up, give up something you were supposed to do but hated doing!  Makes sense, right?  My resolutions were similar.  Mostly they were things I promised I wouldn’t do anymore in the new year.  And I would pick things I hated to do.  In the new year I am not going to make my bed cause I can use the time much more pleasantly, or I’m not going to clean the garage cause I have too much stuff to store in the house and it has go somewhere.  In general, I never thought of these things as ways to improve myself but rather ways to get out of doing stuff I hated.  That served me well as a young adult but alas I, too, had to grow up and with growing up comes the nagging nuisance thought of improving yourself, being responsible and mature. Acting like an adult can be very draining.  One last thought before answering these adult, mature, personal improvement questions is that Henry may not want me for a friend anymore because on my application form it will admit grumpiness is part of my make up!  Ggrrrrrr!

There’s a lot of stuff I want to rid my life of.  Definitely clutter.  For years I’ve collected things. Things that mean something to me but not to those near me.  What will happen to that all?  And that is stressful to think it will all wind up in the dump.  Stress!  The question is for a person who is a habitual stresser, what things could I do to reduce it.  I would prefer if it would just go away rather than my having to do something to cause it’s exit.  Drama, I have two kids so it is hard to eliminate drama which just leads to more stress!  Covid, I’m doing my part but not sure it is working to eliminate the disease which causes me more stress yet again.

There are things I’d like to do more of in 2021.  For years I was an avid model railroader.  It was the only thing my dad, brother and I ever did together.  I have collected mounds of paraphernalia- trains, structures, everything all neatly stored in my basement but the hobby has progressed technologically well beyond my capabilities.   I would love to set up a layout again and play with my trains.  I’d like to write more and make my voice heard.  I’d like to be the perfect dad ( wait, that takes real effort).  And I’d like to get some things accomplished at my house which requires organization, money, and planning, 3 more things I’m not very good at which just causes me more STRESS!

I am truly grateful for the relationship I have with my kids, I have friends who sustain me and actually tolerate my quirks and sense of humor, and I have a constant canine and 2 feline companions that have been with me throughout this entire Covid journey.  I am truly thankful for these things.  

So what do I resolve to do to improve ME in this coming year?  Wait a minute…..last  year I resolved not to make anymore New Year’s Resolutions this year!   Nevermind……

Best Foot Forward

I admire Hen – if he says it, he will do it. His goals for 2021 are bound to be achieved! On a less reliable note, here goes a shot at his very good questions:

Question:  What do I want to get rid of?

First, I share Hen’s desire to prefer life to be fair, but on the other hand I believe that we should continue to press for fairness as an expectation. If we all can imagine it and believe it, I suspect we can tip the scales to get closer to that end result. Sure, we will be disappointed now and again. However, keep in mind that fairness does not mean that there is always a happy ending – or even an ending, for that matter. I think of it as a never-ending thread in the warp and weft.

So what do I want to get rid of? Well, off to Hen’s second point: clutter. Now, if you have ever visited Hen, you realize that clutter is a relative concept. He is so neat and organized that I have a hard time picturing what he is sorting through. You want clutter – I’ll show you clutter!

Among other things, I hoard wood. Slabs, crotches, burls, spindles, blocks or all kinds. All air-drying for potential projects. Beautiful specimens of huge black cherry butt logs, walnut, flame box elder, osage orange, buckeye, kingwood, coyote wood — A to Zed: afzelia to ziracote. I am a wood ho’(arder). My aim is to clear out the excess wood under tarp and under roof and send it to Hen, so he really has something to sort through! Truly, I will reduce the dragon’s treasure of wood in 2021.

Question:  What do I want to do more of, less of, and keep the same?

More: 

  • Stay in touch: If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s not to take anything for granted. I’m not alone in losing – or almost losing – friends and dear ones. Strangely, only one loss was to COVID, but this season makes every loss more tangible. So, my desire is to stay in contact with those I care about and be more present and engaged. Left to my own devices, I would normally just stay busy and let the world pass by.
  • Continuing that thought: I tend to believe that while we all are the main characters in our own screenplay, sometimes we forget that at best, we are simply character actors in other people’s movies. In 2021, I’d like to do a better job of performing a supporting role in some wonderful stories.  
  • Creating: Linda and I find we are happiest when we are making things. I think for both of us, it’s a calling vs. a preference. Collaborating with my wife is a win-win! A must-do for 2021.
  • Last, I will work hard to attain an “attitude of gratitude” each day. Starting each morning, I will focus on three things for which to be grateful – and not the same three each morning. I won’t get out of bed until these are visualized.

Less:  (correspondingly, less elaboration)

  • Less time imagining every worst outcome. Boy, does that sap energy. 
  • As above, less time overly planning and constructing narrow definitions of success. Less time building mental labyrinths.
  • Less sedentary activity. Humans are meant to move.

Same:

  • See the humor in this existence. I can be intense at times, but the saving grace is always humor. Who could invent some of the situations in which we find ourselves enmeshed? Regarding many of today’s items of obsessive focus, I continue to ask myself, “Who will remember this in 50 years?” If the answer is ‘no one’, well then, ease up.
  • Stay in balance: life IS change – no two ways about it. We experience new terrain every day. When we walk on uneven ground, we shift our weight, juke left or right – but maintain our balance. There’s no telling what new contingencies will be introduced in 2021, but maintaining balance is the key.

Merry Griping

When Christmas and Covid intersect it brings out some strange feelings and reactions. Reflection usually is nostalgic for me.  Pleasant memories waft through my mind.   Smells carry me back to the warmth of grandparents and holidays and the intersection of both those things!  Favorite past times rush back and desire wells up inside me wondering why I stopped doing them. 

But the intersection of Christmas Blvd. and Covid Ave. bring up less reassuring feelings and I want to get things off my chest. Odd even for me at Christmas. Things are annoying me.  They crop up every year around this time and for probably 50 or so years I have stuffed them away but now I want to say them, get them off my chest.  Let me dive into my point….”Keep Christ in Christmas.”  We have all heard this or read it assuming that the X is a way of eliminating Christ from the most revered of Christian holidays and cheapening it.   Somewhere along the way I heard the derivation of Xmas and asked my friend Siri to tell me again.  She confirmed my belief that it does not remove Christ from his own birth!  It seems it was first used in the year 1021 by a scribe.  Back then, parchment was scarce and expensive and because the name Christ was written frequently he came up with a way to abbreviate it.  Greek was the language of the New Testament and X was the Greek letter “chi” which was the first letter in the Greek word for Christ.   The scribe used  X to stand for Christ.  So for a thousand plus years the X has been misunderstood and therefore Christ is in Xmas and in our hearts if we believe.

What about this so called war on Christmas?  Are you afraid to say, “Merry Christmas” or is it politically incorrect?  Hardly!  If I know someone celebrates Christmas I always say, “Merry Christmas.”  If I know they are Jewish I wish them a Happy Hanukkah.  If I don’t know their religious history I will say,  “Happy Holidays,” out of respect.  I remember years ago my parents would send out Christmas cards but to their non-Christian friends the term back then was, “Seasons Greetings.”  It was an acknowledgment of the fact that other people celebrate holidays different from our own.  Nothing political about it!  Respectful, thoughtful, all inclusive!

One last gripe.  For years as a school teacher I would hear how the public schools took prayer out of school and it had dire effects on education.  That, too, is a falsehood.  Prayer was not prohibited in school.  Just the open recitation of a prayer from one specific religion was done away with.  When I student taught my cooperating teacher made the class stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer. That was years after that practice had been abolished.  I wonder how the Jewish or Islamic kids in those classes felt reciting such a prayer.  Probably no different from the class standing and  reciting a Jewish or Islamic prayer would feel  to a Christian child.  I was never very religious but spiritual and prayed all the time in school.  I have to admit sometimes it was to please make the day be over quickly or even pray that tomorrow would be a snowday. I know that kids prayed at their seats when they were taking a test or as in my case in gym class that I wouldn’t get picked to be on a basketball team or something!  No one was ever told they couldn’t pray in school! EVER!  Ok, I’m praying now that I will regain my more positive feelings for Christmas now that I verbally regurgitated these long standing complaints.  

Incidentally I read somewhere that there are about 14 religious holidays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and so Happy Holidays doesn’t sound so bad!

Whatever holidays you celebrate this time of year may they be peaceful and enjoyable, happy or merry, but may they lead to a hell of a better new year!

War with the Newts

The first thought I had after reading George’s piece was: Here we go – War with the Newts. This is a dark satire written by Karel Capek just prior to WWII. In a nutshell, humans discover a breed of intelligent salamanders and the book highlights how our unique ability for quarrel and aggravation turns an opportunity into disaster.

There are whole industries based on whipping up contention. Aren’t you tired of the talking heads braying about real or manufactured issues, with less an eye toward solution, than toward retweets or ratings increase? I am. It’s time to give the drumbeat a rest. Let’s heal.

I view this time of year as an opportunity to celebrate the wonder of an existence that depends on faith, because we don’t have all the answers. In fact, I celebrate the faith journeys of any point of view that focuses on achieving harmony. If you focus on the joy, there’s less room for the gripe, Grinch — no Rant-a-Santa. 

It’s a question of balance. As a person following the Christian path, I embrace all the non-religious aspects of Christmastide. After all, it’s a great social occasion – and has had its ups and downs (check out History Channel’s Christmas Unwrapped: the History of Christmas).  Christmas, the holiday, fosters goodwill and generosity of spirit. Good things! Since Christmas has secular and commercial acceptance, some states have even pushed for resolutions renaming their Christmas trees ‘Holiday trees’.

However, since parchment is not an issue, I will still write out ‘Christmas’ and refer to our tree as a Christmas tree. It has nothing to do with Chi-Rho, or Constantine’s dream of military victory (i.e., “in hoc signo vinces”). Rather, it helps me focus on the fact that Christmas is a holy day, as well as a holiday. Shorthand ‘Xmas’ is what I associate with ‘XmasSale!!!’  It’s a preference to avoid a commercial connotation, nothing more.

In addition, I will share the joy of Christmas with my friends, who are diverse enough and nuanced enough to appreciate this is a special time and accept the greeting as it is meant.

Merry Christmas to All! 

Happy Holidays!

While I personally don’t find the challenges George raises as significant concerns, I do agree with his approach to greeting others during the holiday season.  Essentially, if you know what they celebrate, name it, if you don’t, wish them a happy holiday.  It feels respectful, inclusive, and thoughtful.  

As a child, I celebrated Chanukah.  And, while I lived in a neighborhood where fifty-seven of the sixty families celebrated Christmas, salutations of “Merry Christmas didn’t offend me.  However, when kids who knew I celebrated Chanukah, said Merry Christmas to me, I felt more ignored or dismissed than included.  And those who made a point of saying Happy Chanukah or Seasons Greetings gave me a recognition and a visibility that felt like it was okay to be different.  It was never a huge issue to me.  It was just learning how to cope when you are in the minority.

I appreciate the good will that abounds around this time of year.  Gifting lifts the spirits of both the giver and the receiver.  Greetings and smiles (although masked this year) and holiday music wrap me in a warm and joyful feeling.  I am thankful for all those who make an effort to bring a bit more joy and connection to their daily interactions and hope they feel the same from me.

I wish you all a most Joyful and Healthy Holiday and a very Happy New Year!

Words: A Prolegomenal Disquisition

English — you have to love it!  The title comes by way of WordGenius, a daily feed of words you never knew existed — and may never have a chance to use.

My high school English teacher used to encourage us to use “thousand dollar words” in order to expand our vocabulary. I still love to collect such words — they are fun!. Considering inflation, thousand dollar words in the 60’s are probably ‘hundred thousand dollar words’ today. Are they worth knowing — or using? Like rare stamps, some words are treasures, but not meant for the daily mail.

In fact, words can be temporal: usage waxing and waning — or in fact changing. For example, within 100 years the term ‘tory’ morphed from describing an Irish ‘bandit’ to describing a conservative member of parliament!  The popular use of slang, like carbon dating, can place a word squarely in a timeframe. Today’s lol was yesterday’s belly laugh. BTW, isn’t it time for lol to FITS (fade into the sunset)?

It’s no coincidence that groups of words are called passages — a conveyance for understanding. However, choice of words can create distance and draw more attention to the author than to the subject. A learned pastor — and excellent speaker — I know used to rail on about people who ‘bloviate’ and inserted the word frequently in sermons.  Whether you find this ironic or irenic will say a lot about your communication philosophy!

Yet at times, arcane words do fit the need. ‘Mellifluous’ sounds like what it is — and it’s easy off the tongue. Unfortunately ‘ratiocinate’ sounds like the starter is failing in your car. So, I must confess a bias: a preference for words with lots of vowels vs. the chitinous sound of consonants clicking together.

Words can speed progress or slow you down to a crawl — try again to read the fine print and boilerplate in legal documents. After reading hundreds of scholarly articles in professional life, I grew a bit tired of third person passive, densely packed language. It’s not that written discourse needs to be pointed to the lowest common denominator, it’s just that reading — and then rereading — passages seems inefficient. Lately, if I invest time in reading (or listening), I’d like to get to the point, particularly if the information appears useful. So, accessibility is key.

Accessibility is important, but so is precision. No one benefits by vague descriptions that declare people or efforts are “fantastic”, “beautiful”, or “nice” (or nasty). Some politicians prefer that type of 50,000 ft. explanation, but other than providing a blue or pink litmus test, what do you really learn? Descriptions long to be clothed elegantly!  Why are results ‘fantastic’, the person ‘nice’, the program “beautiful”?

If I were to give my grandchildren advice, it would be: choose your words to suit the subject, the audience, and the medium. Mutual understanding is the aim. Realize that words have their moment. Don’t be afraid to show off a special word, if it is a precise modifier — but a little goes a long way. Conversely, verbal shortcuts or initialisms may be a long-term trend, but consider the depth of information conveyed. Verbal shortcuts are your acquaintances, but your real friends are words that make your thoughts come alive.

Parting Words. Food for thought: what is the word you would most like to hear initially — and the last word you would like to hear? (Mine — for both — might be “welcome”). What’s yours?

The Spanish Disquisition

I must admit I had to reread Wally’s piece a second time with my dictionary just to figure out the title.  True confession…my title has nothing to do with what I am writing.  Just a play on words.  Words have always been a favorite of mine.  I’m generally good with words, hmm…. does that mean I know a lot of them or perhaps I’m just kind to them when they are struggling?  Interesting conundrum!  Well at least to me it is.  To you it may be neither interesting nor a conundrum, if you catch my drift.  Drift being used in the slang sense,  not being pushed around by the wind. OMG I am very confused.  I have to clear my head- what the heck does that mean?  If I clear my head what happens to my nose and eyes?  Where do these expressions come from?


Words develop over time as Wally said.  Can you imagine George Washington telling Martha that Mt Vernon needs WiFi or tech support for their computers? So new words have to be invented as society progresses.  “Martha, you are interfering with my digital networking!  I’ll burn the garbage later!” 
Each day in my classroom for many years I would write a new word on the blackboard with its definition  before the kids arrived.   The kids knew they would get extra points if they used that word in their speech or writing that day.  “The Word of the Day” became popular and sometimes kids would bring in words for me to use.  


My brother and I growing up in Flushing  invented words for specific situations.  Goodhumerical, an adjective used to describe a hot summer day when a nice ice cream bar from the Good Humor truck was in order started our private word development.  He and I developed quite a few adjectives to describe many of our relatives.  “Nissengnat” was how we would refer to our uncle from the Bronx because he would always finish his sentences with the expression, “ and this and that….” but with his heavy Bronx accent it came out as, “And nis an nat.”  My brother used to tell me I was being cataclusional, when I would come to a cataclysmic conclusion as I usually did about most things.
So I too always thought of words as being fun.  And the combination of words into phrases even more enjoyable.  I’m feeling very scatter brained as I write this rejoinder today.  Does that mean parts of my brain have been scattered around my house? Maybe, like Maria, who the nuns couldn’t even deal with, I’m just a flibbertigibbet!  I have no idea where that word came from derivatively speaking!   Not sure how you speak derivatively but it just rolls off your tongue, actually made me giggle inside.  Sometimes I giggle outside but it was too cold this morning! 


Oh, I almost forgot.  Probably the first word I heard in my family was, “d’yu eat?” And that probably will be the last thing I hear as well!

On Words

I was immediately taken with the word knowledge and wit of my blogging partners.  They keep me on my toes and always in learning mode as I read their posts and listen to their stories.  This is yet another reason why I appreciate them and what they bring to my moments of thought and reflection.

For a period of time, words served me well.  Fortunate to have intelligent colleagues and family, critical friends, and a love of my work, I readily found the words I needed at the right time and delivered in the right tone.  Clearly I’m not, nor ever was a grammar maven.  I was adequate, at best.  Yet, as well as I can recollect, I was usually able to find just the right word or phrase to help express what I meant or to affirm what I heard.  It was critical to my sense of value and good work.  However, that capacity is now diminished and continues to decline as the years advance.  I feel the loss of words I can’t retrieve, shorter moments of clear focus, memory confusion, the list goes on.  I appreciate what I can do but am inexorably aware of what I do, less well.

Early in my career a student came to me at lunchtime and asked if I could help her.  She wanted to know why she didn’t have any friends and wanted to know what she could do about it.  She was bright, as cute as any of the girls in her class, and mostly upbeat.  And, she loved to talk.  She spoke of her vacations, her adventures after school, and about the books she read.  Together, we came to the understanding that perhaps one of the most important things people want is to be heard.  She agreed to practice spending less time talking about herself and more time listening, really listening, to the words of others in the hopes of making friends.  Later on, we formed a small group of students with similar needs and focused on using “words of connection” to help them address their needs.

I often think about what word to use to capture, with absolute precision, my feelings at a particular moment.  And while I know the feeling, I cannot find the words to do it justice.  You know, the feeling that is a bit more than one descriptor but a bit less of another.  Sometimes we find words in other languages that aren’t directly translatable and that seem to better convey what we mean.  They can be described in English but the native speaker will tell you there is no way to explain it accurately.  The Yiddish word Kvell, is defined as a state of being extremely proud.  Yet to me it’s more than that.  It is a feeling that comes from within that goes beyond pride.  It is like an act, a feeling, and a thought, intensely combined. 

Wal challenges us to identify a first and/or last word we find meaningful.  I choose delicious!  I often use that word beyond the context of how food tastes.  It’s how I sometimes feel about a morning walk, a loving friend, or a perfect moment.  Delicious!  I would also use Thank You!  Some days, I find myself so appreciative of what I have, where I am, and what I’m doing that I shout out, “Thank You!”  Most often only Duke hears it as it’s usually when I’m with him in nature but sometimes I do so with a trusted friend.  It’s an expression of gratitude to whomever or whatever in the universe might be listening.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Most of us desire to be in community – a place where people feel valued, accepted, and connected.  And, while communities are often founded around common goals and interests, they vary greatly in regards to their openness and collaboration with other communities and with society as a whole.  It appears that we are currently experiencing more entrenched attitudes and behaviors within and among these groups and fewer opportunities for open dialog toward the common good.

The “ends justify the means” seems like the present mode of operation by many groups.  And, while it may lead one collective or another to a temporary victory, is the long-term cost worth it?  In our righteous indignation and justification for winning at all costs, is the angst, corruption of our principles, and the constant attention we give to defensiveness and negativity how we want to live?

Even when we feel we have no other options, we are often avoiding the hard work of finding or creating alternatives.  Sometimes, rather than picking one side/approach or another, we can merge the two into an even more effective one.  Martin Luther King spoke at the 10th annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967 about two approaches that often provoked one choice, the path of love or the path of power.  His stance was that we couldn’t be effective without both.  Perhaps it’s time for us to reconsider where we stand and whether the communities we align with have the best interests of long-term goals and those of our children.

Is our community behaving in ways that illicit trust?  Do we act in ways the make it difficult for the other side to challenge our civility, dignity, and authenticity?  If we don’t because they don’t, how will we ever get there?

Where do we go from here?  Isn’t it up to each of us to decide how we act to bring about the future we want for our children and ourselves? And isn’t that future dependent on how we respond and embrace other communities?

Thoughts?

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

After reading my friend Henry’s blog post I have to confess I have been naughty this year, well these past 4 years.   You see I have had very strong political views that often crossed the “being appropriate” limits.  I was often angry, outraged even and vociferous in my expression of that outrage.  I said mean things on Facebook and listened to only one tv station news coverage- the one that I agreed with.

I always considered myself a reasonable, intelligent person.  But I just couldn’t accept imitating a handicapped journalist or calling people names based on their appearance or physical features.  In my heart I knew that was wrong but our leader was displaying this behavior publicly, snd I saw our interaction between people becoming caustic and aggressive.  Santa, I gave into those feelings I had and expressed them instead of trying to find common ground. 

We now have an elected leader who is trying to model appropriate behavior and I promise to follow his lead.  I will do things to try to bring our country together again.  I won’t say mean things or cause disagreement to intensify.  I promise to try to reconnect with people I may have upset.    That way my letter to you next year can tell you that I have been a good boy and have everything I need so give my stuff to kids who are more needy. This pandemic will certainly cause people to need things that they normally would have.  Hopefully by next December this Covid thing will be gone but if not I will ask for enough masks for everybody in our country and the general acceptance that masks help!  Please forgive me Santa.  I tried but just couldn’t live up to my wish to be a good boy.  My friends Henry and Wally were gooder than I was this year so you should give them what they ask for.  Well, maybe they were a little naughty too!
Your friend,
Georgie

Permeability

I suspect that we each have an urge to assimilate and an urge to be distinct. We try to solve that tension by finding a reference group (or several) that allows us to do both. In a healthy society, just as in a healthy individual, affiliation in various ‘communities’ is fluid enough to help us practice seeing different points of view. I tend to think about this condition as one which features permeable boundaries – like a biologic cell wall — allowing traffic of ideas (like RNA) through the walls. This allows analysis and accommodation among varying points of reference.

 When ideologic boundaries harden, it’s no wonder that commerce between particular communities tends to stop.  So for me, it’s about permeability – allowing flow. Carrying the analogy a bit further: if we each act as a unit in a living entity, our function is to pass nutrients throughout the system and keep it thriving. It’s also our job to defend against threats to our ability to do so. 

If the body encounters a destructive virus, it tends to attack anything which looks like a threat. Sometimes it overreaches. Hen describes a situation where our communities seem to be ill – and some functions are not working well. A healthy community, like a healthy body – should rebound from most infection. However, that rebound depends upon various organs working in concert, not shutting down. The individual’s essential job is to continue to pass nutrients through the system. Now I know that I’ve set the stage for some to liken our current state of affairs to a cancerous growth. Okay, maybe we need chemotherapy – maybe our living entity will die. Or maybe our society is suffering from a malady that can be treated with an injection of common sense and affection. Either way, I believe that our boundaries need to be permeable enough to receive both familiar ideas and new ideas and pass along the useful bits of both which allow the whole body to thrive. 

Go Back Where You Came From

I did!  One of the most incredible experiences I ever had was going back to where I came from.  My entire life I was surrounded by the crazy Italian Family that I came from- or at least half of me!  Holidays consisted of people yelling at each other, all at the same time.  Half in English,  half in a bastardized Italian that was spoken in southern Italy.  I should refer to it as a dialect but if you speak ITALIAN you might agree that the dialects were bastardized.  The area I came from in Italy is Basilicata.  The arch of the boot.  Calabria was to the west (the toe of the boot)and Puglia to the east(the heel).  The minute you drive south of Naples you begin to feel the difference!

Planning the trip was a trip in itself.  My partner called the only hotel in the area but they spoke no English.  So he called an Italian friend of his to call for us.  She arranged a conference call and within moments we realized they were speaking 2 different languages.   A subsequent call with someone on their end who spoke “English” resolved the issue and we were all set to go. 

The trip was phenomenal. As we flew into Rome I became very emotional. We drove from Rome south to the little town of Pietrapertosa, a little mountain town in the Dolomities(Little Dolomites).  The drive was incredible.  Dirt roads through the mountains, pigs blocking the roads, rock slides to drive around and then miraculously the town was right in front of us.  As we drove up the cobblestone street the emotion overwhelmed me.  Here I was on streets that my grandfather played on. 



We pulled into the only hotel  in town and parked.  It was 2 pm in the afternoon and judging by the lack of anyone around it was the traditional siesta time.  But the smell was unmistakable . From the kitchen wafted the smell of my dad’s sauce. I broke down!  The owner came out and introduced herself. When she heard my name it was as if the world erupted. Moments later we were in a car driving through the village to “commune” which we learned meant town hall.  Once there the mayor introduced himself snd obviously knew who I was as he went to a closet and from an old waterlogged shoe box took out my grandfather’s birth certificate from 1881.  From that point on the trip was out of our hands.  We went to every household in the town where my family lived, had grappa everywhere, then to the mausoleums.  In that part of Italy the dead are not buried but placed in mausoleums and I met many of my dead relatives.

To make a long story short, all of the living relatives in the village are teachers, and  our guide whose great great  grandfather was my great grandfather’s brother, had been a teacher but left teaching and like me became an innkeeper- Coincidence????

This does not do justice to the incredible feelings and emotions that I experienced, about the story of my Aunt Eleanor as a young girl, walking with Bartolo Longo who has become a saint since my visit, about having to eat at every relative’s house still there.  This is a case of not really being able to express the depth of emotion and love that overwhelmed me in this little mountain town from which I had originated.  We all came from somewhere else.  Ellis Island has all our names engraved there.  If you EVER get the chance to go back where you came from, GO!

NoWhere To Go

I envy George’s sense of place. But what do you do when there’s no specific place in which to return? Like George, my grandparents came to the United States in the early 1900’s. However, where they came from is not clear. Technically, my grandfather and his brother left a farming village somewhere near Rome and struck out for a new life in America with the idea of sending for their wives and family. Two years later they both returned to Italy and only my grandfather returned with his bride via Ellis Island in 1904. 

On my father’s side, my grandparents emigrated from Walthamstow, UK in 1924. The area in Walthamstow where they lived was devastated by Nazi bombing during WWII and was significantly redeveloped. Unlike George’s story, there are no memories and close family to investigate. I did recently learn that my grandmother was one of twelve children; it appears that this cohort was involved in railway occupations and distributed themselves far and wide. One granduncle left for South Africa, got into some trouble as a result of a railway accident and hightailed it to Argentina, then Uruguay to work in the railroad industry. A cousin now living in Mexico City has filled me in on their exploits.

Now, my grandfather (who served in the RAF) may have come from Edinburgh, Scotland, but since he sort of disappeared shortly after arrival in the US, there’s no way to confirm. My father’s older brother Alfred went with my grandfather when he left – soon after, it seems like Alfred may have stolen a car and was deported to Australia. He later died during WWII serving in the Australian Airforce. I do sense that the English side of my family tree had a strong sense of adventure and were not afraid to strike out boldly. My father used to say “scratch an Englishman and find a pirate”… seems like this could sum up our family tradition. 

Honestly, I don’t have any desire to search out places near London, Rome, or Edinburgh – I sense that these are places my forebears really wanted to leave behind. I did not grow up with fond retellings of life in the old country — I don’t feel a connection. That is not to say that I don’t appreciate and honor the effort it took to transplant a family in an entirely new country. It’s simply that my good non-piratical memories sit in this little corner of the world.

Going Back – Moving Forward

George’s piece likely triggers different memories and emotions for each of us.  His desire to go back to his family roots and the feelings that were evoked for him, brought up another kind of “going back to where you came from” for me.

My father rarely lived at home due to the nature of his business.  One day, when I was in my teenage years, he stopped coming home altogether.  For a short while there was some correspondence and financial support, but then that ceased as well.  Except for one ambiguous letter from him while I was in college, I knew nothing more about the man, his history, his intentions, his beliefs, or his rationale for abandonment.

When I turned forty, I felt the urge and found the courage to seek him out.  All I knew was that he had left the New York area due to legal issues and was absorbed into some other part of the country with no address that was made available to me or my mom and sisters.  I knew someone who knew someone who could, for a price, get me my father’s location.  The source turned out to be sound and one summer’s day, I found myself on a plane bound for Houston, Texas, with an address, a phone number, and a load of questions.

Good fortune was on my side.  After settling into my hotel room, I called the number and told the woman on the other end of the line that I was looking to talk to Joe and that I was an old acquaintance who would like to surprise him without giving him my name.  He was indeed surprised, and after a few awkward minutes where I could hear my heart beat louder than his voice, he agreed to meet me at a diner I had noticed on the way to my hotel and not far from his home.

I remembered my father as an imposing figure.  He was six feet tall, always confident and self-assured, and always in control.  Now, as I watched through the diner window, I saw an old man struggle to get out of his weather beaten sedan and lumber up to the door.  He was in his late seventies, just a few years older than I am now.  His gait was slow, his posture slouched, and he was clearly not in control as he walked in the door and I went up to introduce myself.  Uncharacteristically, he went for a hug but I offered my hand.  We shook and I took him to where I had been sitting.  I asked my questions and received vague responses, deceptions, and mostly evasive language.  In truth, he had no answers for me, nothing of substance that could help me understand how he could leave the four of us without explanation or support.  I felt little to no empathy from him when I told him how the man he had sold our mortgage to, foreclosed on our house and how we lost all of our possessions and had to live in a motel until we could reclaim my grandmother’s 800 square foot cottage from a reluctant tenant.  For whatever reason, I don’t believe he was capable of truly feeling another’s emotional condition and, time, it seemed, hadn’t changed that part of him.  As he spoke of his hardships I recalled he had always told us stories of his heroic efforts to ward off injuries and illnesses, injustices done to him, and fantastic tales of survival.  Most, we later learned, were fabrications and exaggerations.  It’s just who he was.

Since he had shown no interest in contacting my sisters or me over our adult years, I chose to answer none of his questions about my mom, or us other than mom was still alive despite what he claimed he had heard.  In less than an hour I confirmed what I had suspected about this man.  I had given him a chance to prove me wrong, to hear the other side of the story but, for me, there was none.  I shook his hand and wished him well as he ended our meeting with another one of his woe-is-me stories about an upcoming surgery that was critical for his survival.

On the flight home I reflected on my journey.  Meeting my dad as an adult I realized that despite our shared DNA and many similar characteristics, I was not, nor would I become, my father.  

It was also fortuitous that I chose to “go back to where I came from” when I did.  As it turns out, his last story was indeed true and his surgery, six months later, was not successful.

I’m glad I got to see him and was able to address the issues that were on my mind.  And while I would have preferred a different kind of reckoning, it provided the closure I sought.  

Afterthoughts: Today my reflections of that time include more questions than answers. Was I really interested in listening and understanding or did the anger and fever of the moment keep me from hearing? If we had established any kind of relationship, would he have been able to be more honest? Can I ever truly understand the intentions and choices made by another, having had only my experiences and not theirs?