Stop buying unnecessary things. Toss half your stuff. Learn contentedness. Reduce by half again. Pick four essential things in life and stop the rest. Do them first each day. Clear distractions. Focus on the moment. Let go of attachment to doing and having more. Fall in love with less.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and wiser, but I’ve noticed that things which now bring me to tears are less the everyday instances of hurt, pain and sadness and more the unexpected moments of joy, reconciliation and serendipity. Maybe as years advance we become so accustomed to tragedy that we’re more easily moved to tears by sudden simple beauties which were always before us but came at an age when we believed the world owed us more. The less time I have left the more important I find it is to plan a clean exit on a high note.
This, and the wrinkles, is how I know for certain that I’ve grown up.
A few people in this world will change your life forever.
Oh southwest wind
That blows all night
To clean our skies
And fly our kites.
You carry pollen
Delay our flights
Yet bring no rain
It’s just not right.
Make birdies fly
Into the walls
You spill our trash
And that’s not all.
My hair’s another
You don’t ignore
And make me look
Like one cheap whore.
A breeze is nicer
A gentler flow
But southwest wind
You just totally blow.
There will always be evil, tragedy and sad circumstances of great loss. Some cope with these realities through drugs, denial, or other means of escape. Others shield themselves within walls of money, power or possessions thinking they may keep tragedy blinded and at safe distance for the remains of their years. But the courageous are realists who take up world causes in their own backyards. Armed with purpose, determination and compassion at costs well above their means, they are the relentless heroes who already know that love is the grave’s only redeemable possession and life’s only redeemable pursuit. And in the end, some will need headstones to define what their short lives represented.
Aspire to be among the few who never will.
It always rains on Mother’s Day
Ever since she had to fly away.
No card to mail, bouquet to send,
No fragrance scent with love’s intend.
Just my salty face that won’t erase
The void today, the empty space.
It always rains on Mother’s Day
Ever since she had to fly away.
Leave it to me to experience something so ordinary yet so awesome. When the cardiac surgeon came out with good news about mom’s open heart surgery, I found myself staring, entranced with his hands while listening to his report to our family. All I could think of as he concluded and departed was that I’d just shaken the hand which minutes before had held the very heartbeat of the woman who made mine and touched it so many times since.
The news was great, but staring at the hands of a surgeon who had touched her fleshly heart and then shook my hand with it minutes later was my most unforgettable moment of 2016 and every year since she’s been gone.
When you visit Mom’s house some things are sure things. Like the bed sheets are always fresh and crisp and still smell and feel like a warm dryer. The Kleenex and toilet paper is the really good kind. She always has extra batteries and she sneaks a couple into your bag just in case. And if you need a spoon, it’s always in the drawer clean, never with chunks missed by the dishwasher because she is the dishwasher. And there’s no dust. Anywhere. She always has a choice of ice creams. Always. And blanket fairies who visit when you doze on the sofa. The clothes you wore were magically folded in the middle of the night. Sometimes washed and folded. You could shave in the reflection of the bathroom fixtures and if you had to, you could eat off the toilet seat. But if you tried, she’d bring you a plate. Moms are really great. Every kid should have one.
[I wrote this short story about my elderly next door neighbor. This was his struggle and the likely reason I found him dehydrated, immobilized and naked alone on his living room floor after noticing three days of unclaimed newspapers at his front door. He was felled by a stroke and laid parched and crying for help to no one there for as long.]
I Loved Lucy
Each day is a colorless fade to the next early black and white morning which begins and ends the same. It’s 4am and through our common wall, I can hear his TV, teapot and sometimes, the unsure shuffle of his slippers on a path to the darkened front door he opens to again curse the late paperboy. An occasional cough punctuates the silence of the otherwise dirty, furry apartment where with two old cats, he’s lived eight years, and died one and a half.
He waits for no one but the twice weekly nurse with a key and a bag of useless treatments, because his condition is incurable. Lucy passed right there in the living room in a cold steel hospital bed he wanted to keep, if not only for a tangible but morbid memory of their final moment together last summer when he kissed her forehead and said goodbye to fifty-eight wonderful years and hello to this mere existence without her.
Neither poor nor rich, he’s now not much of anything but the shell of a man and husband trying to find himself and any purpose in a weathered, withered 89 year old body whose expiration date is long overdue. And this isn’t my own summation, it is his as he sits in the easy chair across from me, holding his frail little body, arms crossed, lying in repose, waiting for something inside to change. The depression is killing him slowly, deliberately and with a pain no longer quenched by tears or talking. He is a silent, dying man.
I saw her the day before she passed in their living room as a courtesy mostly. I’d been their closest neighbor with a common wall for many years and when I’d heard of the accident, I sent flowers, made food and cards for a couple weeks until she was gone. Nice lady. Very simple, Midwest Lutheran couple for 58 years, I heard them shuffle past my front door together sometimes on the way to church or the casino where it happened. She’d fallen her final fall which ultimately brought her to the end of her life and his.
I used to help him bring in the few bags of groceries around the first of the month but have since stopped at the door for the stench of the cats he loves, and who are as old and matted as he. The bending needed for a litter change is something he can muster only a couple times monthly. But he’s used to the smell. He’s used to a lot of things. But not used to being as lonely as he is without her.
I’ve cajoled him a couple times during our early morning conversations and if he could find it again, I’m pretty sure his laugh would be contagious.
“Don, do you love someone?” he asked me.
“Well, I have my three kids and my dog and they’re pretty special to me, but if you’re asking if I have a deeper love in my life like you had in Lucy, no. Maybe someday.”
While I was trying hard to get as used to the smell of the catbox as he, I listened to his autobiography of the couple who lived next door and the countless moments of their countless memories together for the good part of an hour. When we parted for me to get home to shower for work, I left convinced that my “maybe someday” love–if ever–was unlikely to be as incredibly beautiful as theirs. It was a “Notebook” kind of love and as I stood there in the shower, the hot water mixed with my tears and I think for the first time in my life, I finally tasted the salty love explained to me by a salty 89 year old man.
Work was rough. All day long, I thought about the hour in his living room that morning and the epiphany he’d given me. Arriving home, I hugged my dog harder and I texted my three kids to say I love you before bed, and went to sleep.
And this morning, I woke very early as I always do. And through the steam of my coffee on the patio at 4am, I watched his living room light turn on and heard his front door open as he cursed the paperboy once again, and knew we were both next door, thinking about love. And Lucy.
And through the wall, the teapot screamed.
I thought they’d be like the other thugs who like so many before would take their sweet time walking in front of my car like they owned the sidewalk while I fumed waiting to make my left turn. Not like kids of my youth who looked, paused, then scurried across to the other side, thanking the waiting driver for the generosity of their right of way.
I was dead wrong and momentarily ashamed for having judged these boys who waved and threw me a synchronized thumbs up quickly making their way across my egress. I threw back a thumb and a smile as they finished the crossing to which they were fully entitled but didn’t act like it.
It was a tiny reassuring moment of humanity, but comforting that I was wrong in my expectations of the moment, and that kids these days aren’t all always like I have come to expect kids these days to be.