the Rainbow Bridge

I didn’t really start believing in an actual higher power until I lost a parent. Many others that I know say the same thing. The notion of a magical place in the clouds that houses our loved ones after they shed their mortal shell, where they look as they did in their prime before sickness or age took them away from their pain is a far fetched notion in this day of science and reason. But it sounds like a hell of an idea and if it gives you comfort, then go for it. It did for me. We all grieve differently.

Grief is a powerful thing. When someone suffers a loss we want to say something, we want to do something. The bitch of it is that there is nothing we can say or do, it’s a personal process that really never ends it only gets less difficult over time. If you are lucky. It is a matter of patching the giant hole that the loss of a loved one leaves in us.

Our human vanity challenges the notion that the loss of a pet can be as traumatic as the loss of a human. They’re only animals after all, right?
Wrong.
I won’t go so far as to say that an animal is on the scale of a human but I will tell you that to many, most(?), our furry friends are not just pets. They occupy our hearts and minds and command a level of love and companionship that comes in a photo finish second.

I lost my first dog when I was in High School. We adopted a Brittany Springer Spaniel from a shelter when I was 4. He was a hunting dog that was trained too early and was gun shy, rendering him useless to hunters. He was my absolute best friend in the world. To call him a loyal companion would be the understatement of the century. He was by my side everywhere I went. He saved my life once. I was crossing our street and a school bus was barreling down the hill. He ran across the street and tackled me. The bus missed us by inches. He wasn’t just a pet. When I drove to NH one summer day over Summer Vacation I was met with the dour faces of my parents, who told me that he was put down. I was crushed and remained that way for a long time. There was a hole in my life. It was at that time that I saw the poem “the Rainbow Bridge.”

We have had a series of dogs since then. I wasn’t as close to any of them as I was to my first but I loved them so very much and losing them was never easy. Recently we put down our Laso Apso of 14 years. That was a tough one for my mother and I, he was an amazing companion. Smart, loyal and goofy and a constant presence. His loss crushed my mother. This time she said “no more dogs. It’s too hard to lose them.”

I agreed with her on the “hard to lose” them part. But I didn’t agree with the no more dogs thing. The one thing about animals that differs from humans is that, while you can’t replace them, you can fill the hole left by a pet. The mistake we make is that we don’t want to do them a dishonor by “replacing” them and in the process we forget that we have an opportunity to at least fill the empty place in our lives.

Having said that, six months after putting down our beloved Laso, we got another dog. A beautiful Cocker Spaniel named Sammy (Samuel L. Spaniel).

My mother’s frown turned upside down from the first day that we got him and I have to say that her life is better with him in it. He is loyal, friendly, funny, goofy and absolutely full of love for her. He has chosen her as his favorite and I’m fine with it, it was her hole to fill more than mine.

If you are a person who doesn’t want a dog because you feel that their lives are too short and the pain is too much, please focus on the wonderful times you are missing out on. Having something that is always happy to see you, missed you like you had been lost at sea, adores you unconditionally and can comfort you without having to know what’s bothering you is a treasure in and of itself.

If you are a person who doesn’t want to get another to fill the hole, remember that it is not about replacing, it is about mending the massive void in your life. Once you’ve known the unconditional friendship and admiration of a pet you really can’t go without it. As you sit on a park bench worrying about everything, your dog is sitting next to you thinking that you are their entire world.

How many people can you say that about?

I’m more likely to believe in heaven if I were to have all of the wonderful dogs I have been blessed to know waiting for me to walk by my side once again as I cross over.

The price of war

I was raised by a Vietnam Veteran and a WW2 Veteran. It didn’t take me long to learn that their experiences impacted them profoundly and that most vets didn’t talk about it. I once worked for a guy that would wake some nights finding himself on top of his wife attempting to strangle her. I asked my Dad about it and he said flatly “he saw and did some shit.”

Just take a moment to let the fact that 22 Veteran’s a DAY commit suicide in this country sink in.

Last week I was watching Forrest Gump with my mother’s BF. We were hanging out, drinking a beer and chatting back and forth. All of a sudden we came to the scene where Gump and his platoon came under heavy fire in the Vietnam sequence. Dave suddenly raised his voice and said loudly “turn it off, turn it off! I hate this shit!.” I quickly changed the station and I asked no questions. I knew that the scene had touched a nerve with him. We never spoke of it.

In the current news there is a lot of talk about Syria. There is controversy about pulling out. Many think we should stay, many think like our President, that enough is enough with foreign wars.

I agree. To be honest, we’re not over Vietnam yet. If you don’t believe me, please watch Ken Burns’ documentary.

Then you see kids, good kids from good families, kids that back home would help little old ladies across the street and go to Bible study, do these horrible things. They’re in country for a little bit and it’s like the veneer of civilization peels right off of them

The above quote was from a Vietnam Veteran as interviewed for the 10 part documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns. He was talking about “acts of war”. In particular, the acts of savagery committed by some American soldiers while serving in Vietnam.

At an average of 90 minutes per episode, completing the series was challenging. But I did and I have a lot of takeaways. Hours of battle footage, commentary, and interviews with all the players; politicians, soldiers from South and North (the enemy) Vietnam and all of the geopolitics involved in Cold War Southeast Asia. Per usual Burns provides an honest, balanced and unflinching look at one of the darkest chapters in recent history.

The veterans interviewed did the unusual. They talked openly about their experience. They ranged from the reluctant draftee; to the wide-eyed eager recruit seeking the honor and glory his father achieved; to the everyday guy from Anytown, USA that felt the call of Patriotism. They all went to the same place but all came back very different. It wasn’t like the last war, their Dad’s war. And glory was not in the cards.

A lot of men did and saw things that would haunt them. When villages were razed, livestock slaughtered, suspected enemies gunned down and food supplies destroyed were part of “following orders” a lot of soldiers found their moral compass in danger. Some made “deals with the devil” to rationalize their acts. One soldier said “I will never kill another human, but there’s no limit to how many Vietcong I will waste.” His compromise was to not see the VIetcong as people. If they are no longer people then it becomes easier. They are the enemy they do not matter.

Then there were those who stretched the thin red line even further. Rapes, mass killings of civilians and excess brutality sometimes occurred. As it says above, it was if the veneer of civilization had worn off of them.”

At home, the war had changed people as well. The escalating campaign was enormously controversial. Young people broke rank with their parents’ beliefs. Students took to the street and challenged authority figures. Peaceful protest morphed into violence as frustration with a growing conflict grew. Pictures of bombing campaigns and burned children were finding their way into American living rooms and people were outraged. Some activists decided that violence was justified and riots and bombings occurred. It culminated when the National Guard opened fire on a crowd at Kent State and killed four. One veteran lamented “It has gotten so bad we are killing our own at home”. By the time of the Saigon airlift of ’73 this country was divided and forever damaged.

When the soldiers returned, there was no ticker tape parade. The hostility towards the war had been directed towards those who had been charged with fighting it. The brave men and women who fought the unpopular war emerged from planes and boats to be called “baby killers” and were spit upon. These people are still owed the Welcome Home they deserved. But as I have said. Everyone changed.

What are the rules of civilization? Are they inherent? Are we born to act rational and be decent to each other? Is it the job of parents to instill the concept of society in us? Is the veneer of civilization so thin that it can be easily worn down to the point that we are easily capable of barbarism and savagery?

If you don’t know what it was like to see the political climate of the late 60’s and early 70’s it isn’t too late to see it. Just turn on your TV. Riots, Nazi flags, death threats, mass shootings, people just being ugly to each other.

So I have to ask…how thin is your veneer?

Be a man!

“you can start by being a man!”

It’s a famous movie scene. Johnny Fontaine is sobbing to the Godfather on the day of his daughter’s wedding. He tearfully exclaims “What am I gonna do?” To which the Godfather loudly and angrily yells, “You can start by being a man!”

Be a man! Every boy and a few grown men have heard it. One problem as I see it is that, historically, few have known what that expression means and it would have benefitted them to ask for clarification. The second problem as I see it is that it no longer matters. All masculinity, toxic or otherwise has become marginalized and now sits firmly in the taboo section.

I fear for the boys coming up today. They are fighting so many forces. A historic lack of nuclear families is leaving many boys without a male influence (yes, boys need a father). A thick grey line in gender roles, and gender itself, is confusing our boys. Most importantly, society is condemning traditional male behavior as toxic, aggressive and dangerous.

In fairness, some traditional “male” behaviors should be condemned. For example, when flirtation, a natural instinct, crosses over into the realm of misogyny then it needs to be controlled. Flirting is perfectly natural and it is part of the mating process of all mammals. Catcalling is not flirting, it is insulting and degrading to women and in today’s day and age should be a thing of the past. However, there was a time when a woman could handle a flirt gone bad with a snazzy retort or to simply ignore it. Women are not helpless and any strong woman can easily shoot down a man who gets (verbally) out of line.

“Boys will be boys” is not just a saying or a luxury. All boys need to be boys before they can become men. Boys need to chase windmills to feed their imagination. Boys need to slay dragons to grow confidence. Boys need to fight to learn how a victory and a beating feel. Boys need to do the flirtation dance with girls to teach them how to treat a woman. Boys need to play games with winners and without participation trophies because winning is a thing and it is just as important that they know what losing feels like. Boys need to be boys, but they aren’t allowed to anymore. Masculinity is not toxic. It’s in the DNA.

This is a complex subject that needs to be treated carefully and with dignity. It is something that, if not addressed, we will be cursed with a future filled with men whose pheromones could easily be mistaken for perfume. We need to acknowledge that it is not a bad thing to “be a man”, that to be a man is impossible if the boy is stifled, and that women will someday crave a “real man” only to find that the species as we know it has gone extinct.

It is imperative that, in order to handle this topic in a fair and balanced manner the reader must understand that this is, at the end of the day, my opinion. I will attempt to differentiate good masculinity from “toxic” masculinity and give examples of what a “good” and “real man” is.

Lord knows someone needs to get to the bottom of this issue while there is still time.

Stay tuned. I hope you enjoy.

A year has passed…cont’d

September 28, 2018.
I awoke in a trauma center room full of beeping machines, staring and inquisitive medical staff, lots of plastic curtains and my ex-wife, oldest daughter and my mother.

You can catch up here.

“Where are the 2 fat firefighters?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s fine” she said. She then began to laugh, if you could call it that. A nervous laugh of relief if anything. My wife had buried her face in her hands.

Very confused and in a bit of a haze, I asked why they reacted as they did. As it turns out, the Dr. had just cautioned them that when I awoke there was a distinct possibility that I could suffer some type of cognitive loss. My first words after being medically sedated for 2 days being a joke, they were convinced that I was ok.

But of course I wasn’t.

It took me a while to piece together the events of the previous 3 days. I had no recollection of them so I had to rely on accounts from my mother and my medical team. Both were being light on details and, even in my foggy state I knew that it wasn’t good. Initially, all I was able to learn was that I was rushed to a local hospital that was ill-equipped to treat me and sent me away after dousing me in ice to lower my fever. Which, by the way, was measured at 104.9, a fever that a man my age rarely survives. I was then taken 65 miles away to a hospital with a Trauma center and immediately heavily sedated as they worked to control the septic infection ravaging my body. I was sedated for 2 full days. At one point my mother was asked if I had a Medical Proxy and a Advanced Directive, AKA a DNR (Do not resuscitate.

My Dr. confirmed and explained Sepsis to me and the reasons for Sedating me for 2 days. Apparently I was extremely fitful as I was being treated and I kept tearing the breathing tube out (that was the first time I realized I had had a breathing tube). He was very focused on my treatment regimen going forward. My mother was light on details, she was very upset by the ordeal. It wasn’t until I spoke to the Night Nurse, a real good guy that worked every night that I was in ICU. I explained to him my need for info and my confusion about what had happened to me. He took off his glasses and sat down next to me.
“A guy doesn’t get any closer to the other side than you did. We’re all amazed at your recovery. We thought we lost you.”
“Really?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, if I wasn’t a religious man before I would be now.” He paused. “It was that close.”
I could do nothing but stare at the white ceiling.
“And you’re not out of the woods yet.”

What followed was a full week of restricted bed rest. I was severely limited in how much I could move because I had a temporary dialysis port put in my hip that was in danger of rupturing causing me to bleed out. For 4 long days they ran every antibiotic known to mankind through me until my fever stopped spiking. By Sunday I was able to be moved to a regular room.

I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The infection wasn’t done yet. I had several relapses plagued by sweating spells and rampant chills in no particular order. I wasn’t able to eat much. I was still forced to stay prone in bed, it would be 2 days before I could even sit up. I was in a private room but there was nothing private about it, nurses and teams of doctors were in there constantly monitoring my every function. My only reprieves, as it were, were my dialysis sessions upstairs.

Eventually I did stabilize, much of it was a blur. I did have plenty of time to get to know the nurses as I recovered. In addition to their youth and attractiveness they were very friendly and good at their jobs. I struck a rapport with a few, one in particular couldn’t get enough of my jokes and my story. She came in every time she had a minute and asked me more questions about my Chronic illness journey. Her name was Olivia.

On day 9 Olivia came in with the physical therapy team. They were tasked with getting me to walk. I had been bed-ridden for 8 days and it was amazing how atrophied my muscles were. 3 nurses got me to the hallway with the goal of walking to the end and back. I was only able to support myself for 3 steps and I collapsed. I would try 2 more times that day and I fared only slightly better then. I was returned to bed. Olivia told me that they wouldn’t consider letting me leave, fever vanquished or not, until I could walk.

By the end of that night I was able to walk the hallway end to end twice before collapsing into bed again.

to be continued

the lucky hat

“Did you get that at Fenway?”
Startled from my apparent trance I turned to the kind-faced gentleman behind me in line at the market and recognized that he was referring to my hat. My favorite hat, the Red Sox Scali Cap. “Yes I did, actually” I replied.

“Bet that set you back a few bucks” he said

“Yea, but it was worth it. It’s my good will hat. Besides, it hides my chrome dome” and for effect I took it off and gestured self-deprecatingly at my bald head. He laughed and I then realized it was time to pay the clearly annoyed cashier who obviously had much better places to be today. I paid and walked out.

As I walked to my car I reflected on how NH life was growing on me but I’m still taken off of my game when someone just initiates friendly conversation. While I am a big fan of it I come from an area where people will generally read a candy bar wrapper to avoid eye contact. Enjoying that brief exchange with a friendly stranger, I opened my car to put my groceries in.

“What did you mean by Good Will hat? I thought you said you bought it at Fenway?” My friend from line was parked next to me. He thought I bought it at a GoodWill store.

I told him the Chili’s story.

Many years ago I was at Chili’s restaurant knocking back a few with my buddy Chuck. I liked the bar a lot and I really liked the bartender. Jane was a slightly heavy, forty-ish woman who was a refreshing change from the usual younger, vapid bartenders that flashed cleavage for tips but had little personality. Don’t get me wrong, I love tits but I’m old fashioned and like to have a bartender I can talk to also. I was wearing my hat. Jane was obsessed with my hat. She also had asked me if I had bought it at Fenway. She kept telling me how good I looked in it and I kept telling her to stop hustling for tips. She laughed. Then she told me how much her brother would love a hat like mine.

Over the course of several more beers Jane told Chuck and I of her brother in VT. He was dying of stage 4 prostate cancer. She wanted to get him something to cheer him up. She got a little emotional as she talked of him. The subject was changed.

When I paid my bill, I put the money inside my hat and left it on the bar. When she came over I slid the hat across the bar and told her to give it to her brother. She teared up and I tore out of there. No drama for me that night. Chuck slapped me on the back and told me what a nice gesture that was. Not to be immodest, but I do stuff like that pretty often. If I see a chance to make someone smile, unless I’m really attached to something I will usually give it away,

The next day I saw my buddy Steve on the street. He asked me where my hat was. Unbelievable. I told him the story and he also thought it was great.

2 weeks later I heard a knock on my door and when I opened it there stood Steve with a new hat. “For you” he said. “I was at the game last night, saw this and had to get it for you. You paid it forward and now I am too. Besides, you need to cover that bald head.”

When I finished telling my supermarket friend the story he was full of smiles. ” All of that from one hat, huh?”

“Yup, and every time I wear it I am reminded to spread some good will. Small gestures my friend”.

As we parted ways I jokingly remarked ” do you want it?” He laughed and got in his car.

Small gestures can mean the world to someone.

Touching the moon

“Closer”, the father said to the boy.
The boy dutifully moved to his father’s instruction. “Better?”
“Yes, now stand on your toes and reach as high as you can.”
Again, the boy obeyed his father. “Am I touching it?”
“Yes, son. You are.”
There was a audible click as the camera snapped the photo of his index finger touching the full moon that he and his family had been admiring at the end of a wonderful family day on the beach.

For a short, magical time the boy actually believed that he had touched the moon. After all, there was a picture in the family album of it. But eventually he realized that it was only an illusion.

Many years have passed. Now an adult, he sat on the wall of the beach at low tide and looked longingly at the sky. It was his favorite spot, it made him think of his father who was long since deceased. He dwelt on the notion of happiness, in particular the distinct lack of it in his life. This spot represented the best time of his life. He stopped short at actually saying happiest, he had always believed that he had never achieved “happy” in its truest form.

Especially lately. The young, spirited and curious young boy that had grown into a bright, artistic if not aimless young man had married a woman that he thought he loved, but their life together was tumultuous and ended badly. He emerged from the marriage broken and disillusioned man. What his marriage hadn’t robbed him of was consumed by his illness. But he had one trick up his sleeve, his only one, his ability to put on a “happy”(there’s that word again) face and along with his already perfected “optimistic” face and his proven “I’m fine” face, his gallery of feigned emotions served him well for a very long time.

Until now. Although he could never recall being happy, he knew what it was and knew he didn’t have it. He had come close to it several times as he enjoyed the wonderment of his young children. Other than that, he felt that he was a stranger witnessing his life through a looking glass. Close enough to be there but just out of reach. It would have been bad enough to feel like a stranger in his own world, but it had metastasized. He was now a truly joyless creature.

He reflected on his new existence, courtesy of the recent events of his life bestowed upon him by his now life-consuming chronic illness. He wondered when the social extrovert he was notorious as became more comfortable being alone. When did his body become so weak that it immediately dismissed his (still) sharp mind’s desire to do things? When did he become the guy who stopped making plans because he knew he would probably cancel at the last minute? He wondered why he goes to bed early to rest up for nothing, to then get up early to get ready to go nowhere? When did he stop hoping that the next day would bring better things, a miracle of sorts to end the nearly endless cycle of clinic sessions and Medical appointments? Short of stopping to pat the head of a stranger’s dog, he rarely even smiled anymore.

He was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Tired of being strong for everyone and draining his precious remaining energy in the process. Most of all, he was exhausted from making a fake smile and telling those that loved him that he was ok and that things would get better. Only one person was being strong for him. And she was so far away. As far away as the moon.

He hadn’t noticed that the sun had set. He had brooded throughout the very sunset that he went to witness. In the sun’s place stood a magnificent full moon. A moon so bright that it boldly stole the sky for its own glory.

He recognized a metaphor in his musings and the beautiful coincidence of a full moon just like the one his beloved father had photographed of him at this very spot when he was a boy. The moon was just like happiness. He could see it, feel it, admire its beauty. He could even reach with outstretched hands and appear to touch it. But in reality, the cruel harsh mistress that she was, both were in fact light years away and the appearance of touching either was just an illusion.

Nothing is an accident

Nothing happens by accident. Everything happens for a reason.

Wait…who said that? Was that me? It sure as hell doesn’t sound like something the old me would ever say. The borderline agnostic, the “I stop at being spiritual” guy who reluctantly opened his heart and mind to the possibility that there is a driving force in the universe just said the unthinkable.

I recently met someone I now know in my heart of hearts that I was supposed to meet. I was in need of awakening, of hope, of inspiration and of expansion of what I know now was my very small world.

This person challenges me in multiple ways. To think bigger, to look deeper, to question the unquestionable and embrace the once unthinkable. As I was called “Mr. Practical” and “Stubborn Yankee” and other gems I was challenged to delve into schools of thought like Mysticism, Numerology, Astrology and Eastern Religions and Philosophy. I pushed back on all of them and then when the person wasn’t looking I studied it and found myself believing.

I’m now a better person for what I’ve opened myself up to. I am open to things I once scoffed at. It’s difficult for me, pragmatism, logic and reason have been my Navigation tool my entire life. I can’t help but look at things and ask “How is this going to work?”. “What’s the end game?”, and “Shouldn’t we do this first?”. I don’t just plunge into the pool, I stick my toe in first to see if the water is cold.

I wish this was good enough for my muse, but I’m afraid it’s not.

It’s amazing how difficult baby steps are for this stuck-in-his-ways-grownass-adult. Maybe the reason you entered my life is for me to learn to take bigger steps with a carefree jaunt.