Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Reflecting On My President – MLK Day 2017

January 16, 2017
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A new arrival at the National Portrait Gallery in 2008

As I watch 60 Minutes and their interviews with President Obama I realize how I admire his thoughtful tone and quick wit. I’m going to miss him. He is the president of my children’s adulthood and I have found him to be both pragmatic and diplomatic. I admit I am at a loss for the vitriol thrown at him. I wish he had done more, but I still am proud of what he did accomplish against the constant tide of false accusations and roadblocks. What accomplishments I hear my naysayer friends demand. I can explain.

Let me set the stage leading up to this man’s presidency – not the two wars and the crashing economy – I want to get more personal. My family had been denied health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions when I changed jobs and our family planning decisions were altered because of the religious affiliation of my wife’s workplace – their conditions for insurance. My previous employer was being taken over by a corporation from Singapore and was being shut down. We had grown at a time of housing loans granted at 120% of a property’s value so customers were installing very profitable for us home entertainment systems based on the idea their home value would always go up, but that bubble had burst. I was losing my job and my 401k was in the toilet.

For me then it is easy to find this administration’s success – My 401k is back better than ever, I am employed in a new career after going to school using the extended benefits for retraining and gaining experience under the Obama stimulus package. My children were able to be insured under our family plan until age 26 under the ACA, and now, if we need to change jobs, we still get coverage. No longer are career choices being held hostage to a workplace whose insurance covered us before those “pre-existing” conditions show up. My children are able to follow their own paths – my son works for a biotech company and my daughter is in nursing school – free of that burdan. I couldn’t be prouder.

But my admiration for the Obamas goes deeper than that. My nephew, Kelley, worked on his campaign and, later, worked in the White House Office of Correspondence. Through him I heard the stories of the First Family, sitting Sasha and Malia, helping with the White House Easter egg roll. One of the most amazing things he showed me was where he worked – not in the White House proper, but in rented office space a few blocks away.

Into this space poured millions (literally) of pieces of mail that had to be read, sorted, and catalogued. Some letters had serious concerns about healthcare or the economy, others, less serious, like second graders learning how to address an envelope and a letter to the president in one lesson. All received the same treatment coming in, but a few were selected each week to move on to the desk of the president. Those letters were chosen to give an overall sense of what was motivating people to write, be it good or bad, and a few picked because they had problems the President could solve. Mr. Obama would hand write replies to these regular Americans who took time to write to their president.

Through my nephew I was able to visit the White House a couple of times (and even got smooched by Bo!) and toured the West Wing. On display in the halls was student artwork and photographs of various events across the country. They were changed often to remind those occupying the offices in that wing who they really worked for.

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Kelley was able to get my wife and I on the lawn for a Marine One take-off. He told me I needed a suit coat and tie as a guest of a White House staffer. We raced around DC that morning trying to find a place open to buy the requisite outfit and when we arrived we were ushered onto the lawn and lined up. Then, from around the side, came forty or fifty folks in tee shirts and shorts randomly selected from the tourists taking pictures of the White House. They were lined up in front of us. Kelley told me that we had to stand behind the tourists because the staff were all instructed to be sure they never used their positions to advantage themselves above the people they were there to serve.

This all happened during a time when I visited D.C. often. The school I worked for sponsored an 8th grade trip to Washington and my son was living there, working for companies that contracted to the State and Defense departments. When I was chaperoning the school trips Kelley would come to meet our middle school group on the blocked street behind the White House. He would bring an auto-pen signed picture of the First Couple for the school and answer questions for the kids. He did this on his own time. I would introduce him to my students with great pride explaining that here was a kid only a few years older than they were (from my perspective), from a family not much different than theirs, who was now working in the most powerful office in the world. The kids were more intrigued with his two cell phones (one a White House issue Blackberry and the other a personal iPhone) and stack of ID badges.

When Kelley left to take a job with the EPA he was granted an exit interview with his boss. Kelley arranged for his mom and dad to be there while the President of the United States shook his hand and thanked him for his service there in the Oval Office. Mr. Obama took time to chat with everyone and made sure pictures were taken (you can’t bring your own camera). My brother said he almost cried. You can almost see that in the picture.

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And that’s the thing with this president – it really isn’t ever about him – it’s about the office. Mr Obama came to up to be at the graduation of Worcester Voc and to bring attention to a school program he felt was exemplary. He didn’t just make his speech and have his photograph taken, he stayed, passed out diplomas and shook the hand or hugged every graduate of that very large class with as much enthusiasm for the last as the first. He made it their graduation.

And that is his accomplishment. He kept the Office of the President accessible to all the people. As other world leaders were vying for his attention many everyday concerns were brought to him  and he found a way to answer both. He was often harshly criticized and sometimes deservedly so, but he always listened. Reading the hurtful, ignorant, racist remarks directed at him, his wife and his family in comment sections of newspapers and social media and his not using the nuclear option makes him a far better person than me. Today, I know Mr Obama’s presidency was not about the color of his skin, but about the content of his character. He stayed above the ugliness beneath him for the dignity of the office and, for that, he will always be my president.

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What a piece of Work…

January 1, 2017

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“What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!”

– William Shakespeare – Hamlet – Act II Scene 2

Emotional whiplash might be the catchphrase for this holiday season. Let me share a few examples. About a week ago I started work dressed for ugly sweater day, to get a laugh and looking to enjoy the outlandish attire of my coworkers.

Not even fifteen minutes later, I changed into an 11th century lord’s dress because my 21st century ugly outfit was a millennium off for recreating a medieval tournament in our pod. After pouring my energy into the lesson and watching my kids cheer each other jousting on blow-up horses I ended the school day exhausted, but satisfied.

Those were both easy. I had to change one more time that day for an event that evening in Boston. Not for a laugh or exhausted satisfaction, but to mourn at the dedication of a ghost bike for my nephew, Bannon on the spot where he suffered a tragic accident a few weeks earlier. This time the outfit was nothing formal – jeans, a warm sweater, and a hat my wife knit. I wanted to blend into the crowd of people gathered to listen to the minister and the other speakers. I cried. We all cried, some for the passing of a fellow cyclist and others for loss of family.

That was a lot of changing in one day. How about an example of emotional whiplash that took all of a minute? A few weeks ago my day began very early with the phone ringing. From peaceful sleep, to anger that my wife must be being called in to work (what else could it be?), to shocked disbelief when Pam handed me the phone with my sister sobbing “Bannon’s been in an accident,” to being hyper-focused on what to do next.

Consider the changes my sister went through getting that call even earlier that morning, with Christmas presents waiting under the tree for Bannon; all that anticipation and excitement ripped away by the unimaginable. She would later generously re-gift them to his friends.  Devastated, but pulling it together enough to take care of her shop’s payroll. Wanting to be alone with her grief, yet bravely taking me out to lunch knowing she will run into people who want to hug her and awkwardly share her sorrow. I am in awe of her.

I think of the people I know whose children have died and I realize I am in awe of them as well. They have learned to continue, to allow themselves to have a good laugh or a good cry and to go on doing the mundane tasks of life. Slowly, they seem to have found that these things do not diminish the memory of their loved one; they survive the soft tissue damage from their own emotional whiplash by living life and cherishing the times they did have.

Maybe this isn’t what Shakespeare had in mind, but what a piece of work. We change and change again, sometimes on the outside and, more often, on the inside. Emotional extremes reveal the marvelous complexity and adaptability of being human and what lengths we will go to to support each other. Here’s 2017 and hoping that no one has to learn this lesson first hand.

Bannon’s Smile

December 18, 2016

bannonBannon and Susie – my nephew and my sister.

Hello – My name is Michael Bannon Smith and I’m one of Bannon’s uncles.

I remember when he was born proudly thinking he was named for me. It didn’t occur to me – as a self absorbed twenty something – that we really just shared a family name. We are not that tight family – that one spends every holiday with each other and vacations together; we’re Irish, not Italian. But what a family.

Bannon is my sister Susie’s son and I know him mostly through her – from her stories and many of these pictures – so I know him as a little kid with amazing outfits and curly blond hair, as a high school jazz hipster yearbook model and as a ready, steady dad behind, under or near Ella and Ronan.

In every picture, at every age, one thing always stood out – Bannon’s eyes. There is a depth to them. His are proof that those cliched deep pools from romance novels really exist. I’m sure Bannon would hate that idea. I can see him quietly taking in the action at some family function and then the corners of his eyes turn up as he catches something that he finds funny. That smile not only takes over his face, but the faces of those around him.

So when my sister called to say Bannon was in an accident, it was those pictures that came to mind as I’m texting my kids to tell we are heading to the hospital. On my way from Worcester to Boston so many things are going through my head:

– that day Bannon walked through the door of Tate’s to join Susie for her birthday. It had been a while – too long – but talk about a smile taking over a room – On both their faces! I’m so happy Susie got that day.

– that my son, Zach, got to hang out with his cousin. That they got to run together… Bannon could easily beat Zach and somehow that makes me smile. I suggested to Zach that maybe they should run with their saxophones and stop to play from time to time – thinking it would appeal to their mutual appreciation of the absurd.

We found our way to the hospital. Zach had gotten there before us and texted directions out to various family members – a small thing on the face of it, but so important to have one less thing to think about when there is a lot to think about. Susie. Steve. Amy. Carroll. Family.

Just in case you are unaware, some families have some pretty deep rifts and grudges. I mentioned we’re Irish, right? – We weren’t just walking into Beth Israel, we were taking an elevator up five flights to a floor soon to be filled with unresolved past transgressions.

Stepping off the elevator though it’s all a blur. I solemnly shake Jeffrey’s hand – hug Hilary – get the lowdown from Zach – find out no one actually got ahold of my brother, Peter… and Bannon is just on the other side of the doors to the trauma unit with his nurses quietly going about their job.

And that’s what we began to do, too, as a family; our job consoling each other, sharing updates, getting donuts, giving hugs, swapping stories – we all show off our licenses, confirming our status as organ donors – everyone begins to do what needs to be done.

Life has a way of sometimes keeping us apart while death sometimes pulls us all together. I put an arm around Steve, a coat over Susie, made sure I checked in with Amy. I saw Carroll and Kate quietly confer with a doctor and, when the reality of it all overwhelmed us, I saw the staff feel it, too, and they shared small boxes of Kleenex and large boxes of coffee.

I commented to a nurse that one of the staff looked remarkably like Bannon. To prove it, I pulled up some pictures on my phone and, in the process, I ran across some pictures from Ireland, the Aran Islands specifically, and she told me her daughter was named for a priest from there. She was from near Galway – Oh, my niece Hilary just spent a semester there… And my Dad’s family is from Tuam – I think she said she had family there… Small world stuff. We made a connection. We shared stories, I found some pictures – Zoe and Mikee’s wedding – and she saw the resemblance. She told me they liked to know what their patients looked like before… She said it could be worse – I can’t imagine, but I think I knew what she meant…

I watched my daughter, Addy, a nursing student check monitors and gently wipe Bannon’s mouth. Later, I saw my wife head back to Boston to spend the night with him. She brought her knitting and read him the texts from all of us trying to make plans. I called my sister. I messaged Hilary and Amy.

Back at school – I’m a middle school teacher – I told each of my classes why they need to wear their helmets. I told them about Bannon. I told them I wore mine because my wife makes me, but now I have a better reason – no one should ever feel like this. Middle schoolers are better people than they get credit for – the next day some left cards on my desk and a few even handed them directly to me – I wish I could say the same for their homework…  and some must have told their parents because I received a few emails from them.

One in particular stood out; from a family who had lost their son, Josh,  to a soccer ball in the chest, stopping his heart. Since that horrific accident, I’ve had two of Josh’s siblings in class so the parents and I have shared emails before, but this was different – not only was it from a different address, but it was from a different place – a much more private place. Theirs was not a polite condolence; theirs was a heart-felt “we really know how much this hurts and truly we’re sorry that you have to feel it.” They understood that we now share a very personal connection.

I can’t make sense of this. I have tried to console myself with the measure of all of our sorrow being countered by the joy of all the families reprieved from their own sorrow by Bannon’s organs. That isn’t much consolation to me yet, but I know it will come. I see all these amazing pictures of Bannon and hear the stories and his music – I see what a rich life he led –  and I go back to his eyes looking around a room and smiling… Maybe it was life as jazz and the smile was his solo.

I think of all the connections and reconnections he made with so many people here – the efforts he made to hang out with his Boston based cousins, that he was making plans with Steve and Susie, that the shock of his accident made family disagreements move to the back burner so that we could pull together for each other. These things console me.

And maybe that is what the nurse meant when she said it could have been worse. She knew Bannon had family and friends that loved him, that we were there for him and for each other. In that way we are all very lucky. We all have a new, deeper connection that we all could have done without, but now that we have it we need to honor and cherish it.

I thought about how I could show that connection with Bannon today. I seriously considered wearing a cape or a pirate outfit – some people here know my penchant for costumes. But just being here with all of you makes it clear we have that connection – that because of Bannon we are all part of a special family.

So how do we all get to meet each other? My Irish Catholic upbringing reminds me about the part of Mass I disliked the most – that forced hand shake called “the sign of peace” – always made me squirm. So I’m not going to go there…

So what can we do?

Here is an idea and there is no touching required! So first think of something Bannon loved doing or something you did together. Now hold that thought – put on your best poker face. Look around the room, lock eyes with somebody – anybody – and realize they too have an awesome Bannon moment! – OK, now look at somebody else… You’re not looking! Look! Are you trying to guess the story? You know you are – and they’re trying to guess your’s too, right? Whatever they’re thinking you know it was a good time. And you start to smile… It starts with the eyes – you can’t help it when see all the stories waiting to be told, stories that we are all the better for, that connect us to Bannon. Now later today, find the people you stared down and tell that tale; then maybe shake their hand or share a hug.

And welcome to the family…

2015 – It’s a Wonderful Life

January 1, 2016

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I turned sixty this year, threw myself a party, and waited for some age old wisdom to inhabit my noggin. I’m still waiting on the wisdom, but in the meantime I took a look back at my “2014 – Ten Random Thoughts on This Past Year” and I am proud to report I got the dumpster mentioned in #4 and I read the Billy Collins book in #9. I was so enthralled my wife took me to see him read at Harvard’s Sanders theater – wow, that’s a place to see! Turns out the stuff that sticks in my less than perfect memory isn’t the things newly acquired, but experiences great and small.

In 2015 we experienced snow – crap loads of snow. From January 8th to February 10th school had 5 snow days and three 2 hour delays. Worcester won the title of “Snowiest City in the US” – crushing perennial favorites Rochester and Erie.

Enough shoveling! By March we needed a break so an impromptu weekend visit to DC while our son was working there for a few months. We rode up the Washington Monument to rise above the snow, but the highlight of this trip was a dinner. We had no idea the BLT steakhouse was serving what the Washington Post called  “The Hope Diamond of Beef”. We went full wagyu and after the meat orgy was over there were no regrets.

Come April, with many promises and apologies from management, my wife decided to stay in her job (see “The End of an Error”). With that settled, she took Addy to photograph Charleston and I chaperoned some 8th graders to not speak French in Quebec.

Mountview graduated another class just in time for the Smith Family Big Alaskan Adventure by way of inheritance a gift from my mother. From our cruise ship base we tried everything – trains, seaplanes, jet boats, regular boats, kayaks, dog sleds, helicopters, hiking, and earthquakes. I saw whales breach, glaciers calve, and big smiles on my family. A few favs: Addy becoming a sled dog’s new BFF, Zach calling out “derp” from his balcony to the sea otters, and my guarding the entrance to a snow trench at Base Camp #1 high on Denali so my wife could pee at 11,000’.

My children paid me back with some adventures of their own – Zach took me to Fenway to see Pedro get his number retired and Addy to see Parks and Rec star Nick Offerman. I also experienced with great pride with the courage they demonstrated starting down new paths – Addy returning to school to start a nursing career like her mama and Zach taking a new job with a biotech start-up in Boston.  

For our anniversary Pam and I headed up to Lake Sunapee for the New Hampshire Crafts show, renting a little cabin. The show was great, as always, but it was the unexpected antique boat show the day we were leaving that was the highlight.

Sprinkle in an odd trip into Boston only to end up sailing on the harbor and catching James Montgomery on the Blues Barge; include a random visit to my sister in Wickford, R.I. after cutting greens at the reservoir that turns into a Christmas shopping spree and add a “do you have anything planned today?” road trip to Walpole N.H. in search of the holy grail of chocolate (L.A. Burdick’s) and finding wine, art and alpacas along the way and 2015 was what my wife’s hats, sweatshirts and a few tees say – “Life is good.”

As I write this it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m sitting in our room at the Intercontinental Hotel with my wife catching a nap before the midnight fireworks. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is on the TV and the Bailey family is singing “Auld Lang Syne.” We just had a fabulous meal at Mama Maria’s and what I remember most so far is walking the North End holding Pam’s hand. I’m one lucky guy. Hey, maybe some wisdom did creep in!

The End of an Error

March 28, 2015

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74,000 babies have started their lives in my wife’s care during the past 37 years as a neonatal nurse at St Vincent Hospital in Worcester. Today she gave up her biggest baby, her department, and resigned. She resigned because working twelve hours a day, five days a week and being on-call 24/7 was not enough for her bosses; her bosses who have enjoyed excellent bonuses based on her department’s profitability, client and staff satisfaction, and her leadership.

She was the manager of the neonatal nursery and post-partum care and took patient assignments as well so she could lead from the trenches. Four times the director of the Center for Women and Infants left and four times Pam became the acting director with less and less pay each time. This last time was for a year and a half with no additional compensation. Her body compensated her with cancer, a type of cancer commonly triggered by high levels of stress. Most of her coworkers and none of her bosses know as she poisons herself weekly with a low dose of chemo to control it. She won’t let the cancer beat her.

Pam is a St Vincent School of Nursing graduate. I met her when she was in school. I helped her escape the top of Vernon Hill during the Blizzard of ‘78 and we have been together ever since. We have two children, Zach and Addy. Pam was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis a few years after Addy’s birth. M.G. is a neuromuscular disease affecting her voluntary muscles. Surgery and the ability to tolerate very high doses of Mestinon keep her going. She hasn’t let Myasthenia Gravis beat her.

Saint Vincent was building a new facility, a brand new hospital in downtown Worcester. Pam was on the committee that flew around the country to see the latest in medical malls and worked with the architects on the design and layout of the new Center for Women and Infants. Her pride was evident in the pictures we still have of all phases of the construction; much like those ultrasound pictures the moms-to-be get, except these show metal studs, pipes, cables and duct work. And as soon as the new St V’s opened the newly unionized nursing staff staged their first strike. As management, Pam lived at the hospital for the 49 days of the strike; teasing me that she was enjoying the big Jacuzzi tub (for mothers who wanted a water birth) and wasn’t coming home. She understood some aspects of why the nurses went on strike, but not others. She felt supporting the needs of her patients, the mothers and their babies, was most important and many of her staff crossed picket lines and lost friends to help keep the department running. After the strike was settled she struggled to pull her staff together to again work as a unit and move on. She received the Robert Maher Manager of the Year Award that year. She hadn’t let the strike (and the threats) beat her.

Babies don’t understand staffing guidelines. When everybody’s bundles make a group decision to be born on the same shift, Pam would bake cakes, cookies or brownies and bring them to work the next day because she knows how much everyone stepped up. She knows how important it is to be appreciated and have the extra effort acknowledged. She also knows chocolate is the key ingredient in a good thank you. She kept chocolates with a mix of other sweets in a basket in her office so people could stop by for a quick fix. Work is work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a little treat now and then. She knows a happy crew is willing to pitch in to smooth out those rough spots.

The babies come in their own time and, as every mother knows, you can’t beat them back to fit your schedule. This staff achieved a 97% productivity rating by the hospital’s own metrics. Those measures don’t account for the ladies who labor but aren’t admitted or other patient anomalies that still require attention, but aren’t putting a head in a bed at midnight. The folks get taken care of, but aren’t counted for staffing purposes.  And senior management sniffs at this level of performance. They have set a goal of 98% for the year. Or to put it another way – a 1% increase in profit margin for them. The upcoming two quarters should be especially profitable since there is an anticipated increase in deliveries of nearly 30% and no plan to increase staffing.

Knowing even chocolate can’t make this right, Pam presented the need for a minimum of twelve full time nurses to meet the current staffing guidelines to her boss who presented something to her boss. Then two bosses returned to announced “Problem solved!” They would bring in four travelling nurses to cover Labor and Delivery. That means none for the Nursery or Postpartum units, because once the babies are born the mothers and newborns can fend for themselves, right? The four travellers will end up in those other areas because the regular staff will have had more L&D experience. That means 2/3rds of the time the Center for Women and Infants will be severely short staffed.

The Center for Women and Infants has a superb reputation as a modern facility with a Level II nursery and excellent patient satisfaction reports (except for the food). These satisfaction reports are not only some of the highest of any unit in the hospital, but highest amongst all the Tenet owned facilities. The Center is consistently one of the top profit centers for Tenet and hospitals know that birthing centers are the gateway to continued use of that hospital by the new family brought into the world there; a good experience at birth creates a repeat customer.

For 37 years my wife has given her life to make that happen; to help every mother and baby get what they need to start life safely and to teach them enough to make going home to the awesome responsibility of raising that baby just a bit easier. She has been there long enough for babies she helped come back to have their babies. Now, in the interest of short term gain, her bosses will not allow her to deliver the safe, caring experience she has led her staff to provide. Simply because there won’t be enough staff.

They said to her, “So, what are you going to do about it?” She thought about it. Did they expect she was going volunteer what little life she had left to fill in for the short staffing? She thought about what she had been a part of: building a new hospital, developing their model of care and their excellent reputation. And all the lives – all 74,000 of them.

One thing I can tell you about my wife is you don’t want to challenge her. One of my wife’s old bosses said she didn’t deserve respect because she didn’t have her BSN, just her RN from St V’s. Faster than you can say “bite me” she graduated summa cum laude. Myasthenia? No problem. Knee and ankle surgeries? That’s why there’s physical therapy. Cancer? Lesions under control.

They challenged her, “So, what are you going to do about it?” She thought about it. Her reputation? Her dignity? Her life’s work? Like I said, you don’t want to challenge my wife. She wasn’t going to let them beat her. She resigned.

Postscript – Pam will hate that I wrote this about her, she doesn’t like being the center of attention. She hopes that her action will galvanize those with more power to pressure the top layer of management to initiate positive change. One change I know will happen is they will need to hire at least two people to replace her. Perfectly, this NY Times article was in my Facebook feed today.

Thanks for all the well wishes and heartfelt notes – I read them to Pam and my chin quivers. I choke up too because for 37 years you (the staff) have been part of my family. You were there for us when we had our babies at St V’s and we have grown up (not old) together. Our love to you all.

2014 – Ten Random Thoughts on this past year.

January 4, 2015

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2014 was packed with many tales for telling, but who has time for that? Instead here are Ten Random Thoughts that came to mind when reviewing 2014…

  1. I am fat. I now get red-faced when I have to bend over to tie my shoes because I can’t breathe. And because I have no ass (Irish) my expanding, descending gut beats the pants off me. I’m considering suspenders (braces) because a belt doesn’t have the staying power I require while allowing for digestion. Exercise you say? Yeah – I’m thinking about it in between choosing snacks, but new methods for holding my pants up seem more likely.
  2. How are there no manuals for adult children? I love my kids and 2014 had some serious ups and downs for them. When they were little a tickle or a treat could fix most anything. Now I don’t know what to do, but still want “to make all better.” I know I can’t – but that doesn’t stop the frustration.
  3. Travel often, but not too often. This past year every vacation from work was packed with travel – Iceland, Durango, and Wales. I know I can be a whiner, but maybe we did too much. In the rush to check off our bucket list, we too often forgot to just be in the moment. After a day of piloting a canal boat in Wales, we moored and walked over to the lake alongside the canal. We sat on the shore eating dinner and feeding ducks while the sun set. It was glorious. We could have dined lakeside most anywhere, but here was an unplanned moment that was complete – no distraction from tomorrow or yesterday. Stop and smell the roses…? Yeah – do that.
  4. We sold my mother’s house this year. So many things in it were imbued with the power of time travel. One minute I’m nine proudly presenting a nicknack made in art class for her birthday, then I’m fourteen and embarrassed by the finger cymbals for belly dancing and then seconds later in my fifties wistfully passing the salt substitute. Sorting the house out I realized just how few treasures realistically could fit into my own crowded home and how many “rare” collectibles could be found on the shelves of a TJ Maxx. Note to self – get a dumpster.
  5. Drugs – Just say YES. Love ‘em! Without the M&Ms (Mestinon and Methotrexate) my wife would be encased in a floppy, lesion covered body. Drugs give her body the chance to act like most other bodies the age of hers. She gets to walk around, comb her hair and bitch about the aches and pains of getting old. Without these drugs I have no idea what her world would be – what my world with her would be. Easy to pick on Big Pharma, but there are success stories too. I love my wife, so I say thank you for giving us this time. And a shout out to the fine folks at Dana Farber. We are privileged to be holders of their blue card, opening us to a world where I feel lucky to have a naturally balding head and my wife wears a hat just because its cold out.
  6. Facebook has made me realize just how many of my friends have come out of the Libertarian closet or now rely on Jesus – or both. To quote the Byrds – “I was so much older then, I’m younger then than now.” I was a Libertarian when I was 20 and, at age 13, I respectfully decided Jesus had things to say, but with no more authority than Einstein or Gandhi. Sadly many of my Facebook friends are filled with vitriol for those who don’t hold the same beliefs they do. I disagree with so much of what is posted, but since it is from people I mostly like I listen, only occasionally pointing out factual errors. To quote another musical source, John Mayer, “Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign? Is there anyone who really recalls ever breaking rank at all for something someone yelled real loud one time?” I like to believe most of us have come to our world view through serious thought (I’m a glass half-full guy).
  7. This is the year, in my mind, I officially become an old guy. I’m turning 60 and I hear my conversation spouting things like “back in the day…” and the ever engaging “kids today…” Time – I need to make more of that because there may not be enough to read all those books and visit all those places I want to. Highlights include scheduling my next colonoscopy and wondering if that twinge is just the effect of some worn out body part or a sign of the big one…
  8. An aside to my many conspiracy minded friends: Washington is truly run by just out of college, Redbull gulping,  over-achievers trying to do everything anyone asks them to do. There is little coherence to what they do, much less diabolical plotting. Most political scandals are not a glimpse of some deeper secret, just a subordinate making a poor, sleep-deprived choice trying to please a mid-level bureaucrat who is trying to meet some misunderstood short-term metric and get that bonus.
  9. My wife and I got a shelving unit as a Christmas gift. I started moving the unread books that are stacked around my family room on to it. Books purchased with noble intentions to enlighten and entertain patiently wait for me to crack them open. I used to read constantly, now I fall asleep constantly. Looking over my choices I opened a collection of poems by Billy Collins – damn, that’s some good stuff. I need to get out more and into some books.
  10. People are important to me. Making up this list made me think of so many things and so many people. I know how it feels to be excluded so I don’t want to be that person. So please know that thing you did – yeah, that thing – still makes me think of you… yeah, you.

Birthday Deathday (for my son and my mother)

October 5, 2013

zrs glo

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza dear Liza…

Well, fix it dear Henry dear Henry fix it…

              Really, Liza? Fix it?

Under that hole is a little baby bucket

drinking in all the stories and admonitions

– filling up

    to spill over

         to the next and the next

watering the garden

         – crybabies.

             Liza, don’t be a bitch – it’s not all about you

the universe needs that hole!

Graduation

June 11, 2013

Zonk gradJune is graduation season. Lots of speeches are given to mark the passage from one stage of our lives to the next with an emphasis on the future and the many possibilities for the graduates.  My wife and I both earned some new notches on our education belts this year so we got to listen to some of these speeches, but honestly I can’t remember a word anyone said.  Soon enough though, I’ll be part of another graduation ceremony, but without cap and gown or pomp and circumstance. And I guarantee I’ll remember it.

This year we all graduate from Zonkaraz, a course of study I proudly say none of us completed in four years. The tuition was cheap when it started, about $5 a class, payable at the door. The vast majority of us majored in music; some of us focused on ballads – Different Song, Fill Me Up, and Blues in Mind – others on rock ‘n roll – California, Drivin’, Willy Mountain. This band has so many songs and so many styles to memorize, but we did. Just say hey, hey, the month of May and we all know it sleeps inside our bones (or was that the monkey man…?) Well, your hair’s still long and you know what your smokin’, right?  Watching an audience that can mouth every lyric of a band that plays all original music is a tribute to the relentless hours of study we all put in.

Most of the music majors minored in dance. The Zonkaraz dance was rarely a flamboyant thing. Usually small steps side to side with knees bent and just enough shoulder sway to keep the arms swinging, but just as every Red Sox fan knows when to pump a fist in the air during Sweet Caroline, every student of Zonkaraz knows to do the same for Jack Frost. The small step of the Zonkaraz dance may have its history and roots back to the Blue Plate, a venue looking high over Holden, with a floor that moved so much that perhaps the smaller step was spontaneously generated as an act of safety.

A Zonkaraz education wasn’t limited to just music and dance. The unintended goal was to educate the whole person. The band and crew joined the audience as they took on some very challenging courses in Mergers and Acquisitions involving the student body. Zonkaraz was the best wedding band that hardly ever played weddings. Paul and Linda, Walter and Valerie, Tom and Sue, Matt and Judy, Bobby and Debi and me and Pam all met and married while being schooled and, even though there were many other relationships that did not work out, that also was part of the education.

This June 22nd Zonkaraz will offer its final post-graduate course in essential American, outdoors boogie and blues at Indian Ranch in Webster, MA. The prerequisites for this course are few – positive energy, willingness to give and receive big hugs and active dancing shoes (don’t forget the orthotics!).  During this course you will learn just how much fun you have had with your fellow classmates, the reduced flexibility that comes with age and the discovery your memory is better than you think. At the end of class you will know that you have completed a course in life through the hallowed halls and somewhere over the rainbow of Zonkaraz University – my alma mater.

Happy Birthday, Glo!

May 10, 2013

My mother is 90 today. Happy Birthday! Sad to say it’s the first time I’ve had the date right in my whole life. Late cards and phone calls, always the excuse of trying to double up with Mother’s Day, knowing it is always right around the corner from her birthday – anything but on time. One year I was so late she made me write her birthday down and repeat it. It helped, but not too much. You would think I’d be better at this. I have reminders everywhere. This year I’ve got just the right cards for both celebrations and in plenty of time, but I’ll keep tradition and not mail them. After all, she’s not there to receive them anymore. And let that be a lesson to the rest of you – Call your mother – NOW!Image

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da…

April 17, 2013

Zach FB update

Think about this:
I’m in a mall near Quebec with a group of 8th graders trying out their French skills and I’m following my son’s progress in the Boston Marathon on my phone. I get a text from my daughter – two bombs went off near the finish line – many casualties and cell phone coverage weak at best.

Another text: At least two dead, limbs blown off, perhaps hundreds of casualties…

I had been waiting for the BAA website to update when the first text came in. Zach was nearing the end it and was taking forever to update. Forever just got longer.

I run a checklist in my head:

– Family? My daughter isn’t there, my wife is working, I’m in Canada. OK.
– Zach injured or worse? …How can I find out? …How will I get back? …Who will chaperone my students because I will need to go?

We are back on the bus and I no longer have Internet access. I ask the tour guide to Google it for me – he says two dead, many injured, no names. No help…

This was Zach’s third marathon. He passed the 30K marker significantly slower than his prior marks and I had wondered if this was “Heartbreak Hill.” When I finally got his 35K time I saw he picked up the pace. “Go Bud!” was my silent cheer back at the mall, now I was rethinking that.

My daughter texts me she got Zach on the phone. He answered, “I’m running” and he hung up. What a complete asshole, but my alive complete asshole son. He has no idea.

Relief makes my chin knot up to catch the tears while I compose myself to get back to the job of posing for a class picture in front of the Chateau Frontenac.

Everyday families who have children in combat must go on this roller coaster of terror and relief with every news report. I don’t know how or when you sleep.

This same day the news reported fifty-five killed by a car bomb in Iraq. Fifty-five who have mothers and fathers, who are someone’s daughters and sons, were killed. Their families will feel the terror, but not the relief. I don’t know how they can sleep.

When my children were little and got tired they became unruly hellions, lashing out at everything. I think this is universal human trait. Since I can remember we have had wars and bombings and terror – perhaps another universal human trait. Maybe we are just too tired; maybe we all need a nap.

Yesterday, I had a glimpse into the abyss of uncertainty. My heart goes out to those whose loss I can never understand, to those who have family stationed in harm’s way, to those who have family torn apart while going about the business of life and becoming tally marks on someone’s terrorism balance sheet. Newtown, Fallujah, Boston or Abuja; it makes no difference. I wish we would just give it all a rest and life goes on. Sing ob la di bla da…

PS – Turns out it wasn’t “Heartbreak Hill” that slowed Zach down – he needed to use one of the route portapotties. I am proud my son gives a shit. And thanks to all well wishes on Facebook.