Monday, May 31, 2010

The Unwanted Voyage

I came across this intriguing quote:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust.

New eyes. I hadn't considered new eyes. In fact, a voyage of discovery I did not seek. Content was I with my familiar landscape. But now, set adrift and led by a swift current, my two boys and I do well to keep our eyes, old or new, open. And even though old eyes seemed fine, maybe even pretty good, undeniably I am on an unwanted voyage while all my senses recalibrate.

Disclaimer: While sitting on the screened porch of neighbors enjoying a Memorial Day cook-out, my eyes "discovered" the intriguing quote on a bottle of Hennepin. Those Belgian Monks sure know a thing or two about the wisdom of the ages. And a good ale.



Death is a strange thing, friends. I never experienced someone close to me, really close, dying. Regardless of your beliefs, the finality of death, in this plane of existence, is profoundly disorienting. I see death, and it's brief companion, life, differently now. While life on this planet is abundant and pervasive, a single life is capricious and fleeting, followed by eternal death. The counterpoint of fleeting life and eternal death now is very alive in me.

What once seemed big, now seems small. The political dealings in Washington seem small and trivial. What are we arguing about? Why does everyone seem mad all the time? Why not spend our fleeting time with the friends and neighbors we love? Perhaps it is a deeper problem. Perhaps we need to invest more of our fleeting time learning to love, and be loved by, our friends and neighbors. To do otherwise is madness.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dr. Jeffrey Huskamp

Thursday, four weeks to the day after Amy was killed, a good man, my boss, Dr. Jeffrey Huskamp, Vice President and CIO of the University of Maryland, died. He heroically battled cancer before finally succumbing. I last saw just three days earlier at our senior staff meeting. He seemed better than he had prior. He had color in his face, was walking, engaging with us. Perhaps ending the chemo gave him a last wind.

I would liked to have known Jeff better. I only started my job at Maryland this past October. And Jeff was in and out of the office after the new year as his health declined, so our time together was limited. Jeff was a man of strong integrity and honesty, and committed to treating everyone fairly. Those times we did interact, through one-on-one meetings and otherwise, he was always engaging. Always very supportive, he gave me good advice and strong encouragement during my first weeks and months at the University. Jeff had a vision for moving our office forward and while that job is ongoing, through his leadership we have a strong foundation from which to realize his vision.

Jeff never got to meet my Amy. Neither was with us long enough. In my last one-on-one meeting with Jeff, just a week before his death, I remarked that I wish he had gotten the chance to meet Amy. He said the same. He had heard much of her work recently and expressed his admiration for her many deeds he had read and heard of. He did say that he expected to meet her in the future in some way. He wasn't specific, but his message was clear.

In grieving my wife, it's hard to get much sadder. But my heart goes out to his wife and family. I have not had the privilege of meeting them, yet I feel a kinship through our shared grief. Though we all grieve in our own ways and spaces, we grieve in the same time.

Jeff, you gave me opportunity to come to the University of Maryland, a truly special place with special people. I am forever indebted to you for that. May peace be with you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ripping Time

"Daddy, are you coming to my school today?"
"What's at school today?"
"It's my birthday."

shit.

Amy attended nearly every school function. Book day, skit day, parent lunch day, field trip chaperon day, and so on. Her part-time work arrangement allowed for flexibility and a level of work-life balance I just didn't have. For each boy's birthday she'd bring in cupcakes for the class for whatever celebration occurred.

So now we mark the passing of our first birthday without a wife; without a mother.



Last week I overheard a turn of phrase that I thought was curious. As I heard it a thought started rising in me. "Amy will find that curious. I can't wait to share it." That thought, still forming, was consumed by another thought: "Sorry. Can't do that. Amy's dead."

With each passing day, lingering remnants of a "past future" are snatched away. In vain, time applies that past future to an unwilling present. Each thread from the past future fabric stretches and tears, slowly rending from an emerging present.

Now I see my boys, of course, rending their time-fabric too.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Flowers

Flowers began arriving the next day and for several days after. Each a gift of grief and sorrow and disbelief. Pinks and purples and lavenders were Amy's favorites and she would have liked those especially. They sit on the porch, near the fireplace and in the dining room. Now three weeks old, a good life for cut flowers, they show their age. As color fades and fragrance decays some have dried completely, some wilted, while a few hang on.

A friend suggested pressing a bloom from each as a keepsake. That seems right. The others need a new place to rest.

Once added to our compost pile, to rich earth shall they slowly return. Inside, the flowers remain by the fireplace and in the dining room. Outside, the flowers have moved from the porch to the walk, one step closer to the compost out back. One baby step.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Remains

Picking up my wife's ashes from the funeral home was not on my life "to do" list, at least not for a long time. Yet there I was. Arm-in-arm with her mom, we stepped heavily into the lobby and were escorted to the library. After a few moments Neil, the funeral director assigned to us, walked in with a linen box and papers to sign. Amy's mom and I hugged and cried. We signed the papers, took the box and cried some more. Yet a peculiar peace entered me. An unfamiliar calmness.

I brought Amy home and put her on my dresser. Where she finally rests, we will someday determine, but for now, it will do. The place at least provides a focal point for me to direct my conversations with her.

It's strange the comfort of hugging a box of ashes. I was not expecting that. Yet when I explained to my two boys that we had brought mommy's ashes home, they immediately asked to see them, and when they did, the oldest wanted to hug the box too. We three boys hugged Amy and hugged each other and cried. Cried many, many tears.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Future Tense

Where did the trees go? No shade do I have.
Be patient, my son, though the trees are no more, their seed is sown.
Where did the birds go? No songs do I hear.
Be patient, my son, though the birds have flown, they will return some day.
Where did the water go? My lips are dry.
Be patient, my son, though the river has dried, rain shall come.
Where did the fire go? It is dark and I cannot see.
Be patient, my son, though your torch has burned out, its embers glow.
Where do I go? I seemed to have lost my way.
Be patient, my son. Be patient.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Off the Air

We walk out of my parent's house and there, idling in the driveway, waits a huge stretch limo. I mean huge. Cool, I think, I wasn't expecting this. We hop in the back seat. There are two other rows of seats between us and the driver. A couple other people join us in the seats ahead, and off we go! I press the button to raise the smoked glass partition between us and those in front. Alone at last.

I reach over and take her hand. The color fades to a grainy gray like an old television set after the late night news and the National Anthem. Static.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Singles

Son went 2 for 2 in his first little league game with 2 clean singles. He also later scored 2 runs. I often over-use sports metaphors but the slow, steady grind of the baseball season requires good, consistent hitting. While home runs are fun and exciting, nothing beats a high on base percentage. I remember a coach advising to just put the ball in play. Don't worry about how hard you hit it, make the other team get you out.

Put the ball in play - still good advice for baseball and other things.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Adrift

Thirsty, I wandered the desert in search of cool waters. I came to a small rivulet and drank from it, but the water was sour and made me sick. I then came to a shallow pool with reeds and drank from it, but the water was salty and made me sick. I continued onward and came to small oasis with a pool. I stopped and drank from it, but its source had dried and the pool became stagnant. I continued onward, digging here and there in the earth divining for water, or occasionally catching the morning dew for a small sip to wet my dry lips. I continued on. I arrived at a sandy cliff. As I edged forward to look below it gave way and I fell. The weightless fall both terrified and exhilarated. I plunged head long into a deep rolling river fed by mountain streams. I gasped for breath. Finding my balance I gulped in the cool, sweet waters. The water washed over and cleansed. I was alive. The current swept forward and carried me into the most beautiful valley any man has ever seen. I breathed in the fragrance of the loamy soil and perfume of the surrounding forest wood. The dappled sun passing through the embracing tree canopy warmed me. Sounds of the water dancing around large stones upon the bedrock and lapping the sandy banks weaved into beautiful hymns.

This was sacred land. I rested upon the shore and built a fire. So abundant was this sacred land that new life sprang forth and we all drank of the cool sweet waters, played in the forest and danced by the fire on the sturdy bank of the water. For eternity, we dreamed, would we drink and play and dance.

Then suddenly the land shifted and shook. The trees groaned with anguish and were uprooted. The bedrock moaned in despair and our sturdy bank gave way plunging us back into the river. And now three of us hold on dearly and gasp for air and wonder to what unknown place the current takes us.