Sunday, April 29, 2012

Second Time Around


This We Have Now

This we have now
is not imagination.

This is not 
grief or joy.

Not a judging state,
or an elation,
or sadness.

Those come and go. 
This is the presence that doesn't.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks

Dear Amy,
It’s cooler today that it was two years ago.  But the sky is the same clear blue that it was that day.  That day when the world we created stopped spinning and its time disappeared. I could not fathom what would come next. Could come next. Dutifully and with no emotion, Earth continued around the sun and dragged us with her, without you. We’ve swung around a second time and somehow, for some unknowable reason, I awoke this morning and birds were chirping.

Your mom and Donald came over today.  We drank wine, talked, looked at pictures, and talked some more. We filled purple balloons with helium and wrote messages on them and let them fly up into that clear blue sky. It was beautiful. And it was sad. Very sad. We cried and held each other. We came inside and had dinner and drank more wine, looked at more pictures, talked some more then ate. I think you would have enjoyed it.

And the boys – You’d be so proud of your boys. They’ve grown up so much. They really are amazing. We lit candles at church before the service. And the balloons we sent to you were their idea.  And also the messages they wrote on them with Sharpies. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how much they miss you.

Two years. Two years. I can’t believe it’s really been two fucking years. It’s one of those strange “time things,” you know? It both feels like it’s been forever and no time at all. And then there is the simple fact that it’s the second year. And the second year has been different. The first year comes with all this, … , this stuff. It’s the first year, it’s symbolic, you have to get through the first year, and you just have to get through it. There are no options. It’s a big milestone and it requires a certain acknowledgement. The second year? I didn’t really know what to do. What was I supposed to do? It now just becomes the first, next year to endure. That’s really it.

I think back to two years ago and can only shake my head in disbelief. I half-way joke with some people that “I must be living in a Greek drama or a Russian novel.  I don’t know which, but it’s one of the two.  Ha, ha.” Some people laugh; sort of, but most just tilt their head sideways. I sometimes try to explain the juxtaposition of life and death. Of chaos and evil and love. And how love and life must win over evil and death, but our individual lives are too short to see the ending so we are left unresolved. I think that just makes people depressed so I mostly shut up or change the subject to the weather or baseball.

But for now, Russian or Greek, here I am – In the eternal presence that, as Rumi says, neither comes nor goes. It just is. 

I sometimes will be doing something – something we’d do together – driving somewhere, sitting and reading, small things – and imagine you are still here. And then I realize that you are not.  But it's really a matter of timing, for you are, in fact, here, in this space. But sadly, not also in this time. Not in my present time. At least not anymore. Time left you behind and cursed us to continue on.  To continue to live in this present time. To live on and love again, in a new time. A new presence. And we are finding ways, slowly, tentatively, to live and love again, in this new life. In this current presence.

I’m just sad you can’t be with us anymore. In this time.

Love,
John

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nothing is Ever Simple


Last month I posted the introduction to an 10-part series on a small book of sayings from Amy's grandparents: "Wise Words from Eleanor and Eugene Becker."  This is part 1. 

Nothing is ever simple? Does that mean everything is complex?

If Gene Becker were still alive, and if bookstores still existed, he could go to the self-help section and there would be several shelves full of books on living simply. I know this because I used to stand there confused by the abundance of simplicity advice. And if you search Amazon, no fewer than 19,000 books are suggested when entering “live simple.” At times I hear, particularly at work, the aphorism to “keep it simple, stupid.” And sometimes “stupid” is replaced with a less gentle word that begins with “s” and ends in “hithead.” Then there’s Einstein oft quoted “make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.”



With the abundance of advice and guidance and wisdom to be simple leads me to conclude the “simple” life is something we have to work for. Were it to come naturally there’d be no market for such books. It’s as if we have to fight against some instinct to collect and hoard, to over analyze and over commit, thus layering simple with extra burdens and expectations.

Actually, it’s not “as if,” it is.

Truly, nothing is ever simple. Unless we apply some energy to make it so, thus going against some basic human instinct, which is, thus, a complicated task. At this point we are caught in a circle.

I like Gene Becker’s approach. Not a resignation, but an acknowledgement. An acceptance. Rather than fight the reality of life and our own complicating idiosyncrasies, own it, and plan for it.

I asked my Mother-in-law, Bonnie, Gene Becker’s daughter, about this and she said:

It probably developed from his very deliberate and problem-solving thought patterns.   Because of his handyman skills, my mother was always asking "could you just make X,” or “it would be really easy to do…Y” or “it really wouldn’t be hard to fix…Z.” My dad knew better, but I cannot think of a time when “X” or “Y” or “Z” was not eventually accomplished – the man really could do almost everything!  however the process was always a great deal more complicated or had more ramifications than first thought.  

And as a software engineer by trade, I understand. We often times dismiss the connectedness of small decisions to other decisions.  How one action sets in motion other, unanticipated actions.  So in this regard, nothing is ever simple.  Bonnie went on to say that, in fact, often we do see the complications in a situation but rather than helping, it paralyzes. Where do I start? It's too big; too much. We become completely daunted by all the potential hurdles and thus procrastinate. We don't take the leap. But that was not Gene’s way. It seems he almost relished the challenge of the complex. It didn’t stop him.

It's this last point as how I want to think of Gene's wisdom that “nothing is ever simple.”  That is, don’t let it stop you. I can see in my mind's eye Eleanor asking Gene to take care of something around the house. Something she thought simple but Gene knew otherwise. With a sparkle in his eye, he turns on his heels and heads to his tool shed. "Eleanor, nothing is ever simple!" he gleefully calls over his shoulder.

Gene may have been talking about fixing things around the house, but he could have been talking about so many other things: Falling in love, being in a primary relationship, maintaining friendships over long periods of time, raising children, watching friends and lovers die, and so on. To avoid that complexity is to avoid life itself.

And that is simply unacceptable.