Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Speaking Well of Others Speaks Well of Ourselves

June 17, 2017
Be careful how you speak of others.
That sounds like the start of a stern lecture, so let me word that another way. Take care to think through what you say when you speak of others.
It doesn’t matter whether they are living or dead. The more negatively you speak of others, the more negative the reflection on you.
This stuff is called dirt for a reason.
I’ve always marveled at the interest of others have of drama not on the stage. Soap Operas, Reality TV, and a host of other things suck people in. This in addition to the drama we find ourselves facing on a daily basis. Speaking poorly of others only feeds that beast. How much is enough?
If you wish to speak of someone in a way that might warn others about their behavior, then consider the trust but verify approach. It carries more weight than muckraking.  An example I’ll share involves a referral. I was asked by a stunt coordinator about an individual she wanted to hire. The stunt side of the Film and Live Show entertainment business is different from the acting side. Where actors have to audition, stunt performers typically get their work through relationships and referrals. I was honest with her. I told her this particular performer had presented performance challenges on a previous project, and that I had to chase her for several weeks to get her info for a production I was coordinating, which ultimately opted not to hire her. It would have been easy to say, “the kid is lazy, immature, and unreliable” but there was a better way.
Find the better way.
A word when spoken is a bird taking wing for flight forever. The things you say you cannot undo, you cannot change, and you cannot take back.
This past week found me remembering my brother’s birthday, gone five years, and marking the passing of two people close to me. That qualifies as a pretty crappy trifecta in my book.
Neither who jumped ship this week was perfect, but both were worthy of stories that make us smile. In the one case, an old friend from my Rocky Horror days in the 80’s (and part of the then-famous Wild and Untamed Things) passed away after a lengthy battle with mental and physical health issues. At the memorial, my dear friend Jack and I both determined that stories to make people laugh was the order of the day. The Matriarch from my mother’s side of the family also shuffled her mortal coil. Her story to share (since I was and am still not ready to grieve openly) involved her walking up besides me, in the midst of a group of people we both knew, and rubbed my belly…as she looked at me and said, “Say it, honey. Lower and faster.” and then she walked away, laughing hysterically. In a rare case, I was left speechless.

When we are saddened by loss, someone more callous might observe and say, “boo hoo, people die.” That is not in the least bit mature, and we should not be those people. Nor should we pay any attention to those who demonstrate such ignorant temerity.

Speak well of others, living or dead, no matter how much the temptation to do otherwise. It’s better to be the better person than to live with regret because you said something in haste. Similarly, look for every opportunity to speak well and positively of those you know and those you love. Finding and extolling the good in others brings out the good in ourselves.
That’s how we should immortalize others; this, no doubt, is how we ourselves would want to be remembered.
Speaking of remembering, remember to call someone you love and remind them of how important they are to you.
Do it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
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Love, Greeting Card Style

May 9, 2017

It’s a funny thing, a greeting card.
If you walk through a store and happened to pass by the stationary and greeting cards section, take a look. Most people don’t even give that aisle a second look these days.
Why would we? We’ve got E cards, WhatsApp and Skype.

So I’m moved beyond measure when I receive a greeting card for my birthday. They’re just as special when one shows up ‘just because’. Sure, mom and dad usually will send the greeting card although they’re forgiven if they forget.
But when a friend sends a greeting card for your birthday? Think about the time it took out of their day to stop by a store and find that aisle, and then comb through every card until they found one that summarized and embraced their feelings for you.

That is a special person. Made even more so by the fact they feel the same way about you. now I’m not saying run out to your local hallmark and drop a couple a hundred on greeting cards for every occasion. But it might it not be a bad idea, proactively, to visit the card aisle next time you make a grocery run and stock up on a few cards that can be properly inscribed and dropped in the mail. Just keep them in the study, or on your pass through, and the next time you’re thinking of a friend, smiling about a family member you miss, scribe a few words and post.

Here is one way you do your level best to guarantee those people know how important they are to you. We must never forget in this digital age how important it is to do at least this much. They need to know. Emails, texts, messaging through the various forms are great, but this action elevates and enhances.

Consider this: when we receive that card, most of us on our best day might just be a shade better than half the person our family or friend thinks we are.

Happy Birthday, Bernie ( Show the Ones You Love the Love You Have to Show ).

November 15, 2016

His name is Bernie, and today is his birthday.

One of the smartest, goofiest-yet-classiest guys I’ve ever known, he was never afraid to poke fun at himself. With his easy-going personality he’s one of those people that never walked away from a stranger. People talk about knowing someone like that. Bernie is that person. He could walk into a room full of strangers and leave behind a room filled with friends. Looks, charm, and smarts made him a much sought after partner for conversation.

We’d be having a talk about politics or golf or the way people drive and I’d be trying to wrap my head around some behavior that had me scratching my head, frustrated. He would offer a summary in a few succinct words. He did it without fanfare and without making a big deal of it. He possessed this Buddhist sensibility. That was the kind of guy he was.

In my book (and no doubt plenty of others) he was the Unofficial Mayor of Waynesville. He knew everyone everywhere. He knew the business of different businesses, and could tell you which ones had a decent shot of succeeding. Here’s an example of the impact he had on his world. Years ago I’d gone downtown and wandered into the newspaper shop on Main Street (a now long lost relic to the past). I grabbed a paper and soda, and as I was paying, the guy behind the counter, who also owned the place, asked how my folks were and told me to say hi to my dad. I hadn’t been there in about a year. Another time I was in town and went with him to one of his Kiwanis Club meetings, where they were talking about doing a haunted house. He immediately volunteered me because of my experience designing them when I was in college. For countless Halloweens after Bernie would call and pick my brain, telling me about the space they had to work with (small), their budget (non-existent), and asked if I could get up there to help.

He’d been in the restaurant supply business for so long there were few who knew more than he when it came to restaurant and kitchen equipment. He could have written a book called ‘Kitchen Confidential’ on the things he’d seen, but he wasn’t an exposé kind of guy.

He had a way of sharing his opinion in such a fashion it often opened your mind.

About a year ago I was up visiting and we had to take a trip into town. He liked to say that when you were living in the mountains every trip was a trip into town. This particular excursion was an excuse to stop at Clyde’s, a Waynesville institution. It was the middle of the afternoon and we got coffee and talked. It was a quiet, unassuming moment, much like the man. Life is filled with moments we realize only later carry deeper impact.

Years ago, back in South Florida, he was thrilled when I took up magic, and would share new techniques. He always referred to himself as ‘The Great Lousini.’ But was as good at a pass, lift, or palm as any pro I’d known. The old saw about how ‘a good magician never reveals his tricks’ didn’t apply. The guy was better than I’ll ever be.

I talked to him the week before he passed away. I made it a point to try to talk to him at least once a week. Some weeks were a lot better than others. I was up there recently. His strength had been much reduced, but the light in his eyes and his wit were both present. The first thing he said when I walked into the house? He told mom we were going to take a trip into town for an ice cream.

I have this great photo I took of him when he and mom first moved up to the mountains of Western North Carolina. Clearing the land on the side of the house where the land sloped up, he happily cut away. He was wielding a chainsaw as I shouted for his attention. He turned around and saw the camera. He hammed it up by holding that chainsaw above his head, opening his mouth like some crazed member of a chainsaw brigade. I smiled as I took the photo, and smiled every time I looked at that picture.

Here was a man much admired and appreciated by all he met. He inspired when he didn’t try. He was my hero, in part because he was so sensible. I grew to admire the boxy style of the Volvo because he drove one for so long. It might have been uncool to most, but not to me, because it was his. It was because of him I learned early in life to appreciate National Public Radio, an appreciation I carry to this day. I can’t turn on a radio without switching to FM and heading to the left on the dial. Turned out to be a good thing I listen so much since a lot of the news I hear is topical and applies well to the courses I’m studying.

Being in a situation where you’re certain you know how you should react, yet can’t, is a tough place. When the thing that triggers confusion is the loss of a loved one, the emotion of choice is sometimes despair. The loss of a loved one is a different experience for each of us. In my case the plunge into fog was quick and without mercy. In the fog I’m fortunate there are people like my mom, reaching out and touching my hand, comforting me by letting me know we take this one day at a time.

My mom is my other hero. She is an Olympian example of strength I cannot possibly possess. Her heartbreak I cannot fathom. My heart cries and struggles as it fights to break free of my chest. She once remarked her job was to ‘help mountain folk keep their heads screwed on straight’. The key word there is help. My blinding quandary is how do I help her?

For the grief that is inevitably going to catch up with me, I am not yet prepared. I’m not ready. Perhaps it makes me something of a coward, convinced I can outrun the pain. If it gets me to a place where I can take my breath before facing the pain, then call me what names you will.

I’ve always been the prodigal son in part because that’s the journey I unwittingly chose. But as I grew older I grew to understand the importance of family, how they prop and support, how they provide insight, refuge, and balance. Conversations where one could disagree without being disagreeable; where one could talk and find a union of the heart and mind. I’m working on my MBA and I’m going to miss those opportunities to talk politics and economics.

When I called the house for the first time after he passed away I heard his voice, thankfully still on the voicemail message. The first time I heard that voice singing, “Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina…” I thought it was so corny. We all did. But it was perfect and it was Bernie. Hearing that voice now brings a smile wrapped in sadness.

And I understood why of late he was reluctant to be seen on the streets of downtown Waynesville. It wasn’t that no one wants to see their beloved Mayor, their hero, reduced of strength physically, even if still a giant mentally. But more importantly to him, he didn’t want people to see him and become worried. That was also Bernie.

I’d give anything for one more cup of coffee at Clyde’s.

Happy birthday, Dad.  Thanks for introducing me to NPR and Daniel Silva, among other things. I love you and consider myself most fortunate indeed to have been part of your world.

People. People Who Need People.

March 21, 2016

If we’re lucky, I mean truly lucky, every so often someone will come along and offer you the kind of unsolicited advice that amounts to a life talk. It might happen when you’re a captive audience, or it might be something tossed into play from the periphery of a fleeting moment in your day.
That advice? Well, it might come in the form of a sentence or two.
It might also take the form of a full-fledged conversation. Or, if you’re fortunate, it might be a series of conversations than span decades.

I can remember those significant moments now 30 and 40 years later.

The first time was when I was in Boy Scouts. I was at a weekend event and did something really impressive. Once accomplished I proceeded to strut about like a male peacock displaying his full regalia. I’m certain this deed was not nearly as impressive to those around me, but I was a teenager (which really ought to explain a lot). In the midst of this, one man, my best friend’s father, waited for me to finish then pulled me aside. “Ron,” he began, “whenever you do or accomplish something worthy of recognition let other people notice without bringing it to their attention.”

You know, that’s pretty heady stuff for a 12 or 13 year old. Lee Widner was one of those people who just did that sort of thing. While growing up he was, in some ways, sort of a surrogate father. He often encouraged me with expert subtlety to get those Merit Badges and seriously focus enough on getting my Eagle Scout, which I completed all the requirements for, but moved out of the state and territory before I was awarded this honor. (To make matters more complicated, when I settled and located another troop and scout master, Richard Brown he did the research and could find no information I’d completed the process. I learned of two stories later, though had no way of confirming either. One said the troop disbanded. The other story suggested a massive vacuum created by several assistant scout masters leaving because the scout master left. I’ll never know. And I digress). Point is, Lee took the time to provide me doses of attention ordinarily reserved for his son Brad. I have little doubt, in reflection, that he didn’t provide such doses of guidance to others. It was his nature, and no doubt sewn into his DNA.

The second person that saw something in me worthy enough to garner his attention was my history professor, Ralph Clark. Mr. Clark was the kind of professor for whom people took classes they didn’t need nor would apply towards their curriculum credits. In many ways I was reminded of him the first time I ever watched Dead Poets Society. You see, Mr. Clark took the time to talk about history and went so much further. He loved teaching as much as he loved history, and he loved history. After a series of lectures and facilitation in Honors Western European History he set up a road trip. Destination? Vizcaya (if you’ve never heard of this place, look it up).

I went to college in South Florida, getting both my Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree from institutions of Higher Learning. The Chateau Vizcaya was an hour away from school. I signed up and was glad I did. I love history and always have. But what Mr. Clark did transcended anything I’d ever Learned. We walked through the rooms and then went outside and walked the grounds, studying the architecture. Mr. Clark would point out an architectural nuance or an element that had been talked about in class and then quietly step back and watch us engage each other. That keen sense of awareness, of how history would resonate because we were not only exposed to it but we were talking and living it. He was no fool. He knew we’d retain more than he taught.

Last class of the last semester of my Associates degree with Mr. Clark. I was halfway through the room when Mr. Clark said, “Ron take a seat for a moment.” So I did. After the room cleared he came over and sat down next to me. “Ron? You’re about to go into the big leagues. I mean sure, you may have a professor that cares enough for you to get to know your name but in most of your classes your grades are going to be determined by a Midterm and a Final. Extra credit will be a thing of the past.”

He took the time to explain to me what I was getting into. Honestly I had no idea and simply justified his conversation as the rattlings of an old man. But he cared enough to take time out of a day no less busy than any other to talk to me. When he finished he simply said, “Well, that’s all Uncle Ralph has to say.” He retired and went to live in the Shenandoah Valley, a place rich in history. With his departure went a era.

Another advocate was Dr. Peter Roundy. Fifteen minutes into my first class I knew I had to take others. And I did. Much of my  electorate requirements were populated with courses taken where Dr. Roundy was professor. Our relationship developed into a genuine friendship. He travelled the world, gone for six to nine months at a time, teaching English in Thailand or some other fantastic locale. In a turnabout for memorable experiences, he told me once, over lunch, I was one of the only students that wrote him every time he travelled. I liked him and couldn’t help myself. His method for dispensing advice was simple: a few words here and there, doled out like chocolate sprinkles on a double dark chocolate cupcake. It was as if he’d see you starting to slip off the path and he’d turn you right again. Of course, if you were me you chose to bulldoze your way through life, only reflecting later on something said and remarking to yourself, “Oh. That’s what he meant.”

And then there was Christopher Burns. I have written much on the man that became my brother with a bond that could not be broken by words or actions. Every living creature should be so fortunate as to have someone in their life so generous. He was a general in my army, champion to my action, and quiet observer to my missteps. He was wise enough, as any oracle, to let me stumble.

An idea man, he often studied and dissected things (including me), looking for a way to make it better. I was fortunate to be the recipient of those talks, even if the ideas might take years to stick.

I still reflect on those conversations and wish I had the chance, especially with Christopher, to sit and simply talk, letting that wisdom pour over me like a comforting breeze. Those talks never truly resonated with me at the time. But that’s the thing with really insightful advice: sometimes it requires time to germinate, to find purchase in the rich soil of the mind. Many take heed and respond to the call quickly. Others like yours truly sometimes miss the opportunity to give such advice the chance to help us change direction. As a result, when it does seat, we’ve already moved on.

I guess my message is this to you, my dear reader. We need people like that in our lives. They give us contextual insight through objective eyes. They are sometimes our reset button. If someone comes along and gives you the sort of unsolicited advice that peels itself like a Foxtail Palm or an artichoke and reveals more every time you glance its way, here’s what you do: if you can’t actually listen, retain and immediately apply that information, at least try to remember the critical piece of it. Give that advice a chance, just as that person who cared gave you. In time, you’ll not only be applying some of those helpful hints and life coach adjustments, but just as good, you’ll discover someone who might just need a little bit of the same.

It’s another way of making the world better one deed at a time.

Writing a Best Man’s Speech Like the Best Man

September 21, 2015

I have had a number of guys approach me about Best Man speeches. Mostly it was, “how do I write one?”
So I decided to offer some insights, as well as post the one I composed for my best friend and his wife.

The Basics.
Know the couple. Chances are, if you’ve been asked to make a speech at the wedding (or be the Best Man), your knowledge of one or both celebrants transcends the casual. If you do not know one or the other well enough do some research. Take notes. Jot them down. You’ll need them later.

No off the cuff or extemporaneous speeches unless your improv skills are superior. Remarkably, the more people drink, the more talented they perceive themselves to be. Don’t fall victim to this painful mindset. I am not good at improv, and chose the careful, deliberate path of well-crafted syntax.

Make basic composition and order your friend. I recommend referring first to the person you are closest to, and then their partner. Finally, speak of both together, as one, since this is the secondary point of the speech: Acknowledging the two individuals as a couple. (note – avoid the temptation to refer to anything scandalous, offensive, or coarse. It may seem funny at the time but will make you memorable for all the wrong reasons. Besides, this is supposed to be a happy occasion, so resist any action that might otherwise sully the event.)

Write the speech, and rewrite it. And then practice it.

Memorize it. You will be the rock in the room as you speak, apparently from your heart (which is nonetheless true), with care and cadence. Take the time to make eye contact with your subjects as you speak to the room.

What follows, then, is the speech I wrote:

I’d like to start by thanking everyone for being here. Tonight’s celebration is as much for you as it is ABOUT Deane and Anna.

I got to thinking: what is the origin of the best man? Isn’t the groom supposed to be the best man?
A little history then, for those of you who might not know.
Once upon a time the best man assisted the groom in kidnapping the bride. (not an issue tonight).
This role evolved over time. The groom’s best man was so named for his ability with a sword, to protect the celebrants, and stave off possible attack. (again, probably not an issue tonight).

I met Deane when he was my director for a production of Hamlet, renaissance festival style. He was a giving and insightful director. Turns out he’s more giving as a friend. Where I consider myself a detail person Deane is a person of detail.

Anna? You are every sort of detail perfectly suited to the man. Deane was cautious when feelings developed, and held on to the word Like more than most would.
But you knew. There came a time when the word *Like* really meant *Love.*
I’d like to think Shakepeare’s Sonnet 83 captures Deane’s feelings for you every time he looks at you.
The thing about the bard: every time you hear the same verse, see the same action, or read the same stanza a new layer appears.

So it is with Deane and Anna.
May you continue to grow in your experiences, even as your Love expands, embraces and envelops each other. hold on to your plural voice, even as you learn to speak in the singular.
Allow your layers to blend and influence your world.
Those layers so perfectly intertwine that your love for each other speaks its own language.
You are well on the way, not just with your love, but with the love of everyone here.
Because that is part of your journey. To make your world a better place, doing so with love. Never believe you can say “I love you” too much.
We cement those layers every time we hold our true love’s hand. Don’t be afraid to hold her hand often.
People remark on how I always hold my wife’s hand. They believe it is a display of our love. Well it’s that, and a little more. I hold her hand as often as I can, because if I let go, she goes shopping.

It is said marriage is not about finding the person you can live with…It’s about finding the person you can’t live without. You have found your fair maiden. Embrace your role as the knight in shining armour…or at least, shimmering tights.
I relinquish my sword to you, Deane. For you are now, for your wife, The Best Man.
Everyone? Please raise your glass and join me as we wish Mr. and Mrs. Laseter a lifetime of love and happiness.

Jim Robertson – A Mission of Love

November 17, 2011

It was quite the gathering, somber and subtle.  The steady flow of people suggested the hope of getting a glimpse of someone known to many and loved by all, their mere presence a testament to the man.  They came from everywhere, current and former work colleagues, and all friends.  Jim’s storied history as an entertainer encompassed everything from clowning around to stunts.  Really.  He was a clown with Ringling Brothers and stunt performer at Wild West, calling upon his ability to make people laugh while doing stunts so effortlessly he made you believe anyone could do them.

It is said we are measured by the company we keep.  If you want to know a little about a man, take a look at the people he calls “friend.”

By such reckoning Jim is a man wealthier in character than most who measure their wealth by something more tangible, yet no more substantial.  His love and connection to those who paid tribute by their presence to him showed a man who had not only made peace with God and the complexity of the human condition, but he made the effort known to each and every soul who reached out to him.

Perhaps that is a bit of a misnomer.  In sooth, he reached out to everyone, one delicate and fragile soul at a time.  It was like watching a receiving line for royalty.  He had special words for every person.  Even in pain, the love on his face shone through his smile, a beacon to each one of us lost in the confusing darkness.  Some of us chose to remain nearby, standing sentinel, others had not the strength to wait for the moment the ferryman would arrive.  His family was never far away, each one at one point or other in the evening offering every one of us a hug as thanks for being there.  Except for his father.  His father sat at the foot of the bed and gently massaged Jim’s feet.  The image is a powerful one that will forever remain with me.  You see, I lost a brother years ago, and the pain and sadness that affected me, while deep, was different from my parents, faced with the unsettling reality of having to bury their son.   No parent should ever have to stare this reality in the eye.

I said goodbye to an old friend tonight, careful to remain sure-footed and stoic in his presence. I’d summoned up the courage (which was nothing compared to Jim’s daily battles of late) to come to the house. I was conflicted about going, because I knew why I was going. By his invitation we all were there. I dug deep as I walked in to see him, bolstered by the presence of so many friends and loved ones gathered under one roof. Most of us tried the same tact.  But our body posture shouted something else entirely.  And Jim? He knew better. It’s why he smiled as he held my hand.  He spoke to me of marriage and of flying, the former a passion of his and the latter a passion of mine.  He offered wisdom to a neophyte married man with the same lucidity of conversations we so recently enjoyed at work.

Have you ever wanted to hug the pain out of someone?  I felt that way, and yet sensed Jim wanted to hug the pain out of all of us, one at a time.

That’s a lot of love.  That’s a colossal giant of a man.

I remarked later that I admired him for so many things, and most recently, for his strength.  To have the wherewithal to make peace with the world in general and accept the hand one is dealt, while capitalizing on the moments still hanging in the pass, takes remarkable fortitude.  I have never been so strong in the brilliant points of my life, allowing rather the crest of momentum to carry me.  I know with fair certainty I could never be so strong faced with the imminent advance of my own mortality.  I will never understand what sort of Herculean strength is required of a person to stave off the advances of organ failure simply to say good bye to those who need.

An anxiety attack is cause for concern in most.  Yet here was a man who found a way to smile as he sat at the portal, refusing the suffering any quarter as he kept the pain at bay in favor of the company of we few who trudge onward, forced to face the day of our own reckoning in the gentle eyes of a man twice as good as most of us will ever aspire to be.

People often use clichés to the point of exhaustion.  One such phrase, “…Charming to the last,” has seen more than its fair share of exposure for causes and people unworthy.  Yet such a simple phrase does not describe Jim in those hours and moments.

To say Jim was charismatic and charming to the last denigrates the statement and does little to stress exactly how much love and charm exuded from this man.  He inspired a prominent local entertainer, himself a charming and charismatic fellow, to take on the task of becoming a concert promoter, building a night of entertainment dedicated to a singular purpose: helping Jim and his family. During the pre-production period of bringing the “Mission of Love” concert experience to fruition, Donn managed on a few hours of sleep a night.  He didn’t care.  Forging forward with this pressing need, he touched upon its importance with every person he spoke to.  And wound up having to turn people down.  What’s that say for a man’s worth that entertainers were lining up when they heard whom the benefit was for?

In times of trouble, and all too often at the expense of a person’s demise, does the kindest of words begin to drift skyward. We too often delay our effortless endeavor until we are robbed of the opportunity to say, “I love you” or offer some other sweetly noble cadence.  We create this sadness for ourselves and then wonder why we waited.

Yet Jim never waited, and he never allowed us to wait, either.  He compelled us to speak our mind, from the heart, in one voice.

Don’t wait.  The world needs the possibility of a universe with love, of people not willing to remain the silent majority, taken to task for thinking, “what if?”

I heard someone question why God takes all the good ones, and leaves the miserable, villainous sots behind.  I have an answer:  He is sometimes a selfish God, and when the mood strikes him, he wants the best for himself.   Or, to put it in the words of Donn:  “Open the Gates!  You got a good one!!!”

If you knew Jim, you’d agree.

Thanks Jim, for sharing your heart and showing us foolish mortals the hopefulness of a world with Love.

Harry and the art of living richly

December 10, 2010

I had one of the best neighbors anyone could ever ask for.  His name was Harry.

His passing was the sort of news I hadn’t any preparation for.  It came via phone.  I received a call from my girl and she knew how fond I was of him.

“Harry was put down yesterday.  Lee isn’t ready to talk about it.”

I stared into space.   I had seen him the previous afternoon.  “I went over to say hi to him and had five good minutes of puppy love before Lee came back out.”

“Yes,” she began, “You were one of the last people he knew to see him and give him love.”

I broke down over the phone as the awareness washed over me, an emotional building collapsing on the foundation of my soul.  It overcame me, a torrent of sadness and emotion.

“I have to go,” I whimpered past the lump in my throat as I hung up the phone.   I let my head collapse into my hands as I quietly sobbed.  I was at work and in an office surrounded by colleagues and didn’t want anyone to notice, although I was prepared to lie if asked.  I would have readily blamed the sniffling and tears on allergies.  Plausible in the Florida climate on almost any given day but not likely in the winter when the weather was clear with a temperature in the mid-forties.  I just didn’t want anyone to ask because explaining would have diminished the impact the little guy had on everyone he met and I didn’t want to put anyone in that awkward position of comforting a grown man with wet cheeks, because big boys aren’t supposed to cry.

A bit about Harry.  Harry was a handsome blonde fellow with the most brilliant golden-yellow eyes one had ever seen.  When we moved into the house across the street from him we quickly became friends with his human companions.  They loved and doted on him in a way that only people who understand what it means to have a canine companion almost from birth in one’s life.  He was already fifteen when we first formally met, and there shone such brilliance in those eyes.

I went across the street to bring Lee a big bronze eagle.  It was the sort of Americana piece one hung proudly over the mantle, or kitchen, or even in the garage, over one’s tool crib.  There was a community garage sale coming up and I decided I didn’t want to sell it; I wanted to give it to Lee.  Something told me he’d appreciate it.

That was when I saw Harry.  I knew I heard him barking, a subtle plaintive call for attention from anyone near enough to hear.  When I walked up to the garage the passenger door to Lee’s old Ford with over a quarter – million miles on its odometer was open.  I expected to see Lee hunkered down, working on something inside.

Instead there was Harry.  I placed the bronze art piece down and began scratching his head.  I leaned forward and talked to him, oblivious to anyone else.  And his eyes? They looked out from a frame that had long ago stopped working to support a soul that was still as energetic and vibrant as any puppy turned loose in a field.  But those eyes were lucid, understanding, comprehending eyes.  Harry could no longer run, but you knew, as he slept, in dreams he was out chasing squirrels and rabbits and running because that’s what retrievers do.  I continued to scratch his ears and jowls until Lee came out.

Lee could be one heck of a poker player, because he didn’t give one tell as to what he was up to or the hard decision he was to make.  I gave Lee the piece and said good bye to Harry, sure I’d see him sitting outside later.

Oh, they fussed over him, and he deserved it.  They loved him in a way that makes one realize the world is filled with good people doing good things who never get recognized nor desire the recognition.  What is more sacred than the preservation and protection of life?  In his golden years they saw to it he was cared for, because they did it with love themselves.  Mom would feed him chicken, and dad would pick him up and take him outside to lie in the grass, where he would paw at it, and bark, and drink water, or just relax.  Nothing brought a smile like watching that tail wag vigorously when Harry was moved to a prime piece of real estate in the front yard, high above the road, master of all he commanded.

The first time we’d been invited inside their house we noticed the layout was designed with Harry in mind. There was a mattress on the floor, for Harry. “Some people say I’m cruel,” Lee once said.  “But Harry’s fine.”

Lee didn’t need defending.  Where the dog’s body had begun to fail him, his mind still served him exceedingly well.  It was a quality-of-life issue.  And Harry’s life was all about quality.  He was a quality guy surrounded by quality people.  I agreed.  Harry was fine.  It reminded me of an expression I once heard.  “I hope I can only be the measure of the man my dog thinks I am.”  Lee satisfied that and more.  In a moment that carried the heft of immeasurable weight the words of Pablo Neruda rang with surprising clarity.

Harry would never have had a better, more fulfilling life anywhere else.  And I know he is running around right now, even as I work through the sadness of the passing for a dog that touched my life. I can only imagine how he enriched the lives of Lee and Cami, two people who loved and cared for him with the sort of selflessness not often evident these days.  I was lucky to have met him.  So was anyone else.

Have a good run, Harry.

Yes … There IS a Santa

December 4, 2009

I have family in town this week.  The good kind.  The kind that if you had the room you’d want them and their brood to stay with you.  The kind you don’t get to spend enough time with.  That sort.  Anyway, we went to one of the holiday offerings in Orlando at one of the Theme Parks that has a special ticketed event that serves all the cookies, hot chocolate, apple juice and pre-packaged apple slices one can possibly consume, as well as parades, decor, and offerings unique to the season.  Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  This is a winter wonderland for kids of all ages.  Unlimited cookies?  What gets better than that.  And the brilliant logic as a parent is to let your child consume as many as possible and then flame out in a brilliant buzz of sugar-induced energy which ultimately results in a good night’s sleep for all.  Sometimes.

Anyway, back on point.  We had to leave early to pick up more family arriving at the airport.  On the way to the pass-through under the train station I noticed a small crowd gathered and walked over to glance past the toy soldiers.  Just beyond, seated on a plush crushed red velvet sofa-looking bench, was a guy dressed as Santa.  Something inside me said “I want to meet Santa,” even as another voice countered with, “it’s just a guy in a red suit.”  But we did.  We waited a few minutes, not long at all, until it was our turn.  The cast members were just delightful and filled with the spirit of the season.  It had cooled off to the point where, in the mid-sixties and with a slight breeze, it felt like the holiday season was upon us.  One of the cast members handed us little candy canes and admonished us not to eat them until after we met Santa.  The sticky candy gets in his beard and on his robe and had to be cleaned off and all that.  The child in me just wanted to get on with meeting Santa.  I still wasn’t really feeling it until it was our turn and we walked up to Santa.  He smiled at the two of us and patted his knees.

“Oh no,” I protested.  “I’ll sit next to you.”

He shook his head and patted his knees again as he looked at both of us.  “You’ll be fine.”  It was clear, in Santa’s domain, he was calling the shots.  He was the comforting patriarch and we were the children.

As I got closer and sat down and we both got comfortable on his knees the magic transported us.  I was a child taken back to a time that was measured in experiences and moments of joy.  I studied him carefully for a few moments as we spoke to him.  Real beard? Check.  Real mustache? Check.  His face had just the right windburned texture and even his eyelashes had a hint of white.  But his eyes.  There was delight in those eyes.  A joyful magical spark in them as he spoke to us.  Naturally he had the laugh, and the rich, basso profundo voice.  But it was the eyes.  And if the eyes are truly a window to the soul, as many a poet has declared, I saw in Santa’s eyes the hope and belief of a little magic in a sometimes-weary world.  We weren’t rushed away.  He smiled as he talked to us and I thought this must be who Santa is.  I wore a big smile the rest of the evening.

And some of you who have followed these articles know this has been an interesting year.  A year of loss, of unplanned charity of the forced kind, of the opportunity to stumble and not fall, but to recover and move forward.  I have often spoke of how we are measured by our ability to rise and overcome.  But I am beginning to believe we are also measured by our strength and faith.  It is one thing to speak of these things, but another to perform in action admirably.

If you make it out there, and I hope you do, make some time for yourself and your loved ones.  Do yourself a favor and visit Santa.  There is an infectious energy in the power to believe.  He made me believe.  There IS a Santa.  And when you visit him please tell him I said hi, and thanks.  And Merry Christmas.

Peace on Earth, or I guess I Don’t Own That Anymore

November 24, 2009

I’m relaxing this morning at the Lodge.  My escape has been 
for the time catching up on all seasons of The West Wing: intelligent, well written and a nice diversion from the real world. Although I must say it is still earily topical, on point with  a remarkable sense of prescient timing.

It’s not yet Thanksgiving and the Christmas tree is up, all six stories of it, and the holiday decor abounds.  An elegant selection of music specific to the season – currently as I write, “what child is this” plays in the background.

And I think about my computer being stolen.  It happened recently while I was visiting out of town relatives.
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be a writer without a computer? I was old school once upon a time with a typewriter and a less than graceful hunt and peck method to serve me. 

Several books and scripts as well as other projects on commission later and the tool of my trade is nowhere to be found, thoughtfully misappropriated by someone who must need it more than I.

I should be really upset. It has been an interesting year.  I think this is a minor test of our ability to be measured by our ability to rise when we stumble, fall, or overcome obstacles.  Or someone’s idea of a joke.

I’m disappointed.  Myself a card holding member, I’m at a loss for words when it comes to understanding the human race.   I want to have faith in the good I believe to be out there.

White Christmas is now playing. I’ll allow the music to have its soothing effect on me, just as the good knight sir Congreve recognized it does for us, savages all.

Peace on Earth. I’d like a little of that to bless us all. Maybe compassion and tolerance and understanding might come with it, and along with these noble truths, the sense to know right from wrong, and the strength of character without tilting to make those choices. Whomever has my computer; take care of it. It was new when I got it and still has that “new car smell.”
Peace on Earth.

A Dog Has Died by Pablo Neruda

November 19, 2009

This piece is too beautiful not to share.  My thanks to Mark for the timeliness of its arrival.  We find ourselves in timeless moments of awe when something speaks to our soul and resonates with a voice all its own.  This piece does that.  Let it speak to you and let your spirit soar.

 

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair

or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter

of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.

So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.

Translated, from the Spanish, by Alfred Yankauer