Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

Whenever I am sad, which is infrequent, it feels like there is something in my eyes. I don't know how else to describe it.  But it feels as if I can barely raise my eyelids to see.  It is an odd sensation, and one with which I mercifully don't have to contend all that often.  But that feeling has returned. 

Because tomorrow my old friend Hugh will have been gone a year.

Can it be possible that a year has passed since I got that awful phone call from Laura that Sunday afternoon?  Maybe it doesn't seem possible because not a day has passed since his death that I have not thought of him.  Maybe my feelings of sadness are made more acute by the fact that my elderly friend Mr. Joe is one a ventilator over at St. Vincent's. They can't wean him from the vent.  There are not many good options.  Pull the plug and he dies in hospice.  Or he stays in bed on a vent for the remainder of his days.  Joe is awake and lucid.  God Almighty.  I scarce can take it in.

Now this is just a coincidence.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Intellectually these things I know. 

But still.  Same month.  Same issues.  In a Catholic hospital. 

Intellect is useless to me now.  The mind reels as the heart breaks all over again.

So much has happened in the year since Hugh's death.  I have missed talking to him about all of the changes that have taken place in my life since this time last year.  He would have been delighted, and greatly amused, by my being in the private sector while he was in the government.  Hugh had a keen sense of the absurd.  He loved people.  And he loved me.  Our role reversals would have provided the fodder for many phone calls and e-mails. 

But he's not here. 

Mr. Joe has 5 daughters.  The man's crown in heaven is assured.  He sold me a big ass Oldsmobile for 300 bucks that I drove when I was at Tulane.  Chris Riviere dubbed it the "Land Yacht."  Whenever the pumps couldn't keep the water out of the streets after a storm I would give Chris and Hugh a ride to class in the LY.   

Small world.

I met with Cathy, his #2 daughter, at the neighborhood Starbucks.  She has Joe's power of attorney.  We sat in the sun 200 yards away across Markham Street where her father is tethered to the apparatus.  I helped her make a list of things to do.  Just as I did with Laura around this time last year.

It's still too close.  It's still too awful.  I have seen this play before. 

Someday in the fullness of time maybe I will have these things figured out.  The doctor that did Hugh's trache said it was just bad luck. Which is worse?  Wondering what could have been done to head this off?  Or the notion that our lives are governed-if indeed that's the word in this context- by random laughing chance?  You tell me.  Which is worse?  My buddy who recently retired from nursing at the VA didn't know the answer to that question when we talked about Hugh after I had returned from the funeral.

"When you work at place like the VA," Lenny said. " you become keenly aware of the fact that when your number is up, buddy, it's up.  And there's no explaining it in some cases." 

Maybe someday.  Someday in the fullness of time maybe I will get an answer. I can't bring Hugh back.  I can't make Mr. Joe well.  I can't ease the pain of 8 grieving women. For now, I can't do anything of much use.

 I can't even find a way to expunge the sadness from my goddamn eyes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In Just Spring

I woke up early this morning to the dreaded "freight train" sound of wind howling from the West.  The wind chimes were cascading against each other so quickly they were creating an overtone.  I got out of bed and went to the kitchen.  The sky was black with sheets of rain. 

This is the end of February. This is what cummings referred to as "just spring" which is about all I remember of e.e. cummings.   Mother Nature usually reserves this amusement for March and April around these parts. 

But the birds and the trees don't read the calendar.  My yard is green.  Plants are blooming.  The recent mornings have been featured the sounds of the birds singing to each other.

This time last year we were just coming off one of the worst snow storms in memory.  They are calling for 75 degrees by Thursday.

This is crazy. 

And about this time last year is when things started going down the tubes in Jackson.  So much change in so many areas of my life since the just spring of 2011.  Some good.  Some God-awful.  And none of these changes I could have foreseen at this time last year.

Now that the storm has passed I am hopeful for the future.  I have learned a lot.  About myself and about others.  I have been blessed with opportunities that came from completely outside my little box.  I have been given wise counsel by able men and women who love me.  I thought I was listening. 

But one of my teachers warned me that "You won't get it until you live it."  I get it now.  And they were all right.  Each and every one of them albeit each in their own ways informed by their own unique experiences.

What an amazing ride it has been since the just spring of last year.

My Cajun friends return in the next week or so.  Undoubtedly we will get at least one more slap of winter before Spring is here for sure.  But what do I know?  I told them that it hardly snows in early December.  It snowed.  We had tornadoes in January. 

So I don't predict the weather anymore. 

And I am pretty much through predicting my future as well.  I'm letting the game come to me.

So far so good.  So far so good.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

I pretty much get along with women.  Always have.  God knows, I have had my ups and downs as well.  But insofar as the gender goes, I like them.  They like me.  It's all pretty good. 

I think one of the reasons women like me is that were I a Member of Congress, and say I was interested enough to convene a hearing that might remotely concern women's health issues, I would have enough goddamn sense to include women on the panel testifying about the issue. 

But I am not Congressman Darrell Issa who chairs the Congressional Oversight and Government Reform Committee who called a hearing which was entitled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State" concerning the Obama Administration's overhaul of the health care system which requires policies offered by employers to cover contraception. 

Look at the picture.  These are the experts that were called to testify.  See any wimmens? 

The official explanation for this apparent oversight was to the effect that the panel wasn't there to testify about women's health exactly.  They were there to testify how this provision in the new was a violation of the 1st Amendment.  And actually they even got that wrong.  A better title for this bit of political theatre would have been "Lines Crossed:  Violation of the Free Exercise Clause."

But I ramble.

But how can you have a discussion about a provision of a law that impacts women without including women?  I mean, surely there are female theologians and Constitutional scholars out there that might lend a different perspective to the discussion.  Not that Congressman Issa was remotely interested in that.

I think that this is just a preview of the dreary Presidential campaign to come.  The economy is improving.  GM just posted the highest profit in its history.  Unemployment, while still too high, is coming down.  The military is pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Bad guys are still getting whacked.  Things are looking up.  Obama's got a pretty good record to run on after stumbling out of the blocks early on.

So the GOP is going to run against gays.  And against the "food stamp President."  Hell, Santorum's even against the public school system. 

And they are going to run against women. 

Which leads me to a second observation.  Did these guys not see what happened to the Komen Foundation the other day?  Absolute sheer unshirted hell busted loose when they cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.  The decision was quickly reversed.  Heads, they rolled.  But the damage was done and a brand known for charity and the promotion of vibrant good health has taken a major hit.

Did the Rs not catch the hint?

Let me hit them upside the head with this brick.  Women aren't stupid and as we have seen they tend to be pretty touchy as a class over health issues.  Hence, pissing off an entire gender doesn't seem like the greatest campaign strategy in the world.  Duh. 

But what do I know?

This.  I like women and they like me.  This much I know. 

But then again, it's a really low bar. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

The literary world may little note this day.  But I have many irons in many fires and do not have time for the usual tripe.  Will show back up after I put a couple of projects to sleep.

Until then, talk among yourself. 

Sunday, February 05, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

"No storm can shake my inmost calm
  While to that rock I'm clinging.
  It sounds an echo in my soul,
  How can I keep from singing?"
                                         "My Life Flows On" 

If you had told me at this time last year that between now and then that one of my best friends in this life would be dead and that I would be retired from the Federal Government only to take a job in the private sector four months later I would have warned you about spending so much time on the crack pipe.  But then again, last February was when all hell started busting loose at the seams around here. 

"Damn, Paul," the man said as we sat in a local watering hole last night. "That's a lot of change in one year."

"No shit," I replied, as I ordered a glass of bourbon. "The remembrance of these things makes me thirsty."

My drinking partner is in a business that is about to roll out a commercial website.  He wanted to know if I might interested in doing some copy for them. Next week, I will meet with somebody who wants to discuss doing loan closings for her company here in Arkansas.  I have also agreed to do some free lance stuff for a local charity.  And Monday morning I start a part-time job with a consumer protection organization that has an exceedingly alliterative name.

All of these opportunities, every single one of them, have fallen from the sky.  This is immensely humbling and gratifying in equal measure.  Because when I walked away from the only professional life I ever knew, it was traumatic.  Talk about fallen from the sky.  I was literally riddled with anxiety.  About the money.  About trying to find another job.  About you name it.  I am not the anxious type.  I didn't know how to make it go away.  It seemed as if my entire existence turned upside down.

I will not lie to you.  October was completely awful.  Easily the worst month of my life. 

Then things started getting better.  It took awhile but things started getting better.  I can't quite put my finger on it.  Maybe it was when I was able to fully process the fullness of the fact that there was a lot of grief in the preceding year and that there was a grieving process to go through.  The bucket brigade of therapist friends who materialized  were unanimous about this experience being a process that I had to go through before I could feel like myself again.  This was imminently sensible advice, which of course, I didn't want any part of. 

I am a guy.  I vastly prefer denial.

Maybe my feelings started to change when my poor long suffering financial guy, who probably didn't realize back in August that he was taking on a lunatic, told me, " Tell you what.  You can worry when I tell you to start worrying.  OK? Until then you might as well enjoy yourself.  You've earned it."

By November I had finally figured out that I could really live on what Uncle was sending me on the first of every month.  And that I would receive this FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.  That's hard to wrap your head around, especially for a guy like me who has always been so good to set money aside.  The notion of not really having to do that anymore, or at least not right this second, is a pretty radical one indeed.

I am not a wealthy man by any stretch of the imagination.  But there is a healthy balance in my bank account.  The 401k will be untouched at least for the next 4 years.  And then I may make a withdrawal to pay the house off.  Or not.  I don't pay myself first anymore as Uncle Howard taught me when I was young.  But I pay the taxes and the medical insurance first. 

But mostly, I get paid for breathing.  That's just amazing.

My accountant had an interesting take on it.  I had gone to Tracy to see if I needed to be an LLC.  He said that I did not.  But not for any reason that had anything to do with taxes.

"Paul," he said. "It's like you've been through a divorce.  Retirement is a huge change even though it's a good change.  You are feeling your way through things right now.  Even if you don't know it.  Why spend the money to set you up as an LLC based on what you know about your life right now only to have to dissolve it when you wind up teaching high school 2 years from now?"

He's right.  Everybody's right.  I'm feeling my way through things now.  I have given myself over to it.  And it's OK. 

I ran across the old hymn "My Life Flows On" for the first time in years when I joined a friend at church one Sunday last October.  I was still in full-blown nut status in those days.  As I stood there singing in the pew alongside Mark on that beautiful Fall day, I felt the first small measure of peace since I had begun the retirement process last Summer. 

Last Thursday, I caught myself contently whistling that stately hymn tune while I carried a bag on the golf course.  It struck me as interesting that such a simple little hymn can mean different things to a person at different times in a life.  That's why church musicians will always have jobs.

"You took a chance," my friend Danny said last week. "And you got dealt aces."

Because I have regained my inmost calm.  And no storm will ever shake it again.