I first got the news on Facebook of course. Then I started getting text messages. My friend Tony had sustained a stroke of all things late Friday night. My first thoughts were those of shock and disbelief. After all, Tony is only in his early fifties if that. He doesn't smoke and he observes generally healthy ways. Up until now he enjoyed vigorous good health. He plays softball and he bowls. Likes to hunt and play golf.
However, his main claim to fame is that he is "Mr. Tony" to the kids at Miracle League where he has tirelessly pitched to the kids all day for most Saturdays since the league started business in Little Rock some 6-7 years ago.
How could this be possible?
I went to the hospital to see him yesterday. The big guy filled up his bed in the ICU and he was hooked up to all kinds of electronic stuff. I took his hand.
"Boy, what are you doing in here?" I asked. He started to speak. He couldn't. His wife Tish is a nurse. Thank God. She recognized the symptoms and called 911. He couldn't answer her last night when she spoke to him. Tony is a talker. Time to hit 911.
I was pleased to see that he had good grip strength. No facial paralysis or drooping. Movement is returning to the right side. He can make vocal production but he loses his words when he attempts to state a sentence of more than a couple of words. He communicated with me with his eyes and facial expressions.
Still, as I told folks later, he is lucid. Tony is still Tony in there. That is not always the case after a stroke event. And I have every hope that he will enjoy a full recovery and return once again to his life of selfless service toward others.
But boy. This is the kind of thing that wakes you up. I mean, we are all aware of our mortality. As the Richard Thompson song "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed" memorably puts it, "She thought she'd live forever but forever always ends."
Still, you never think guys like Tony, or my late friend Hugh, are gonna get struck down. Not even for a little bit. So strong and larger than life. This is the kinda of thing that happens to other people. Like to people that smoke cigarettes by way of conspicuous example.
Or guys like me. Not to put too fine a point on it, but thanks to my father's genes I have cardiovascular disease. Indeed, the sludge in my system is in the left anterior descending artery, commonly (and amusingly) known as "the widowmaker."
Now I work out vigorously, am completely asymptomatic, get 2 stress tests a year and am otherwise hovered over by a gaggle of white coats. And my family doc says the odds of me keeling over like Buck did are "zero."
But stuff like this gets your attention. We take our life and our health for granted. We know not the day nor the hour. Well, most of us don't at least. But that's a story for later.
Like I said, I have every hope that my buddy Tony will make a full recovery and will be back throwing at kids in wheelchairs sooner than later. The rest of us will step it up over at Miracle League until he can come back.
But damn. Stuff like this wakes you up. Life is short. Way short.
Forever always ends.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Sunday, June 15, 2014
That's what happens when your father checks out when you are a senior in college. A kid at Catholic High once asked me when I first considered myself to be "on my own."
"When my father dropped dead at 52," was my response. You tend to grow up fast-or faster in any event-when something like that happens. But the truth of the matter is that I don't much think about it anymore. It is just "distant ship smoke on the horizon" as the song by Pink Floyd memorably put a similar state of cognitive dissonance.
Indeed, I hadn't thought of it in sometime one way or the other until the other day when I called an old friend to express my condolences upon the passing of her own father.
"You were so young when you lost yours," she said. "I just can't imagine." Well, I did. It's true. But so many years have passed it's almost just like one of many facts that pile up over time in the building of a life. Certainly at the time it was a terrible and frightening shock. But now it's just part of the resume.
That's not a sad thing. It's just a thing. A thing that happened once upon a time when I was young. Certainly it shaped and informed my world view. Surely it had an impact on my early struggles with law school. I wasn't stupid. But looking back on it I probably should have held off a year which Tulane offered. But I didn't and 7 months after Buck passed there I was in New Orleans.
That's a lot to unpack in retrospect. Not that I was one to unpack things back in those days. I didn't start that until fairly late in life when it was kind of thrust on me. Better late than never I suppose.
Off the top of my head I can't think of many of my contemporaries that still have their fathers. Maybe 2 or 3. Big Don (who has to be pushing 90) is still plugging along with Virginia. When I saw him last Summer he took great pleasure in referring to me as "the old retiree." He still stands tall and his grip is strong. He and Virginia are still self-sufficient and in fairly good health. Good for them. And I enjoyed visiting with them as I don't get to spend much time with the parents of my friends anymore.
But do I wonder what it might have been like had Buck not succumbed to the likely outcome of his addiction to cigarettes? I used to get this question a lot when I was younger. After all, if my father were alive today he would be 88 or 89. Not many folks live that long. Especially with the cardiovascular disease he had and passed on to me.
I know I have told this story before, but Buck wouldn't let me play golf. Although I am very right handed, I swing a bat (and a golf club) from the left. They tried to make me a switch hitter in baseball but I was useless from the right side. Despite that neurological problem he would not hear of me playing golf. I can hear his voice to this day.
" Son," he said. "It's just not done. Left handed equipment is too hard to find. The courses are all set out for right handers. Golf is hard enough for right handers. I'm just not gonna let you do it."
Of course, he was completely wrong but neither did I have sufficient funds on my 14 year old self to go out and buy left handed clubs to test his hypothesis. Not that I had ever heard the word "hypothesis" at that age either.
And so when I took the damn game up in my forties, I wondered what he might have thought. I wondered what it might be like to play a round of golf with him? Guys talk a lot on the golf course. What would we have talked about? I can't imagine asking him for advice, because in the real world I did adulthood pretty much on my own and largely on my own dime, because that was the way it was. And so I can't even much fantasize about this. Still, I think it would have been nice to play a round of golf with my father. I don't know why I think that. But that's what I think. I just don't think about it very often.
My friend Hugh passed away unexpectedly about 4 years ago. Left two teenage girls. I remember holding the girls in my arms and telling them that I wasn't much older than they were when my own father died. I know that girls and their daddies are a different dynamic. Especially in these parts.
But I told them that, hard as it might be to believe it at the time, everything would be OK.
"Trust me," I said. "I know. It will be OK."
And if they are like me, 35 years from now it will just be a thing.
A thing that happened to them when they were young.
Sunday, June 08, 2014
But in the past couple of years I have learned more about the foster care system, primarily from a lady I work with who, along with her husband, has been a foster parent. And around December of last year I agreed to be a volunteer photographer for The Project Zero which is a private foundation that works with the Arkansas Department of Human Services. You can check it out here: http://www.theprojectzero.org/ .
They had a big "Disney Extravaganza" last Saturday at a large Baptist church in West Little Rock. Where kids played games, ate hot dogs and interacted with Disney characters. I have to say that Cinderella was pretty cute. Well, she was. Anyway, I assisted another photographer in taking pictures of the kids that are eligible for adoption.
We had to have done 50 that day. Individual shots. Families. One group was a family of six siblings. From teenager to little bitty. Six. My suspicion is that these kids got removed from somewhere. People don't just give 6 kids up. In retrospect, I have to say that most of them there at the church that day were probably the product of abuse and neglect with biological parents who had their parental rights terminated.
I have to believe that there is a special place in Heaven for those that provide foster care. As the friend at work says some of these kids come with all kinds of problems, some of which are almost insurmountable. You get emotionally attached to some. And so it hurts when they get adopted out or otherwise leave to go somewhere else. And she describes dealing with the State as nothing short of a constant pain. You have to really want to do this.
My friend E provides foster care on a short term basis. She wants to adopt. She was there last Saturday checking things out. I get smartphone videos from her occasionally when she has one underfoot. She hates to give them up when it is time for them to go to wherever they go in the pipeline. God bless her. She really wants this to happen someday. I hope it works out for her.
I don't know. I love children. And I thought as a young person that I would be a father someday. But that didn't happen. It's nothing that I go screaming in the night about. After all, God knows I seem to be involved with everybody else's kids around here. But there are people, like my friend E, who have this palpable need to have a child. I do not.
God also knows that the need for foster care and adoption services is great. Like I said, we had about 50 there last Saturday who would be perfect candidates for a good home. But you have to really want it. And I'm not that person.
If there is any justice at all, and I'm not sure there is, then there is a special place in Heaven for people like E who open their hearts and homes to kids in the system. Maybe some measure of that place can be preserved for the guy behind the camera.