Saturday, November 07, 2009

Love’s Lessons, part 47

My Grandmother passed away, a week ago Wednesday. Her obituary is here. I think that everyone present would agree that it was a good time, overall, for a far-flung family to gather in a way that will never happen again, to tell stories – new and old, and honor a life well lived.

One of the things that I’ve been personally aware of, for some time, is that a great deal of sorrow can be spawned by ‘unfinished business’ – the good, bad, but not indifferent currency of a relationship. Grandma and I were paid up, our accounts reconciled, with the exception(of course) that I will always owe her my gratitude and respect for her legacy and love – that's off the books. I think you know what I mean. Dementia had taken a large part of her, some time ago, her physical departure was merely an inevitable reality.

Serendipities occurred. I was able to make three quarters of my journey with either my parents or my sister. I seemed to make some new connections with a couple of cousins, whom I’ve only seen once or twice.

The funeral was on Saturday. The last time we were all together was at the graveside, and there weren’t any more ‘group’ plans made after that. Uncle Bob had casually invited me out to his home on Sunday to see his ‘57 Chevy project. I waffled, and decided not to go. It was a 45 minute drive out and back, for maybe an hours visit before I climbed on a plane for another 4 hours or so. I immediately began concocting a plan to bring Sam out to see the car when it was completed, but I didn’t have a chance to talk to Bob about it. I found out later that he and my Uncle Cliff had gone to an OU football game Saturday night – plans made in advance, and which Hazel would have surely approved.

Sunday’s flight was actually pleasant, and I was home in time for dinner. I’d taken Monday off because, well, I could. The phone rang at about 8:15 am. It was Dad, and Uncle Bob had just died. His obituary is here. I think Dad said that he and Cliff had ‘taken down a couple of trees’ at Bob’s on Sunday (I haven’t had any real conversation with anyone, my folks are returning home tomorrow). Clifford is a doctor, and he and my Aunt Althea were staying there. When he had chest pains, I guess Cliff kept him going till they got him to the ambulance and the hospital. His funeral was yesterday.

I’ve written this post, many times and many ways, since Monday. Excuses, mostly. Unfinished Business. I didn’t tell him in person; I actually wanted to send him a letter -  in writing to show that I wasn’t saying what I was supposed to in the moment, that I really meant it – telling him how grateful I was to him for taking care of Hazel all of these years, that his example  sets the standard. How he waded through the family and personal issues to not only do the job, but do it extremely well. How I wanted Sam to meet him and get to know him, if only as little as I had. I will try and express these things to Aunt Janice, but it just won’t be the same.

I so now wish that I’d been willing to make myself mildly uncomfortable for an hour and a half, last Sunday.This is at least the second time I’ve been taught this lesson, and I hope that it’s the last:

Do not pass up an opportunity to spend time with the ones you love. It could very well be your last.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

FB Flashback

Point Loma College Soccer Team, 1977

I’d just returned from a summer trip to England, with a church group, where I’d actually been asked for autographs after doing my finest Larry Norman impression. It’s now my freshman year in college. I’ve got a steady girlfriend, which kinda messes up my BMOC vibe, but I’m in love. I’ve got a car, which gives me the freedom to get away from the Shangri-La that is PLC, mostly to get to said girlfriend, who goes to State. Classes are fine, dorm life is “Animal House” without the sex, alcohol, and fun – close quarter living with smelly people in a moldy 12-person ‘quad’- “Das Boot” without the camaraderie. Young Hall was awful, even if it was only 400 yards from the Pacific Ocean. Of course, I had no idea at the time, but life was pretty stinkin’ good – and I do mean ‘stinkin’. We had to gang up on Charles at about week 7 to force him into the shower, clothes and all.

Then there were these guys. One of them was already a good friend. Others would become so. This was a team that had started as a ‘club’, and it would be some years before it would became a viable, completely supported, competitive part of the athletic program. I was coming to PLC, having been part of the startup of my high school soccer team - we'd gone from nil to third place in three years - my senior year had been a very good one. At Point Loma, we were doing our best, but usually got our heads handed to us by the likes of Simon Fraser and USIU – teams of international students here on scholarships. I am only aware of one game in my 3 years playing where statistics were kept – I think it was So. Cal Baptist College or something, in 1978. They had 38 shots on goal. We only lost 7-1, that day. For those of you, like me, who don’t care for math, that means that I had 31 saves. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have had a better time, but that has been my nature - still workin’ on that. I do take pleasure in memories like playing in Aztec Bowl, which no longer exists. Even if it was against SDSU's "C" squad.

We usually got to take the little bus to away games. Boredom and bus hijinks, like the time we all mooned the guard shack at the entrance to PLC upon our return. On a couple of rare occasions, we even got to clean out a restaurant or two, out of town, late at night, returning from a game way up the coast. Yeah, we were geeks, but guys like Dan Brown made sure that we had good times.

Dave, third from the left, front row. Left wing. Gets a yellow card for some infraction – continues to yell “I’m not sorry! I’m not sorry!” at the ref. Makes me laugh out loud, today. Dave Oakes, next to the coach - a great fullback and encouraging presence on the field - we cracked knees, one day, his gave way, mine didn't. It killed his entire season. I still feel like crap about that. He made a lousy martyr - I would have done the job much more effectively.

Yeah, I was that skinny, and yeah, that was my real hair. For those of you who weren't there, or otherwise haven't figured out that I was the keeper, I'm #3 on the left, back row.
Robert Martin, third from the right, put this pic up this morning on FB. Just sent me spinning into nostalgia. Thanks, guys.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Emma’s 10th Birthday Bash

It was everything it was supposed to be. Candles, cake, presents. Emma’s got a bit of a summer cold or something; she was a bit subdued, but always manages to be the life of the party. Here’s the annual video:

My thanks and appreciation to all who gave us the better part of their day to make Emma’s birthday party a wonderful one for her and us.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Emma’s Birthday is Tomorrow

I remember it like it was yesterday. I can still see it. It took me about nine years and ten months to gather the courage to watch it on the screen. What I found was not what I remembered. It’s taken the other two months to sort out what did happen. It’s time I wrote it down. I’ve shared parts of this with others, but I’ve never really written it, for myself. My motive is not to make you sad; it is to take you on another part of the journey, with some perspective.

Dressed in my bunny suit and bouffant hat, I stood dutifully in the operating room, holding Vicky’s hand on her side of the drape separating us from the business at hand. I saw the smoke and smelled the smell of the cauterizing scalpel. I watched as Doc Williams pulled Emma out of the (gratefully obscured) field of surgery by one foot, into the air. Emma, moments before had been ‘breech’, with one leg cocked up over her shoulder. Low muscle tone equals amazing flexibility. She started to cry (Emma, not the Doc), and was quickly handed off to the assistants gathered about a warmer. That’s when I started up the camera.

Through the lens, I watched them clean her up, wrap her up, and she was rolled away; about two minutes. What I saw, watching it now, was three women; one picks up Emma’s foot, fingers her toes, kinda flopping her foot back onto the bed, they look back and forth at each other, and then get back to business. At a point between then and now, I’d have been angry enough to find out who they were and tried to get them fired. Emma was evaluated and dismissed within minutes of entering this world. Now it just stings. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that the Doc had had her suspicions, kept them to herself, and probably diagnosed her as she lifted Emma into the air. I’ve never asked her, although I’ve had plenty of opportunities. Doesn’t matter now.

I don’t remember what happened, exactly, next – the show in the OR was over, and I wanted to follow Emma to the nursery to record her first bath and checkup. At some point, I left Vicky and was directed to the Special Care Nursery. There was some cause for concern for her oxygen levels, or something. I wasn’t particularly worried, and headed over there with my camera. When I got there, and checked in, Emma was unattended in a warmer to the right of the nurses’ station. Having worked in there in the past, it was not an alien place to me, the atmosphere and hardware weren’t at all foreboding. I turned the camera on, secured the lens cap, and walked over and bent over to capture my daughter’s face. That’s when I saw her. Her eyes. I froze. This was the moment that I waited ten years to witness again. It wasn’t there on the tape. Evidently, I never pushed the record button.

Emma had Down Syndrome. No one had to tell me. I turned, and sat down at a round table a few feet away. I remember putting the lens cap back on the camera, turning it off, and then something happened that I have not experienced before or since. I saw a little blond girl, running into my arms. I was opening the door to our home, greeting her first date. Watching her drive off. Walking her down the aisle in her wedding dress. Taking a baby from her arms. A lifetime of expectations paraded in front of me in a matter of moments. It was a feeling of deep sadness that struck to my core. It was all gone. I sat there until the Doc came in and told me of her suspicions. I remember saying, “I saw.” I needed no karyotype.

As you all know, I have a little blonde girl who runs into my arms. I have learned that the majority of what I knew of Down Syndrome from what were then 20 year-old textbooks was wrong, but in those moments a lifetime had been lost. The next few hours and days were filled with grief, much of it fed by those around me who either knew nothing about our life ahead, or, in most cases, had no idea whatever to say. Some did and said some extraordinary things, and they hold a dear and precious place in my heart. Teresa. Cliff, the ex-steelworker who, when he saw me, said nothing; threw his arms around me and hugged me like there was no tomorrow (he is raising a granddaughter with CP). There were others.

Emma was born a little before midnight. About 10 a.m., the next day, I headed down to the cafeteria for something to eat. Into the elevator came an acquaintance, a psychiatrist. I told him about Emma, and he turned, looked at me with with surprise, and asked, “Didn’t you have an amnio?” It was not the reaction that I had anticipated from him, not then. In my exhausted honesty, more than any sort of practiced nobility, I said the first thing that popped into my head. “It wouldn’t have mattered.” I found out later that, at that moment in time, he was involved in a troubled pregnancy, struggling with his own decisions. Her reality precluded any pleasantries, or even any empathy toward me, the idea of her cut his sensibilities like a knife. This has proven to be the case with Emma: She requires you to deal with who you are; you cannot pretend, pretense means nothing. There is no denial available.

I can’t predict the future (I gave up on expectations some time ago), but I will not be surprised when Emma becomes a cheerleader. She’s sitting across from me now, negotiating her way through She may not be completely accurate, but she can be very articulate. Her sense of humor demonstrates an intellect that one can only experience to appreciate. In the realm of human measurement, she can be ‘less than’ and ‘more than’ in the same moment. We were told, on the second day, “She is more like you than she is not.” It was a comfort through a period of learning. It is a partial truth – the reality is that she is you. You just didn’t know it, before now.

Emma’s birth was an end, and it was a beginning. The end of every assumption I’ve ever had, with the possible exception of gravity. The beginning of a widening breadth of the experience of loss, gain, tragedy, joy, but most of all love. Seeing Emma through that lens, I began to see life through different eyes. This piece began, in my head, by wanting to share that moment with you, show you the video. That it doesn’t exist, doesn’t really matter, in the end. What matters is that you’ve been changed, know a wider world, and we share it together with love because of Emma.

The cake video and celebratory stuff will be coming, the party’s on Saturday. Sweet!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

FaceSpace all a-Twitter


Now, I don’t know this guy, but I am familiar with all of the hardware
(and no, that’s not me in 1982. I was much thinner)

I finally joined Facebook, yesterday. I’d been resisting it for one main reason; the prompting of a loved one finally pushed me over the brink. Joining was easy, it even scanned my email contacts for friends. Put in your schools, easy enough. Started accumulating friends immediately, and several addicts fed their habits by contacting me within minutes. It was, as I anticipated, overwhelming. It helped me over one other brink – the reason I’d resisted – I can no longer be everywhere, online, all the time, anymore. The truth is that I never was, but I felt a certain proficiency right up until, oh, say 2005, when I added a Steam account. I’ve felt “it” slipping away, ever since, my grip on my control of my online persona.

So, I start weeding through my ‘newfound’ friends, really old friends, but some new info and perspective. That’s great. A few ‘conversations’ with some that haven’t kept up via other means. Really good. Hit the “find friends” link and started looking through those identified as college graduate-mates. See a few familiar names, none that I really knew, started thinking about how few of them I really befriended – having a fiancĂ©e at State, and all. Their photos all look so, well, let’s just say I didn’t recognize any of them. On to the Upland High School Class of ‘77. Dallas! No, didn’t add him, just smiled at the thought. Went through several pages. Interesting locations for some, interesting pics of others. Then, WHAM! there it was. One of the reasons I’d forgotten not to get on Facebook. No pic, just the name. A quite unpleasant memory involving physical threats, property damage, and the authorities. Three minutes later, and my new profile settings read “Friends only.” I fully understand that I and my physical location can be found in a matter of moments, online, but I certainly am not going to make it any easier for this person (and yeah, he probably doesn’t know how to get a picture into his profile) to be reminded of me, let alone find me. In about 40 minutes, I’d revisited several snippets of my life history that I’d left by the sides of those roads. Facebook, guess what, bittersweet. Go figure.

So, privacy somewhat assured, we move on. I’m looking forward to communicating with the one person who hasn’t contacted me, yet, of course, the one who kept inviting me. The past lies there in Facebook, just as it always has IRL (‘in real life’ for those of you older than I, like, you know, as if). I’ll check in, but don’t look for me to camp it and hang on your every word. I just can’t, ok? I’ve got all those other accounts to keep up with. And blog. And mow the lawn, every quarter, whether it needs it or not. If you want, you can look up my address on Google Street View and see the dead truck, bald-patched lawn and house in need of painting, too. Let’s keep moving forward, shall we?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Frail Grasp On The Big Picture*

There was a story related to me, this week. I do not mean to diminish anyone’s faith. This has been bothering me, though. I did not comment on it where it was published; I felt that by doing so, I would incite side-taking and the inevitable hurt that religious discussion causes on the internet. This is different, those reading here should have a grasp of why I’m bringing it forward, why I’m saying what I’m saying, and hopefully possess the grace to forgive me if I don’t meet their expectations – a fundamental requirement for an ongoing relationship with me, anyway. So, with that ominous introduction:

The story is of a head-on collision between a wrong way driver on the interstate; a small vehicle and a van with “differently-abled adults” inside. Both drivers and three of the adults in the van died. The poster goes on to describe their pastor speaking about the accident the following Sunday. One of the surviving adults from the van is a close childhood friend of his. By the pastor’s account, this man’s customary seat was behind the bus driver. He did so on this day, on the way to the destination. On the fatal return trip, he stated that he “was a big boy” and from now on he was sitting in the back. This, of course, saved his life. The pastor used this as an illustration that “he believed that the Holy Spirit was alive and well.”

I know that this pastor is a human being. I know that his good friend has just been spared. He’s reacting to a powerful event with powerful emotions. I think, however, that this is the sort of thing that is quite irresponsible from the pulpit. I have become wary of those who see God’s will when things turn out the way they’d like them to.

Five people were killed, but God spared the pastor’s friend? Why? Was he the only Christian? Were the other 3 adults “not-abled” enough, spiritually? Maybe that was the reason, God was taking them home early to spare them further pain here on Earth. And why was this the event to be celebrated, why assign The Holy Spirit credit for sparing one life over another? Should we do no more than be grateful for what we have, rather than claim Divine Providence? Perhaps that in itself is what Divine Providence is; the rest is what it is. God only knows.

The more I turn the little I know of this event over and around, in my mind, all I come up with are the same things I always come up with: This was either a set of random events, a very small event in a highly choreographed dance that we are deigned to play out, or something in-between. One can place one’s faith at any point along this continuum, balancing the unlimited, omniscient power of God against Man’s free will to choose. The danger, to me, comes in where we assign responsibility for another’s choices – God’s and yours, more specifically. I’ll take responsibility for mine, although there was lead in the paint in that house in Globe, and Mom put Karo syrup in my formula, and. . .

We see through a glass, darkly. The life of Christ, for me, comes to a point of full maturity and near complete purpose when, on the Cross, after submitting to the Father’s will, still cries out “Why have you forsaken me?” God incarnate asking, "Why?" If they are “three in one”, the experience had to have shaken even God’s all-knowing, timeless heart. I cannot and will not, of course, say that the Holy Spirit did none of this. I just have a really hard time understanding how it would be so selective. That a Minister of the Gospel could be so sure, gives me pause. There is a greater message, and I’m not so sure that he was sending the right one.

And no, I don’t feel any better having written this. Thanks for asking.

*credit to Glenn Frey and Don Henley

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Barbie will always be older than I am,

but just barely.

I reached a couple of milestones last week. First, I received my invitation to join AARP. Ironic, in the sense that I seriously doubt that I will ever “retire”; I seem to have inherited most of the physical characteristics of my shortest-living related predecessors, and the government keeps raising the retirement age. I figure that, if I should reach that age, there’ll be a campaign against “the other ‘R’ word” (yeah, small joke). Second, I started using a pocket protector at work. I have been putting it off for some time, oh, at least 12 years or so. The practicality of the object has finally won out over the nerd/geek/maintenance guy stigma. What it does is now more important than what it means. It actually suits my bifocals, when you think about it. Like it or not, I’m one of the old guys, now. You should see the punks they’re hiring, these days. “Smarten up!”, we tell ‘em. They don’t listen.

Achieving a new number with a trailing zero always seems to bring some reflection. It’s an opportunity, welcome or not, to catalogue the things that will forever be lost from your grasp, still remain in the realm of possibility, along with what you do have. These days, I am more content (as in contentment, not volume, ok?) than driven, due more to those around me than from within. I have been blessed in some wonderful and often unbelievable ways.

I would have liked to play a stadium, just once. I did get to perform in Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo., one time, but it wasn’t quite the same. 10,000+ people and my Vox Beatle amp to cover the room – not even a meaningless connection to the soundboard to make me feel better about it. It’s amazing, the memories that stick with you. It could still happen, of course, but I’d need to get busy. Short of jumping the stage and wrestling that ugly green axe from Adam Clayton’s hands in November, I don’t see it happening. I have played some amazing venues, even signed a few autographs. Back then, I hoped they were IOU’s for a future payoff.

I’d have liked to have seen more of the world. I’ve seen a bunch, but still. It’s true that I’ve often traded insecurity for security, and I’m comfortable with that. Yes, I’m trying to be funny; that’s a funny sentence.  Read it out loud and it’ll be funnier.

One of the things I’ve learned is that I can pick through all of the yardsticks that exist in the human grid, and come up short. I’m not the tallest, wisest, richest, most intellectual, no great talent; I sit squarely near the middle along the bell curve of my species. I do have a few gifts, and I find most pleasure by trying to give them at my best. I’m my harshest critic, most competent and least productive therapist, and, the older I get, more and more grateful for those who bless me with their gifts of time, attention, love, and care.

Me, me, me. Blah Blah Blah. Thanks for reading. Thanks for your friendship and love, some of it crossing seas, continents, and even the difficulties of us both speaking English. I’m now in the running to be considered one of your oldest friends. You’ll just have to be more patient, more often, while I explain how it used to be.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bittersweet is a way of life

I have lived in some small towns, although the memories that exist are probably as much Mayberry as they are Globe, Arizona. I have lived in many small communities of various constructions, where everybody knew each other’s “business”. One of the differences between then and now was that, then, you knew more about them than just their “business”, you knew their context. You knew in much more complete way, why.

One of the things about being ‘connected’ in today’s world is that you often learn more than you should about persons that you don’t know in any other, larger way. While this broadens our knowledge, and has created new and diverse communities that span the globe, it is absolutely a different world that’s developing in ways where the old rules can’t apply. It’s also, at least for me, a challenge to the pursuit of contentment on my part, as I suspect it may for some of you. Those connections got to me, this week, in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened even five years ago.

I like to listen to Fresh Air , a PBS interview program. I download them as podcasts and listen to them in the car. As such, I don’t really screen them for content; it’s more often than not a pleasant surprise to hear who’s being interviewed. I’m not going to identify the particular subject of an interview I listened to on Monday afternoon in the car on the way home, but she was describing the abortion of her genetically abnormal baby. I found the first part interesting (and I really didn’t know where she was headed, actually) because she was talking about the different contexts of her world vs. her feminist Mother’s (I am not attacking ‘feminism’, please). Her Mother had been in the fight to win ‘choice’ – and part of that was a metaphorical world (hey! metaphors and meaning) that, for example, used terms like “fetus” instead of “baby”. To this ‘second generation woman’, those obfuscations (my term) were unnecessary – this was a baby that she was aborting. She then went on to describe a very difficult decision-making process with her husband. They didn’t think that their marriage would survive life with a disabled child. Her description of events culminated in a teary request to the doctor that the baby not suffer – he assured her that he’d give it a shot beforehand that would assure this. It was about then that I disconnected the iPod – I didn’t need to go any farther with her. It was not because we disagreed as much as it was just plain disturbing. There was no knowledge to be gained by me from reading her book, I live many of those kinds of moments every day. Her book is for others to read, not me.

These are difficult words to recount, even for me. I don’t present it to you lightly. Please stay with me for the next couple of paragraphs. I’ve had one of those discussions with my wife, before our firstborn, about what and how and what we’d do. We came to a different conclusion, but I fully understand the conversation and the possible outcomes. Now, I’m not that dour a guy, really, but her words continued to mull in my mind.

Thursday, came a reminder from a budding (in the sense that I want it to grow) friendship in Dublin that he’d seen his friend who’d just “buried her baby girl. She takes most comfort from the fact that they got to meet her and know her as a person. Only fifteen days.” Same world, different day. I didn’t get a chance to reply to his email; I spent the remainder of the day thinking of those encounters I’ve had with people – traveling, seminars, camps – where connections are made that affect us for a lifetime. I know what his friend meant. It was gratitude, hope borne of dreams, while, not fulfilled, realized through Love given.

This morning, news that Mya is finally home from the hospital after 55 days. Mya, whose Trisomy 21 became one of the lower priorities for her in light of a medical accident. Mya, the beautiful girl who cannot move, cannot speak, who, when I got to hold her what, 5 years ago?, made an impact on my soul that I can neither adequately describe nor expect you to understand, merely over the course of a few minutes. Mya, who has changed the lives of everyone I know who’s met her.

We have always been beings, seemingly, that do not understand ourselves well enough to know what we are capable of until we realize what we have done. Perhaps there is no other way.

My connections, this week, have taken me round and about, again, through the irreconcilable, the unknowable, the unthinkable, yet often redeemable human experience.
I mentioned contentment. I’m going to define it, for now, as the ability to make the right decision about how one will view one’s current situation. Moving from discontent requires thought, whether or not action is required. As my friend Glen says, “Relationship precedes Function.” Knowing. Being. Doing. I found contentment in the strangest of ways, on this Saturday. Guess what? “The greatest of these is Love.”


Monday, April 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jeanette

To prove that I’m not a complete and utter curmudgeon, Here’s our birthday greeting to my sister, yesterday, accompanied by Elmo and his constant companion.

Monday, April 20, 2009

WhattssametaForU? Part II

Ok. I’m going to admit now that I’ve forgotten what got me started on this topic. But let’s press on.
I’m going to use single quotes ‘ ’ to denote what I consider to be metaphorical doorways, keys, landmines, pick your own descriptor. These are places where you can take the subject matter off on your own tangent, or try and understand mine. . . good luck.

Let’s take on a favorite topic, Persons with Trisomy 21.
Morons (IQ between 51-70)
Imbeciles – (IQ between 26-50)
Idiots – (IQ between 0-24)
Down Syndrome
Demon – Possessed
Judgment for the sin of previous generations

From the top down, all but the last two were pretty much acceptable until the mid-70’s. The mid 1970’s. I have personally experienced the sensation in the presence of certain groups that lead me to believe that the last two have not been abandoned.

“Sometimes I think that we’ve advanced, but then I look at where we are.”
-Larry Norman, “If God is my Father”

I remember reading the IQ classifications in my college textbooks, along with the use of “Mongoloid”, albeit historically, in those 70’s. As you see, they move ‘down’ from the scientific to the spiritual, or ‘up’ if you wish to view them as ‘progression’ or ‘evolutionary’ – in terms of Man’s societal and scientific knowledge have grown. A ‘timeline’ of sorts within a continuum of Human experience – gone but not entirely forgotten. Historically, they overlap, but you get the picture. We’re more ‘sensitive’, which pretty much means that we keep our counsel closer than we used to.

Then there’s the modern medical and societal metaphorical mess. Let’s jump in by posing the following question:

Should I support the March of Dimes? I mean, why wouldn’t I? 
Everybody’s against birth defects, right?

It’s about what is, what was, what could have been, what could be. . .

What I’m saying is with the metaphorical mashup is that living with and truly loving Emma means that very little means what it used to.
How does one cuddle and coo with a soul that is the one in ten*, without feeling the loss?
How does one interpret the sidelong glances and stares of what must be the other nine’s mothers and fathers who watch me struggle with Emma at McDonald’s? Moral superiority and societal shame blended into a gut-McFlurry, sometimes. Both at a loss to explain the other’s outcome, unable to fathom the realization of either path, exclusively. And so we exist, uncomfortably, together – so far.
The realization that one sees the world through a very different filter. Alienation. Probably like being very rich or very famous. Without the perks. The realization that talking about it sounds like self-martyrdom. I’m beyond that. This is what it is. Those of you who aren’t in this ‘club’ will be appalled when I say that it’s not even a rare disease that can be capitalized upon, although there are those that try. But those are discussions for other places and other times.

These realizations are not exclusive to me or even Down Syndrome; suffering abounds in many forms and features.This brings me back, ‘full-circle’, and a fine enough place to pause, as it were. We are different, yet we are the same. Nearly all of us ‘suffer’ from something. Those of us that don’t just haven’t reached it, yet.


*just in case I have to explain it, 90% of babies diagnosed with T21 in utero are aborted.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

What the Metaphor's For, Part I

If you'll all just take your seats, we'll begin. Please extinguish all smoking materials, and place your tray tables in their upright positions. Today we have no syllabus, so fasten your seat belts until the "Buckle Up" sign is no longer lit. Thank you.

Dr. C.Eugene Mallory (pg.7) remains an enigmatic player in my thought life. He was the head of the Psychology Department at Point Loma College - an institution of the Church of the Nazarene, Point Loma College, and Point Loma Nazarene University. Yes, the same place, and yes, it's ironic in the context of this missive - - this is not meant to be a Dis-missive, I'm just sayin'. And that's a pun, not a metaphor.

Most of Dr. Mallory's instruction was, while aimed squarely at me, went completely over my head, probably because I was ducking at the time. Just as our parents become more intelligent as we all grow older, the things that he taught and the concepts that he described began to resonate with me in more meaningful ways much later; right about the time that he died in 2003. This, of course, meant that I could neither thank him nor pursue any further insights with him. Such is the nature of our existence. He and I did not have any sort of larger relationship; I was a student with a major in his department, and the son of a schoolmate. These qualified me for a lot of classroom time and some individualized instruction, as well as a few therapy sessions after I left school. He was a gentle man who often suffered his foolish students, gladly, and whose methods baffled me in my 20's, but make perfect sense to this 50 year old man.

One of the things that I have learned is that, in those times when I'm a teacher, learning does not always take place in the teaching moment.

One of the things that I was not mature enough to wrap my head around in my 20's was that the pseudo-science of psychology, and actually, all things, ultimately, are based upon philosophy. Constructs of the human mind.

"Everything you've learned in school as "obvious" becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There's not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines."
- R. Buckminster Fuller

(Now, is this "true", or do we just not have an accurate and aesthetically pleasing way to describe a straight line or an absolute continuum? Who am I to doubt Dr. Fuller? Hmmmm?)

If I had been a math major (my chances of being an astronaut were better, but not much, cause it required math), then this realization would have come, too, with the addition of the 4th, 5th, etc. dimensions. Even mathematics can and is taken into the realm where it only exists within the human collective mind. There are minds that readily accept and go with these concepts; my limited brain begins to liquefy and slosh around in my cranium until it just sounds like the ocean.

The various giants of psychology, then, were actually philosophers. What wasn't clearly said (or, more to the point, what I didn't realize, then) was that we are all philosophers. That some of us follow the teachings of Emeril Lagasse, while troubling; means that we all end up with a framework of belief and intent that informs our living. Therefore, the successful therapist would be capable of assessing the patient's actual, functional and philosophical milieu, and then be skilled at applying the appropriate therapy based upon what they needed. Now, the giants, of course, were bound to make their patients fit their philosophy. This is where I was coming from as a 20-something church kid. I'd thought there already was "The Answer", and while I didn't know exactly what it was, I thought I had a clue.

Dr. Mallory was all about meaning. Meaning and metaphor. Truly listening to another to understand. It's a fundamental element of the therapeutic process, and yet I've personally experienced therapy where it did not exist. You know what I'm talking about, from those that "get" what you're talking about, instantly, to those that will make the effort, to those that are only in the room with you - therapist or not.

I'm not going to get near where I thought that I was headed, today, with this, although the background is good - if you're still interested. This is now Part I. If you are, then take some time in the next few days to listen to another person. Listen to the language of their life - the imagery that their words create, how their descriptions are framed. Try and get a picture of how they might see the same things you do in a completely different way. These are the things that I've been dwelling on, lately.

I see that the Captain has turned off the seat belt sign, so please feel free to move about the cabin. We do recommend that you keep your belt fastened while sitting, in the event that we hit some unexpected turbulence. Thank you.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Men, Men, Men. . .

It's a ship that's filled with men. You'll never have to lift the seat, there's no one here but men men men men. . .

We drove through the morning mist to the overlook east of the Indian Casino. Waiting for the remainder of the shooting party, the clouds rose up from the canyon to envelop us even as the sun rose in the East. A few handshakes, then speeding off down I-8 (I was following a police officer, honest!), eventually through downtown Ocotillo (1 store, 2 bars, and about 12 houses) and up the wash to our perfect shooting spot. It consists of a broad place, about an eighth of a mile across. A steep cliff on one side provides safety and crevices for targets like watermelons and bowling pins. Behind, enough scrub and gullies to relieve oneself in the privacy of the wilderness. Our vehicles, in between, laden with firearms, ammo, targets, handi-wipes and snacks. Quickly, but not so quickly that it's work; tables, shades, and chairs appear. Van (the aforementioned policeman and rangemaster) gives the safety lecture, and all pay heed. You listen carefully to each other when there are loaded guns around. Craig Ferguson says that that's why people are so polite in Texas - they're all armed. The safety zone is explained, and Dads are keenly aware of where their sons and daughters are at all times (yeah, there were some girls there, it's o.k. cause they're basically smothered by the testosterone in the air - I'm KIDDING - kinda).

We start with pistols. Load up the clips for the Glock, or grab a handful of .357 bullets for the six-shooter. Noobs and kids are accompanied to the line to make sure that the pointed guns stay pointed at the hill, hands are on the guns in the right manner, and that the gun is actually empty before it's returned to the table. We take our turns shooting above, below, around the targets and plastic bottles. The controlling of danger, explosions, and smell of gunpowder are of course deeply-rooted, endorphin-releasing experiences for most of us, and there can be the satisfaction of actually hitting what one is aiming at, but it is secondary. Earplugs both protect us from the cracking and unnecessary chit-chat. This is serious fun. Your senses are all functioning – straining your eyes at the target, finger on the trigger, arms extended, hold your breath, steady . . . the sting as the gun jumps – some a lot more than others – the zing of the brass casing ejecting, breathe again. The canyon wall provides a resounding crack! after each pop! - from the pfffts of the .22's to the pounding .45.

Rifles. More accurate. More powder. More power, uh uh uh. As someone who shoots virtual guns nearly every day, it is interesting to experience the physical. Particularly when the gun is an M-1, a staple of U.S. troops in WWII, or an AR15, from the Vietnam era.

         m1rifle                175px-Garand_clip

The M-1, when compared with modern guns, is a piece of furniture. As Van pointed out as he was helping me with it, "Can you imagine slogging M1Talkingthrough the jungles in the Pacific with this thing?" I can imagine it, but not for very long. It's heavy, but it's also steady. Above, you can see how a clip of eight shells is loaded into the gun. After the eighth shot, the metal clip is ejected with a very characteristic, almost chime-like sound. The stuff of legend. It's also, probably, the most accurate gun I shot, all day.




The AR-15 was another story. Lightweight, yes. Fully automatic on the battlefield, for sure. Handing off the M-1 for the AR-15 though, was like eventually giving up all of those aspirations of finding a girl who could cook just like Mom - life just wasn't going to be the same. It was still fun, sure, but somehow not as satisfying. It probably just means that I'm old enough for old school, now.

Shotguns. Some can hit the clay pigeons, some can't. Sam and I were too pooped to pop at that point; we were pretty sure that all we would get from that would be bruised shoulders.

Heading home, dusty, hands and arms sore, we finished off the bag of chips, wiping our grimy hands on our pants, burping Dr. Pepper into the falling sun. Home in plenty of time for dinner. A world away, if for only half a day. Thanks, guys!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

See ya, Monday.

My friend died, Sunday night. He was a co-worker of mine, since 1986. He's been a teacher, mentor, employee, but mostly a friend. He wasn't that easy to get to know; there is still a lot that I will never know about him. We've been to each other's homes, met each other's families. He's loaned me tools. He's given me rides to and from work; I stuck around and drove him home the day his truck got stolen. He read the paper, and we often talked about yesterday's news. We ate lunch and took our breaks together. It was an everyday thing, part of the ritual of the hourly worker. We reminded each other about stuff that needed to be done. He wouldn't like my use of the word, but it was an intimacy borne of time spent together. We griped. We talked about our kids, our wives, the DMV, the War (past and present), cars, work - of course.
We knew some things about each other that maybe no one else will - in those moments of frustration, talking through the day. There were days when we didn't talk much about anything; didn't need to.
His mother died in mid-December. He took time off, then got sick. He never came back, but about a month ago was admitted to the hospital. Our hospital. Upstairs. Those first few days, they had to put a sign up on the door asking you to check in with the front desk - he was inundated by visitors. He got steadily worse. The visitors dropped off. Our conversations became difficult - there's not a lot to talk about when you've been in the same bed for 3 weeks. I'd miss some days because he'd be out getting another procedure done. The last few days, he'd say hi, grumble a bit, then drop off. I'd sit there for a rew more minutes, then wander back to work. Friday, they moved him to the ICU. I went up there, and there were a couple of people working on him. He was talking back and gesturing; I didn't go in. See ya, Monday.
I know I wasn't his only friend. He was a friend to many, and he was a good Dad. He loved his girls. I know his life didn't turn out the way he wanted it to. He did good work, and he trained many. Like so many of us, his job changed drastically from what he was hired to do; he made the best of it. He did what needed to be done. As his boss, I knew that he knew more than I did about what needed to be done, even so, he did what I asked him to do when I proved it. Boss, or no boss, he treated me the same; it was easier for me not to be.

He was a good guy. He took care of his parents, and was taking care of his father when all of this hit him. He was the guy I could borrow five bucks from for lunch when the ATM was down.

He listened.
I miss you, Steve.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Altered States

My doctor changed my blood pressure medicine about 3 weeks ago. Now, I've been taking medication for high blood pressure for nearly 20 years, and been through several formulas in the process. My experience has been that, when you start on a different regimen, the drug hits you with with both effects and side-effects, and you learn to tolerate them all. The balance, naturally (or un-naturally, I suppose in this case) is to be found in getting the right imbalance of the desired result over the undesired. What had happened was a change about 7 weeks ago, a follow-up, and then the drug was boosted another 50%. I'm going to try and explain, briefly, what happened to me, for reasoning that I hope will be meaningful.

Beta-blockers basically lower blood pressure by slowing one's heart rate. They are also used as an occasional anti-anxiety drug for this reason. In the first few weeks, I noticed that the slowdown was mental, as well, but, when you tend to be a sullen curmudgeon with occasional outbursts, I didn't see this as that much of a negative. My weight loss continues, albeit more slowly - if I couldn't be fat, then 2 outta 3 (dumb and happy) might not be so bad. As the dosage increased, I found myself having a hard time concentrating, particularly when someone was speaking to me about anything complex; building control programming, the plot of  "Burn After Reading." At the beginning of the week, I started experiencing panic attacks, but they were very,very strange because a> I had absolutely nothing to be that anxious about, which only made me more anxious, and b> my heart rate wasn't rising to meet the anxiety, which physically felt a lot like stepping out on a very high ledge covered in Crisco(the ledge, not me- that'd be really creepy). I slept for a couple of days, changed the time of day for taking the stuff - didn't really make any difference. Saw the doc yesterday, I'm starting today with a combination of a couple of old favorites to perhaps mitigate the problems with both. Of course, a possibility is aggregation rather than mitigation, but if that happens, there's always litigation. I'm just kidding. Healthcare and lawyers - now there's a prescription for side effects lasting more than four hours. But I digress.

The reason I'm writing about this is that I was reminded, over and again as I went through the motions, mostly at work, moving through the same spaces that I've traveled in for 20 some years, but feeling so very different, that we're not perceiving this world identically. We may be occupying the same spaces, but our senses and conclusions can be as different as night and day. If I might be so bold, I think it's been a real factor in my unease this year concerning politics - seeing relationships torn asunder because, in my opinion, they were just incapable of understanding/accepting/relating to a different view than their own. I was quite frightened, on Monday, by the prospect that I knew that something was wrong with me and it was somewhat out of my control - fortunately I was aware of what was (probably) causing it, and could do something about it. I've been contemplating what it would be like to be in that position without the last part of that sentence in force. I've been reminded that, if I truly want to be the kind of person I'd like to be, I need to be aware of others' contexts, perhaps even drug interactions, when interacting with them. This is pretty easy to observe, where I work, where there are ready examples of a full spectrum of humanity -  from the certified mentally ill to the ultimate ego-driven specimens known as surgeons. It is fortunate that the gemütlichkeit of my workplace includes empathy and compassion; they are inherent in the business plan.

So. How do we come to trust what we trust - our senses, each other, gravity? Experience and Love? What if they're wrong, misplaced, misled? Should I even be asking these questions, are they merely borne by beta-blocking? I'm not sure - but I guess that's the point.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Professor Longhair/Bowfinger/I came, I saw, I sat and sawed.

We attended our first concert at Sam's Middle School, last Wednesday evening. We told no one (sorry G & G) because a) we didn't know what to expect and b) Sam advised us that his portion would be rather small. He also wasn't thrilled about a white shirt, tie, and shoes, for that matter. Suitably attired, he assumed his position on stage.



This is only the second year that this program has existed at Pershing. It also looks extremely ambitious to me. There were seven separate groups that performed - separate orchestras for 2 grades, bands for all 3 grades, an 8th grade wind ensemble, and the Pershing Panther Jazz Pride band, complete with 3 bass players playing the "Peter Gunn Theme" in unison. It was actually interesting to track the progress of musicianship from one grade level to the next, and that's all I'm going to say about that. I was most impressed by the way the young teacher managed this large, intermingled group of students, music, and logistical swarming between group changes. He certainly seemed up to the task. Initially, I feared for his sanity. Whether he is in fact sane or not is not actually important; I nonetheless admire his fortitude on several levels.

The auditorium was suitably filled with a family crowd out on a school night. Sam's group, first group up, nervously waited with us through the requisite announcements and introductions. The 6th Grade Orchestra dove right into "Beginning String Medley",
"Grasshopper Chomp", and finally, "March of the Metro Gnome". Thunderous Applause, Sam's done, off the stage, and we settled into our seats for the polite finish.

Evening turned to night. Instruments came and went. Tympani were tuned, re-tuned, and, of course, in true ugly American fashion, the crowd began to dwindle. Sure, part of me longed to join them (mostly my middle-aged rear end on that wooden auditorium seat), but we do our best to teach the right things by doing the right things. Emma even eventually lost interest and turned to the Sesame Street-laden iPod from Mom's purse. The numbness from the aforementioned region eventually spread to my cranium as we passed the two-hour mark. Then, gratefully, it was over. We collected our cellist and headed home to a ten-o'clock dinner.

With the exception of some pre-k bell ringing, this is the first time I've been the one in the audience and not the one on stage. I have a few more times to go before I can sort out all of the feelings about that, and I'm more than willing and happy to do so. Pride and awe in my son, first and foremost. Wistfulness for times past. Newfound empathy for that teacher. Joy at hearing the "Peter Gunn Theme" played with a certain juvenile vigor. The cornucopia of sounds that surround "intonation."  "Playing Through." Yes, I'm thinking of you, Mark. What smug punks we still are - rightly so, man, rightly so. The confidence of youth I saw in those bass players. The promise of things to come, promises kept, spent, fulfilled and left wanting. It was a good evening. Bittersweet.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wanna see my Jr. High School AV qualification card?

***I want to do a lot of things. I don't seem to do many of them. One of my desires is to update this blog at least once very couple of weeks. It's been three, so I've been feeling a certain unnecessary pressure, on top of all of the other stuff that's been not working in my life, lately. So, here we go:***

I have always been a gadget geek, and I suspect that, although there are many varieties of geek, I am one of the worst kind. I tend to buy cheap stuff and spend endless hours finding ways to make them work, rather than spending the money to buy something that works right out of the box, or - better yet - not buying it at all. As I teeter on the precipice of my golden years, I'm tending to buy better stuff, when I can, but even now, on my computer desk, my fabulous iMac suffers the indignities of the insertion of various USB, DVI, and Firewire devices into its ports. The iPod that I received as a Christmas gift confirmed all of this for me. A couple of years ago, I bought my phone, a Motorola RAZR, and soon learned that my carrier had it pretty much locked down in ways that did not please me; capitalistic pig-dogs that they are, trying to maximize their profits by charging me airtime to transfer files! So I hacked it, and have spent probably 3 times more time getting it to do what I want it to do as I have doing what I want to do with it. While there is some satisfaction in this, it's beginning to wane. My iPod does what it is supposed to do, and more, like saving my spot and returning to it in the middle of a podcast. Of course, my Mac-running-Vista-running-iTunes isn't perfect, but it's pretty close. I'm growing more comfortable with irony, every day. HA!

At work, I've been trying to get a PC-based Character Generator/video player thing to work. It's kludgy. It doesn't work anywhere near the way that (what there is of it) the User's Guide says it will. The supplying company, up there in the amorphous mass that is Orange County, has a guy, "Steve" (I think all of the geeks that live in Orange County are named "Steve", I think they're aliens living among us, just biding their time until they can overtake the Disney headquarters and rule the world), who has been extremely helpful, but unable to get me to get it to work. It very nearly does what I want it to do, but fails to complete the entire program. Of course, it does not fail in the same place, nor does it fail in any sort of logical manner that "Steve" has ever experienced. Of course, the implementation of this video programming involves those with political clout in my little world, so I've been under a bit of pressure to make it happen. Because this 'thing' runs on a 24-hour schedule, I've been faced with making a minor change/ticking or unticking a checkbox/etc., then waiting several hours - or until tomorrow - to see if anything positive occurs. After about six weeks, I've finally run out of options, so next week "Steve" will either be coming to visit me, I'll be taking the box up to see him, and/or we'll be buying another box. In this instance, my willingness to "make it work" has probably cost me more in the long run than if I'd given up a month ago. Frugality in the electronic age is not always a virtue, I guess.

Friday afternoon, on the way home, I bought a fairly expensive gadget. I brought it home, hooked it up to my iMac, and it didn't work very well. I goofed and fiddled with it, and figured out that I could eventually get it to do the things I wanted it to do, but it wasn't going to be as easy as either promised, or it should be - it would require geekyness on my part. I resisted my primal urges, packed it all back up into the box, and returned it to the store. I'm still going through withdrawal, and looking for an alternative, but I do feel strangely better. My house is filled with stuff that sorta works, so we keep it (that's probably Vicky's attitude toward me, now that I think about it). I guess I'm trying to behave as if I've learned something, after all of these years.