Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March Birthdays, Take Two

Dear UD,

Today, I have no words.

Today, you would have been 62.

Today, a year ago, we celebrated your 61st birthday all weekend at your place, another family celebration filled with kids playing ball outside (and Little and Aiden jumping cliff to cliff, flying over open space), dogs romping around (except poor O. B. who shadowed your every move, sitting between your feet at every chance), and cousins/siblings/aunts/uncles all playing various games of Scrabble, Bridge, and the new Dragon Joust card game that you created. And you, cooking, grilling, making special meals for all of us even though you were the honored birthday boy. 

Sonny, Mom, and I stayed up until midnight on the night before, playing Bridge with you to ring in the first moments of your birthday. We saluted your birthday, and you jumped to Three No Trump, like always, winning the rubber.

We sang Happy Birthday (something you did for every single one of us on every birthday through a phone call), ate cake, and watched you open presents. Last year, mostly, you received cards, as you requested, where we told you how much you meant to us.

Did you know then, somewhere hidden inside, that it was your last birthday?

Did you know, in a way that we did not until after, how deeply you impacted our lives on so many levels? How very much we loved you? How special you were?

Even as we brought you presents, you gifted us with everything you had, with everything you were. 

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ~Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Today, a song comes on the radio, and the lyrics slay me. No longer are you “only one call away.” No longer are you “there to save the day.” No longer can your siblings or 17 nieces and nephews or 30 plus great-nieces and nephews call to share news, get advice, wish you Happy Birthday.

Today, we vote in the primaries, trying to pick the best of the worst, without a viable option. I imagine what you would say and wish we could talk about it.

I’ve heard some people laugh at the idea of Trump, saying he wouldn’t have the power to do anything if elected. I’ve heard others say that Trump is a refreshing choice, someone to bring new life to the political hypocrisy and depravity of this corporation-run government. Both of those are furthest from the truth. This election year has been a debacle of Hunger Game/Nazi proportions. Will we not learn from history or from futuristic literature? George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but World War II wasn’t that long ago. Surely we haven’t forgotten it already or forgotten where racism, prejudice, and blindly following dictators who use repeated common fallacies in reasoning leads?!

I would remind you of the stories I have read, of Fahrenheit 451, “Harrison Bergeron,The Handmaid’s Tale, The Giver series, the Unwind series, and ask how people cannot see the parallels. How they cannot see our country sliding headfirst into a dystopia.

I have tried to stay out of the political debates this year, but Trump scares me. He should scare all of us. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, winner of Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, and author of Night, wrote, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

You always wanted to see the best in people, in our country, in our world. I wonder what you would say now, after all of the headlines and horrors of the past year. After the past week when our first amendment right to peaceful protest has been under attack. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
So, today, I speak up and cast my vote. 

And, today, I’ve heard from various family members who are all thinking of you, honoring you, missing you.

Mom is planting a flower garden with roots and bulbs of perennials such as lilies, irises, wildflowers, and bleeding hearts. Every spring when they shoot up and bloom, she will think of you.

Others will watch a musical or Hitchcock classic or Shakespeare play, and some will reach out to a sibling or cousin and cherish the mundane fact of having a phone conversation with a loved one.

Still others will cook a meal that they learned in your kitchen while most of us will play a board or card game.

Whatever we do, we remember you.

Today is your special day. We love you, Uncle David. Happy birthday!


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

March Birthdays

Dear UD,

Today is Dad's birthday, the first day of March and yours, the 15th, halfway through. 2016, the year after we lost you both, the year when March limps in without roars, the year when spring, renewal, rebirth all seem out of reach.

Today, I honor Dad by remembering his beautiful and eloquent words to me on this day, 16 years ago:

I think all of us tend to look back on our lives on our birthdays, and solitary reflection is good for the soul…summoning tendrils of sadness and regret…but bringing also joy and the quiet contentment that comes with remembrance of things past. On this day I feel doubly blessed to have lived and loved, and I wanted to share an epiphany that intruded forcibly…bringing the greatest birthday gift imaginable...an ineffable sense of wondrous awe. Hovering always at the periphery of conscious thought is the blessed awareness of the people I love, my fellow traveler through this vale of tears. But this morning, in pensive solitude…I felt you all as a powerful presence…as a celestial choir singing the Happy Birthday song…I truly felt you all as if physically present…our hearts thrumming a delicate refrain of indescribable loveliness. And I thought that there is great beauty in this imperfect world…the indescribably sublime wonders of nature…the unutterable beauty of song…Willie Nelson singing “Always on my Mind”…the baroque counterpoint of Bach…The Winged Victory of Samothrace standing in Majestic grace after 23 centuries…fragments of thought from other fellow travelers we have never met, snatches of incredible poetic utterance…”And the women come and go, Talking of Michelangelo”… fictional characters we feel we know, like Yossarion and stately, plump Buck Mulligan. But shining above all of this with effulgent brightness is the blessed assurance that Love is the one thing that makes life worthwhile. I think there is a certain amount of wisdom that comes naturally as we age and mature, and I think walking for a year in the shadow of darkness has helped me see a great light…like Saul on the road to Damascus…I see how we are transported by love to any earthly paradise beyond description…that love for intimates, affection for friends, and good will towards everybody…redeems our tenuous lives and makes our transient pilgrimage significant. For above all else, I am assured that our love is a pearl of great price, a solitary Rose blooming in a wasteland. I love you, Honey. Dad
Flash forward to 2009, the last of his birthdays I celebrated with him in person. A trip to the Crawford farm, snowed in by a blizzard which blanketed the world in white, nestled in with family for cards, movies, music, and birthday cake, and a trudge through the snow with some of the younger kids.

I remember more clearly my last time celebrating anything with Dad. Christmas 2014. During the last week of his life, Dad remarked that he was glad he had moved back to the Ozarks, to the family farm, because it was home.

You, too, moved back to Missouri, near family. Home is where the heart is.
Yesterday, or so it seems, you said I was… and then my girls were… growing up too fast. If only you and Dad were still here to see them (and all 20 plus of the next generation) grow into their talents and careers and lives. Now it's their turn to ask, Do I dare disturb the universe? But I wouldn't want to be there (young adults who have to find their way) in this postmodern society. You, Dad, Eliot, all three of you pondered, probed this extraordinary, harsh, dark, and lovely world. If only both of you were still here to share your wisdom and counsel.

Today, I honor Dad with a movie marathon of some of his favorites. From the hilarious and beyond cool Blues Brothers to Kiss me, Kate to the mysteries of Agatha Christie to the bumbling Colombo played by Peter Faulk to the sharp and witty Sherlock Holmes. At least I will watch as many as possible after work, and I will laugh and cry, but love these classics and the memories they inspire.
Today, I light a candle for Dad, and on the 15th I’ll light one for you. You were both such a blessing in our lives in so many ways, and we are blessed to call you family. So I declare March birthdays a blessing. Happy birthday, Dad. Happy birthday, Uncle David.

We miss you both more than words can say.