Untitled Eulogy for Clarence

I’ve never really had much use for mirrors. Sure, they help me see the pizza sauce on my face or a hair out of place, but in the end they only ever show you who you already are. What I would like much more is a window. This is a formidable metaphor. Windows, as it turns out, are an excellent basis upon which to build a picture of my grandfather.

Some people sit in a stuffy room in their home and think how sad their lives are. Clarence was a man who wouldn’t tolerate inaction. If there was something worth doing, he was doing it. He was always looking for opportunity, seeking paths to improve his life and the lives of his family. He knew how much better things might be if we could see beyond the walls. Rather than hiring someone to cut a hole in the wall and install a window, he reached for the toolbox.

He gave me a toolbox when I graduated high school. He hand-made the toolbox and filled it with functional antiques, living relics he found at garage sales over the years. I felt honored, doubly so years later when he told me he had given one to my son as well. Liam still speaks fondly of that toolbox. I’m proud to know my son has embraced the tradition of fixing old things, rather than replacing them. This is a strongly held belief in my family.

His was not a short-term perspective, which is no criticism of his appreciation of the now. He had a remarkable ability to enjoy the moment while also being very focused on the horizon. You might find him in the garden, planting or harvesting or battling weeds; or you might find him in the shed, cutting wood for a birdhouse. If you asked him what he was thinking, he might tell you about his paying off the car next year. Truth be told, I never actually asked. He always seemed so content and peaceful working with his hands.

He built the house I grew up in with his bare hands and a limited set of tools. He and my father laid every brick together. He taught me the value of hard work. More than that, he helped me see some things are worth a little blood. I have spilled blood many times building and/or fixing machines. To this day, if I don’t bleed a little when I work with my hands, I feel some sense of disappointment, like I didn’t try hard enough.

This was a man who, after falling off a ladder at work and breaking his back, he drove nearly an hour home before considering going to the hospital. When he told me about the experience, I barely believed it. He said every so often, he would hit a bump on the highway, and the car would bounce. The resulting searing pain left him momentarily blacked out. Somehow, through blinding pain, he made it home and then quickly to the hospital. The man was a tank.

Maybe not always the easiest person to be around, he definitely had his gruff moments. Still, no amount of momentary vitriol could ever outweigh his relentlessly progressive spirit. The words “heart of gold” simply do not suffice here. He would – and occasionally did – invest everything he had to protect and secure his family.

To me, he will always be the foundation of my pyramid, the ground that supports my home, the rock upon which my entire existence is built. He bestowed upon me a most welcome gift. While we can build windows to gain perspective on the beauty of the now, he gave me a magic sight glass to know my future long before it happened and to be ready for it, even if I didn’t always like it. As I write this, all I want in the world is a window on the past, so I can look upon him in his prime and wave. He wouldn’t notice me, though. He’d be too focused on keeping his hands busy, planting next season’s crop or building another birdhouse. As it should be, his own special blend of zen.

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I’m In Love With a Ghost

5 Nov 2014

I saw your photograph today. You looked happy. I want to be happy for you, but I’m not. I want to understand why you torture me with your words. Confusion is a word I have used often since I last saw you. You looked in my eyes and said “I love you” and you meant it. You could have said “I always thought you were a coward,” and still your heart would have betrayed your lying mouth. It shines brighter than a thousand suns, so brightly that no shadow of doubt can remain. Yet shadows of your ghost haunt me every time I think of your face since that day. I wake up on chilly mornings, and my soul reaches out for a fleeting moment, hoping you slipped into my bed in the night, like so many times before. I want so much to be surprised by the feeling of your warm soft skin, pressing into me and shying away from the crisp morning air; to wrap you up in the cotton wool of my heart as we did on so many mornings, as we watch the sun rise over the bay.

I miss you like you died. I can’t touch you or smell your hair or feel the depth of your love radiating from your chest. All I have is images of your smiling face in my social media stream, reminding me that you’re not in jail or laying in a hospital bed. And still, I see in your actions no evidence of this love we share. One singular response, telling me it was fun but you’ve moved on. Two words, to let me live in peace: “fuck off,” but all I see is empty space. All I hear is the devastating ambiguity of silence, like an echo chamber for both hope and despair; a cruel joke, and no one’s laughing, not even you.

All those nights I sang you to sleep, all those nights I dragged my fingers gently along the contours of your body, all those times I satisfied your corporeal hunger or soothed the savagery of your menses with laughter, love, and lust; and in the end, you reciprocate with a big fat slice of nothing. In a few rare moments of clarity, you told me how much you appreciated all that I do for you, but there was always something missing. You have such a rich capacity for love and joy, and you share it with all who are worthy of your presence, yet you keep me at twice the distance of a random beggar on the street. What you give so easily to others, you make me earn every inch and then judge me for it.

So I live my life, resigned to know that one day I will wake up and not feel this distance I feel now. It won’t be because you’re in my arms. It will be because our love faded through apathy, a withered rose neglected by an absent gardener. For, even fertile soil and bountiful rivers can not overcome the stale tide of neglect, a monument to callous indifference.

22 Dec 2014

My heart nearly leapt from my chest when I saw your name on my phone. You were calling to wish me a happy birthday and to thank me for the flowers I sent you. We hadn’t spoken in months. I was shocked, as I expected never to hear from you again. The flowers were one last romantic gesture, hoping to remind you of the love we share and how important it is to show that love. You cried as we talked, told me stories of your sadness, how lonely you feel, how much you wish you had someone to hold you on those lonely nights. It hurts every time I hear you say that, as I want to be there with you every night. I know how hard it must have been for you when I moved away. We made plans to spend time together when in California.

Days passed. I reached out to you the day you were flying into town, invited you to an adorable tea shop near your hotel. As with so many text messages before, I received no reply. The next day, you invited me to an event related to your conference; an Ignite event, like those we have attended in the past, both as speakers and attendees. You were so excited to see me. We talked all night, caught up on some of the things we’re doing in our professional lives. We went to a speakeasy for a drink. On our way, we stopped for a smoke, huddled in a cubby hole in the wall on the street, trying to get away from the rain. As we walked back to your hotel, you felt distant, yet connected.

Just like all those times before, I rubbed your neck and back, as your stress melted away. You turned to face me, and I ran my fingers through your hair. You kissed me, and like so many times before, we made love for hours. You fell asleep in my arms and snored softly in my ear, something I cherish very much. We awoke to the foggy sunrise over the city, and made love again.

When it was time for me to go, you walked me to the elevator, held me close, in what I have come to understand as the “don’t ever leave me” hug. You thanked me for a wonderful night, kissed me, and said “now you know how to find me.” It was the happiest day of my life.

That day, I reached out to have dinner with you, but I received no reply. The next day, I invited you to a Cirque du Soleil show, but I received no reply, so I stopped by your hotel. I will never know why you felt threatened by my presence that night. I only sought to spend time with the woman I love, to take you out for a night on the town. I only ever want to treat you like the amazing woman you are, to surrender myself to you and bask in the glow of our collective hearts, beating in time with each other. I respected your space and went to spend time with a friend, knowing you would reach out if you wanted to get together. I thought you wanted to spend time with me, but now I’ll never see you again. You left the next day without saying goodbye.

I wanted so much to leave things on good terms, but you made that impossible. So, it’s over. I want you to be happy, and you seem so happy with me, but something is always missing. And that something is you. I don’t know exactly when I lost you, but you’re gone forever. I hope you find happiness. You’ll always be my number one bird. Fly and be free.

Love, Loss, and the Awesome Power of Choice

I’ve written several times over the last few years about relationships, love, and loss. I’ve had what seemed like great lovers, only to realize they aren’t and never really were. I’ve dated women who seemed interested, only to find they weren’t willing to give as much as they take. One lover in particular has inspired this piece, and I doubt she’ll ever read it (a testament to how little she cares). If she does, maybe it will help her understand my point of view a little better. If not, so be it. This is not about her. It’s about me.

As of today, I am abstaining from the chase.

I don’t anticipate giving up on dating entirely and living a monk’s celibate life. I like intimacy and sex way too much to do that. Instead, I’m deciding not to try anymore. I’m finally taking the advice I’ve heard over and over for years: “you try too hard. just let it happen naturally.”

After all this time, I finally understand what that means. I thought for many years I could never take this advice because it felt like every fiber of my soul was screaming things like “don’t give up!” and “nothing happens when you make no effort.” While I still agree with those feelings, I must acknowledge that many of my past relationships have been unbalanced, almost one-sided. I do so much to fuel the fire that my lover stops doing anything, once they believe they no longer need to try. This is what many people refer to as “taking someone for granted,” and anyone who has experienced this will know how it feels once this line is crossed. Respect is lost, and there’s no going back.

My friends, my family, and even strangers I meet randomly in the world, when told the stories of my struggles, universally say this:

“Fuck that noise! She doesn’t know what she has. You’re ready for something real and she’s just a party girl. When she turns 40 and looks around to see the bunch of 20-somethings she has for friends, if she has that at all, she’ll see what she lost.”

My rational solution-finding brain tells me to attempt to avoid this outcome through communication and compassion. I want to talk about it, hug it out, and reach mutual understanding. The reality is simple – there is no problem to be solved. I’ve manufactured a problem because that’s the only way I can make sense of the irrational behavior I observe.

About a year ago, when I first started into a rough patch with my girlfriend, my mother gave me the following advice: “walk away at the first sign of trouble.” My natural reaction to conflict has always been to try to find middle ground. At the time, I was going through some highly stressful drama, and my girlfriend told me she couldn’t handle it and wanted a break. Basically, at the peak of my struggle, when I needed support most, she bailed.

My unbearably predictable reaction was to negotiate. I didn’t want her to leave because I loved her. I tried to find a way to understand her needs, sacrificing mine in the process, thus doubling down on my stress in a gamble for my happiness; I lost the bet. What she did was an awful thing to do, especially to someone you love. I knew it then, as I know it now. I was hurt by her casual disregard for my needs. It took the better part of a year to realize this, but now I can say with certainty she didn’t love me. It was a word she used to control my behavior to get what she wanted. I doubt she was conscious of it, but that’s exactly what it was. Like others before her, she used me to get something she wanted.

Today, I draw a line in the sand. No more of that. There is such power in choice. The act of standing up for a belief is exciting and engaging. People spend their whole lives choosing from the options in front of them instead of finding more options. When you don’t like the options, make new ones. I don’t like feeling like I’m always chasing, so I choose not to chase. As my best advice to guys who struggle with dating has always been “be the pretty girl, and let them come to you,” I’m finally taking my own advice.

Do I still love her? Yes. Did we have some great times? Absolutely. Is it worth sacrificing my needs to spend time with her? Fuck no! And this goes for everyone I’ll ever meet.

My new plan is not to have a plan; to live fully in every experience, invest emotionally and intellectually, and walk away when it’s not what I want. It’s a terrifying and brilliant future, so far outside my comfort zone that I will be forced to be comfortable. I can’t wait 🙂

Strength in Chaos

Have you ever been so close to the edge that you no longer know how to tell whether you’ve crossed it? It’s a hard thing to live this way, yet this is all I’ve known for years. When your credit cards are maxed out and the only thing you have is the cash in your wallet, it’s a paralyzing feeling just to pay a bar tab. There’s a certain panic in spending 60% of your available wealth on two beers and a stack of potato fries. Sure, you play off the declined credit card as an oversight, but deep down, you know just how close you are to oblivion.

It’s easy to see how such a situation might cripple anyone. Still, there’s a strength to be found in all that chaos and uncertainty. If you can look past the debilitating rejection of having tens of thousands of dollars of credit, all stretched to their full extent, you find yourself in a peace known to few. I imagine it feels something like drowning. Despite the sudden onset of declined credit transactions, there’s a looming catastrophic quality to the experience, like watching the boulder from afar as it tumbles down the hillside toward your imminent demise.

I envision it like kayaking over a waterfall. Sure, I could keep a constant pulse, checking in with the sherpa shouting from the shore, waving his arms madly in a futile attempt to inspire me to paddle toward the dock. Instead, I find solace in the knowledge that there is more to learn in the quick trip over the edge than I could ever hope to encounter in the safety of knowing that there is another force dragging my boat. Whether I measure it or not, I’m going past the event horizon. I can not know the terror that awaits me, nor could I ever embrace its totality. Still, I close my eyes and sing to myself sweet songs of my inevitable victory.

You may call it foolish or even insane, and you’d be right. In describing the audacity of hope, you will inevitably find yourself questioning the basic fundamentals of what it means to live. I promise I don’t have any answers you want to hear. Frankly, there have been as many times as not that I’ve wondered how much easier it would be to flip my boat and drift away in serene aquatic asphyxiation. But I’m not interested in that death. I have far too much to contribute to this world to seek that path.

I’m not done with this life after these 36yrs. I’m doubling down. I’m ready for another 72, and I’m willing to bet that at the end of all those years, I’ll do it again, if for no other reason than to dare the universe to give me a thousand times more hardship than I’ve faced in these 36yrs. If I can survive this chaos and use it as a source of continued strength, another hundred years will only serve to anneal my heart and soul that much more. I no longer believe there is anything the universe could throw at me that I could not use to grow stronger. And that is the most peaceful feeling I could ever hope for.

Breaking Personal Patterns

Years ago, I wrote a post about one-sided relationships. This morning, I went back and read that post again. It rings as true now as it did then, but with different context. As I read it again, I felt myself resonating with my own words, but in a different light. This week, another relationship ended. As I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of things and find closure, I’ve thought back on all the moments we shared together. My goal was to truly identify moments in the past where I put rose-colored glasses on. I wanted to understand better the situations that trigger my ostrich dance, the one where I close my eyes and ignore key aspects of the world around me in favor of my own world view. This is a crippling pattern I must stop.

As with the last time, I am open, able, and ready to nurture a deep spiritual bond. I am hopeful to build a strong emotional connection with another sacred soul. I am inspired to explore a rich intellectual attraction with another open mind. I am excited to play and seek new experiences and adventure with another sexual creature. All these things I feel for my love. All these things I see resonate in her when my heart shines on hers. Still, something holds her back from fully expressing her true self. It’s time for me to accept that she needs time to address her own hurdles. There is simply nothing more I can do. As I swallow my stomach and wipe tears from my eyes, I know this doesn’t need to hurt. There’s no script that says she will never call me again. That’s a script from an old and tired story. This time, we write a new story.

This time, I don’t hide behind fear or pain. Yes, it hurts, but what I lost this week was not my love. I will always have that. Even with all the betrayal from my last great love, I still miss her. I still want the best for her, and I believe maybe one day she will reach out to reconnect. This great love is different. With the last one, I lost hope of even having a friendship. Her betrayal was so painful that it took years to forgive her and move on. With this one, I lost only my rose-colored glasses. I lost the feeling that she and I share a common goal of building a life together. I lost the future I had planned, a future in which I was really happy with her and our children. The glasses had convinced me that she shared that dream. In truth, I never actually asked her what her dream was. It’s time to change that.

So this is my new story. I will not allow her actions to dictate mine. She does not have the tools to express her true self in a way I hear clearly. That means we can not be together romantically, but it doesn’t mean I must say goodbye forever. As I said in the post years ago, I seek vulnerability. I wanted this, so I could grow stronger. Her hurtful words could have inspired me to twist my love into hate. Instead, I choose to further invest in love. I will continue to reach out to her, to be the friend she needs, to help her when she needs help, and to expect nothing in return. It will take time for me to be ready again to seek a new great love. From now on, I follow my new path, and I see the world as it truly is. Most importantly, I know now to stop myself when I feel rosy.

Parenting Is…

Here’s a list of things I feel like parenting must be. I’ve been tragically blocked from parenthood. I feel often the pain of loss of being separated from my son, and I don’t often express it. I hope one day he will read what I’ve written and be better able to understand my struggle.

Parenting is the inevitable catastrophe that will ruin you forever, no longer perfect in the world’s eyes. Even if that means a splinter or a love unrequited, you will feel pain. To a parent, this is the first failure we experience. I could be happily cooking some bacon on a lazy Saturday morning, and you could be bitten by the angry suffering of a bit of airborne grease, destined to ruin your life forever. Or at least 3 minutes.

Parenting is the joy of seeing you take your first steps, seeing you fail for the first time, and realizing there’s so much of that in everyone’s life. We all fail so very many times. Parenting is seeing our children fail, seeing them suffer through the challenges of defeat, and only in rare occasions seeing them triumph. Parenting is the agony of terrible defeat, to gravity, to metal, to lost love. No one can prevent your inevitable crushing defeat, to any of dozens of possible threats. Parenting is gracefully acknowledging the possibility that your children will epically fail. Parenting is knowing you can’t ever stop them from certain strife, that you may not be able to protect them from mortal blade. Parenting is loss from the very start.

For fortunate parents, the experience is seamless, like taking your first steps as a child. For those of us less fortunate souls, it’s the echo in a mirror, the recap in a text message. That’s the best visibility we get into the lives of those we love. I spend my life protecting someone I barely know. I want to know him so much more than I will ever have opportunity to achieve. I still remember the way he smelled as a baby, all those nights when I held him close to me, rocking him and singing to him. No one can ever rob me of the memory of holding my son on my chest as we both slept.

“If I should die this very moment, I wouldn’t fear. For I’ve never known completeness like being here. Wrapped in the warmth of you, loving every breath of you. Still my heart this moment, oh it might burn. Could we stay right here till the end of time, till the earth stops turning? Wanna love you till the seas run dry.”

“All this time I’ve loved you and never known your face. All this time I’ve missed you and searched this human race. Here is true peace. Here, my heart knows calm.”

I always feel joy when thinking of children. I don’t always feel it when thinking of my own child, but the idea of children always fills my heart with warmth. In this way, parenting is the never-ending quest of the paladin. The white knight seeks justice and peace for all. In many ways, that is the calling of the parent, ever vigilant in the futile attempt to protect our children from themselves and the world.

Who Would You Be In A Plane Crash?

Who would you be in a plane crash? I’m serious. If you were to find yourself on a plane that is experiencing catastrophic failure, how do you imagine you’d react? Would you be the panicky person who screams at the top of your lungs, or would you be the person who guides those people to safety? I ask this because we often think of these moments as terrifying, unexpected circumstances that thrust us into the abyss. It is a situation ripe with uncertainty. We are eminently unprepared for this inevitable reality. Still, we find ourselves paralysed by the tragedy of fact. Today, we mourn someone who has touched us all in heart, mind, and soul. Today, we embrace the inevitable, with strength and grace.

I’d like to talk about grace for a moment. Picture in your mind the idea of grace and elegance. Some of you are thinking of olympic athletes, captured in high speed photography, smoothly and expertly navigating the field of their sport. Some of you are thinking of animals, perhaps gazelles strutting about the Serengeti. Most of you are thinking of Gran, how she filled the room with her subtle and permeating presence. She had this magical ability to be known to all without advertising. It was immediately obvious to all who knew her that she was someone you wanted to know. She always had her finger on the pulse of the moment. Sometimes, that manifested as her often-short temper, with a biting comment about the community’s collective sanity and our individual contribution to our mutual perpetual peaceful coexistence. It was never a threat, but… almost. She had a way of keeping us all in line.

And what a monumental task that was. Five kids when they were still kids themselves, and five grandkids to boot, starting at 36. We were looking at photos last week. Gran was barely a woman when my mom was born, a regular Juliet to Grandpa’s Romeo. Fast-forward a few decades, and by the age of 60, she had a bustling family of primadonas, divas, and know-it-alls the world has never seen. We brought the pain, raised the roof, and reminded the world who we were, and *daily* at that. But she weathered the storm. Songs should be sung of the level of grace this woman demonstrated on a daily basis. It’s enough to be considered for the Nobel. And the drama didn’t stop there.

Through violence, death, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Gran took everything in stride. When there was heartache, she was there to lend a tissue and a hug. When there was loss, she was there with positivity and a healthy dose of reality and perspective. She would never let you hear the end of it when she was right and you didn’t listen, but she never once complained about the Herculean task we asked of her. She never showed weakness or doubt. She had the loudest heart in the room, and she taught us all to radiate that strength of self. She would shout it from the rooftops if it would make a difference. Still, she was quiet most of the time because she knew it wouldn’t matter either way. We are all like her, this Long family. We all have our own brilliance, and she had no interest in competing. Hers was a kind and gentle magic, the kind we barely ever have the good fortune to encounter. All of us here today share in that magic, and we hear its echoes. We bask in Gran’s memory, and we would be fools to ignore her strength. She was our lighthouse in troubled times. She guided us as we grew and never pushed too hard.

Sometimes, when things get bad, the one who you end up being on the plane is the martyr, the one who ushers the rest to safety at the expense of self. Gran was that savior for us all. We can never replace her, and we all suffer incredibly today in honoring her memory. Hers is a great loss to our world. Those who knew her recognized her glory, her strength, her compassion. Those who didn’t know her have the misfortune of not knowing such an incredible soul. So, I leave you with this last memory of Gran. I think it represents her spirit in a way I can’t explain otherwise. She used to tell me, “at least I woke up on the right side of the dirt today.” She’s right, and I cherish every day I have on this rock. But, today, I’m jealous of the dirt.