Thursday, July 23, 2015


Here’s a “might have been” story from my past, fifty years past.  It takes place in late May or early June of 1965.  There’s no message here, just a little of Grandpa B’s history and maybe a little impetus for reflection.
I had just completed my sophomore year at Aurora College and my friend, Ken, who had come there from Maine, was looking for someone to share driving chores so he could go home for a few days before returning to a job in Illinois.  I was twenty years old and had basically never been anywhere so I jumped at the chance.  Our route took us across Canada so I even got to leave the country for the first time; and then added the states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to the few Midwestern states I had already visited or lived in. Driving straight through, trading drivers whenever one of us got too tired to continue, took about twenty four hours.
Seeing new places and hearing different regional accents were wonderful, as was seeing the ocean for the first time. I still have among my mementos a piece of granite the size and shape of a baseball that I brought home from my day at the ocean.
My friend had a younger sister, Lois, who was just days away from graduating from high school.  She played hooky (skipped school if you are unfamiliar with “hooky”) for one of the days Ken and I were there.  I actually don’t remember any of the things we did that day other than riding around in Ken’s car seeing the local sights which were mostly pine forests and potato fields. 
Late in the day as we were heading back to the little town they lived in I found her hand in mine, feeling as though it really belonged there.  I remember looking at her and seeing her smiling and wondering why.  I knew I was feeling especially good but wasn’t sure what was prompting her mood.
Two days later Ken and I were on our way back to Aurora, she and I never so much as shared a kiss, and I never saw her again.  We did exchange a few letters and in one of them I asked her why she had been smiling so that night.  Her answer was that she had been feeling as I had and that holding my hand had been special for her just as it had been for me.  In time, we each went on in our own directions, but I still think of her some times and may still have the one photo I took of her tucked away with some other memories. 
There is nothing that would induce me to trade the life I have had for any other, or even to wish that I could.  It is simply pleasant to reminisce and maybe spend a few minutes thinking of what “might have been.” I hope life has been as good to her as it has been to me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Most of my essays are pretty upbeat.  Life has been very good to me and that is something I want to share. This one is a little different. It's about sadness and the pain of loss.  Life, no matter how good, is not pain free, and the more we have the more we can lose.

About a year ago my oldest son had to take his cat to the vet to be put down because all efforts to fix its health problems had failed.  He knew it was what needed to be done and somehow summoned the courage to do it, but he was hurt terribly by the loss. In talking to him about it, I came up with the phrase, "Grief is the shadow cast by love."  What I was saying is that when grief seems overwhelming it is because we have had the gift of being able to love, to have something or someone fill our lives so much that the loss is a physical pain.

A few months later, I experienced first hand (again) just what I was talking about.  Our beloved Labrador retriever, Rowdy, had been deteriorating physically for over a year and the day after Christmas went into convulsions and then coma.  We cared for him through the next day and night until he died the following morning.  I was spared that awful trip to the vet, but that was small comfort when the space in my heart that he had filled for almost ten years was suddenly so empty.  It's been seven months now and the pain has eased, but still there is seldom a day goes by that I don't feel it at all.

Josh and I could have avoided all that pain by simply not allowing his cat or my dog into our lives in the first place.  We also would have eliminated a whole lot of warmth and joy and laughter.  We would have given up the chance to love and be loved.  Believe me, our pets do return the love we give them.  They offer no criticism or judgement, only affection.

So, is that the answer?  Avoid the pain by forgoing the joy?  I certainly don't think so.  Over the years, I have loved and lost many beloved pets, mostly dogs, but also cats and even an iguana who lived with us for fifteen years. Every one of them more than repaid the emotional cost of losing them. I remember the joy much more than the pain.

Kahlil Gibran said it best in The Prophet, "without love you laugh, but not all of your laughter; weep, but not all of your tears." Thank you to Rowdy and all his predecessors, for my laughter and for my tears. The shadow, grief, is only there because of the substance, love.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Like a Kite?

"I saw the brightly coloured kite yanking hard at the thread that held it tethered to the Earth. It was obvious just how much its heart yearned to break free and soar with the sea breeze.
'You are like that kite. Tied down by the limitations created by your own mind. Break free. Live!' "

I read this lovely bit of writing in another blog and my cynical mind immediately flashed back to when I flew kites as a boy.  What I remembered was that when the kite string broke the kite did NOT fly free; it fluttered to earth where it would lay helpless and inert.

Being fond of metaphors, I then thought of how this actual behavior of kites was a more accurate reflection of our lives. We need something that tethers us to reality if we are going to soar, without it we crash. What is the string that keeps us "flying" at the same time it binds us to one spot? Who is holding the string?  Who can stretch a metaphor to the breaking point?

There certainly is a time in our lives, usually our teens, when we want to cut all those strings.  We question why our parents and society have told us to act certain ways and we may even actively rebel against many of those rules.  Good for us! With no questions and no rebellion, there would be no progress.  The tricky part is in learning what things to rebel against and what to embrace.  Maturity, in part, is learning what parts to hang on to;  what strings do we need to keep us airborne.

My generation, coming to maturity in the 1960s was one of the most rebellious in history. We questioned everything we were told was true. One of our most notorious protesters famously said, "Never trust anyone over thirty." We challenged many things, like the Vietnam war and racial segregation, that needed to be challenged, and we also tended to "throw the baby out with the bath water." If parents or government or church said it was good, we rejected it.  So along with equal rights and an end to that particularly hideous and pointless war we also promoted indiscriminate sex and drug use.  We broke the string, and many of us crashed to the ground.  We also soared.

I've been trying to finish this for some time now, to bring it to some sort of conclusion, to make some point.  No such luck.  I've had some fun playing with a metaphor, and touched a couple of old memories, so I'll just have to be satisfied with that.