Wednesday, September 28, 2016

258 candles-days 48-41

When I was a kid, I knew two things (well, I knew a lot more, but I knew two things about the New York Post): They had the best selections of comic strips (two full pages!); and they were pretty reactionary in their outlook on the City. Rupert Murdoch's purchase of the paper in the mid-70s solidified that outlook and codified the neo-conservative view.

As I grew up I discovered that a lot of good writers also wrote for the Post: Pete Hamill, Murray Kempton whose work I'd come to admire in The New York Review of Books, and Drew Pearson whose book Washington Merry-Go-Round I found long after his death.

The point is that as a result it comes as a surprise to me that the Post published a feel-good, touchy-feely, "That smile made it all worthwhile" human experience like the following. But it's a good surprise.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

258 candles-day 47

I am floored by the love shown by people in front of the dying, who are helpless, vulnerable, and in some cases unable even to acknowledge they are in the room. Perhaps it's because I do similar work that I think I understand what motivates them. It feels really good when we're thanked, but that doesn't always happen, and at times we are the unknown workers behind the curtain who are simply finishing what someone else started. But somehow that counts for something too. My singing voice is worn and off-key and I can't hear what I sound like at all. But I have sung out some people, usually with my favorite hymn "Spirit of Life," and I have relaxed them with my speaking voice, sometimes reading, sometimes just talking. There's a quality to being human, as one person here says, that makes us givers. And there's a need to being human that wants others with us in our frightened periods. It's located in seeing death, as one woman says, "not as an event, but as a process." Without locating it in a religion, this is God's work, a direct result of that theology that wrestles with how to account for little children dying painfully.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

258 candles-days 57-48

I have been necessarily absent, as I first prepared for my vacation and then drove back to the thick to spend time with my dad. As a result, I'm behind on posting.

But this is an excellent article that makes the pertinent point on a subject whose scab seems never allowed to heal before it's torn off again. In the words of Simone Leigh, "We need to step up the care to.match the stress."

Saturday, September 10, 2016

258 candles-58 days

Is hope possible to find in the interminable pain of intimate loss? As a hospice chaplain, I've been asked some variation on this question many times, and the best answer I have is that for some there can be, while for some there will never be. I have always heard the submerged wail of hope in the creak of Nick Cave's voice. Like Lou Reed, it's that undercurrent that it can be better than this that touches me and keeps me listening. As Pete Seeger taught us, "When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?"

My intro to Nick and the Bad Seeds came, like for many of my generation, through the lens of punk, and in my case their appearance in Wings of Desire. I've rewound and rewatched that scene so often those inches on my VHS tape show grey. (And there is no question in my mind why both Nick and Lou appear in Faraway, So Close, Wim Wenders' sequal.) But, unlike Lou's case, I have never been such a fan that I keep track of his life and what happens in it.

Which is why it was over a year after it happened that I heard about his son's accidental death. And I have only heard now in reading a, rather touching, article about his new album about, not his son's death, but about Nick and his family's grief. It may seem ironic, bitterly so, that a poet of suffering and death should have such an intimate experience of both, but why not? Death comes to us all, and sometimes it happens to our loved ones before it happens for us. When it happens to someone as thoughtful about it as Nick Cave, or to a lesser degree, a hospice chaplain, individuals seen as being, in some ways, celebrants or even friends with death, it doesn't negate our profound grief. Cave's The Skeleton Tree, of which I've only heard the three cuts included here, strikes me as an attempt to convey the odd way optimism struggles to dig itself free after burial in the ashes of grief. As Nick sings gently in the final moments of the album, "It's all right now."

Thursday, September 8, 2016

258 candles-days 159-Whatever

Somehow I've lost track of the days. My election countdown clock tells me there are 60 days left before the election, which seems right. But then that means I ought to be on day 198, and I don't see how that might be. So, while I'll continue to call this project 258 Candles, I won't pretend to count down any longer. Or maybe I'll start counting up. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Meanwhile, I remember stories people told in the 60s and 70s of traveling cross-country with no more than a dollar or two and the clothes on their backs, hitching and relying on the kindnesses of strangers to feed and clothe them. Maybe not all those stories were true, or maybe they shaded some of the less friendly parts, but in the main I think the takeaway, that most people are good and given the chance will willingly help another person, is true. I don't think this story proves that sentiment: at best, it proves that the people this man met at this time were good. But I know when I need help from strangers it's available in some way. And I know that when strangers need help from me, I also provide it in some way. Perhaps the help coming isn't in the form it was asked for--food instead of money--but help is nonetheless provided, openly and without expectation. This is the basis of politics, the way we act in the city. We help one another because, while our homes are thousands of miles apart, we are neighbors.