Friday, January 27, 2017

My Old Man

Twenty years ago, in an obscure regional magazine, I published a story about my dad. It was called "My Old Man" and it was funny and affectionate and my wife calls it her favorite piece of mine. I am, I think, rightly proud of it.

My old man, as described in that story, is a different old man than the one I come here to visit. There remain some indications he's the same man. He's funny and has the same goofy grin widening his cheeks when he says something he knows people will laugh at. He still sits with his arms folded or purses his lips, steeples his fingers, and puts them in front of his mouth when he's relaxing, often after a meal. He still doesn't want to be seen without his teeth in and a "nice" shirt and pair of slacks on. With shoes, not slippers. He's a favorite of the nurses and aides at his nursing facility, partly because he rarely complains and partly because he will spend days smiling at nothing.

In a deeper, more important way, he is a different person. He's like the hospice patients I visit. When I see him and he's asleep, I sit quietly in a chair next to him, touching his shoulder, holding his hand. When he starts to make sounds, like my dogs when they dream, I gently rub his shoulder, his hands, and he has the same reaction as them. He remains asleep and settles, calmed, relaxed, his breathing that of someone sliding into a warm tub. The flecks of dead skin on his cheeks or the dried milk on his lips remind me he has joined ranks of the elderly who have either forgotten to wipe their faces after eating or no longer care. He loses control of his emotions, on occasion, possibly as a result of his strokes, possibly because of the UTIs his body collects like stamps. It rarely lasts long, a flash of fear and hopelessness, tears, and then he's forgotten it. He's smiling again, at nothing again.

It took me decades to come to love the Old Man I grew up with. He was a good man although like most children I wasn't always aware of it. Frankly, it wasn't until my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and he became her primary caregiver that I realized just how good he was capable of being. When I began to visit him in the nursing facility, I was faced with a different Old Man, one who was more frail and, at that time, not even certain of who I was. He has improved, partly physically and partly mentally, to the extent he can occasionally use a walker instead of a wheelchair and he usually recognizes my face and voice. But he tires easily and I can't spend more than a couple hours with him before he's got to sleep, and doesn't want to see me until the next day. He is, in some ways, the same Old Man I've loved, but in a more profound way I've had to come to love a new Old Man.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Women's March at human scale

I could not make it to the March, as I've reported, but the host I was going to stay with took several photos and gave me permission to post them here. And while they are not as staggering as the aerial pictures in breadth or scope, they help bring the event to human scale.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Democracy wears pink

Listening to the speeches during yesterday's coverage, I heard this conclusion to one that turned out to be by Van Jones"[Trump's supporters] came to this town yesterday. They had red hats on. They were proud of their accomplishment. And they thought they had taken America back. What they never counted on was a million women in pink hats that are going to take America forward." 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why I didn't end up in DC

It's a sort of a for-want-of-a-nail type story. Except in reverse. And not really about a nail, unless that's what the thing in the above photo started as. I expected to be in Washington, DC, for the Women's March the day after Trump's inauguration. I had the time off, I had a place to stay thanks to the UU congregation in the city.

But from the beginning it was almost as if I wasn't going to end up there. I planned to leave home around nine o'clock Friday, but I didn't leave the house until nearly eleven. My GPS had timed my drive at about thirteen hours, so that would put me in DC after midnight. Then as I was crossing the Chicago Skyway Bridge, a mere couple hundred yards from the Indiana border, my tire went flat. I spent roughly an hour on the Bridge changing the tire, which threw my shoulder out something fierce. I was successful, but then I had to get a new tire. A donut simply wasn't going to last from Chicago to DC. Waiting around for another tire and for it to be changed chewed up at least another hour.

I got back on the road, but shortly after leaving Gary, I was engulfed by fog, dropping visibility to nearly a half mile. By seven o'clock, I had only made Elkhart, Indiana, perhaps a third the distance I needed to cover. So I hedged my bets, decided my best option was to travel on straight to Pennsylvania to visit my father (my intent for the vacation anyway), contacted my host, and stopped for the night at a place on the Michigan border.

I called my wife this morning and told her of my divided sensibility, this feeling of wanting to be in one place but opting to be in another. But my wife, who likes to downplay her own wisdom, pointed out that my decision to visit my father was more what was necessary than another body at the protest. The elderly, she said, were among the most vulnerable of populations, and it's the vulnerable who need the greatest love and help during what will come. Wisdom, as I say.

So today I spent driving the rest of the distance, listening to the coverage on Sirius XM's Progressive 127. It was, in some ways, both an enjoyable and humbling experience. I was envious, looking at occasion at FB friends' pictures from their own marches, some in DC and some in other cities, feeling I was missing out, having given up an opportunity to be a part of history. But I was also made hopeful in new and unexpected ways by the numbers of people who were. Listening to the radio, songs playing on the radio seemed to me like messages of kismet from deejays: "Revolution" by the Beatles, "Evolve" by Ani DiFranco, "People Have the Power" by Patti Smith, "Volunteers" by Jefferson Airplane, "Stand" by Sly and the Family Stone, "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" by both Tracy Chapman and Living Colour. I felt, if not the pangs of birth for a revolution, then the opening salvo across the bow of the Trumpocalypse.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

To say "That's wrong" out loud

It would be easy, I've come to realize, and I admit it might be better for my mental health, to take the tack I followed most of the time during previous republican presidential administrations: That is, to curl into myself like a fern and focus primarily on my own development, occasionally glancing up to wrinkle my nose at the nasty smell coming from DC or even saying "That's wrong" aloud. But I am too involved now with humanity, with its take and give, its weight and physicality, and with people who, under the policies Trump espoused during his campaign, will be hurt to sit home reading up on economics and etymology. I love the individuals of America more than I used to think, and when I hear them cry I can't ignore them.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

My resolution

It's tempting, and I've been mightily tempted multiple times in the past month, to curl into myself for a long electoral nap, focusing on only those things that affect my family directly and that appeal to my joy. To become that individual in the ivory (or even wooden) tower. But I know many people who, because of skin color, beliefs, their origin, their states of health, or who they love, are unable to do so. Too many people already are willing to leave them to their own devices, even before the ascension of Orangey McHamsterhands (a nickname a friend brought to my attention, and that makes me smile). This isn't brave. It's the determination not to walk by a house on fire because it isn't my house. My resolution: Not to give in to my life being the only one that matters.