Sand and Stone

Kim’s grave is still so new that you can see the cut around the patch of grass they removed and replaced when they dug the hole.

Like a golf digit that hasn’t healed yet.

Last week the woman from the cemetery called to remind me we need to order a stone.

I know.

I remember how final and official it was when we saw Elena’s stone.

It was beautiful but Kim and I looked at it and thought, “I guess she’s not coming back then.”

It’s not that we didn’t know she was dead but we hadn’t gotten to the point where we understood that that was a permanent condition.

So I haven’t ordered Kim’s stone yet.

I will.

The cut in the grass is starting to heal, When it does we can find Kim’s grave by looking just to the left of Elena’s – but she deserves more.

One of Kim’s friends came over for coffee yesterday. She’d had a vivid dream about Kim.

She said, “I don’t know what dreams mean to you.”

I said, “it’s what they mean to you.”

I love that some part of her felt strongly enough to allow a memory of Kim in and to allow it to tell her a new story about the two of them. I love that so many other people keep Kim alive through these memories.

You can’t put that on a stone.

A stone is just a prompt.

It’s like reading the names of the dead in a service. The names don’t carry much but they may prompt a memory or a musing.

I told Kim’s friend about someone who had reached out to me recently. I didn’t recognize their name so I looked at their photos.

Kim’s friend smiled.

“What?” I asked.

“That’s called ‘creeping’, ” she said.

Then I was creeping.

But as soon as I saw a picture of the person who reached out I knew who they were and was glad to have heard from them.

I’m not good with names. A name isn’t enough. It’s a prompt but I usually remember so many details about you but forget your name.

That’s not good.

The most important words to anyone is their name.

I remember images. I remember stories. I remember actions. I remember emotions.

I’m not good with names.

I was “creeping” the other day and saw a picture that I loved as a monument – it was something you can’t capture in stone.

It started with a picture that a friend posted two pictures. One was of her husband and her mother. I knew Chuck, her husband, for thirty years. Actually, I’d heard stories of her from Chuck for those thirty years and only met her in the last days of his life. She was all that he had described.

The picture was of Chuck when he was in his twenties giving her mom a kiss on the cheek. They are both gone now. The picture was a wonderful monument to the two of them. She’s probably older now than her mom was in that picture.

There are people who engrave pictures on their tombstones – it’s just not something I feel comfortable doing – but I can see where it captures them in a moment.

I loved that picture of her husband and her mom. I’d never met the mom and it was a picture of Chuck when he wasn’t yet the man I’d meet.

To be clear, that wasn’t “creeping”. I was looking at a picture she posted publicly. She invited us to join her in this memory and to bring our own memories.

The second picture she posted was of  a walk she had taken with friends.

Below it was a second picture of the walk that one of her friends had posted. It was the same path but three shadows walked in front of them.

No people in the picture. Just their shadows.

Such a great picture.

This is when I began “creeping”.

I clicked on the link to go to the page of the person who had taken the picture and looked at some of her other pictures.

One of her pictures was of a book that Chuck had written and autographed.

He’d taken time to explore his dream of writing mysteries and had written six books.

He sent me drafts  from time to time and then we’d meet and talk about them.

He’d mention some of his other readers and what they thought of this and that.

Maybe he mentioned this woman.

I don’t know. I’m not good with names.

I do know that it made me smile to see this autographed picture of one of his title pages.

She recently posted a new profile picture. It turned out that it was a picture that Chuck had taken at an Indians game.

This “creeping” hadn’t connected me to this person I didn’t know – it had connected me to my friend two years after his death.

There was one more picture I spent time with before clicking to close the page.

It was on a beach somewhere. There was a heart carved deeply into the wet sand. A red flower lay in the upper right of the heart and a shallow wave covered the top little rounded parts.

I have no idea what the heart was for.

It reminded me of a poetry writing seminar I took in college. We each had to analyze each other’s poems. When it was my turn I remember people explaining what the poet must have meant. I thought, “I didn’t mean any of that.”

And yet.

That’s what my poem meant to them. Their reading of the poem included their thoughts on what my intent was. It took me many years to understand that that’s ok.

So I don’t know what the picture of the heart was for.

I don’t know if she drew it or if she just came upon it and photographed it.

I don’t know if it was just a doodle or if it had deeper meaning.

It could have been about a new love, an old love, or a former love.

I think it was about someone who died.

I think it was about Kim.

“That’s silly,” you say, “she didn’t even know Kim.”

In my reading of the story, she did.

Kim loved the water.

She loved taking of her sandals and walking along the sand next to the water and then wading in.

She loved standing there looking out as far as she could see – to where the water touched the sky.

I loved watching her.

I loved standing beside her.

The heart with the flower was for Kim.

The water was just beginning to blur the top part of the heart.

It’s like when you’re a kid and you build a sand castle and you build it close enough to the water so there can be a moat.

And then the tide comes in and starts to erode your castle. There are those first few moments where you fight against the inevitable and try to save what you’ve built but you know you can’t.

And then you watch it go.

There’s always the story of what happened before the picture and what happened after.

I can’t know what happened before.

Someone, maybe the photographer, carved a heart and placed a flower for some unknown reason.

I can’t really know what happened after.

I assume the water continued to lap at the heart and crawl it’s way toward the pointy end. The sand shifted and the design was erased. The flower floated up at some point and was carried off to sea.

At some point there’s no evidence that the heart ever existed outside of this picture.

Thank goodness she captured this picture. This monument to a moment.

At some point the grass around Kim’s grave will heal.

I need to order a stone.

 

Published in: on April 30, 2017 at 9:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Context

David Foster Wallace began his famous Kenyon Commencement address with a story about an old fish swimming by two younger fish and asking them, “how’s the water?”

They swim on for a bit before one turns to the other and asks, “what the hell is water?”

Wallace says that “the point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

But then Wallace goes on to explore the meaning we bring to the world around us. He tells a story of how a religious man and an atheist see the exact same situation differently and – unlike so many people who tell such stories – Wallace manages not to take sides on who is right – but points to how so many of us are imprisoned by our assumptions and certainties.

The things we are sure of are often wrong.

He points to our experience where we are the center of our own universe.

It takes work to not interpret everything through the lens of self.

The other day I went to see Kim’s cousins newborn son. The baby was happy, healthy, and beautiful and before I knew it hours had gone by. I sat and talked to her and her sister and mom. Her husband had come home from work and sat and talked with us.

It’s hard to describe how easy it is to talk to that family. How you are lifted out of self. They tell stories about themselves and of other people. They share thoughts of little every-day occurrences that often tie seamlessly to bigger themes.

We talked about a friend of mine who is working at the same place as two of them. I told a story of his and the mom nodded. She’d had that exact same reaction to patients at the hospital as he had. And yet, she said, she reminds herself that she doesn’t know what sort of a day that person is having.

We don’t know the context of the person we encounter.

We don’t see the water.

Later in his speech Wallace talks about that part of our lives where we are in a crowded grocery story or driving in traffic. This is not a single occurrence. This drudgery and frustration becomes part of our lives.

If you are the center of your world then you see those people taking too much time choosing an item ahead of you or the people who can’t get their groceries onto the checkout belt fast enough or the person running the register who needs a price check… you see all of these people as just getting in your way.

This is our default. We are the center of the world.

Maybe the person who cut us off isn’t the jerk. Maybe they have needs or circumstances that we just don’t understand.

Maybe they are a jerk.

Maybe they aren’t.

We just don’t know.

Maybe most of them are jerks. But you lose when you look at the world that way.

Not that you should excuse bad behavior. But you get to decide how you see the world. And how you see the world changes how you feel about the world.

He returns to faith and belief. He cautions that what we worship – money, power, intellect, beauty – whatever it is will eat us alive.

We live in a context and build our own demons.

We don’t really know the day that someone else is having.

We don’t really know the context of the world we’re entering when we interact with them.

They seem happy. They seem confident. They seem …

Kim used to say that about celebrities, “he seems so nice.”

I’d smile. I didn’t even challenge her any more. Maybe she was seeing the water that I was missing. I used to make fun of her for that but maybe I was wrong. She was seeing the world she wanted to see. She had no reason to think the celebrity wasn’t nice.

A woman I don’t really know posted something the other day that shook me. I always thought she was happy and confident – and maybe she is. But she posted this.

“Use me up, if you will. But understand that once I’m used up, I’m used up. I’m done. By the same token, I understand that I’ve used up some of the people who most loved me, and they have nothing left for me, and that’s my fault. I’m sorry about that. But I understand that in order to love them. I need to leave them alone.”

Wow.

There’s a story there.

I don’t live anywhere near her but I’m sure there are people in front of me at the grocery store or driving in traffic next to me who are having that sort of a day.

The way I treat them or talk to them can tip them in either direction.

I can’t control how they react to how I treat them. They may be annoyed by a friendly wave or a kind word. I can’t help that. But I can hand them that item they can’t quite reach. I can let them in to my lane even though they were in the wrong lane to turn left.

I can’t know their context but we’re all swimming in the same water.

I can try to notice the water.

 

Published in: on April 29, 2017 at 7:36 am  Comments (1)  

Running

Kim and I travelled together a lot.

Every time I had a chance to present at a conference or teach somewhere interesting I’d ask if she wanted to come with me.

Once Maggie went away to college Kim almost always said “yes”.

She’d apologize that maybe she was coming with me too much.

I told her, and meant it, I always preferred traveling with her than without her.

She was smart and independent and would set off and explore whatever city we were in while I was teaching and then we’d meet up at night or set out on days that I wasn’t teaching and explore together.

The last two years before she died, she almost always said “yes”.

It was like our first year of dating except better – we knew each other inside and out. We would visit new places and revisit places we loved. We would do things on the road we wouldn’t do at home – take hours together for dinner, stop and enjoy a drink in the late afternoon and just sit. It actually drove us to start to do these things at home as well. Our life on the road made our life together at home even better.

We loved our time together on the road but that wasn’t the only reason Kim almost always said “yes”.

Maggie was in college.

One of Kim’s cousins talked to her about her eldest child being away from college and how much she missed him. This was before Maggie went to college. We didn’t have a child in college yet. The cousin told Kim she’d soon see what it’s like for a child to leave the house.

Kim knew.

She came home and told me the story. She hadn’t said anything at the time. What could she say?

She’d thought, that is hard. But

But, your child comes home for holidays.

But, you can go visit your child now and then.

But, you can call or text your child.

But, you can see pictures of your child on Facebook and see what they’re doing.

Our child, Elena, left the house and we had none of that.

So when Maggie went to college our house was suddenly very empty. We were reminded that Elena would have been in the house another three years.

We missed Maggie but she came home for the holidays, we visited her now and then, we called and texted her and we saw pictures of her on Facebook.

Elena was gone.

The house was empty.

And when I traveled, the house was really empty.

So I always asked Kim if she wanted to come with me and Kim almost always said “yes”.

We were running from an empty house.

Since Kim died I don’t travel because I’m running.

What’s the point?

She’s not at home but she’s also not with me on the road.

I miss her wherever I am.

And strangely, that brings me comfort.

Published in: on April 28, 2017 at 6:29 am  Leave a Comment  

The Two Bobs

When I met Kim she was midway through her Masters and working for the two Bobs at Case’s Center for Professional Ethics.

She loved the two Bobs – Bob Clark and Bob Lawry.

We have a painting of a lighthouse hanging in our downstairs bathroom. Kim loved lighthouses – they always reminded her of Bob Clark. He shared that love.

One of my favorite pictures of Kim and me is of us next to a lighthouse in Fort William, Scotland on the edge of a Loch. I don’t know what it was about lighthouses – perhaps it reminded her of the water’s edge. Kim loved being near the water.

The first time I remember seeing Kim was when I was required to attend a session for graduate students who were teaching undergrads. She and Bob Clark ran the event in the Thwing Student Center. There were a ton of us there hearing about what is and isn’t cheating and how students may see the issues differently than we do.

Kim and I wouldn’t meet for many months but I remembered seeing her there. She had a genuine affection for Bob and was there to make sure his message was heard. Bob was trained as a UCC Minister.

I think Bob retired shortly after that because I don’t remember seeing much of him. The other Bob, Bob Lawry was a law professor at CWRU School of Law – but he was a different kind of law professor. Kim said he had the soul of a poet and a brilliant mind.

Mostly, Kim worked in the same building as the math department way across campus from the Law School. Every once in a while she’d have to go over and work in Bob’s office to get something done – but mostly she worked remotely.

The Bobs didn’t care when or where Kim worked as long as she got her work done. She knew what needed to be accomplished and they trusted her to do it. They also encouraged her to start and finish her masters.

When Kim and I were dating she thought it would be fun if we read a book together. Kim was always reading – she read something every day. She read a wide range of books and always had at least one book on her nightstand.

Bob Lawry loved “The Hobbit” and read it each year so at Kim’s insistance we each bought a copy of the book and started to read it.

I’m not a Sci-Fi guy.

In many ways this makes me unusual for my field. So many developers read and watch Science Fiction.

I’m not saying that “The Hobbit” is science fiction, I’m just saying that the same things that kept me from loving science fiction kept me from relating to “The Hobbit”. Enough people love “The Hobbit” that I’m sure that the failing is mine – not the book’s. I’m working on it.

I’d tried to read “The Hobbit” for years. Friends raved about it in high school, others in college, and others (and the same people again and again) in the years since.

So I read “The Hobbit”.

I noticed that Kim had other books beside her bed. That wasn’t really unusual but “The Hobbit” was never on top.

I finished the book and wanted to talk to her about it.

“I didn’t finish it,” she said.

“How far did you get?” I asked.

“When the guy with the big feet went down the hole I kind of stopped,” she said.

“But that was in the very beginning,” I said.

She shrugged.

That was that.

Years and years later there were the movies. Kim, Maggie, and I went with our friends Paul and Sue to see all of the movies. Kim and Maggie won some contest to see one of them in 3D.

I’m sure it’s me not the movie but it just didn’t grab me.

I liked the first one but didn’t get the point of the last two. I’m sure there are metaphors and meanings that I just didn’t see. I may be too shallow for the movies.

I don’t know that it’s relevant but I think I should confess I’ve never seen or read “Game of Thrones” either.

One of Bob’s other favorite books was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Based on our Hobbit experience I never picked it up.

Well that’s not true.

I actually bought it a couple of times but I “Kimmed”. I never got far enough into it to get invested.

The author recently died and so it’s back beside my bed.

There are so many things I miss about Kim – but I’ve decided if she’s not around to read at night then I should.

Published in: on April 25, 2017 at 9:08 am  Comments (1)  

Amnesty

Every once in a while someone makes up a new holiday that resonates with me.

Kim and I were sure that Sweetest Day was one of those made up holidays just to sell greeting cards and candy.

All holidays are made up – we just meant that it was recently made up and just for crass commercial reasons.

It turns out we were wrong. It wasn’t as recent as we thought. That said, we never celebrated it. We didn’t see the point of waiting for such a day to do something nice for each other.

But I digress.

In a week there’s a holiday that I like a lot: Email Debt Forgiveness Day.

The folks at Reply All (a podcast from Gimlet Media) invented this day to encourage us to write that email we’ve been meaning to write but haven’t gotten around to.

You know how it is. You’re going through your inbox and you come across an email that’s going to take longer than a minute to reply to. Maybe you need to gather information or maybe you have to cover something awkward or unpleasant.

Whatever the case, you put it aside until you have more time.

And then it sits there.

And sits there.

And the longer it sits there the harder it is to write because now you have to explain why it’s taken so long – or the fact that it’s taken so long has given it more import than it might otherwise have.

So you never write your response.

But you continue to think about it. You feel bad about not answering. Something that shouldn’t be that big a deal has become a big deal.

Email Debt Forgiveness Day is a day on which you are to feel free about digging up those unanswered emails and writing the short response they deserved. You can include a link to the official page: http://emaildebtforgiveness.me to explain what you’re doing.

Like Sweetest Day, I’m not sure why it should only be one day a year. You should feel free to send your overdue email and link to the site any day – but having it on one particular day might pressure you into actually doing it.

Your debt might not be an email. It might be a text, a card or letter, a phone call, or an in-person visit.

The level of guilt and resistance increases as we move towards the end of the list.

On the other hand, the relief of having done so also increases.

Last week I noticed I was speaking at a conference where a former boss of mine was speaking.

Our relationship had gotten awkward at the end of our time together and we hadn’t spoken in many years.

He sent me a nice email after Kim died and I replied.

That wasn’t a small thing for him to do. We hadn’t spoken in many years.

His business partner hadn’t contacted me after Kim died and we had spoken since I left and it was never pleasant.

So after noting we’d be speaking at the same conference, I sent him an email asking if he’d like to meet for a cup of coffee or a drink or something.

He emailed back right away that he would.

And we did.

And I feel so much better.

Neither of us talked about the past. We didn’t re-argue disagreements or even think about them at all. We talked about the present and the future. I remembered what I liked about our relationship and left feeling grateful that we’d had a chance to talk.

Will we talk again?

I don’t know – but we won’t avoid talking to each other.

Friends asked if we cleared the air.

I don’t know how to explain it but there was no air to clear. We weren’t who we were back then and what would have been the point.

Friends asked if I asked him about collaborating on work.

No. That wasn’t the point of the meeting. The point was for us to sit for an hour together and talk to each other. It would have confused the issue if I’d brought up a project or two. That wasn’t why I contacted him.

I’ve been doing a lot of this lately. I’ve been considering people that I should reconnect with, just because – and I’ve been doing it.

Not everyone welcomes it.

There are people who don’t respond when I reach out.

That doesn’t keep me from trying.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve greeted one of my neighbors for years and he’s never responded. The other day he replied and we stood and talked for a while. I didn’t need anything. I just wanted to say “hi”.  I felt great. It may be another four years until he replies again, but I’ll continue to speak to him whenever I see him.

I hope you’ll celebrate the upcoming holiday with me on April 30. There are no cards for Email Debt Forgiveness Day – that’s kind of the point.

I think I’m all caught up in my email – if I owe you one, you should let me know so that I can send you something next week.

Published in: on April 24, 2017 at 10:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Eight Months

Still doesn’t feel real.

Then it does.

Then it doesn’t again.

Published in: on April 23, 2017 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Easter

A month ago I had dinner with a friend in London who asked me to imagine a world where each of us had all that we needed.

Would people be satisfied?

 

I think about that today as people celebrate Easter.

If we could provide food, clothing, and shelter and health care to all and you could still have everything you need, would you be in favor of that?

I would.

I know people who don’t feel that way.

They want to make sure that the un-deserving don’t get things they don’t deserve. Some people vote in such a way that they themselves don’t get services they would be entitled to just to keep the un-deserving from getting those services.

So, I told my friend, “no.” No I don’t think people would be satisfied.

We can talk about what religion is at its worst. We can worry about the divisiveness and the “othering” that can come from gathering with a group of people and celebrating your love for God and God’s love for you.

But at its best, religion can bring a community together to remind it of the blessings they enjoy and to point to those around them who could benefit from the love, kindness, and generosity of those in a position to give.

We’re all in a position to give love and kindness.

Do we?

 

 

In my friend’s world, everyone would have enough. Not just a minimal amount – but by your own standards you would have all that you need.

But, I said, people keep score. It’s not enough for some that they have enough. It’s not enough that they have all that they could possibly need. It’s not even enough that they could have more than they really want. For some, they must have more than their peers.

We’ve been asked that since youth. Why do you care what the other kids do or have?

We just do.

It’s not healthy.

It’s the root of our unhappiness.

If we have all that we need and want, why do we care if someone else is given what they need and want?

“It’s not fair,” we think.

It’s not equal. It might be fair.

There’s the cartoon of the three people behind a fence of different heights. In one image they are all given equal height step stools and only the tall one can see. In the second image they are given different stools of different heights and all three can see over the fence.

The shortest one had the tallest stool.

Is that equal? No.

Is it fair? I think so. Not everyone agrees.

The tallest one can see over the fence in either situation.

There are two sorts of tall people.

One tall person complains that his stool is less high than the other’s. It’s not my fault they can’t see. We’re all given the same advantage.

The other tall person is happy that all three can see. He doesn’t mind that more material and effort went in to assembling the other stools.

To my shame, I cannot say that I am always that second tall person.

I try to be.

There are days that I know I’m that first version – mostly it’s when I don’t notice. Sometimes when it’s pointed out to me, I still don’t change appropriately.

My friend’s utopia has us all living as the second tall person.

I love thinking that that world could exist.

That we could stand side-by-side peering over the fence and being able to talk about what we all see.

Perhaps when there are fewer fences, we won’t have to worry about the different heights of the stools.

Until then…

Published in: on April 16, 2017 at 11:12 am  Comments (1)  

More

It started with an innocuous quote reminding women they don’t find their worth in a man, they find their worth in themselves.

That seems fine. It’s a lesson we tried to teach our daughters. I would replace the words “a man” with “others” because I think it’s not just about dating.

The final line of the quote continued in the dating direction rather than the self worth direction. It added that you then “find a man who’s worthy of you.”

Or not.

After a positive message, this seemed to imply that your process isn’t complete – that’s it’s not enough to find your own worth – if you don’t find that man.

But that’s not what moved me to respond. After all, maybe the woman sharing the post had found such a man and wants to share it with friends. Maybe she’s angry at a man who turned out not to be. Maybe she’s just posting advice for the young women she knows based on her experience.

That still wasn’t what bothered me. Well it was – but something else was calling for my attention.

Among the comments on her post was one from a woman who wrote, “that is what all people should realize – You are most important.”

I was horrified.

The quote began by reminding us that we must find our own self-worth. Perhaps we can re-couch that as a reminder that we should be on our own list of important people.

It does not say we are more important than anyone else.

It took me a long time to find my own worth but I am not the most important person in my life.

Maggie is.

I would do anything for her.

I would and have stopped or changed what I’m doing if she needs something.

Needs. Not wants. I often will if it’s only a want.

Before she died, Kim was more important to me than I am. In many ways, her memory is still more important to me. My memories of her and honoring what she was still make me a better person.

Before she died, Elena was more important to me.

I can’t imagine I would have been a very good husband or father if I was the most important person in my life.

I hope to surround myself with people who feel comfortable in their own skins – people who understand, yet may undervalue, their worth.

Am I making too much of this?

Maybe.

It bothers me that this benign quote becomes a checklist.

Got yourself in order? Check.

OK, now go find yourself a man.

You don’t have to – you’ve got yourself in order.

You can. You just don’t have to.

Find other people who you can see are important to you. Don’t rank them in importance – just spend time with them and enjoy.

 

Published in: on April 15, 2017 at 7:42 am  Comments (1)  

Passover

For me, Passover is all about the stories. Not just the central story of Passover – which is more of a meta-story – but the stories we tell in our homes each year that become part of the tradition.

I just couldn’t bring myself to celebrate Passover this year without Kimmy.

I know that’s silly. She was Catholic. How could her loss keep me from celebrating a Jewish Holiday?

Simple.

Kim was a central part of my celebration for a quarter of a century.

Kim is part of my story.  She always said her sister was my best audience – but Kim was my favorite person to talk to and to listen to.

So many stories.

There are the stories I remember from Passover’s growing up.

There were stories that my mom would start and that my dad would interrupt and say, “that’s not what happened” and then she’d say, “ok, you tell it.”

There were stories my father would start and my mother would decide he was telling it wrong or taking too long and she’d interrupt and take over.

There were the stories where they would begin them and interrupt themselves because it wasn’t on a Thursday it was on a Friday and they remember it because cousin Beth Ann – wait no, it wasn’t Beth Ann it was her sister Carol …

I’d listen and think, “wait a minute, that’s not how they told the story last year.”

Or I’d think, “we’re opening the door for Elijah, we’re going to hear about the year the cat walked in.”

Passover is about stories and family traditions.

We go to each others houses and swap stories and add to each other’s traditions.

One year Kim and Jodelle and Bill signed up for a Seder that was intended for non-Jews at a nearby reform temple. I went with them and had a great time. There’s a story we still tell from that seder.

The Rabbi led everyone through the recitation of the plagues where you dip your finger in your wine and dab the wine drop on your plate for each plague.

After the recitation most people put their finger in their mouth – you wouldn’t want to waste that wine.

The Rabbi said one of the purposes of that section is to remove a drop from your cup for each plague. If you put your finger in your mouth then you are “drinking” one of the drops that you removed. You should instead wipe your finger on your napkin.

We tell the story each year at that part of the service but we still put our fingers in our mouth instead of wiping it on a napkin.

Another year we went to my thesis advisor’s house. Initially his wife was reluctant to have us as she never included non-Jews at her table but she thought about it and welcomed us into their house.

That year the Seder fell on Good Friday. Kim participated fully in the Seder. The hostesses’ mother and father were there and Kim and I just loved them immediately. When it came time for the meal, Kim took a little bit of everything but passed on the meat. The father looked at her and winked and quietly asked, “Good Friday?” She nodded.

Our host, my thesis advisor, shared something at that Seder that stuck with me. It was a little thought but meant so much to me about the meaning of the holiday. So much of the meal talks about the Jewish people’s escape from slavery in Egypt.

Our host reminded us that while many cultures think back to a time when they were kings, it’s important to us to remember that we were once slaves.

It’s a sentiment I shared every year that we hosted a seder.

Another year we went to a friends house where the hosts were all non-Jews. They had somehow mistranslated the song “Dayenu” to mean “It would not have been enough” instead of “It would have been enough”.

And so instead of a grateful people, who would have been satisfied with lesser gifts, their translation amounted to us repeating, “really, that’s all you’ve done for us – that’s not enough”.

Kim kept looking at me until at last I quietly said something. “Oh,” said our hosts, “that’s very different.” Suddenly, the text made more sense.

It’s a story we told in our home every time we sang the song.

We used to watch the Rugrat’s Passover Special with the kids each year before our seder. I loved it. In that telling the babies were the Jews, as in, “Pharaoh, let my babies go.”

There’s a scene where the Pharaoh wants a bunch of babies thrown out – but then complains when it is time to take a bath, “you threw out the baby with the bathwater?”

Genius.

Before we had kids we looked at our religious differences and commonalities as we prepared to get married.

We first met with the priest who married us at around Easter/Passover time. We were talking about how many traditions from each are similar. The priest told us that when he was at Seminary they had invited a rabbi to lead a Passover Seder. Midway through one of our priest’s fellow priests-in-training and whispered in his ear, “look at all the traditions they stole from us.”

Kim loved telling that story at our table.

Actually, my favorite expression of that story is one that I’ve told here and elsewhere. But on Passover we retell stories even if we retell them differently.

The fact that we didn’t have a Seder this year isn’t going to keep me from sharing it.

It was Elena’s last Passover and she sat between her grandfathers. She took the matzoh and passed it to my father. He looked at her because she held it back a moment. She looked him in the eye as she put it in his hand and said, “body of Christ.”

That is still my favorite Passover story to share.

 

Published in: on April 14, 2017 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Club

I finished teaching a four day class in Portland and headed to the airport on the light rail.

The woman who checked me in at the United counter was chatty. She glanced down at my tickets one last time before handing them back to me.

“Hang on,” she said.

That’s not good.

“Uh oh,” she said.

That’s not good either.

She told me my first flight was going to be delayed. That’s ok, she explained, the flight that was supposed to go out an hour ago is going to be three hours late so it will leave when your original plane was going to leave.

She put me on that flight.

An hour later that flight was cancelled.

Fortunately, I’d used miles to join the United Club and the woman there came over to tell me the bad news and to hand me a ticket on my original flight. It was now a middle seat but it was still a seat.

I was trying to get home in time to leave for my next trip – nuts, I know. But both flights were on United so I figured we could work things out if need be. I’d brought my passport with me just in case.

I called United. Fortunately, when I would call back later I would get a kind, empathetic person. This one was neither. She tried to explain to me that weather and runway construction isn’t United’s fault. If my plane didn’t make it out tonight and I missed my next trip from Cleveland that wasn’t really United’s responsibility.

But, I said, instead of flying me back to Cleveland and then from Cleveland to Washington DC, why don’t you fly me from Portland to Washington DC. It’s fewer legs, there’s plenty of room on the flight.

I’ll spare you the next ten minutes but the upshot was that this woman was where she needed to be and didn’t really care about getting me to where I needed to be.

Fortunately, this was unusual. Most of the United people I talked to were nice and tried to be helpful.

I check with Maggie. She says when I call back I should get angry.

I’m not going to get angry.

She says I could cry. Sometimes that works.

For the moment there was nothing to do but wait and see if I got on the flight to San Francisco in time to catch the flight to Chicago.

I look down and there’s a text from Maggie. It says “Cry.”

I nod at the guy opposite me. He smiles and nods back. It turned out he was a tall Chemistry professor originally from Zimbabwe. He asks me where I was from.

“Cleveland,” I said.

“Cleveland,” he smiles, “the mistake by the lake.”

Sigh. Is that really all he knows about Cleveland.

Nope. It turns out he wants to talk about the Indians. He doesn’t want to talk about them starting the new season with three wins. He wants to talk about game seven of the World Series.

I mention the Cavs.

He nods but wants to talk about the Browns. He remembers red right 88, the drive, and the fumble.

He went to school in Boston but was a Browns fan.

I tell him I went to school in Boston too. I tell him I went to Brandeis.

“Me too,” he says.

“I graduated in ’81.”

“Me too,” he says.

He was a chemistry graduate student while I was an undergrad. He has been on the board of trustees and is active in the local chapter.

The woman behind the counter waves me over so I excuse myself.

The plane has left San Francisco for Portland but our flight back to Portland won’t get in until after the flight for Chicago has left and there’s no room on later flights.

Sigh. Travel.

I call the mileage plus number again.

This time I get a woman who wants to help me but it’s a challenge because I have two different bookings. She works really hard to get me two options. I ask her if she would mind hanging on a minute while I text my daughter to ask her what she thinks.

Kim used to do that for me. It was probably unfair to put Maggie in that position – she hates being responsible for decisions like that – but it was helpful to run it by her. I decided to fly home, spend the night, and then fly on to Dublin through DC.

The woman puts me on hold and works to book the flights. I get a confirmation number while I’m on hold. The United themed version of Rhapsody in Blue repeats and repeats. I think it’s so that you’re so grateful that the agent has returned to the call.

We check the itinerary together and chat a bit. She says something about knowing how stressful travel is and she just wants to help if she can.

I thank her.

And then I tell her about Kim.

I don’t know why. It’s just that if Kim were with me all this would somehow be less stressful. We’d go through it together. We’d have each other.

The woman tells me that her husband died suddenly a few years ago.

We trade stories about our marriage. Like me and Kim, she and her husband had had a great marriage that was only getting better. The years before he died had been particularly good.

We trade stories about life since our spouses died. She has four kids in the same age range as Maggie.

I know she’s got to go back to work and I’ve got to retrieve my bag and find a hotel but I just feel so much better after talking to her.

She’s used the phrase “meant to be” several times and I don’t tend to believe in that but somehow this conversation feels like it was meant to be.

This person I don’t know and will never talk to again has unlocked something in me that helps me see that so much that I’ve experienced in the past seven months is normal in the face of Kim’s death.

I hang up and take my bag tag over to the woman behind the counter to see if she can have them pull my bag so that it doesn’t go on the flight. During my phone conversation she has brought me over the newly booked tickets.

I ask her for suggestions for hotels and I start calling. There’s nothing.

Some sort of convention in town and after a half hour I still haven’t found a hotel.

The plane to San Francisco is boarding. The man from Zimbabwe comes over.

“Excuse me,” he says not smiling, “did I overhear you to say that you lost your wife?”

I nod.

“Me too,” he says.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“She died of AIDS in 1998.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. It’s not much but it’s all I have. “Is that why you studied AIDS?” I ask.

He had told me he studied AIDS before switching to his current line of study.

He nods.

The woman behind the counter is nodding too. “I understand,” she says, “my boyfriend died as well. He drowned.”

“i’m sorry,” I say.

It feels inadequate every time I say it but I do feel it and it’s all I have.

I guess it’s our club’s secret handshake when we greet each other.

I’ve met three other members tonight. Perhaps I was meant to be here tonight. I don’t feel better but I don’t feel as alone as I did when I walked in the door tonight.

 

Published in: on April 7, 2017 at 11:36 am  Comments (2)