Meet the Family

About once a year I take a writing course in some genre completely different from the ones in which I work. This year I’m taking a class in writing for Comics (the graphic novel types not the stand-up types).

The most recent assignment I did had us start with a silent image from the old “Nancy” comic strip and let it job a childhood memory.

I paused when I came to a drawing of Sluggo looking over a wall having just spotted something that captured his interest.

I don’t know why but it took me back to a memory of when I was four years old. It’s something I haven’t thought about in many years but there it was graphic and real.

My sister Jill and I were born in Boston – and no, I don’t remember either of those births. Just after my sister was born, my parents moved the family to Oberlin so dad could start a new job as a professor at the college. I don’t remember that either.

I do, however, have a strong memory from when my brother was born.

In those days, young kids weren’t welcome into hospitals as visitors.

Fortunately, Oberlin was a very small town and the hospital only had one floor. Perhaps it had more than one floor but I think my mother was in the old part of the hospital that only had one floor – or at least she was on the ground floor.

I remember that, because my father took my sister and me to see my new brother.

We drove up and didn’t park in the hospital lot. We parked in the adjoining lot that was mainly used for the Tennis Courts and college swimming pool before the new gym was built.

We walked across the parking lot, over the grass, up to a window.

My father picked us up – me and my sister (not at the same time) to see our mother and Ethan, our new baby brother.

That was the first moment that all five of us were together – my parents, my brother, my sister, and me.

I don’t know why that’s the memory that leaped out, but I have a theory.

About a year after Elena died I took a workshop in writing features for radio in LA.

The teacher was amazing. He helped us craft stories, find audio, but most importantly, find the emotional core of the story.

As a warm-up exercise we had to think of a trip that we remembered.

I told the story of our family’s trip to Portland.

The instructor pushed and pushed at why that trip was important to me. Why, he wanted to know, with all the trips I’d taken in my life, why was this one special.

As he pushed – I didn’t know.

He pushed more – I didn’t know.

And then I knew. It was the last trip we would ever take as a family. With Elena dead, Kim and I or Kim and Maggie and I would take trips together but that was the last one with Elena.

Firsts and lasts.

And so to this assignment.

Why?

Elena’s been dead eleven years.

Kim’s been dead eleven months.

All that’s left is Maggie and me.

As I learn to live with this smaller version of my family, the sense memory I have from my childhood is when my first immediate family became complete.

My parents, my brother, and my sister are, thankfully, still alive and part of my life. That was the moment it all began.

Twenty-five years ago today was the day before Kim and I decided we’d date exclusively. It was the day before the family we would build would begin.

There are these moments.

These moments that stick.

These moments where you meet the family.

Published in: on July 24, 2017 at 5:47 pm  Comments (1)  

Lucky

I was interviewed for a podcast earlier this week.

The interviewer asked me questions about various points in my career where I made changes and I kept saying “I was lucky.”

I kept noting the cool things that had happened to me and the great opportunities I’ve been given.

It’s all true.

Except for those two worse-than-you-can-ever-imagine moments in my life, I’ve been very lucky.

I’ve worked with amazing people who taught me so much and valued what I had to give.

Not always. But at key moments when I needed it.

I’ve known people who took me aside and told me things that changed my life by directing the things I do or the way I approach doing them.

Not always directly. But they’ve given me enough information that I was able to hear them and act accordingly.

It could be that despite my crusty exterior, I’m an optimist.

I may have written about this before, but I remember seeing a keynote by Scott Adams where he talked about an experiment where people were given something to find in a section of a newspaper. The optimists finished the task quickly and were uniformly successful. The pessimists either took longer or never found what they were looking for.

A couple of pages into the newspaper was a big advertisement which announced that the thing people were looking for was in this location. The optimists all noticed this ad The pessimists, by and large, didn’t. The optimists expected to have success and that something would come up to help them in some way.

All that is to say that there are people around us willing to help us.

Not always. But we need to show them we’re receptive to this help and we need to assume there are nuggets in this help worth mining.

So many people have done so much for me.

I’m lucky.

Published in: on July 23, 2017 at 7:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Points

“Use the Discover,” Kim would say, “we get points.”

And so I would.

Sometimes I’d forget and use another credit card.

She’d look at the bills each month – carefully.

“What’s this?” she’d ask. “What did you buy in Pennsylvania? I don’t remember us being in Pennsylvania last month.”

I’d think for a bit. She wasn’t questioning my purchases, she was just making sure we weren’t being charged for something we didn’t buy.

“Oh, I reloaded our EZ Pass. They’re in Pennsylvania.”

“OK,” she’d say and write the check.

I held the check this month until I made a couple of big purchases. One of the many things Kim and I agreed on was we liked to pay as we went. We didn’t want to accumulate debt.

I got the Discover bill but knew I was taking Maggie’s car into the shop so I held the bill until after we paid for the repairs.

I only had the last bill and wanted to pay for the new charges. I tend to know about what I owe so I estimated the payment. I knew we had a really big charge but I couldn’t remember what it was for.

Something health related.

That’s what I kept thinking of.

A hospital bill? Doctor? Dentist?

No.

But something big.

Oh. I remembered. Kim’s headstone. We’d put it on the Discover.

I called Discover and added up all the purchases since the last bill and sent off the check.

And then I smiled.

I’d remembered to use the Discover for Kim’s headstone.

She’d like that even that had earned points.

Published in: on July 19, 2017 at 8:22 am  Leave a Comment  

The Wrong Door

If Kim were still with us …
I would have known where the front door of the church was today instead of trying to enter the door behind the priest with all those gathered watching.
Oh well, we drove around and arrived in time for Jack’s baptism.
Poor Maggie – stuck with me navigating.
Had Kimmy been inside watching me, she would have laughed and said, “leave it to the only non-Catholic there to try to come in the wrong door.”
Reminds me of the Palm Sunday we met in New Orleans after she went to mass.
She called my cell phone and asked, “where are you?”
“Behind the guy with the big red hat,” I said.
“You mean the bishop?”
I had an idea I was on the wrong side of the church today. As Kim would have asked, “didn’t you see that yours was the only car in that lot?”
Maybe we escaped notice.
Nope.
Every one of her cousins came up to let me know they saw us trying to get in the wrong door.
Sigh.
With Kim, when I started to feel bad about the mistake she would have looked at me and laughed and said, “what’s the big deal.”
Gone nearly eleven months and still with me daily.
Published in: on July 9, 2017 at 9:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Firsts

It’s my  twentieth Father’s Day.

My first without Kim.

Each year Kim would get up early and go to Bialy’s as they opened and get fresh bagels, smoked salmon, and cream cheese. She’d cut up an onion and tomato and make coffee and we’d sit and have breakfast together.

“Don’t you want something fancier?” she’d asked before our first Father’s Day.

Our first.

“No thanks,” I’d said.

“I’m going to make you Huevos Rancheros,” she decided.

I know I’ve told this story before, but that’s what we do on twentieth anniversaries. We look back. We share the greatest hits.

“Do you want Huevos Rancheros?” she asked.

“Not really,” I said.

“It’s ok,” she said, “I’ll make it for you.”

Then she looked up the recipe. “I’ll pick up bagels.”

The first year she was going to pick them up Saturday night. She went over to her parents and as it got later I reminded her that the bagel store would close soon.

At some point she started getting up early Sunday morning and getting there as the store opened.

About five years ago she decided to make Huevos Rancheros.

Other than that year we had bagels, smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, and onion every Father’s Day.

This year I had a bowl of Frosted Flakes in Almond Milk.

So many things aren’t the same.

My friend Rick asked me about this yesterday – all of the traditions we had.

I told him that many of the traditions were with other people and now that Kim is gone it’s too painful for them to continue them or it just doesn’t feel the same.

I get it.

It’s not the same.

I could have gotten up this morning and gone and gotten a bagel myself. But that didn’t seem to be the point.

The point wasn’t the bagel on Father’s Day.

The point was a bagel with Kim on Father’s day.

So many things are different and we’re not even at the anniversary of Kim’s death. I’m just rounding the final turn in this first lap around the sun after she died.

So many things are wonderful about my life.

I’m sitting at our picnic table in the back yard of a house that’s paid for with my puppy sitting on the table next to my Mac Book Pro drinking a cold brew cup of coffee that I roasted.

So many things are right in my world.

But it’s not the same.

Last year I was sitting here as Kim drove in the driveway back with a bag filled with fresh bagels. I opened the garage door for her.

“Need help?” I asked.

“No thanks, honey,” she said.

So I sat in this very same spot and drank a cup of coffee with our dog while she brought out our Father’s Day breakfast.

Same spot. Same dog. Probably drinking coffee from the same cup.

It’s not the same.

It’s Frosted Flakes and Almond Milk standing at the sink.

Just not the same.

Published in: on June 18, 2017 at 8:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Brown Eyed Girl

Kim loved Van’s voice.

She loved music and knew so many more groups than I knew or know and I worked on air for half a dozen radio stations with various formats.

There were a lot of records (and CDs) that we both owned before we were married. Van Morrison’s “Moondance” was among them.

End to end it it an album filled with memories.

We had a flutist and guitar play the title song at our wedding just before the ceremony.

I had the lyrics to “Into the Mystic” printed in the program for Kim’s funeral.

“And when that foghorn blows, I will be coming home.”

Home.

It means so many things in song, in poetry, and in prose.

I don’t know why that song is about a life remembered as a loved one – a companion – dies. As they rise into the mystic.

“And when that foghorn whistle blows I want to hear it – I don’t have to fear it.”

Oh, Kimmy.

The first time we went to see Richard play, Kim requested “Brown Eyed Girl”. I think of her whenever I hear it.

“Standing in the sunlight laughing – Hide behind a rainbow’s wall
Slipping and a-sliding – All along the waterfall”

I wandered into Juma coffee shop and it was on the radio and I slipped through a hole in time and thought of Kim and our wedding and her funeral all fused into the few minutes the song played.

The song carried me back to when Kim and I were “Laughing and a-running”. Man, we had a lot of laughs. Twenty – some years and we could make each other smile and laugh.

But there’s more.

“So hard to find my way – Now that I’m all on my own”.

And Brown Eyed Girl is a happy song.

I’m still trying to figure out what to put on the side of Kim’s grave stone.

I considered putting her favorite phrase but you can’t really engrave “What an Asshole” in stone and display it on a monument to someone’s life. (Can you?)

I love the lines from Into the Mystic

“Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly ”

I’m not sure that’s right either.

I’m thinking of the line from Brown Eyed Girl, “Do you remember when we used to sing”.

I’m just not sure.

How do you capture a life?

 

Published in: on June 12, 2017 at 12:16 pm  Comments (4)  

The Clap Out

We moved to 6 blocks into Shaker Heights just before Maggie started kindergarten so that our kids could go to the Shaker schools.

The Shaker schools do so many things right but one of my favorites are their transitions from one stage to another.

Every school has high school graduation and every high school and college graduation everywhere has some speech reminding students that the exercise is called “commencement” because it celebrates a beginning and not an ending.

As much as commencements are about looking forward – they also are a time to look back.

This year was the year that Elena would have graduated from high school. Well, she would have graduated if she had progressed successfully from year to year and completed all that she was expected to complete.

Although Kim and I joked that we were likely to get a call from Maggie from jail telling us she didn’t have enough bail money to bail Elena out – we really expected her to graduate on time. Of course, that was when we looked way too far into the future. Elena died before the end of her first grade year.

Kim talked about what it would be like for us after Elena graduated and went off to start college the same year Maggie would be finishing college some where.

That was before Elena died.

And also before Kim died.

But this isn’t about death. It’s about transitions. It’s about those little things that the Shaker schools does to help mark and ease the transition from one stage to the next.

There’s kindergarten orientation.

I took both Maggie and Elena to their kindergarten orientations where they met with their teacher and a handful of other kids before school started to get a feel for the classroom and to build confidence and familiarity before the first day.

Kim always volunteered to help with the orientation. She and the other volunteers welcomed parents and kids to the school. She was part of this first transition to the schools.

Kindergarten starts the day after the day on which all of the other elementary classes begin at Shaker. The first through fourth graders meet on the lawn outside the school and then walk in to their classrooms.

The second through fourth graders are old hands at this. They find their new teachers and can’t wait for the year to begin.

The transition from kindergarten to first grade is a big enough step that Shaker has a tradition for that as well. The first graders find their kindergarten teacher that they spent the previous year with and the kindergarten teacher walks them over to their first grade teacher.

The elementary schools are K-4 and all of the fifth graders come together in a single building. So fourth grade is the first time that students will move from the school they spent the past five years in. They go from being at the top of the school with a relatively small number of peers to the youngest in a much larger school.

One of my favorite traditions is on the last day of school when the fourth graders are going to leave their elementary school for the last time.

The clap out.

The younger four grades, Kindergarten through third grade, line the halls and clap as the fourth graders parade through the halls and out the doors for the last time. The younger kids look up to these older students who are moving on – commencing a new phase – and the older students leave feeling great and appreciated.

Maggie was clapped out at Boulevard school a few months after her sister died.

Elena was never clapped out of Boulevard school – until now.

This year Shaker schools started a new tradition.

The graduating seniors put on caps and gowns and were bussed back to their elementary schools.

It’s inspiring for these elementary students to see these big kids tell them, “we went here”, “we were you”, “this is who we are now”.

I remember my first teaching job at Newton North High School. I had some hearing impaired kids in a couple of my classes. As I taught, signers stood near me and signed for these kids.

One of the kids told me that when he was little he never saw a deaf adult. He assumed that being deaf meant he was going to die soon. He never saw older people who were like him.

I imagine him seeing someone like him in a cap and gown coming back to his elementary school to show him the promise and the future and what it might mean.

In Shaker the elementary students clapped out the graduating seniors who had once gone to their elementary school. They sent them out to the world.

I don’t know who decided to do it, but the seniors who returned to Boulevard elementary school all wore yellow ribbons with Elena’s name on it.

I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

To whomever thought to do this – thank you.

To all of the seniors who carried Elena with them as they walked through the halls of Boulevard – thank you.

This helped me with an important transition this year that Elena would have graduated.

Elena was clapped out with the class she would have graduated with.

Published in: on June 5, 2017 at 9:28 am  Comments (1)  

Cancellations

When Kim and I were first married we knew women whose husbands had divorced them and suddenly they had no credit. Even though some of they had supported their husbands, none of the credit seemed to belong to them.

We thought we took care of that.

We weren’t thinking ahead to a possible divorce but we always assumed I would die first and if I did we wanted to make sure that Kim had a credit history. Really, she didn’t care much either way but I wanted to make sure.

So one car is in her name and one in mine. Some of the bills are in her name and some are in mine. The houses were in both of our names.

And then she died.

And nothing much changed. I continued to write checks and pay the bills and no one seemed to be bothered.

And then one day Wells Fargo thought they detected fraud on our credit card so they needed to reissue cards. I told them they didn’t need to send us one for Kim because she was dead.

“Oh,” said the woman, “I’m sorry for your loss, we need to cancel your card.”

“But, the card is on our mortgage which is in both of our names.”

“Yes, the mortgage is in both of your names but we have to choose someone as the primary contact for the credit card and we chose her so we have to cancel the card.”

“Well, switch it to me. It’s still tied to the mortgage.”

The couldn’t do that.

I’ve come to understand that that really means they wouldn’t do that.

So they cancelled our credit card but they’ve kept the account open. So it counts against our credit. They told me the main credit card owner has to cancel the account. I tried to explain again that she is dead. It seems that people use this as an excuse to get out of things so they didn’t believe me. I tried to point out that the account is paid up – I’m not trying to get out of anything. Really, I want them to send me a new card and we can continue.

I will have to take care of this sometime this month. They are, however, sorry for my loss.

I’ve been paying the bills and keeping up with them. I don’t, however, open envelopes marked “this is not a bill”. It turns out, this is not a good idea.

The gas company wants to shut off my gas.

They need to get in the house to check something and if I don’t let them they’re going to shut my gas off.

So I made an appointment.

The woman said, “this phone number doesn’t match the number in our records.”

I asked if she could change it. She said sure but Kimberli would need to call to make that change. I told her Kimberli couldn’t call – she’s dead.

The woman told me then they need to shut off my gas. They can’t have accounts for dead people.

But it’s not for a dead person – it’s for our house and we’ve been paying it for sixteen years – even in the nine months since Kim’s been dead. Just switch the name to my account.

“We can’t do that. We need to close this account and open a new one.”

Who do they think will be paying the balance on the account.

Doesn’t matter.

Oh and since I don’t have a history with them, they need a deposit before they can turn the gas back on.

They are, however, sorry for my loss.

Published in: on June 4, 2017 at 8:59 am  Comments (2)  

Knitting

Every once in a while I will get into knitting again.

 

It relaxes me. It makes me feel less guilty about sitting in front of the television. It forces me to focus on something trivial and immediate – something I hold in my hands – in a way  that is meditative.

I’m not very good. There are holes and unevenness.

I warned my sister that there are flaws in almost every row of the scarf I just made her.

She says that that’s just evidence that it was hand-made.

I texted Kim’s friend Lori and she reminded me that Kim loved to knit.

She did.

She hated to purl – I don’t know that she ever did purl. She just knit.

I don’t think she ever deliberately increased or decreased.

She just knit – she loved to knit. And she knit scarves.

Well she knit things that could be done in rectangles. I think she did a few ponchos because they could be done as rectangular segments that were later attached.

She made scarves for many of her friends and cousins. Lori told me that Kim made her an eyelash scarf that Lori wore all winter.

She once bought a kit for making a baby hat but couldn’t get her head around how it worked.

That was enough to goad me into learning to knit so I could make the hat. I made hats for babies for years – although the last one I made was severely over-sized and won’t fit the baby until they graduate from high school.

For the most part my projects came out well.

I made Kim and each of the girls socks. I loved knitting scarfs because it looks so difficult to use four needles to knit them – really it’s not so hard – it’s just a lot of stitches.

I think I told you that I made each of the girls purses in complementary colors which they felted themselves.

My current project is knitting lace.

I was on a trip in England and saw a book on Shetland Lace and bought it on a whim. I sent a message to my friend Danese who always answers my knitting questions (I think she pointed me at the felted purse project) and asked her to recommend a knit shop in London. By the time I got her reply I was already inside the one she recommended: Loops.

The people were so nice and welcoming and helped me as a prodigal knitter who couldn’t remember much of anything. I bought a second book on knitting lace – this one on geometric lace patterns because it had an instruction that I just couldn’t get my head around.

I wanted to tell Kim.

I started knitting lace swatches but made a mistake with the yarn and got it tangled beyond all recognition or repair.

The next week I was in Philadelphia so I thought I’d get some more yarn.

I told the woman who ran the shop what I was working on and she just wasn’t nice at all.

She clearly looked down her nose at mail knitters. She asked if I was good at computer programming because my approach to knitting seemed, to her, all wrong. She wasn’t going to help me understand what was right – she was just going to talk faster and faster and make me feel unwelcome.

It’s kind of how senior male engineers treat female engineers – except that in the workplace it’s serious and matters. If we lose a male knitter here or there it’s not a tragedy. We can’t afford to lose these good female developers.

But I digress.

I started knitting and made plenty of mistakes but made enough progress that I kept going. It’s like anything else, you learn with repetition. I should have thrown out those parts where I was learning. As it turned out, it looks as though I was learning throughout the project.

I made a lace scarf where the edges had a design and the edges themselves zigzagged in and out. The center was a lace pattern that the book called cat’s paw. There was a border of two parallel lines of holes between the edging on each side and the center.

Well the lines were supposed to be parallel – unfortunately you can see where they move to the left or right by a stitch when I  make a mistake.

My sister says it looks better that way.

She’s not right but she’s very nice.

In a way she’s right. No one will look at that scarf and think that it’s machine made.

The book said I had to dress the scarf when I was done – or block it. That sounded unnecessary to me. I’d never dressed anything before – why now.

So Danese sent me a before and after picture of why I should and instructions on how to do it. She gave me some URL’s to where to buy the kits you need to pin the dampened piece into place but Kim liked us to buy local so I drove over to Susan’s Yarns.

I love Susan’s Yarns.

I don’t know if there was ever a Susan – but the person who owns it is named John. He’s usually knitting something himself and giving out advice and finding just the thing you need. That day, his wife was there as well. I’d never met her before.

“That’s ok,” I said, “I’ll wait til John’s free.”

Sometimes you need a mentor who’s somewhat like you.

I showed John the note from Danese and he told me that of course you need to dress lace. He showed me some pieces he’d made. He looked up a kit and found one that we could split and it would be much cheaper than what I could get online and it would have everything I need.

“Now that I’ve made a scarf,” I said, “what should I make next?”

“A shawl,” he said, “definitely a shawl.”

So when I returned to pick up the blocking kit I showed him a pattern I found on Ravelry and he said it would knit up nicely and suggested a yarn to use.

The pattern was similar to the one I just couldn’t get my head around. It’s a triangle but you start with a tiny rectangle and basically add on to three sides of the rectangle on each row and it turns into a large triangle.

I still didn’t get it.

John took some waste yarn and showed me.

I’m about 10% done with this one and really enjoying watching it take shape.

You can see patterns shift right and left where I’ve counted something wrong.

I’ve ripped it out many times but I think, for now, I’m going to keep going.

If it’s perfect, how will you know that I made it?

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 5:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Chuck

My friend Chuck died two years ago today and I’ve been thinking about him a lot.

Last week I told another friend of mine that, to my surprise, I am fundamentally an optimist. The friend wasn’t surprised at all. I’ve been thinking about that a lot too.

How could I possibly be an optimist?

And more, how could other people know that?

Sometimes I feel so outwardly negative and rigid. It seems that most people see through all that.

A lot has been written lately about the Dunning-Kruger effect where people who aren’t very competent tend to rate their competence way above where it is. Not only are we bad at something but we’re bad at seeing how bad we are and we end up convincing ourselves that we’re actually pretty good at it.

I wonder if there’s a corresponding effect for optimism.

How many people do we know who have no visible reason to be optimistic and feel good about the state of their world – and yet they do.

They have so little for themselves and yet they cheerfully break what they have in half and offer the bigger half to you.

I know people who belittle such people. They want them to understand how bad off they have things. I love that these people don’t feel that. It’s not that they don’t know their situation – they certainly do. It’s that they see that you need something that they’re able to give and they offer it.

How many people do we know who have way more than they need and should be happy and well adjusted – and yet they aren’t.

They have more than they could ever use in multiple lifetimes and yet they look at the fact that you need something as an indication that you have a character flaw and they offer nothing. Nothing but their scorn and perhaps a lecture.

I’m not saying all poor people are kind and all rich people aren’t. I’m saying that there are people in both camps who aren’t what we might expect.

And there is a vast middle where we have enough to be either way. We have enough and need to stop and appreciate what we have. We need to realize that even if we have what we have because of our hard work and dedication that other people work hard and are dedicated but somehow circumstances favored us. We benefited from more than just things that we could effect.

I think that that makes me an optimist.

The fact that other people help me get to where I need to get is a wonderful thing.

There are, however, people who don’t.

There are people who don’t want you to get more, get better, get ahead, … get.

When I first met Chuck more than thirty years ago I instantly liked him. How could you not. He was smart, talented, quick, and charming. And he was deep. So deep.

I remember big and little things about Chuck then.

He had a tape recorder rigged to a radio in his car that would record “All Things Considered” each day at half speed so that he could get it all on one tape that he would listen to on his way home.

I supplemented some of my on-air work with work in Chuck’s production department. I learned a ton. It was the first time I ever saw a multi-track reel-to-reel recorder. It made it easy to record a commercial with two voices where each voice was recorded separately and then the producer wove it together into a seamless conversation or pitch.

It wasn’t a happy or an easy time for Chuck and he was spiraling down.

At one very specific point he decided enough was enough – it was time to get well.

I watched him climb out of a hole and I realized up until then I’d only known a shadow of the man he was. He was quite something. He was smarter, more talented, quicker, and more sincerely charming than I’d thought. People like that are often shallow. Not Chuck. He really was deep and caring.

There were specific things that triggered Chuck getting better but it was really his love of two women that gave him the strength to do it. Well, at the time it was one woman and a child – but that child was a big part of why he worked so hard to stay better.

And yet, there were people who didn’t want to see him get better.

I don’t know why.

I don’t know what motivates such people.

Maybe they see it as a rejection of the path they’ve chosen.

One of his friends did things that I still see in my mind to this day to tempt Chuck back. When that didn’t work, he set Chuck up to get fired.

In a way, it wasn’t hard. Chuck had a reputation of getting to work later than he should or not being around all the time when he needed to be.

But that was before.

Now Chuck was better. His work ethic was really strong. He not only brought his A game but he was there to bring it. People no longer had to cover for him. He was better.

But better is a process.

People don’t know where you are in that process. You have to earn their trust again. And while you’re earning that trust back they still see you the way you were and so you’re vulnerable to someone exploiting that.

So Chuck lost his job after being better only a little while.

Such a dangerous position to be in.

It’s so easy to say, “well, that didn’t work.”

Chuck didn’t do that.

We’d meet for coffee and he was sending out letters and resumes.

He was turned down for one job that he thought he was perfect for. They just never had someone who did what he did and they didn’t see the value in it. At a lot of stations, one of the on-air talents had the title of Production Director and jocks would produce a few commercials before or after their air shift. Chuck was a full-time Production Director. He could get more out of his air talent and help support the sales staff in ways that would easily justify his salary.

I remember him telling me that.

“Tell them,” I said.

And he did. He responded to their rejection letter with a letter that thanked them but explained to them that they could benefit from hiring him anyway. It told them what a talented person could bring to that position and then emphasized what Chuck could do in the job.

They hired him.

Why am I an optimist?

I watched Chuck at his lowest, bet on himself and climb out.

There were some who tossed ladders into the hole to help him – he still had to find the ladder and climb up to the next level – but the ladders were there.

There are plenty of others who don’t toss in ladders but they don’t get in the way.

There were others who moved the ladders while he wasn’t looking or reached into the hold and grabbed the ladder while he was half way up and pushed it away from the wall it was leaning on to keep Chuck stuck at his current level.

But he kept climbing.

And even while he was still in the hole himself. Even when he didn’t have enough for himself. He looked at what he had and offered others half.

Chuck took years off of work to write mysteries. Well he was going to write one but he kept writing and ended up with six.

I read them and sent him feedback. He’d rewrite. He’d rewrite again. I don’t know how many other people were reading and sending him feedback. We’d meet for lunch or coffee now and then to talk about his writing. He’d mention the other readers.

We continued to meet – not often enough – once he went back to work in radio. We met while he fought brain cancer. Definitely not often enough.

I think about that a lot too.

I don’t always toss ladders into a hole to help. I don’t always offer half. Sometimes I just don’t get in the way.

I don’t know if that’s enough.

A lot of my friends didn’t vote for president in the last election (please don’t post comments that make this into a political post – it’s not).

My point is that I have berated them for not taking a stand.

One of these two people will be president – you need to take a stand.

One of my friends said that he thinks he has more clarity and impartiality because he didn’t vote.

I raise this because I wonder if that’s me on those times I don’t toss someone a ladder when I can. I’m letting them stay in that hole by not taking any action. I’m trusting that someone else will come along and do the right thing.

You can’t help everybody. But not every ladder is the same. A ladder can be as little as a phone call or a text.

But what if you offer that ladder and your friend doesn’t use it?

That’s up to you.

I saw a wonderful presentation in Berlin and at Yosemite by a woman who gave one example of software that represents the point of view of a depressed person. In each situation it presents all of the options that we have and yet as a person gets more and more depressed it crosses off more of these options with a red line.

The depressed person doesn’t see that this option exists. You as an outsider can see it as clear as day but they can’t  see that it’s truly available to them. They can’t see any options.

So what if you offer a ladder and your friend doesn’t us it?

That’s up to you.

You didn’t even need to offer the ladder. No judging from me on that. So long as you didn’t hide their ladder, I’m good.

You offered the ladder and have done way more than most.

Sometimes – not always and not when it just means you’ll be stuck in that same hole – sometimes you need to help them understand that they can use that ladder. You have to help them get on it.

At his lowest, Chuck didn’t see the ladders. Then something specific changed.

He saw the ladders.

He saw that he was surrounded by people offering him ladders and telling him to use it.

He still had to get to the ladders. He still had to climb them. As the ground shifted and he found the hole he was in was deeper than he thought, he had to look for things that could be used as ladders.

And once he was out, he knew he could conquer everything.

For so many years Chuck believed he would conquer brain cancer.

I loved that about him.

Those last years of his life weren’t easy but how much harder would they have been if he wasn’t an optimist. And if he didn’t have so many friends with ladders – even ladders he couldn’t use anymore. And if he didn’t still have those two women in his life.

Thank you, Chuck.

Published in: on May 21, 2017 at 1:31 pm  Comments (1)