Saturday, March 26, 2016

Life Well Lived

The Crepe Myrtles are blooming. Their soft, ivory petals gleam in the sunlight during the day and act as guiding beams of warmth and comfort at night. Slowly almost imperceptibly they gain a bright pink hue, die and the green leaves that have been dormant since last year make their way into our world.  This species of tree has become one of my favorite since I moved to the south so many years ago. Although it still has not replaced the fragile River Birch of my youth, it is still an amazing tree.
I look forward to their blossoms every year. The street where I work is lined with them, as are most streets in Old Towne Portsmouth. They are not a large tree by any means yet they provide plenty of shade in the summer and can withstand the harsh winds of fall on the eastern seaboard.
It is hard to not see them when they bloom, yet somehow, I missed it last week when they started. Maybe it was because my mind was tethered to other thoughts that had nothing to do with my surroundings or the joy I take from the small, simple things such as the changes in weather and all the effects it has on our surroundings. Yet when I did notice the change, on Saturday night as I was walking to my car from work, I was stunned. I stood on the sidewalk of High Street, which should actually be called a boulevard, and looked east and west. From the river to the traffic lights. All along the median the hundreds of Crepe Myrtles were in full bloom.
The moon in the sky shown down on them and the blossoms cast the luminous glow back to the heavens. My heart, which had been heavy and cold, warmed and lightened. The weight in my legs slowly disappeared and my troubled and somber mood became still and joyous.
It was then my Navy training in celestial navigation gave me an answer I wasn’t quite prepared for. I knew in just a few short days, our ancient satellite would be full. A common occurrence in all of our lives. Yet the day it was to be full happened to be the same day my family was going to say goodbye to our matriarch.
A few days later, as I stood in the parking lot of a funeral parlor in another state, I watched as the full moon slowly rose over the river not three blocks away. I smiled. I know in my mind this is a common occurrence. That life moves on, that the mechanics of our universe are pretty much set in place and we are helpless to do anything about their movements. Yet it seemed fitting that on this night, when a woman who had given so much to her family, a family who had come to say their last goodbyes and remember her, was escorted through the darkness by a light in the sky so bright that at times the street lights would flicker off because the light sensors didn’t know if it were day or night.
The moment seemed right, perfect, as if nothing in the world could go wrong or would dare to go wrong as this much loved and appreciated person was celebrated by the ones who had cared for her and she had cared for joined in celebration of her amazing life.
No, she didn’t find a cure for cancer, or sail the seven seas or even travel out of the United States. She didn’t change the world with one amazing discovery. Instead, she changed the world one person at a time. By being kind, by showing love, respect and honor. She gave when she had nothing to give. Love when there was no reason to love and respected those who didn’t deserve respect. She received unwavering loyalty for her kindness. And those that were fortunate enough to have learned from her example, well, they went on to share those lessons with others.
Which has changed the world.
She proved that you don’t have to be a celebrated figure in the world to change it. You just had to listen, love and care for the people you came into contact with. For that, I will always be grateful. As I am sure the people who knew her are too.
Rest In Peace Doris.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Hole in Our Lives

I was sitting in the largest wheelchair I’d ever seen. So large in fact it not only held my almost 200 pound frame but my sixteen year old daughter was sitting comfortably next to me. We were snuggled up, and comfortable. Both of us looking at our respective electronic devices and trying to forget where we were and why we were there.
            It was a hospital corridor. Much like all hospital corridors across this country. Neutral paint covered the top portion of the walls, while stark white paint covered the lower. The line of demarcation of the paint was a wooden chair rail. The afternoon sun cast rays of bright yellow light through the over thick windows making it difficult to see the electronic screens that held our attention.
            Not ten feet from where we sat, through a large door and half hidden by a curtain lay my daughters Great-Grandmother. She’d been lying in the industrial grade bed for three days. Not moving, not responding to any stimulation and not eating. Her face was covered with a large oxygen mask. The machine was pumping almost pure oxygen into her lungs. She needed this machine, it breathed for her. It kept her alive.
            Surrounding her still body was my wife, my brother-in-law, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law and two pastors from church. They stood around her holding hands, praying and singing. A touching sight to behold. A tragic sight. A sight in which we all will eventually succumb to.
            When I first arrived I did not go in to the room. There were too many people in there. I stayed outside, said some comforting words under my breath and waited. My daughter on the other hand, a child who has more strength and wisdom than I ever did at her age or even twice her age, went right in, held her Great-Grandmothers hand and kissed the dying woman’s forehead as gently as a new mother kisses her newborn child. Tender, lovingly and with all the compassion a human body is capable of. Then she stepped out of the room and joined me on the over-sized wheelchair.
            Over the course of the next few hours, people came and went. Loved ones, family, friends, nurses and orderlies, everyone had kind words to say. When stories were told, people listened. When tears were shed, comfort was given.
            I bided my time. Eventually people filed out, others found chairs to rest in, and space around the woman I’ve known for thirty years was open. I walked in, squeezed her hand, bent down and kissed her on her forehead and said a few words to her. My daughter did something similar. However with her, she asked that she have some time alone in the room with her Great Grandmother. She sat in that dark room, alone with the dying woman whom she’d loved and spoken with for the past sixteen years and made her peace. I’m sure that whatever she said was important. Was essential to the both of them. And while the Doctor’s say she was unresponsive, I believe the woman heard her. Then we went home minus my daughter’s mother.
            We packed up some clothes and necessities for my wife and I headed back to the hospital. She wanted to stay the night. I couldn’t blame her. She had been close to this woman for her entire life and I don’t think a week went by where she didn’t see her or at least talk to her. This woman had been like a second mother to her and she wanted to be there for her at the very end.
            I, however, am more pragmatic. I knew what was going to happen, I’d accepted it long ago and I knew that there were things that I had to ensure happen mere hours from where we were. Responsibilities to my life, my daughter’s life and my wife’s life. So I did what I had to do. I took care of what needed to be taken care of.
            It was early morning when she finally passed. When I got the phone call, well, the second phone call, I woke up my daughter and we went back to the hospital. Once again the family was all there. I said my peace once again as did my offspring.
            Later, over breakfast, while everyone was talking and I slowly picked at my food, I thought about what this woman had meant to me. What memories I had of her. What effect on her family she’d had and what sort of life she had lived.
            This is what came to my mind.
            She was a loving wife and mother who had buried one child and her husband. She spent World War II working at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard while her childhood friends and family fought against the Nazi’s and the Japanese. She took in her daughter and grand-son after a failed marriage, loved them and supported them in a time where most families wouldn’t have. She cared for her husband when he wasn’t able to care for himself and she was there when he passed. Through all of this, she maintained an iron backbone and showed the world what a proud and independent woman she could be.
            As time does though, her body began to break down. Her health failed and the woman who once ran my daughter over with a motorized wheelchair became constrained by the frailty of the human condition. A sad sight to witness.
            One of my earliest memories of her was of her in the farmhouse in North Carolina. She was always in the kitchen, cooking fabulous food with all the things the health nuts tell you not to eat or cook with. She was always smiling, always fussing and always happy to pour you a glass of homemade sweet tea. Meals were epic, meat, vegetables, bread and dessert were always ready. A veritable thanksgiving feast in the heat of the south in mid-July.
            Anyone fortunate enough to be around her for their birthday or holiday would leave with full stomachs, warm hearts and gifts.
            If you had something to say, she’d listen. If you needed advice, she’d be gentle but firm. If you needed a hug or a shoulder to cry on, she was there. Her tall frame, her comforting shoulders and her soft, heart-warming eyes made you feel comfortable and at home. Even if you had just met her. Her demeanor was one that made you love her and care for her because she genuinely loved and cared for everyone she met. Even through all her trials and tribulations.
            I know her life wasn’t easy. It couldn’t have been. A rural lady from a small southern town who moved to a much larger city on the seaboard to help out with the war effort. A move that introduced her to the love of her life. A move that gave her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren when the world was in turmoil and no one was sure what was going to happen from one day to the next. A daughter herself, raised through the Great Depression and taught morals and principles that she took with her to her grave.
            A woman I loved and admired has passed on. My heart is saddened and my heart is not alone. I don’t think I will ever truly understand the influence she had on my life or the lives of others but I do know that she was a great person and she will be missed.

            Doris Hayden, I love you and I’m happy you have finally found the peace you so dearly deserve. You had a great life and you touched more people than any of us will ever know or understand. Safe travels.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Shameless Plug

It has been a hell of a week for me. However, it seems to be ending on a high note. You see, a few months ago I was invited to write a short story for a speculative anthology that hadn’t even been sold to a publisher. Which in this day and age, is pretty crazy, after all, there was no guarantee of getting paid, no idea who’d else be involved in the collection or even when the book might be produced.
            Everything about the deal had red flags going on. It was the brain child of two free-lance editors. But I dug the idea, so I agreed. How they got my name, well, it’s not a mystery but it is almost suspicious in nature.
            You see, a friend of a friend who had read something someone else had done that liked something I did in some other publication referenced me. I know, convoluted, right?
            So within a few hours of being asked I had an idea. Three days later I had a story written. Three weeks after that, my beta-readers and editors had gone through it. During that time, the books editors found a publisher, told the invited writers to get working and send what they had as soon as possible.
            I sent my story, they liked my story, they edited my story, they sent my story back to me, I fixed everything they asked me to fix and then they sent me a contract. I signed the contract and sent it back to them. Now, in a few months, I will get published again, then a few month later, another book with my name in it will come out.
            When I started writing I never thought I’d be writing fiction. I never thought anyone would pay me for my words or ideas put to words. But here it is six years into beating my fingers to nubs on keyboards around the United States and I’m getting paid and published.
            Strange how this all worked out. Now, mind you, I don’t write novels, I don’t know if I ever will write a novel, but I do like writing short stories. I have more than my share of them written and saved on flash drives. Few have been published and I’m sure that if I keep doing this, more will follow. At least I hope so.
            You see, I started to write as a way to relieve stress in my life. Then, it became a habit and now, it is an obsession. To me, it matters not whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction, just that I’m writing. That I’m conveying ideas, purging my mind of all the crap that seems to fill it up on a daily basis.
            It’s quite cathartic.
            Well, that and it allows me ample time to sit on my porch and smoke my cigars and not be bothered.
            So, where is all this going? Simple, I want you, my dear readers to buy the books that I’m going to be published in. One comes out in July and the other comes out in October. They aren’t going to be expensive nor are they going to be difficult to acquire. Heck, if you have any sort of tablet you will be able to download them.
            Or, if you’re like me, go on the internet retailer and buy the dead tree book. I’m sure it won’t cost you much money. Heck, you’d most likely spend more money on lunch or dinner than you would the book. Besides, I want you to read my twisted little tales. They are much different than the stories and thoughts I post here.
            Okay, enough pimping for now, I will keep you all posted when the books become available and I hope you do purchase the books. Also, leave a review or comment on what I’ve written after you’ve read the tale. I want to hear your thoughts too.

Have a great week.

Friday, March 4, 2016


Look, I get it, I understand, okay, maybe understand is too strong of a word, but I sympathize with you. I don’t like it much either. I feel similar to how you feel.
            Oh, sorry, I’m talking about the current political situation in our country.
            Recently the state I live in, no, not confusion, although there is something to be said about the vast differences of beliefs and opinions in Virginia, we had our primary election. On super-Tuesday no less and as usual, I went and voted. Like I have for the past thirty years of my life, and as usual, at the end of the day, the candidate I voted for did not win. This of course, was no real surprise to me.
            You see, I can’t say that I’ve actually voted for a winning candidate at any level of politics since the 1980’s. That is a very long losing streak for me. Almost something to be proud of actually, for lots of reasons, the primary one; I can always say, yes, I voted, yet my candidate didn’t win. And then I can move on to speculate how the candidate that I voted for would have handled the political situation better or worse than the seated elected official.
            So, moving on… when I woke up on Super-Tuesday, I still didn’t know who I was going to vote for. Even when asked by no less than twenty people leading up to Super-Tuesday I didn’t know whose name I was going to put my “X” next to.
            You see, none of the candidates, and I mean not a single living soul running for president, actually has said or done anything to prove to me that they have either been in my situation, understand my situation or even sympathize with my situation. This of course is a generality. A generality that most people seem to not realize for themselves during this time of hype in our season of rebellion.
            As a general rule, I don’t trust politicians or anyone who wants to be in charge of anything. I don’t believe any promises or platforms they stand on. I’m tainted by life. Yet I dream of a better living for my child and a future where people get along, listen to each other and leaders willingly admit they don’t know everything and have the answers to all questions. What I suppose I’m saying is, I want a leader who will listen.
            Listen to their advisors.
            Listen to the poor.
            Listen to the rich.
            Listen to the manufactures.
            Listen to the sick.
            Listen to the well.
            Listen to the right.
            Listen to the left.
            Listen to the middle.
            Listen to the employed.
            Listen to the unemployed.
            Listen to the angry.
            Listen to the forlorn.
            Then, when they’ve listened, they sit back with smart people and try to figure out what the best solutions to the problems they’ve just encountered and move forward.
            Instead, what I get to see and hear are people with inflated egos talk over each other about how great they are and how many accomplishments they’ve acquired. I get to hear them insult each other in smarmy tones all for the laughing public.
            I get to witness wedges driven into American people and divide those same people into categories and then watch them point fingers at each other in disgust and hate. I get to see loving and caring people turn into hate mongering name callers and others turn into media martyrs. I get to hear from all sides that if “So and So wins, I’m moving to Canada, or Brazil or Costa Rica.”
            I’m sick of the division our so-called leaders are forcing upon us. I’m sick of the rhetoric and I’m sick of the vitriol on both sides.
            Where is the great unifier? The person or people who want to bring us together instead of drive us apart. Where is the person who talks of love and forgiveness over fear and apathy; a person who’d rather do what is best for all and can convey that sentiment for all to understand instead of trying to build walls and canyons between the classes in our country?
            T.H. White said “The Destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.”
            Which it seems is happening throughout the caucuses of this year. Everyone seems to be pointing fingers at everyone else and saying the problems we are experiencing lie with the current or old administrations. Maybe they have a point. Maybe they don’t. All I know is that if you or I pointed a finger at a co-worker or supervisor at work and said the things the people who want to be our leaders are saying then we’d most likely be fired or at best sent to Human Resources for sensitivity training. Yet when the talking heads do it, they are applauded. They hold themselves above the masses and the rules the masses follow and are offended when they are asked why they don’t have to follow the rules. Or they deflect the question by pointing out the shortcomings of someone else or point to an individual or group of individuals and state “that’s where the problem is. Blame them.”
            I hate this mentality.
            We are supposed to be better than this.
            We are supposed to be great in all things.
            We are failing.
            I want to be able to change our society for the better yet wanna-be leaders only seem to want to make us hate each other. I hope we as a society are smarter than what they are giving us credit for. I dream of a country that has put to rest the demons of its past and work toward a better, happier and more peaceful future.
Eleanor Roosevelt Said “Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.”
Disillusionally yours,