Tuesday, January 16, 2018

100,000 page views: Halfway Through the Wood

Whelp.  That's a lot.  For me, anyway.  I realize for some blogs that's a day's worth of traffic.  When I started this back in 2013, I didn't know what it would be or how long it would last.  It took a year and half to get the first 10,000 page views.  Readership doubled in less than year.  Another ten thousand hits had me cross the 30,000 threshhold in April of 2016.   In 2017, I almost packed the blog in.  The mix of personal essays, teaching related content, and cultural and historical commentary made me a unique voice in the blogosphere but not a particularly relevant one.  And I was kind of running out of things to say.  My two most popular posts were about colleagues who had died.  The third most popular post was about how to use turnitin.com.

But now I'm blogging with a vengeance.  And I'm going to keep writing for the foreseeable future about my adventures in #deadwife land and the realms of #widowerdad.  90 percent of this is to keep me sane.   I usually feel better after I finish an entry.  Last night I ended up crying my eyes out as I posted.  For some insane reason, I decided I needed to hear the Into the Woods soundtrack and in particular, one of my favorite numbers from the show, No One is Alone.   If I was looking for emotionally stability, it wasn't the greatest choice.  If you don't know the show, it's based on fairy tales.  The song comes late in the show, after the happy endings at the end of Act I turns into stories of loss and betrayal and failure and hope.  The song, sung at several points by different characters for different reasons, is a painful reminder:

No one is alone. Truly.
No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you.
Halfway through the wood.
You are not alone
Believe me,
No one is alone
No one is alone.
Believe me.
You move just a finger,
Say the slightest word,
Somethings bound to linger
Be heard
No one acts alone.
No one is alone.

And then in the reprise:
But how will I go about being a father
with no one to mother my child?

Just calm the child.
Yes, calm the child.
Look, tell him the story
Of how it all happened.
Be father and mother,
You'll know what to do.
Sometimes people leave you
halfway through the wood.
Do not let it grieve you,
No one leaves for good.
You are not alone.
No one is alone.
Hold him to the light now,
Let him see the glow.
Things will be all right now.
Tell him what you know...

Here's the whole song.  It's a bit choppy because the dialogue is cut.   You'll get the last bit in the next video that cues up after this one. 

So this is it.   I act and tell what I know, for now.  I was left halfway through the wood, I hope many of you stick around for the other half.  Thank you for being on my side.  Thank you for reading. Hug your loved ones.  Mend your fences.  Do some good.  This life is too short. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Adventures in Widowerhood: Parenting Edition

I'm pretty well equipped to be a single dad.  I've been paid to cook food for other people, and I've done most of the cooking for my family since I first get married.  I know how to do laundry.  If there's an issue with the kids at school, I'm already there.  Heck, I've even got wilderness first aid training in case one of us gets hurt in the woods (NB: also applicable in non-woods situations). 

Of course, being the male single parent of a teenage girl presents some challenges.  But even here, I'm pretty well prepared.   A couple of years ago, I took my daughter to get fitted for her first real bra.  We went to Bloomingdales because a) as far as I can tell, target does not offer this service and b) because growing up in New York one went to Bloomingdales for this sort of thing - right of passage clothing, I did not ever buy a bra.  So there is some backstory here before we go further.  As a child, say between the ages of 5-10, I was horribly embarrassed every time my mother took me into the bra department, so much so that she would threaten me with bra shopping as a punishment.  Seriously.  More than once, the phrase "if you don't quit acting up we are going to the lingerie department RIGHT NOW," crossed her lips.  I don't remember why I found it embarrassing, but I did.  I think it was because I assumed everybody was watching to see where I was looking.  And there was nowhere to look, in every direction there were mannequins with bras on them!  Which meant I was looking at bras, which meant I was a perv!  Or something. 

Fast forward forty years.  The girl and I are on the outskirts of the bra department in Bloomingdales.  There are three old ladies shopping for bras and a kind-looking twenty something saleswoman.  "I'll wait here, you go get measured," I said.  A panicked look came over my daughter's face.  There was no way she could say "bra" to a stranger.  Nor could she go the  loud outrageous route.  There would be no marching up and loudly pronouncing "Excuse me, CAN YOU TELL ME HOW BIG MY BOOBS ARE, PLEASE!"  Mine is not that child.  So with a huge sigh, I stepped into the unmentionables section and began the long walk over to the assistant.  Every female eye immediately glued on to me.  "Excuse me,"  I said politely.  "Do you see that girl over there staring very intently at the beach cover-ups for little old ladies, can you please TELL HER HOW BIG HER BOOBS ARE, PLEASE!"

Alright, I didn't actually say that.  I said "she needs to buy her first real bra and doesn't know what size she is, do you think you could measure her and help her buy something that fits." And the young woman smiled and walked over to my girl and they disappeared into a changing room.  And then I was a man, alone, in the lingerie department which somehow got very busy all of a sudden and there were definitely women shooting me very dirty looks as if I was the biggest perv ever and I'm ten years old again and I can't figure out where to look. And then my daughter emerged from the changing room and the three of us went and got some bras and something called bralets which apparently she had to have (kind-looking saleswoman, I suspect worked on commission and smelled blood) and all the women who were looking at me like I was perv suddenly started making that face at me: the pity face.  They saw my daughter and me together and put two and two together and got five.   They pegged me as a widower.  And I wanted to laugh and say: "No, no, no.  My wife works weekends!" as loud as I could.  Or maybe "This is what feminism looks like!" And all I could see was women nudging each other and pointing at my hand and saying "Look, he hasn't even taken off his wedding ring yet."  So, yeah foreshadowing.  But at the time, it was pretty damn amusing.

And it's not like I'm afraid of menstruation either.  My very first blog post ever was on the history of menstruation.  Once, on a field trip, while sitting with a table of female faculty members, a young woman came up and said to me "I hear you have extra tampons, there's a crisis in the girls' room can I have some?" And I reached into my knapsack and handed her the bag of tampons and pads that I always have because, duh, I'm married and prepared for any contingency.  And nobody at the table batted an eye until ten minutes later the female dean of students was like, "Wait a minute..."

So, what I'm saying is, I'm ready to do this thing.


Now matter how well prepared you think you are, no matter how ready for the challenge ahead, life has a way of messing with you.  I know this.  Still, I never, ever, in a million years expected the phrase "PMS IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR EATING YOUR BROTHER'S CHOCOLATE COVERED PRETZELS" to escape my mouth. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

There are no words, but what are we gonna do, not talk?

     My daughter has a job taking out the trash at the day care center all my kids attended.  Once a week, she spends a half hour or so rolling out the trash cans, getting empty boxes out of the basement,  and moving the recycling bins to the curb.   Because this week, she is at Girl Scout winter camp, and because it was so cold, I did the job myself without the boys' help.  As I was moving boxes, a parent gave me a hand.  His wife knew Lori professionally, they live around the corner, my daughter has babysat for them.  But he really just wanted to hug me, to tell me he's been praying for me and to cry with me.  And that's okay. I'm down with that.  I realize he's not crying for me, he's crying because of his own fears of what could happen to his family, to him or his wife.   It's like some weird superpower; people burst into tears at the sight of me.  Beware, I'm hankie man able to stop evil by telling it my sad story! 
    Of course, at the beginning I cried.  I cried a lot.  My boss Matt was the first one to come to me (not quite true, Sandy was first but I sent her with the kids to my mom's while I dealt with the detectives and M.E.'s.)  Matt came because I didn't really know what to do so I had texted him I wasn't coming to work on Monday.  Then I texted him why.  He came immediately.  When he walked into the kitchen, he hugged me and I made noises that I thought only animals did, big, wailing sobs that I didn't know I could make, part coyote and part Orca and I think I probably ruined his clothing with my snot as he enveloped me in a huge protective hug.    I had a few more of those cries but it happens very rarely now.  I'll go days without crying and then it sneaks up on me, most recently in the shower Christmas day, after the presents were open and the breakfast eaten but before the rest of the relatives showed up for dinner. Sometimes, it's quieter crying.  As we sat in Christmas Eve services, listening to the Mennonites sing Beautiful Star of Bethlehem, a single tear, or maybe two, leaked out as I remembered that Lori and I always got confused as to which parts we were supposed to sing and I'd end up singing with the women and she with the men. 
     But this isn't a post about Christmas, it's a post about how to talk to grieving people inspired by the spectacular job my former students are doing.  Michaela wrote me from Egypt where she is on assignment and her message is worth quoting in full:

Dear Doc Sal—
I’ve been reading your blog posts—who knew the person who taught me to write history essays could make me cry from something other than his comments on my essays?—and I just wanted to add my condolences to the deluge. I didn’t think it was necessary and even felt as if it was an intrusion, considering how many friends of yours and Lori’s are currently reaching out. But I always think of that part in the Series of Unfortunate Events—how come “children’s” books are always so much helpful when it comes to death than adult books?—where Lemony Snicket says “it is a sad truth in life that when someone has lost a loved one, friends sometimes avoid the person, just when the presence of friends is most needed.” I doubt that’s happening much to you, but at least I was doing it. I was hoping, before contacting you that I could come up with a really, REALLY good condolence message, one that would 1) prove the illusion of death 2) prove that any ending is simply the limitation of human perception 3) prove that God never takes something away without giving something back and 4) find quotes from people much smarter than myself in regards to human mortality to substantiate this (the only death poem I love is the Aeschylus one Bobby Kennedy quoted to the crowd when MLK got assassinated, and this poem didn’t even work since I’m pretty sure you’re wise enough already without Lori being dead.) After reading my letter, you would laugh in the face of human mortality, and your pain would be completely healed. Unfortunately, by the time I came up with this it’d probably be a little late, since you and I would both be dead. So instead, I’ll just say that even me, a constant but peripheral Doc Sal fan, even I had my life touched and made better by you and Lori’s love. As a divorce-child who’s read far too many books by bitter male writers, time travel seemed far more possible than the idea that you could love and respect someone that much, and build a family and a community around that love. I could just tell by the way you talked about her, even off-hand. So when I heard the news, I just… I don’t know, wanted to punch the universe in the crotch, it just seemed so unfair. But over the weeks, reading your posts, seeing people reach out, I realized I’d been seeing it the wrong way. It just seems so apparent, as an outsider, that that love didn’t disappear. You just built something so wonderful with Lori that even with Lori dying there’s so many people around you who care. So I still feel that I would be so lucky to have what you had, even though it was so much shorter than you would have wished. And yes, that still makes the universe my number one enemy—and if I ever find it’s crotch I WILL punch it—but I just know you and your kids, you’ll all be okay. I will strive to follow your example. You have the right idea, you read the right books and cared about the right people (namely: basically everyone.) You already know this, but like hell if it doesn’t feel good to hear things you already know once in a while. And you can hardly blame me, since you know everything, after all.

TL;DR: Good fucking job, and I wish you a wonderful Christmas—Go laugh in the universe’s face.

Sincerely, Michaela
PS. You didn’t actually ever make me cry from a history essay comment (maybe because I could never actually read them) but I did once avoid you for weeks when you told me you wanted to ‘talk’ about my first essay.

So, that's one approach.   I would like to say for the record, I, too, would like to punch the universe in the balls.  The letter made me laugh, it made me feel better, and it flattered me.  But hey, Michaela gets paid to write!  the rest of us probably can't pull that off.  So then there's plan B.

     Plan B comes from another former student, Kat.  Kat lost her mother when she was just a few months older than my daughter in a similarly stupid and tragic way.  Kat, the siblings, Alex, Lindsey, and Grace, and Taylor are some of my former students who lost a parent at a young age.  They've all turned out pretty great and they've been tremendous in reaching out to me to let me know my kids will be okay.  Kat met me for coffee just before Christmas and told me the following story.  It was just after her mom died and her friends were over basically pitying her.  She walked outside to get some air when her older brother's best friend came outside and sat next to her.  "This sucks," he said.  "Yes," she said.  "It does."  And then they just sat.  I'd been saying, "It sucks," quite a bit to people, along with "there are no words." (Generally, the latter, in response to folks who said, "I don't know what to say.)  I think "This sucks," is pretty powerful.  It accurately sums up the current condition and suggests a future possibility that doesn't suck, or at least sucks less.  (Levels of suckitude are incremental, and are measured in owl licks like Tootsie pops.  Two weeks ago, my suckitude level was 27 owl licks, but I'm currently at about 15 owl licks, but then again, I've been eating the Jon and Kira's chocolates someone gave me.)  Anyway, "this sucks" is a safe bet to say to me, should I be on the verge of unleashing my newfound superpowers on you if we should happen to run into each other in the supermarket or movie theater.    Other acceptable phrases include:
"You and your family are in my prayers/thoughts/koan."
"Happy Holidays!"  (I'm a big New Year's guy, and there's also Three Kings' Day, and Tet's gotta be around the corner.)  
"Have you heard the one about little Bobby on Christmas?"*  
Seriously, nobody will tell me a joke anymore.  And I desperately need to laugh now.  I used to laugh all the time.  Now I'm worried I'll forget how.  Leave your best joke in the comments so I don't. 

*Little Bobby on Christmas is not a funny joke.  It is an awful joke.  It is the kind of joke that people throw things at you after you tell it and disinvite you from visiting their homes.  Needless to say, it is one of my favorites. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

It doesn't matter; it matters a lot.

The snow the day before was ominous.  A bad tiding.  The boys and I spent an hour stuck in traffic to go a mile after getting our haircuts.  My friend Debby was in from California and on chauffeur duty for my daughter.  She hadn't driven in snow in thirty years, if ever.  Lenny coached her through it on the big hills, with phrases I'd shouted at cars in the past, "whatever you do don't stop!"  Julie got grounded in her flight in from Boston.  Kir, who had already taken two or three trains from Vermont had to take another to get to Chestnut Hill; it would have taken hours to get her in Center City.  Philadelphia was gridlocked.  Lori's relatives driving in from Ohio had made great time, and spent two hours on the last three miles.

And yet, dinners were eaten.  We all said it's been too long since the last time I saw you.  Was it six months?  A year?  Three?  Too long, and the kids have grown and you look great.  And remember that time when we were at the beach, the wedding, the graduation?   Talking about anything and everything but what we had to do tomorrow. 

But the next morning, was clear and bright.  We shoveled the snow off our cars and our walks.  Donuts were fetched.  Ties were affixed.  Snow boots put on, and dress shoes carried to the car. 

I pulled up to park behind a car with a Maine license plate, Steve had driven down over two days to be with me and honor our New Mexico history together.  Across the street, my brother Jon shoveled the walk of the church again.  Students trickled in to their soundcheck.

The boys and their cousins threw snowballs in the yard and then rushed inside to warm up by the roaring fire in the parish house.  We drank coffee and met each other again.  My cousin Marilyn, meet Lori's cousin Nick.

Folks wandered by looking for the bathroom and awkwardly encountered us.  Too long, we'd say.  It's been too long since last I saw you.   I promise I'll come to Delaware, or Wisconsin, or DC again soon.  There's a wedding in Boston over Labor Day, I could arrange a side trip.

And finally, we entered.   The Church was packed, three hundred or more.  Please take a seat up front on the side, said the pastor.  And some of you did, but still more stood in the back, afraid of the palpable wall of grief from our families, perhaps.  Or wanting to share but not intrude.

And the service began.  You required two ministers, your personal theology was complicated.  The Episcopal host priest called in Mennonite reinforcements.  We sang Amazing Grace and those who had never been to St. Martin's discovered why we hold concerts there, the acoustics were perfect and we sounded warm and glad.  Weber picked up the melody quickly, by the time we reached "Through many dangers, toils, and snares/ I have already come..." his 9 year old boy voice was clear and on-key.

We prayed.

Loretta told of you as a mother and a professional and how the instincts of one reinforced the other.  Everyone laughed in the right places as she told the story of you escorting a nervous young couple to a showing holding the pause before "so when the gunshots rang out..." just long enough to get the maximum laugh.

Susan encouraged us to be like you:

"The best way to keep Lori with us is to do what she would do, and share it with others. Take a minute and think about something Lori liked and commit to doing it in her memory.
Here are just a few of the things that come to mind for me.
Go outside.
Go camping.
Ask a girl a question, instead of telling her something. Support her as she finds an answer.
Help others find their place and love their home.
Stand in the cold for something you care about (and it is totally okay to remember to bring hand-warmers!)
And definitely eat ice-cream for breakfast at least once a year."

The Chamber Singers from school sang one of your favorite Christmas carols.  They sang it joyfully and beautifully.  And then Jarret gave the Homily.  His text was supposed to be  from Ecclesiastes but he went off-script.  Instead he preached on this poem:

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be,
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing
to love.
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

He said he'd heard it in the TV show Godless.  He attributed it to Yehuda Halevi, a Jewish theologian and poet from the Golden Age of Spain (for Jews), as many others have.  I think the actual author is Chaim Stern, who wrote much of Gates of Prayer, the siddur I grew up with in a reform synagogue.  Somewhere along the way, the "It is" phrases were changed to "Tis".  

But it doesn't matter.

The homily was beautiful and perfect.  We sang again, "Shall we gather by the river."  Yes. We shall.  By the river or at the wedding, or on the trip.  We will say again.  It's been too long.  it's been too long since the last time I saw you.  Was it six months?  A year?  Three?   

Amy lamented.  "God, we admit our grief, our, loss, our anger, and our deep pain over Lori's passing.  We confess that we don't now what to do without her....  we remember Lori's love of Christmas lights... in each twinkling light and each Christmas ornament, help us to remember Lori's life as fully lived.

We pledged in song to let our lights shine wherever we went.

We were blessed: "Life is short and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us.  So be swift to love.  Make haste to be kind.  And as we go, may the blessing, the love, the joy, and the peace of the Holy One, who is in the midst of us be among you and remain with you always."  

The service was beautiful.  It was everything I hoped for and more.

And then the hugging and the eating and the "it's been too long."  And the "Seth, I can't believe you drove down from Boston." And "My dad fled to the car; he didn't want you to see him cry."  And all the hugging and the introductions as we found our little groups, the New Mexico folks and the Michigan folks, and Swarthmore folks and the couple that drove in from Indianapolis to sit with Lori's mom.   "It's been too long.  it's been too long since the last time I saw you.  Was it six months?  A year?  Three?"

Later,  my friend Mike finds me.  He always tells me the truth because once you have lived together and been broken together by college AND grad school together, you are obligated to never to lie one another.  "How long has it been?"  We decide nine months.  "You look like shit," he whispers in my ear as we hug.  He's not wrong.  I'm dehydrated so my wrinkles are pronounced, and my eyes are bloodshot from lack of sleep and crying and trying not to cry and crying anyway.  

More hugs.  More introductions.  More It's been too long.  it's been too long since the last time I saw you.  Was it six months?  A year?  Three?  

Don't wait too long, my friends.     

It matters a lot not to. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Yule Log

Dear Lori,

         The tree is up, although with fewer ornaments than you would have liked.  On the other hand, we didn't break any.  There are lights in the windows in the living room (and in Lenny's windows too).  We are doing our best to celebrate your favorite holiday without you.
          When we started to get really serious, when we tried to figure out if we could have more than a mad love affair and build a life together, you were willing to sacrifice Easter, but Christmas was a non-negotiable.  You loved everything about it and did nothing halfway.  On our honeymoon in Italy you haunted the pop-up Christmas markets in old Roman racecourses.  In Philadelphia, you prowled the shops of Germantown Ave and the downtown stalls at City Hall.  We tried a variety of Christmas services before you found the Mennonites in their 17th century meeting house around the corner.  You loved the plainness of the hall, the lack of pretension, and the wonderful singing.
           You would listen to Christmas music year-round (being careful to check I wasn't around of course) and started building your Christmas mixes in July, listening to hundreds of songs to find just the right ones for CDs, and later digital dropboxes.  I cannot lift the plastic tub, that houses all your Christmas music it is so full.
           You were patient with me when I complained about buying too many gifts that were useless: the plastic birds that talked to each other, the CDs and concert tickets purchased because I said I liked an artist one time, stocking tchotchkes that would break by New Years.  And then you put socks in my stockings every year because you knew I wouldn't buy them for myself.
           You let me make Christmas dinners.  There was the ill-fated goose on our first Christmas in Ann Arbor together when you indulged my New York Jewish fantasies about Dickensian yules.  More recently it was turkeys or beef tenderloins with chimichurri.  You handled the roasted root vegetables, including the various many colored beets, your favorite food discovery from meeting me.  Breakfast, however, was your domain.  Your family's bubble bread recipe (never to be messed with) and various egg casseroles as your palate moved away from lil smokies and towards chorizo and green chiles.
          You loved all your old family traditions and you loved the new ones we invented together.  You loved the fact that it was a family holiday and that we always found some folks to celebrate it with, even if we couldn't be with our own families. 
           You loved that if it was a warm year, we could sit on the porch after walking home from services and listen to the church bells from the Methodists over on the Avenue and then the Anglicans up the street.  You loved driving around and looking at the lights, the more garish the better.  You loved wrapping presents and making fun of my terrible jobs and you always enjoyed watching other people open presents far more than you enjoyed opening your own.
          But you rarely told people why you were such the Tiny Tim.  You only explained it to me once, in that first conversation.  But once was enough.
          Christmas hadn't always been happy for you.  There was a Christmas season, maybe thirty years ago, where you thought you didn't want to wake up on Christmas morning.  You thought it might be easier if you just skipped out on the whole thing.  Your teen years were rough, far rougher than mine and you'd had enough.

       Instead of acting on that terrible impulse, you went and sought help.  You "went away" for a bit, and only dropped occasional hints about what happened on "the inside."  I know the walls were green in the hospital, and lots of people smoked, and you were always grateful that your dad worked a good job with spectacular health insurance that allowed you to do the in-patient stay that saved your life.
       And so Christmas was a non-negotiable.  It was your yearly affirmation that when you made the choice to live, that you'd chosen correctly.  It was your celebration of life, and the fact that you were here for another year.
       Well, who could argue with that?  And so I became a Jewish boy who celebrated Christmas, but what I really was celebrating was the fact that in choosing to live, you eventually chose me and the life we built together.  You chose a city you loved, a house you adored, a job you took great pride in, and a family that you loved deeply and well.  And every Christmas, I was reminded of how much we had done together how much your choice before I ever met you changed me for the better.  And I threw myself into it.
      And now I'm telling the story again.  I'm telling it to convince myself to embrace the season, to get up in the morning, to grade papers, and do dishes.   I'm telling it because I don't want to do any of those things.   I'm telling it because listening to the radio in the car these days is a fraught exercise in dodging songs and phrases that have me fighting back tears when I'm driving.  And I wasn't exactly a good driver to begin with.
       But I'm also telling it because I know there are other people that need to hear it.  There are teenagers and adults that are despairing.  And you were the proof that things got better.  You were in a place so dark, that you wanted to extinguish your light forever because the flickering seemed in vain.  And over the next thirty years, you nurtured the tiny candle that almost went out into a raging fierce bonfire of love.   The hurt never went away completely for you, but you managed it and every year you celebrated.  And every year your fire burned brighter. And even though your fire went out far too soon, it burned thirty years longer than it could have.  And so every Christmas, I'll remind myself to celebrate that.
     But I won't lie to you, Lori.  It's a struggle.  People keep asking me what I want for Christmas, reminding me that I need gifts too.  And I'll answer with a bottle, or movie tickets, or chocolates.  But there's only one thing I want for Christmas, and it's the one thing I can't have.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Practicing the Politics of Love

In the last two weeks, I've heard from so many people.  Some of these people are our relatives.  Some of them are friends from childhood, or college or grad school or work.  Some are former or current students.  Some are parents of my kids' classmates.  There's the folks we went to day care with, by which I mean we were parents of toddlers together, and the folks who only know me from the internet. Some of these people were clients of Lori's.  Everyone has a kind word.  There have been gofundmes and we've raised a scholarship.  I never knew just how many friends we had. 

But I should have. 

Lori and I always tried to practice a politics of love.  Sometimes, it's simple.  Back when I still took the train to and from work, before the kids started at SCH, I was coming home in a bad rainstorm.  Lori came and picked me up at the station near our house.  While I was waiting for her, I had struck up a conversation with a young man who was waiting for the storm to break before he walked the few blocks home.  When Lori pulled up, perhaps with my daughter in a car seat, I told the young man to get in and we drove him home.  He was very grateful.  Lori told me later that giving the young man a ride was something she loved about me, that it would never occur to her to do that.  We talked about why I considered it okay, and how maybe if she were alone, it wouldn't be a good idea.  My former students write and tell me about how I was there for them and now they want to be there for me. People I haven't talked to you in years are sending me notes on facebook telling me about a time I helped them out and wanting to do the same for me. 

While I've always been good with strangers, Lori was the kind of person who once she knew somebody even a little, loved them almost unconditionally.   She was a room parent at day care every year for about a decade.  Her clients loved her and wrote tear-filled tributes on facebook about how Lori was the first one to know about their happy things:  pregnancies or promotions; and their sad things, a miscarriage or a family death.  I got a note from one who told me of how Lori talked her out of buying a house until she had more money so that she wouldn't lose it if she had a setback.  She cared about her clients as people.  She was always willing to kill a deal if she sensed her clients would be harmed by it.

The politics of love can be hard.  It means telling people no; it means helping them through their pain.  It can mean asking a kid a really tough question when there facing the music for an action that hurt other people.  But it also means checking in with that kid for the rest of his school career so that he knows who to talk to when he's on the verge of making another bad decision.  It means opening your heart to the risk of rejection and hurt, and when that rejection or hurt comes, you open it up again the next time.  It means caring about people you know well, and caring about people you don't know well, and sometimes, caring about people you never met at all.

As I was getting coffee the other day in the school cafeteria, a parent I didn't know came up to me and hugged me.  For so many of my peers, this moment has shaken us.  Lori's stupid, senseless, statistically improbable death made them face their own mortality and ask what would happen to their loved ones if the unthinkable came about.

What I know is, I've been helped by so many already.  And so many people are waiting their turn.  And I believe this isn't because people pity me, it's because I've worked hard since I became an adult to practice the politics of love everyday.   It's one of the reasons I've had so much support already.  And it's one of the reasons I can face the hard tasks ahead with more fortitude than fear.

Hug your loved ones, mend your fences, do some good.  I love you all. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Learning How to Mourn

It's been a week since she died. I've picked up the ashes from the crematorium, gotten the death certificates, and had myself made the custodial parent on the kids' bank accounts. My awesome friends and relatives cleaned my house hauling away years of junk, and maybe the snow shovels. If you know where the snow shovels are, please leave a note in the comments.

Other than the snow shovels, I seem to be handling things pretty well. We've moved back into the house. Stuff is getting done: big stuff like - the cremation - and little stuff - like the laundry. The kids are coping in their ways. People keep asking me what they can do for me, and I keep answering that I don't know yet. People also keep telling me that I seem so composed and that they cannot believe that I can write and think through all of this, but I can. Indeed, I've been training my whole life for it, for it's times like this that the value of a liberal arts education is revealed. Since boyhood, I've read and watched Shakespeare and Rostand's Cyrano and The Bible.  I've studied history and art and literature.  I've done science in the labs and in the woods and I've stared into the deepest recesses of the universe in the dark of night with astronomers and I've stared into the darkest recesses of my own soul with philosophers.  So when the unthinkable happened I was ready.  I have 10,000 years of human history providing me examples of how to handle myself in the worst times.  It's a handy thing to have on your side. 

This, then, is the true purpose of education.   We are, again, in one of those moments in history where the liberal arts is under attack for being irrelevant.  The calls for job training and "useful" majors is on the rise again.

Majoring in business cannot teach us how to deal with the unthinkable.  It may be a path to money, but it will leave you forever poorer.