Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Eulogy for One of the Good Guys

When my sister asked me to write this, my first thought was, boy… sometimes I hate being a writer. At the same time, it is such an honor to be able to tell people about my amazing little brother. So many of the words that I can come up with sound like empty superlatives, yet they are all true. Words like decent, sincere, caring, kind, generous - a friend of his summed it up perfectly in a note he wrote to me, “John is one of the good guys.” John not only saw the best in people, but he believed in it too.

Fun. There’s another word. Growing up with John was a blast. Whether we were running around the neighborhood playing hide-and-go-seek, swimming at the pool, skating in the back yard, sledding down a neighbor’s hill, or sitting and watching cartoons… he made everything more fun. Most of the time he made everything more fun just by being there. His enthusiasm and ever-present sense of humor, along with that quiet chuckle of his, elevated the fun level every time.

Gusto. There’s another word. John tackled everything with great gusto. And no apologies. His motto, “failure is just another opportunity” was tossed in my direction a few times. The first time we went skiing together is a classic example of his tenacity. I timidly made my way down the bunny slope - a trip that would take any decent skier about 30 seconds, but with my awesome snow-plow technique, took me about 3 minutes. I got to the bottom and fumbled my way over to where our mom was waiting, just in time to see John gracefully zig-zagging down the black diamond slope with all the trees. When he arrived where we stood, I gave him the you-gotta-be-kidding-me look, to which he answered innocently, “What? I thought the trees were cool.”

Love. There’s a big word and it’s at the top of the list. I’ll start with John’s unwavering love for his wife, Linda. They’re one of those high school sweetheart stories that actually played out in profoundly beautiful ways. I was working as a florist when John came to me one day and said, “I need some perfect flowers. I mean, really perfect. I’m going to convince that girl to marry me.” Whether the flowers helped or not, I don’t know, but convince her? He did. I never heard him talk about Linda with anything but absolute love and respect. The same is true of their sons, Garrett and Adam. A few years ago, John was out visiting me. As one does, I asked, “How are the kids?” John teared up before he could even answer me. Finally, he said, “Man, I’m so proud of them both. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve them.” With a rather wobbly smile, I told him, “You get what you give.” And John was definitely a giver.

On my cell phone, I still have a text I received from John a little over a year ago. I had sent him a message and asked how he was doing. His response was, “Doing great. I’m making this tumor my bitch!” Considering the reason we’re here today, some might think that it was the other way around. I don’t. John never once let his illness change who he was - he still spent more time being concerned for everyone else than for himself. “One of the good guys…” it warms my heart to know that so many others saw the same things in him that I always saw. And I’ll tell you this, he was the best little brother a girl could ever ask for.

I love you, John.

John F. Black
March 3, 1964 - November 15, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Dance

I'm staring down the double barrels of senior citizenship as my 55th birthday is just around the corner. My standard thought lately has been a rather dazed, somewhat bedazzled, "How the fuck did I get here?" My next thought, especially this past week or so, is the first paragraph of the Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities (if you've never read it, now is the time!):

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

I can't recall any other time in my life when I've felt this overwhelmed and this much at peace. Simultaneously. I have lived a great big beautiful life. I intend to go on living a great big beautiful life. However, at this point, mortality is a nearer neighbor than my youth. No, now, I am not being morbid, just realistic. I don't live in fear, not by any stretch, but with a bit of sorrow, a rueful realization that, no matter what, there never was going to be enough time.

You don't need to say, "Oh, but there's still plenty of time! It's never too late!" And please don't spackle on that horrifically tacky, obnoxious platitude, "You only live once!" There isn't plenty of time. I will never have all the time I need to read all the books I want to read, make all the art I want to make, hug and love and have dinner and laughter with all the people on my Folks I've Just Gotta Meet list. Given all the life shit (good and bad) that gets in the way, living once is not nearly enough. There will never be enough time to hug my beloved as much as I want to, to feel his lips kiss my temple with exquisite sweetness the way he sometimes does, to be deep in the security of his love just having his big warm hand on my leg as we watch a show together. Whether we get another year or thirty, it won't be enough.

But, I'm one of those I'll-Take-What-I-Can-Get girls. For me, right now is enough. It almost always has been - one of those assets where the needle is always just a hair's breadth away from it being a downfall. Yeah. So I'm not feeling maudlin about it, just a little like the old drunk-singing standard...
Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

I mean that in a good way. When I was younger, I thought life would have a lot more weight, more seriousness at this age. Instead, it has become more ridiculous, irreverent, sweet, and, well, downright hilarious sometimes. Sure, there's sorrow, but it has feathers and it gets caught up on each breath until it only flutters nearby. I can't take anything too seriously. Right now is enough, rain or shine.

I only live once? Nah, I only live right now, and I've had a treasure trove of Right Now. I have plenty of time? Nah, I only have right now. I've always had right now. I will always have right now. And Right Now is plenty for me.

But. Fifty five? Senior Citizen? How the fuck did I get here? Guess it happened while I was busy dancing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

More Than 1000 Words

Upon seeing this picture, my first thought (after I'd wiped away the tears that immediately sprang forth and blurred my vision) was, I want to post that picture.

My second thought was, I can't do that. It's too personal and there's too much sorrow wrapped up in it and it's not a pretty picture really.

My third thought was, screw that. Why are we so quick to brush away sadness? Why are we so quick to cover up what might not be beautiful? We do it all the time, especially on social media. We post pictures of delicious food, cute animals, adorable children, ourselves - all made up and ready to party, and gorgeous nature scenes. We post pictures that make reality seem miles better than it often is. Even in speech, it's "Doing well. Life is good. Here's a joke; now laugh."

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. I'm all about positive thought and affirmation. I do it all the time, partly because it feels better to be upbeat than to dwell on harsh stuff I can't change, but mostly because I love to make people smile. If I can make 'em laugh... so much the better. But, there are times when reality is right there, front and center, and there's no way to tap dance around it - which brings me back to the picture.

To me, this picture, as difficult as it is for me to look at, is beautiful. The man in the middle is my baby brother, John. He is two and a half years my junior. He's the guy who is responsible for about 80% of the fun in my childhood. He's always been there for me, always loved me, always had a way to pull me up out of a mood. He is a man who has been battling a brain tumor for over two years and is now in hospice care, nearly at the end of that fight. Hence, the sorrow. Hence the unfathomable reason for what feels like a load of bricks sitting on my heart.

Oh, but the beauty in this picture - the sheer love of his wife, Linda, seated at his side, the devotion in the eyes of our big sister, Nancy, peering up from the top, the spirited youth of his eldest son, Garrett. I see so much strength in this picture. I see great love. I see the tremendous spirit of my family, generations of my family, a family that has never backed down when things were tough or taken no for an answer. I see a man who, all his life, gave everything to make sure everyone around him was comfortable and happy, being given back those things in return. Where some might see weakness and (let's just say it) death, I see power.

You see, this is what happens when we're not so quick to brush aside what first appears... oh... less than. If we take time to look, we see beauty. If we bother to listen, we hear the music in the discordant thrum. If we sit for a moment and let all of it wash over us, we find that we are soaked with the whole truth of it.

I cherish this picture because it reminds me how much I love the moments, each of the moments. All of them. All of the moments together, that's who I am. I hope - some very distant day, may it please the gods - when loved ones are sitting at my side as I wander off to some loftier plane... I hope they will see the beauty in that moment and in all the rest of the moments that brought me there.