Saturday, September 18, 2010

#16 - I got a bone to pick with greedy airlines, dog gone it...

I’ve flown a great deal on personal trips on a variety of airlines, spanning virtually the entire alphabet from AirTran to US Airways, and am frequently accompanied by “Petunia”, my tiny, sweet, gregarious, nose-licking, 6-pound female Chihuahua. Petunia travels very well in her under-seat carrier, and provides amusing diversion to me and other stressed-out travelers in concourses and at gates awaiting our flights. Many times people will say, “Awh, she’s so cute. I like it when people bring their little dogs on planes.” I like people like that. To be sure, lots of people are busy and focused on their lives and personal stresses so seem to be agnostic about Petunia, as long as she doesn’t poop on the floor or run around the cabin, and she certainly doesn’t do either of those things. She does have manners, after all. Of course, one or two might get that look on their faces like they’ve smelled something, but I figure they’re the types of people who don’t cotton to pets, and since it’s not Petunia’s poop they smell, I just let it go. Besides, it makes me happy and her happy to travel together. So I figure that, net-net, carrying her along with me is a good thing.

But, it’s also a VERY expensive thing. Do you realize that it costs an average of over $100 in each direction, to and from, to carry a pet onto an airplane? That’s 200 bucks per trip. That’s frequently about as much as I pay for my ticket. And do you realize that in addition to that $200 cost, Petunia and her carrier count as one of my two “free” carry-on’s just like my PC and whatever other bag I might choose to wedge with a sledge hammer into the overhead compartment? Well, actually, I never wedge my bag into the overhead compartment with a sledge hammer – other people certainly seem to, but I don’t. I just felt compelled to make that point clear. But I do carry on Petunia in her regulation-sized RubberMaid carrier that fits nicely under the seat in front of me, where she rides quietly all snuggled up in her little wooly blanket accompanied by her favorite stuffed toy.

Now, let’s just do a little cost per pound comparison here. I weigh, well, roughly 150 pounds fully clothed, and that includes eating before we take off because there’s certainly not much to eat on flights these days. My ticket typically costs anywhere from $200-$400, before baggage costs of course. So that’s about $1.30 to $2.60 per pound for me. That’s roughly the cost of a pound of low-grade hamburger. Petunia, on the other hand, or paw as it were, weighs about 7 pounds, carrier, blanket, stuffed toy and poop included. Her “ticket” costs an average of $200 round-trip. That’s $28.57 per pound. Hmm… I cost a maximum of $2.60 per pound, occupy a full seat, can carry on one additional bag for free, might get a free blanket if I can find one, get a free bag of pretzels and a Coke, and Petunia costs $28.57 per pound, counts as a “free” carry on, provides her own blanket, doesn’t occupy a seat and certainly doesn’t get a free bag of pretzels or a Coke. A checked bag costs $15-$40 and can weigh up to 50 pounds. That’s between $1.25 and $3.33 per pound, so by that logic Petunia’s ticket equals the cost of 8.58 checked bags. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the vast difference between the size of Petunia's carrier with her sweet little face lookin' out of it, and a checked bag…

What’s wrong with this picture? Can you say “bilking by milking the emotions of pet-lovers?” I can. Greed, that’s all it is, GREED. And it ticks me off and I think it’s high-time time I say something about it. Shame on you greedy airlines, exploiting a sweet little nose-licking Chihuahua like that. Shame on you!

Now I may not lick this problem by complaining about it ‘cuz I’m only worth the cost of a pound of low-grade hamburger, but greedy airlines, I can assure you that Petunia won’t lick you either…

So there. Plthhhh.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

#15 - Living in Spirit

I believe that I am of all and all is me - infinity is my truth - I say it is my favorite concept.  Infinity's tapestry is woven with the threads of love.  I commit to being, to creating, to celebrating in each moment the wonder of the physical that provides me with senses, and to honor the sense, mystery and magic of spirit.  In doing so I will live in love and truly be responsible to and for myself, others, and the infinite spirit of all that is, always has been, and always will be.

JL ~ August 29, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

#14 - A chapter full circle

Two and a half years ago on February 8th, 2008, I had just concluded my 15-year career with Wachovia, half because the bank had decided that my leadership role and the organization I led should be carved up into three pieces which meant that I was eligible for displacement and severance, and half because I had decided that it was time for me to take a break, a sabbatical, and reflect on who I was and who I wanted to be.  Looking back at that time I realize that I sensed it was a very special and important opportunity for me, and today, August 8th, 2010, I realize just how truly right that sense was.  I have had the grand opportunity at the mid-point in my life to go explore myself, the country, people and places and thoughts and feelings, engage in the world with those in my life whom I love dearly, and with many more who've brought me new experiences of great joy, learnings and growth.  

It has been an amazingly wonderful time and journey, and today we, my sweet little Chihuahua Petunia, fat tomcat/"Grumpy Lump" Pooter and I, head to the mountains of western North Carolina to spend six days in our shiny Airstream trailer, to bring our journey and this chapter full circle and closure.  With technology at my fingertips, the 2 P's at my side, and spirit as my guide, I will write and smile and breathe with ease, communing in nature, letting the words flow onto the page, celebrating what has been, appreciating what is, and looking forward to what is to come, in a state of exuberant calm.

I have no expectation of what lies ahead, only inspiration that it will be perfect and right as it always has been and always will be.  The universe is infinite, life is magical, and I live in awe.

I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

#13 - I'm an NPR addict...

Hi, my name is John, and I’m an NPR addict. You know they say the first step to recovery is admitting your addiction. Well I admit it: I need my daily NPR fix, fixes really. I also have to admit that I can recall listening to my local NPR station, and not giving any money during pledge drives and feeling horribly guilty and like, well… a real user, especially when I’d hear folks talking about pledging money and how over 90% of the station’s costs are covered by contributions from other “members” and underwriters. And I knew deep inside that I should contribute, and I really, really wanted to. But, as with addicts, that pesky little voice in my head would say things like “I, I SWEAR I can stop ANYTIME, and give!” or “I’ll give tomorrow!” And so it went, pledge drive after pledge drive, driveway moment after driveway moment, year after year, the guilt eating me alive… Until one day it dawned on me that every radio in my home and the one in my car and the pc in my office were all tuned to my local NPR station. Oh I had hit rock bottom. I needed help!

So, I made the call and talked to a kind, friendly volunteer who welcomed me without any hint of judgment, and seemed to be so appreciative just that I’d called, and thrilled that I’d decided to contribute. And do you know what? I felt proud – I had made amends! And I can honestly state that the very next time I turned on the radio, I felt different. I no longer felt guilty, like a user. I felt happy, like a member! So now, whenever it gets to be pledge drive time, I must admit that I get a little excited. In fact I go to the station and take pledge calls just like that appreciative volunteer who was so kind to me all those years ago. It feels so great to be in recovery! And really, being an NPR addict is unlike any other addiction I know of – I mean, name another addiction that lets you get your fix, all day and all night, as much as you want and need for the rest of your life, for only a few pennies or dollars a day, and still be recovered! What a world!

So, I’ll leave you with 2 questions: Are you an NPR addict? And, would you rather be a guilt-ridden user addict, or a happy, guilt-free member addict? It’s your call.

My name is John Lincoln, and I’m a proud WFAE member, and an NPR addict…

Monday, July 12, 2010

#12 - I'm scratching my head... or feet... or...

I just finished listening to an hour-long discussion on "The Diane Rehm Show" about the (ostensibly) "oldest, most natural and inexpensive" form of exercise, running, with 3 top experts who've all experienced major injuries and medical expenses, huge investments of money on running shoes, running coaches, running workshops, running magazines, and untold hours running in severe weather elements.  Banging one's head with a rock is an old, natural and inexpensive exercise too, and it HURTS, too...

Of course, before I get too finger-pointy here I must acknowledge that I am and have been for many years a figure-skater, and have experienced major injuries and medical and dental expenses, huge investments of money on skates and blades, skating coaches, skating workshops, skating magazines, skating competitions, and untold hours skating in frigid indoor temperatures (and, fyi, because I sweat a LOT I often look like I'm smoldering...).

My point here is that we ought not kid ourselves by rationalizing our particular exercise fanaticisms as "natural" or "inexpensive" - they're just flat out NOT.  Unless, of course, you believe as my good friend Pat Lee does, that walking is an ideal form of exercise.  The last time I checked she hadn't experienced major injuries and medical expenses or spent a fortune on shoes or paraphernalia, and she walks when she wants to and doesn't when she doesn't.  I think she has a point.  And, unlike the rest of us high-end, high-injury, high-cost, specific-preference exercise fanatics, it's not on the top of her head...!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

#11 - A Big Slow-moving River and Clean White Sneakers - Recollections of My Uncle Ken

My Uncle Ken passed from this life at five o’clock on the morning of April 23rd, 2010. He was surrounded with love by his wife and three daughters in Elizabeth House, a wonderful Hospice facility in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis had come less than a year before, and several bouts of pneumonia had taken their toll quickly, faster than any of us had expected and certainly faster than any of us had hoped.

Uncle Ken was a good man – good-looking, good-thinking, good-working, good-providing, good-natured and good-humored – just a good guy, who in my opinion had the cleanest and whitest sneakers in the history of the universe. He simply wouldn’t allow dirt to stick to them – that was all there was to it. Uncle Ken was one of those “still waters run deep” men, although in terms of water metaphors, I’d peg him not as a lake but more as a big, clean, slow-moving and often times surprisingly deep river. The kind you can just sit by for hours on a warm, calm day, not in the water but at the edge of it, and catch a bunch of small fish and if you’re lucky, a big one now and then. And it makes you happy to be there, and gives you reason to appreciate life, and provides fodder for stories to tell in years to come.

My earliest recollection of Uncle Ken was with the entire nuclear Bradshaw family, that being comprised of Uncle Ken, my mother’s younger sister Aunt Gwen, and girl cousins Kim, Vicky and Nancy, sometime in the winter, maybe Christmas, when they were leaving to head home to Chicago from our house in Davenport, Iowa. It was cold and there was snow on the ground; I think there was a lot of it, and the whole Bradshaw clan piled, well not piled exactly, more like “got into in an orderly, well-thought-through fashion”, first the girls into the back seat, then Aunt Gwen into the passenger seat, and finally Uncle Ken into the driver’s seat of their, very fascinating to a little boy, Volkswagen Beetle. I remember wondering how Uncle Ken was going fit into that little car – he was so tall. But he did, and the door closed and they drove away, the little Beetle making that buzzing sort of sound that vintage Beetle mufflers made, its rear tires splayed out at the bottom from the weight of its human cargo in the passenger compartment, and of the engine in the rear, the two little tail lights glowing red through the small wisps of warm exhaust fumes swirling out of the two tiny, but very shiny tailpipes.

We lived what seemed like a long distance from Chicago so didn’t have occasion to spend lots of time with the Bradshaw’s except on holidays - Thanksgiving and Christmas mostly - and an occasional get-together at Grandma Dotty and Grandpa Dick’s place on the Rock River in Rock Falls, Illinois. The Bradshaw’s always seemed like such a cool family to me. I know my sisters felt the same way. Later in life I learned that the Bradshaw girls felt the same way about our family. It’s funny how that works. Uncle Ken was tall and handsome, and Aunt Gwen was much smaller, pretty in a cute sort of way and seemed to giggle a lot at what my Dad would say, the three girls were cute and sweet and polite, and they moved around a lot to really cool big cities like Chicago, Miami, Washington D.C., and New York. Uncle Ken worked for United Airlines and did something important there. I didn’t know what exactly but that didn’t matter. I knew he wasn’t a pilot because I had asked, but even if he’d been a janitor I would have been impressed because anything to do with airplanes and United Airlines sounded pretty cool to me. I recall that Aunt Gwen went to work in a laboratory doing something with blood. That sounded pretty cool to me too. The Bradshaw’s were just plain cool.

As I got a bit older their family had moved to Miami and we moved to the South, so our tradition of annual holiday gatherings had come to a close, and many years replaced several months between get-togethers. I’m pretty sure that if I’d seen Uncle Ken and Aunt Gwen on the street I would have recognized them, but I probably would have walked right past the girls without notice, and certainly couldn’t have described what was going on in their lives in any detail aside from a vague recollection of significant events that my mother had mentioned at some point, and which I seemed to confuse, one with the other. Who was married to John? I thought Kim had children. Didn’t Nancy live in Florida? The only thing I really remembered was that Vicky worked for Federal Express, and I suppose that’s because they fly airplanes to transport packages. I think it’s true that that distance can breed indifference – “out of sight, out of mind”, as it were. It’s not intentional, it just is, sometimes. And then once in awhile, if we’re lucky, proximity comes again and provides the opportunity for the kind of closeness that transcends the laws of physics, and any physical distance the future may bring.

When Uncle Ken and Aunt Gwen retired, they sold their home, put their large belongings into storage, bought a big 5th-wheel travel trailer and truck and set off on what was originally planned to be a year-long trip that ultimately spanned the better part of three years. By then my parents had been retired for a good while and they decided to buy a trailer and become occasional gypsies, and travel with my Aunt and Uncle for a bit. They’d previously traveled together to Alaska and New Zealand and from what I’d heard then and heard again more recently, they traveled well together.

Frankly this puzzled me to no end. Although I loved my father and over the years have grown to appreciate him greatly for his many good traits, he was, if not the least, then the 2nd least patient man ever placed onto this Earth. Oh, the number of times I heard him say, after rising far earlier than the rest of us on the day we were to leave on a family vacation, “God damn it Irene, what the hell are you doing now?!” to my mother, and to me, “Jesus Christ J-Bird, get the lead out!” We rarely stopped for anything other than refueling and those stops were very, very short and as far apart as the gas tank would allow. If we asked to stop to use the restroom, or stop to buy oranges at a road-side produce stand, or stop at virtually any other point of interest “along the way” to our destination, his response would typically be, “There’ll be another one”. And there usually was, and we almost never stopped. I recall once after my mother’s legs had been crossed tightly in a similar fashion to those of my younger sister’s and mine for many miles, and after she had pleaded “Hap, would you please stop at this exit?!”, my father said “Irene, you have a bladder the size of a lentil bean.” My mother calculated once that on European trips with my father, she spent a full third of her time sleeping, another third traveling, and the other third alone, walking in search of my father who had gone ahead to get to wherever he wanted to go and see whatever he wanted to see, and that he frequently was not particularly charming when she finally found him.

In contrast, Uncle Ken was a slow-moving river, getting to where he was headed, calmly, cleanly, well-considered, neatly-arranged, thoroughly-covered and completely secured, at his own speed, in his own time. Based on historical fact and simple logic, combining my father and my uncle would not have been a recipe for a pleasant traveling experience. I simply could not picture Aunt Gwen and Uncle Ken traveling well with my Dad; with my mother perhaps, but with my Dad, no. Yet by all accounts, they did.

According to my mother, when RV’ing with Aunt Gwen and Uncle Ken, my father would rise early, break down their camp site, hitch up the trailer, and then sit in a lawn chair reading a book or looking at a magazine like “Popular Mechanics”, waiting patiently for Uncle Ken to finish, whenever that was. Then the pairs would drive away to start their day’s journey, stopping when they’d planned to or when they wanted to, and enjoy their journey as it unfolded. I find that profoundly sweet, reassuring, and simply amazing. I think my father loved and appreciated Uncle Ken in a way that only they could truly understand; men of a certain age and generation who didn’t have a need to discuss emotional things, but who could enjoy simple good things in life and appreciate one another’s companionship. It was a kind of relationship only known to them, and that those of us fortunate enough to learn to recognize could only imagine, and accept as real and true.

By the time I moved from Atlanta to Charlotte, Uncle Ken and Aunt Gwen had been settled in Hendersonville for several years, just outside Asheville, North Carolina, and I began to visit them, and they me. I was struck by how easy it was to be with them. We shared a common view of what is right, non-religiously-based views on spirituality, decidedly liberal views on social issues, an appreciation for birds and squirrels and nature, and the five o’clock cocktail hour.

I could talk of my experience in the corporate world of banking, the frustrations of its politics and efficiency-improvement initiatives, and the good things that made working that hard for the many hours I did at least bearable, if not worthwhile. Sometimes we’d sit on their deck looking out at the many birds at their various feeders, the “whirligig” squirrel toy that held a small ear of corn that would give the squirrel quite a surprise when it spun around from its added weight, and we’d talk. Those experiences motivated me to create my own backyard sanctuary that I call “My Peaceful Place”. They came to visit me and admired what I’d done, I think for the same reason I admired theirs, and I found great joy in finding special little objects of “yard art” for their home. It all just seemed to make the world a better place.

On one particular visit in the fall of 2004 during the Hendersonville Apple Festival, we walked and admired the arts and crafts, and varieties of apple-based products from the year’s harvest. It was during that visit that I caught one of the biggest fish from that big, slow-moving river called my Uncle Ken. We had stopped at a grocery store to buy something Aunt Gwen needed, and Uncle Ken and I sat together in their car chatting. Seemingly out of the blue he asked me, “So what’s the deal with this gay marriage thing? Wouldn’t civil unions be enough?” Although the topic caught me off guard a little, I sensed that Uncle Ken really wanted to know what the deal was, to me, his gay nephew whose opinion he seemed to respect. I thought for a moment and then replied, “Well, honestly I never really gave a rat’s ass about gay marriage in the past. I had a commitment ceremony once and the family was there and that’s what seemed important. But when politicians and campaigns began to condemn gay people under the cover that ‘gay marriage will undermine traditional marriage’ and that it was a sin, it really pissed me off. First, I don’t understand how two men or two women who love each other and want to get married to have the same legal rights as a straight couple could possibly undermine ‘traditional marriage’. I mean, what healthy-minded straight couple is going to get divorced just because two gay people they may not even know happened to be married in the eyes of the law? Second and more importantly, not being able to get married just because I’m gay makes me feel like a second-class citizen. Sure a civil union would provide a lot of the same legal protections and benefits as marriage, but not tax filing status and social security benefits and quite a bit of other stuff. I think I’m a good person who does his best and if I choose someone I love to share my life with, that’s all that should matter. It’s as simple as that.”

Uncle Ken sat quietly looking at me throughout my short soapbox speech. When I finished there was a pause, and he said “Hmm, I never thought of it that way. Okay”, nodding his head. And that was it. We never needed to discuss it again. But I think if gay marriage were on a ballot today and my Uncle Ken were still alive, he would vote in favor of it. That was a big fish I caught that day – not because I was able to persuade him to change his mind, but because he, my then 76 year-old straight, happily married uncle asked me what I thought, because he was sincerely interested in hearing what I had to say, and willing to consider it. And that’s the kind of quality you look for and hope for in people you care about.

Uncle Ken showed that same interest in understanding the important but unknown and uncomfortable when I virtually dragged them kicking into the early 21st century by making them adopt my older computer and to begin to learn about pc’s and the internet. Despite their strong initial resistance and with my persistence, perhaps even pushiness, I got Uncle Ken interested in how the pc worked, what the various components were and what they did, and how they might use it to be helpful. I was so impressed at his eagerness to understand and diligence in actually using it, and soon I was receiving emails from their new email address. I felt that I’d served a purpose greater than myself and it felt good.

In 2008 when my 15-year career and job with the bank came to an end, I decided that I wanted to take some time off and go on a driving trip. I thought maybe six weeks would be good, and that I’d load up my SUV and hit the back roads and smaller highways with Petunia, my little Chihuahua, staying in old motor court motels and stopping at silly tourist sites in the South as in the movie “Michael” – places of unique and odd interest like “The World’s Largest Non-Stick Frying Pan”. I went up to visit Aunt Gwen and Uncle Ken and told them of my budding plan. Having had extensive experience with RV’ing and being what I felt were the consummate retirees, I thought they’d be able to offer very good advice, and I was right. Uncle Ken listened and said “Six weeks is ok but really it’ll take at least two months for you to feel like you’ve done and seen anything, and more than that would be even better.” When I got home I thought about what he’d said, and that, along with a short trip to the home of some friends who had a small travel trailer, planted the seed of an even grander idea that began to grow quickly. Within two weeks I had purchased a cute new travel trailer and a pick-up truck, the trip had grown from six weeks to “at least three months”, at least at that point, and I was going to head west.

Just before I officially began what I called my “Travels with Pooter and Petunia Tour”, I towed my cute little trailer with my big boy cat Pooter and tiny Petunia up to see my aunt and uncle. They were all smiles looking at my trailer and how I’d configured storage and little accessories to make life easier on the road. We went inside their house and were sitting in the living room and I was going on and on about my thought process about clothing storage in the tiny trailer, and Uncle Ken smiled and shook his head. I knew exactly what he was thinking, and said, “Yup, I do tend to make decisions quickly. I am my father’s son.” He laughed softly, nodded his head and said, “Yes, you do, and yes you are.” After a month on the road I decided that my tiny trailer was too tiny and ordered a bigger, shiny new Airstream trailer; the kind of trailer that I’m sure they felt was “over the top”, yet I think secretly appreciated. When I told Uncle Ken on the phone that I’d ordered it, his response was “Of course you did.” A real regret I have is that Uncle Ken was never able to see it. I know he wanted to.

On Tuesday the 20th of April when I got the teary-voiced call from my Aunt Gwen that Uncle Ken was “on his last legs” from his 4th bout of pneumonia related to pulmonary fibrosis, and that antibiotics were no longer working, I was very sad. I called my oldest sister Sandy in Anchorage and shared the news that she had already heard from my mother, and told her that Aunt Gwen had said there was nothing that I could do and that she’d call me in a day or two, and that I felt I needed and wanted to go see Uncle Ken to say good-bye. Sandy said “At times like this it doesn’t matter what other people think. If you need to go say good-bye, then just go and do that, and do me a favor and tell him that I love him and am really am glad to have had him in my life.” Then she laughed gently and said “And kiss him for me.” I called my Mom and told her that I was planning to go up regardless whether I could do anything, just to be there and say good-bye to Uncle Ken, and she asked me to tell him that she loved him “to pieces” and that she was so thankful to have known him. I sent an email out to the rest of my family with the news, and charged with the messages from my mother and my sister, I went to bed that night thinking about what I wanted to say to Uncle Ken, and fell asleep, bitter sweetly looking forward to the next day’s journey to Hendersonville, not to be in the way, but to be there in love and to say good-bye.

I awoke the next morning feeling surprisingly good. It was a wonderfully odd mix of what were familiar feelings of sadness and resolve and gratefulness and love, but now the latter seemed so much more real and present. On the drive to Hendersonville I noticed with the rise in elevation how the foliage along the highway was becoming that of early spring again, with the azaleas and dogwoods in full bloom and the leaves of the trees bright green. I was going to say good-bye to Uncle Ken and it was spring, again. Suddenly a poem I had written a while back came to my mind, and along with it the recollection that I had written it on April 22nd, 2007, and the realization that today was April 21st, 2010, virtually three years to the day after I’d written it. So I recited it aloud as I drove:

“Reassurance for the Aspiring and Exasperated Gardener”
When leaves are wilted and stems are dry,
Lest you have a tear in your eye,
Know that life and death are a part of growth
The former is joyous, but the journey brings both…

With tears in my eyes I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head in amazement. Man, if this was a sign of what was ahead of me in the days and years to come, then I’d be well-advised to keep my seatbelt fastened.

When I arrived at the hospital after meeting my cousin Kim and went into Uncle Ken’s ICU room, I could feel tension in the atmosphere. Aunt Gwen was seated next to Uncle Ken’s bed holding his hand and watching his face. My cousin Vicky looked very serious and sad. It was clear that Uncle Ken was agitated. Although he wasn’t awake, he turned his head from side to side and grimaced, the oxygen mask irritating him, his breathing labored, almost desperate. The oxygen vaporizer on the wall was emitting a horrible piercing whistle, and any conversation seemed to agitate him more. It was time for his hourly injection of sedatives, and the nurse was nowhere to be found. It was not an easy time for anyone because it was not an easy time for Uncle Ken. Fortunately the nurse arrived and adjusted the vaporizer then provided the needed doses of Atavan and Morphine, easing Uncle Ken’s discomfort somewhat. Aunt Gwen had learned of a Hospice facility in Hendersonville and Uncle Ken would be moved there in the next hour and a half. I don’t think any one of us felt it could possibly come a moment too soon.

Kim, Vicky and I left the hospital to pick up cousin Nancy at the airport and as we talked on the drive to the Hospice facility it suddenly dawned on me that there was even more significance to this particular April for me. It was twenty years earlier in this month that my first partner Mark had died of AIDS-related lymphoma. I said it aloud and I couldn’t say anything more. No one could. When we arrived at Elizabeth House I decided to wait in the truck rather than go in to see Uncle Ken then. It just felt right to me for Nancy and the others to have time with him as a family, and that I didn’t need to hurry to say my good-bye. Soon Kim and Vicky returned to the truck and we drove to Aunt Gwen and Uncle Ken’s house to fix something for everyone to eat and take back to the Hospice facility. Fortunately I had made one of the smartest decisions of my life and had prepared a pork roast that I’d brought with me, so fixing dinner was quick and easy. While I was browning the roast on the grill Aunt Gwen called to say that she’d been told that it was now only a matter of hours before Uncle Ken would likely die. We finished our dinner chores and drove back to Elizabeth House, with me leading the way in my truck, followed by Kim and Vicky in Uncle Ken’s shiny burgundy Ford Ranger XLT pickup truck that he’d purchased used just a few months before.

As soon as we opened the door to Elizabeth House I felt a profound sense of calm. It was beautiful inside, more like someone’s home than a care facility. As we walked past the front desk, two of the staff looked up from their work and smiled. Another walked calmly behind them and smiled as well. When we reached the closed door of Uncle Ken’s room, Kim knocked lightly on it and it opened. It was Aunt Gwen, with a relaxed smile on her face, and she said, “It’s about time, I’m STARVING!” and laughed a sort of laugh that felt to me like a blend of frustration, thanks and relief. We all laughed too. This time Nancy was seated next to Uncle Ken’s bed, holding his hand, smiling thoughtfully. Uncle Ken looked peaceful, not at all distressed as he had at the hospital, now resting easily, his breathing slow and unlabored.

We went to the facility’s kitchen and prepared dinner. When it was ready, Kim asked me if I’d like time alone with Uncle Ken and I said I would love that. So while the women ate dinner, I sat down next to Uncle Ken and took his hand in mine, and sat quietly looking at him for a few minutes, thinking about what I wanted to say to him, and the messages that my Mom and my sister Sandy had asked me to give him. Then I began to speak. I told him that I knew this whole lung thing really sucked the big one, but that he looked really, really good; appropriately clean, well-groomed and handsome. I thanked him for being in my life when I was older and for being so important to me; that whenever I sat in my backyard watching the birds and squirrels and chipmunks, I’d think of him and say thank you. And whenever I looked at my shiny Airstream trailer and stepped inside I’d think of him and say thank you. That I would watch out for Aunt Gwen and visit her often and I knew that he wouldn’t worry about her. And I thanked him for giving me a chance to get to know Kim, Vicky and Nancy in a much deeper and wonderful way, because he was their father, and that he’d done a wonderful job helping them to become who they are. Then I said that Mom had given me a very specific message to give him – that she loved him “to pieces”, and that she was so thankful to have known him. Then I told him what Sandy wanted him to know, and what I thought my sister Susan and niece Katie would want him to know as well, and that although I hadn’t been able to speak with my sister Sal, that it really didn’t matter because she’d probably see him right after he died because the spirits of people who were important to her always seemed to come visit her right after they died anyway. And finally, I thanked him for being my Dad’s pal, that I knew how special my Dad was to him and how special he was to my Dad, and that I would always try to keep my sneakers as clean and white as his always were. Then I leaned over the bed and kissed him on the forehead like my sister Sandy had asked me to, told him that I loved him and that I’d miss him a whole bunch, and that I knew he’d always be around me and all those whom he loved and who loved him. I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect way to say good-bye.

I sat with Uncle Ken for a few more minutes, looking at his face and the warmer coloring of his skin than I’d observed in the hospital. I looked at his fingernails and they were clean and clear, no hint of the blue-ish coloring that supposedly precedes imminent death. The door of the room opened quietly and a Hospice nurse entered, very calmly and slowly. She smiled at me and I said quietly, “Hi, I’m the nephew, John.” She smiled again and said, “Ah, you’re the nephew, John”, nodding as if to firmly commit my name and relationship to my Uncle Ken to her memory because it was very important that she know and remember that.

I told her that he was my favorite uncle and that I’d been so lucky to have had him in my life, and that I was so thankful to her and everyone at the facility for being so wonderful and respectful; that the difference between his demeanor now and earlier was simply amazing and wonderfully reassuring to my aunt and cousins and to me. I told her that I felt that people who worked in Hospice were truly saints - angels called to help people transition in love. She told me that although it certainly wasn’t the easiest job she’d ever had, it was by far the most rewarding. As she spoke she gently took Uncle Ken’s other hand in hers and placed a heart monitor on his finger, stroking the back of his hand. I asked her about his good coloring and she replied that it was probably because he was more peaceful now and not fighting his discomfort and better able to process what little oxygen his lungs could still absorb. Although her words clearly spoke to the reality of what was to come, I wondered whether it would take longer than we’d been told. And I silently hoped it wouldn’t.

When my aunt and cousins returned I told them that I’d said everything I needed and wanted to say and thanked and hugged each of them, and told them that I loved them. My cousin Vicky said they’d let us know when the time came, and I started my two hour and twenty-minute drive back to Charlotte, where I immediately climbed into bed, the French door of my bedroom opened to the screened porch with a cool breeze wafting over my bed, my little Chihuahua Petunia snuggled warmly in her wooly blanket under my arm, and my big boy cat Pooter making biscuits on my thighs, and drifted off to sleep.

When I awoke the next morning I immediately checked my phone for a text message, but there was none. “Uncle Ken must still be hanging on”, I thought. In the early afternoon when I still hadn’t received a message or a call, I sent a text message to my cousin Kim asking how things were going. Within a few minutes she replied that Uncle Ken was comfortable, that his respiration was slowing down and his color changing but that his heart was strong and his pulse steady. She praised the Hospice staff for shaving and bathing him and being very tender with him, so much so that my cousins and aunt all vowed to go home and volunteer at their local Hospice’s. I felt relieved and went about the rest of my day and evening, and went to bed early.

That night, for the first time in many years, I dreamed of my father, not as the fast-moving, impatient man I had experienced so many times, but of the caring, teaching father I knew as well from times in my early youth and early teens; times when he wasn’t drinking and times to which I’d not given due consideration; the times he’d been with me, first explaining the mechanics and workings of our HO gauge model railroad trains, tracks and transformers, and then later sharing my excitement for and love of racing go-karts where I learned that I could do well if worked at it, and that people sometimes bend the rules or cheat to win, but what was most important was to do my best and feel good about that, because he did.

Just before dawn something caused me to stir slightly and I opened my eyes to see the darkness outside giving way softly to dawn, then I fell back asleep. When I awoke again at around seven to NPR on my radio, I calmly reached for my phone and there was the text message I’d been expecting, but not dreading: “It is done. Dad passed away at 5:00 this morning.” I sighed and lay there peacefully for a few minutes, breathing calmly and letting the reality of the news sink in. Suddenly an image came to my mind. It was like the ending of a life-long short story. And it became completely clear to me that it was something that I knew I wanted to and would share with my Aunt Gwen, my cousins, family members and close friends very soon, and with important acquaintances in the years to come.

Two days later on Sunday I drove again to Hendersonville. It was a trip originally planned several weeks earlier to visit Aunt Gwen and Uncle Ken and attend a book-signing and reading by Lee Smith, a southern author and humorist whom I greatly admire. Now the trip had both shrunk and grown significantly in audience, and in meaning. My Uncle Ken would not be there. Instead, my visit would include my Aunt Gwen, my three cousins Kim, Vicky and Nancy, Uncle Ken’s sister Marian and his brother Jack, and Vicky’s two grown children, Kelly and Tom. When I reached Hendersonville, I was detoured at the exit from I-26 onto the road that passed the Asheville airport near my aunt and uncle’s home by Highway Patrol cars blocking the interstate’s entrance and exit ramps. They were standing guard for the departure of President Obama who’d spent the weekend with his family in the mountains of western North Carolina. I smiled and irreverently wondered if Uncle Ken had delayed his ultimate departure to be able to say “hi” to the President I knew he admired. Kim and Kelly met me at a nearby truck stop and we drove into Asheville to see Lee Smith. As we stood in line to have our copies of the books signed, I said to Kim, “So has your Mom decided about when she’ll have a memorial get-together?” Without hesitating Kim replied, “I think this is it, just us here and now.” Once again, as I had in needing and wanting to say good-bye to Uncle Ken, I knew immediately what I needed and wanted to do during this visit; this spontaneous and informal memorial get-together.

After we drove back from Asheville and arrived at Aunt Gwen and Uncle Ken’s house, everyone gathered on the rear deck, watching the birds and squirrels and chatting about what had transpired in the past few days. When the time seemed right to me, I asked if it would be okay for me to share a story of an image that had come to me the morning that Uncle Ken had died. Aunt Gwen said “Of course”, and so I began to share my story.

That Friday morning as I lay in bed after I’d read Kim’s text message, my field of vision was suddenly filled with a beautifully bright white light. It was the kind of light referred to by people who have had a near-death experience. The edges of the light began to fade, shrinking smaller and smaller, with the brightest spot remaining, until I realized that I was looking at a pair of clean, white sneakers, Uncle Ken’s sneakers. It was as though someone had placed a camera just behind his feet, and into view in the distance came the image of two large travel trailers sitting side-by-side, and in between them sat my father in his lawn chair, patiently reading his “Popular Mechanics” magazine. As Uncle Ken approached, my father looked up from his magazine, smiled and stood up, and placing the magazine on seat of the chair, he walked toward Uncle Ken. They shook hands, clearly glad to see each other again, and smiled a knowing, accepting smile at one another. As the image faded, I had a knowing sense that they had started their journey, and would stop when they’d planned to or when they wanted to, and enjoy their journey as it unfolded, as it always had, and as it always would.

And I smiled.

Dedicated to my uncle, John Kenneth “Ken” Bradshaw
John Lincoln
May 3, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

#10 - A random and not at all silly thought

Tonight I watched “Waltz With Bashir”. For the first time, I think in my entire life, my heart aches for innocent people, and for those who, in the name of God or country or retribution or revenge, kill people who hold human beliefs the same as theirs, but on the opposite side of conflict. It saddens me. All my life I have felt deep anguish at the thought of a hurt or lost animal. This time the animal is human. It saddens me equally, I think more. We are human. We have intellect. We have compassion. We love. We harm.

How can that be?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

#9 - Reassurance For the Aspiring and Exasperated Gardener

When leaves are wilted and stems are dry
Lest you have a tear in your eye
Know that life and death are a part of growth
The former is joyous but the journey brings both…

Me ~ April 22, 2007

Thursday, March 18, 2010

#8 - Some hopefully helpful hints for successfully clarified Southern conversation

Tonight our fabulous local NPR station WFAE 90.7 FM held a "public conversation" on the topic "When North Meets South", to assist in bridging perceived and real cultural gaps between our "Northern Brethren", and us Charlotteans/Southerners.  It was a wonderfully humorous and reasonably thought-provoking discussion, providing the opportunity to chat a bit and chuckle a lot.  During the audience participation portion of the program, I raised my hand and offered the following tidbits of wisdom that I have gained since having become a Southerner some 37 years ago, following my birth and first 14 years of life in Iowa, the state I refer to as both "the land of beige food" (but that's another story for another time), and "the pink fluffy stuff in the attic", more pertinent to this missive; that is, one of the insulation layers between the North and South.

There are four expressions that I have found to be particularly useful to understand, for they often carry with them multi-layered intent and meaning that is belied by their ostensible simplicity.  As I begin to share them with you, I feel it important also to stress the significance of Subtlety, Gentility, Forgiveness, Empathy and, yes, Intellect that these expressions may reflect and convey.  I offer a single expression for the male persuasion, two for the female persuasion (given the greater number of words used by the female persuasion, subsequently resulting in a substantially larger proportion of entries in the vast world of Southern expressions), and a final one for the collective persuasion - a "universal Southernism", as it were.

So, with that contextual commentary completed, here are the four expressions that I shared this evening, and would like to share with you, in the true spirit of confederacy, and clarity:
  1. "He's a good ol' boy...", as in, "Well, he did serve a little time after relieving Miss Marlene of that wide-screen television of hers, but, he's a good ol' boy..."  (Forgiveness and Empathy)
  2. "Darlin', I just love that dress on you.  I never get tired of seein' it..." (Subtlety, Gentility and Intellect; perhaps a compliment, but most probably not...)
  3. "Well, isn't that interesting..."   A particularly effective exit from a unpleasant topic of conversation, this expression is typically delivered in a very pleasant tone and with a polite smile, followed rapidly yet gracefully by a turn of the head and the body in the opposite direction, and subsequent initiation of a different conversation with someone... else.  (Subtlety, Gentility and, perhaps, Intellect)
  4. "Bless (his, her, their, your) heart..."  One of the greatest examples of universal Southern empathy, this versatile expression can be used to neutralize a negative, or accentuate a positive.  An example of the former: "Lord, that boy's dumb as a stump, bless his heart..."; an example of the latter:  "My, isn't that a lovely drawing you've done for me.  Why, I do believe it is a tree, isn't it?  Bless your heart."  Each in its own way, I believe, reflects the speaker's great empathy for the human condition.  Just remember the following truism and you'll do just fine in using it:  "In the South you can say anything about anyone, as long as you say bless (their) heart afterward."  (Gentility, Empathy and, perhaps, if the subject is very fortunate indeed, Forgiveness)
I hope and trust that these four expressions will be of use to our Northern Brethren as they become dyed-in-the-wool Southerners.  Now let's all join hands and say "Bless their hearts..."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

#7 - The ironic rule of aging and eyesight...

Who made the rule that says:
"As we age, we see better in BRIGHT light, but look better in dim light"?
Whoever it was, I hate 'em...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

#6 - Spring has sprung, ah, warm's begun!

This early time
In gardens prime
Without a care
For pollen air
We dig the dirt
And sow the seed
And satisfy our Nature's need

To tend and toil
The waking soil
Sunblock to foil
The sun's hot coil
To be outdoors!
No more to plead
We satisfy our Nature's need

The squirrels do flirt
And bore the dirt
For presents known
In holes their own
The birds they sing
Their songs of Spring
No more to want for anything

Tho' bent backs ache
And pale skins bake
And spades may cake
And rakes may break
To bask in sun
Oh joy, such fun!
For Spring has sprung, ah, warm's begun!

Me ~ March 9, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

#5 - The cruelest word in the English language

... is the word "lisp".  Yes, lisp.  Just think about it for a second.  The very people who are afflicted with this condition can't even say the word that describes the condition because they have the condition.  Is that cruel irony or what?!

"I'm tho thorry  if  it'th  hard  to underthand what I'm thaying.   You thee, I lithp.  What?  Lithp.  LITHP.   L - I -  ETH - P,  LITHP.  What?  WHAT?  Thilly?  I thound THILLY?!  THOP LAUGHING!  Lithen you little thit, if you thay that again I thurely think I'll thmack you from Theattle to Thaint Louith!"

Thee what I'm thaying?  Bleth their heartth!

(I just KNOW I'm going to burn in Hell for even thinking this one, let alone writing this one, but I just couldn't rethitht... DOH!)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

#4 - Thank heavens for pets - mine keep me from shooting somebody - I think...

There are times when I get frustrated, oh, like when I hear people objecting to things that, in my infinite wisdom, would benefit them and everyone in the long-term, out of what I view as fear, or as FDR once said, the "fear of fear, itself...". I get, well, almost crazy and feel angst and anger and feel a need to say things like "How can you be so stoopid? And YES, I mean with 2 "o's"!"

For example, today, the discussion about the Supreme Court and the 2nd Amendment - "The Right to Bear Arms" (not the right to wear sleeveless shirts, the right to have a gun to defend oneself or others, which of course any reputable and respected legal scholar would readily acknowledge was originally intended by the Founding Fathers to provide for citizens' ability to join and participate in a local militia, NOT simply to have a gun to shoot an intruder) - the pompous and prolific protestations of Constitutional "purists" against gun-control legislation often make me so angry I almost want to go buy a gun so I can shoot 'em... Do they really want me to be able to do that?  As they say, "Be careful what you ask for...".  Yet, I must admit to having mixed feelings about this issue.

On the one hand, I feel it's ludicrous to think that a guy or gal (sorry feminists) could or should be able to carry a hand-gun into a bar, where the sale of alcohol is the primary business function of the establishment (Oh sure, let's just ask for trouble). The last time I looked, I do believe that Charlotte, NC was not and is not Dodge City in 1855... Equally ludicrous in my not-so humble opinion, is the idea that someone visiting a national park and messing with a bear or mountain lion should be able and allowed to pull a gun out of his or her holster and shoot the bear or mountain lion.  He or she is messing around in that animal's domain/domicile, and let's just remember who lives there - people are visitors (at least that's what my Visitor's pass says).  Personally, I think this is where Spencer's "Survival of the Fittest" theory should come into play...

On the other hand, if some angry idiot decided to break into my home, and out of some crazed mental dysfunction decided that it would be "fun" to shoot my little Chihuahua Petunia, I absolutely would prefer to have a gun to SHOOT THE S.O.B. RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES - you bet I would.

But... because I'm too lazy to go through a course on "How to Handle a Gun" (and as such would be more likely to shoot my favorite vase than the intruder), and secure enough in my particular neighborhood to feel that a violent break-in is highly unlikely to happen, I don't, and won't, have a gun in my home. That's my choice. But then again, I'm a guy not a gal, and can only speak from my perspective being a guy who generally doesn't have to worry about other such horrible things as being raped or accosted or hit on by a horned-up idiot or stalked by some estranged, spurned, "fatally attracted" paramour.  At least I don't think I do...

The bad news is that controversial topics such as this can set off random and crazy thoughts in my mind at times - I am human after all. The good news is that, often when these intense and frustrating thoughts are pommelling my psyche and raising my blood pressure and generally making me crazy, my little Chihuahua Petunia jaunts merrily and without care across the room and grabs her big stuffed dog or giraffe in her teeth and dog-handles it back into my lap, licks me on the nose and looks up at me with her cute little bug-eyes, asking me to play tug-of-war with her. And then I forget all those crazy nutso human thoughts, for a little while anyway...

Thank heavens for her...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

#3 - Reassurance from the robins...

Hundreds of robins fill the sky, the tree branches and holly bushes, as I look out my front kitchen window at the snow falling, this March the 2nd. They're reassuring me that spring IS coming.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's Good News - Tracy Douglas Update

All –

I feel a need to preface this good news update regarding Tracy’s condition with an analogy: Tracy's situation has been a bit of a roller coaster ride of late with steep inclines, big drops and scary turns. Although there's more ride ahead, I can say without any hesitation that I personally like this part of the ride, as do Tracy's Mom and her boys. I think you will as well. That being said…

Tracy’s condition has improved significantly. Although the conversations just a week ago were dire in nature, somehow our girl has managed to surprise and delight the doctors (not a surprise to those of us who know her of course, but certainly a delight) and has now been taken off the respirator/ventilator because she no longer needs its assistance to breathe. The trachea tube in her throat still provides an oxygen mixture to ensure that she maintains sufficient supply, at least for the time-being, but the percentage of oxygen is being reduced slowly, indicating that her lungs’ ability to absorb oxygen from the air is increasing – a very good thing. Both the charge nurse I spoke with yesterday and Tracy's Mom said that conversations are taking place regarding Tracy’s potential move to rehab (timing TBD) – another very good thing. Although Hospice had been considered, now Palliative Care is the approach. For those of you who may not know the difference between the two (and please don’t feel embarrassed, most people don’t – but we ALL should), Hospice focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting patients with a life expectancy of weeks or months, not years, and their families. Palliative Care may be given at any time during a person’s illness, from diagnosis on – its goals are to improve the quality of a seriously ill person’s life and to support that person and their family during and after treatment – in this case treatment for Tracy’s pulmonary hypertension. The fact that Tracy and her family are now receiving Palliative Care, not Hospice, indicates that Tracy’s medical practitioners do not regard her present pulmonary condition as terminal – another very, very good thing. So, those are the facts at present.

Now, because a number of y’all have expressed appreciation for the stories behind the facts, here’s a bit more color commentary from my seat on the roller coaster – so fasten your seat belts…

I visited Tracy four times last week, after sending my last very wrenching update. During those visits I experienced Tracy as looking quite good, given the circumstances, meaning that her face showed good color, that she tracked (followed) my presence and movements with her eyes, but that she was not overtly responsive to my questions or attempts at soliciting a response. She appeared to be uncomfortable, as she moved her legs, repeatedly pulling them toward her chest then stretching them out. The charge nurse during those visits said that the medical staff was monitoring Tracy’s behavior for any indication that she was consciously responding to input but they hadn’t observed such at that point.

However, as I approached Tracy’s ICU room yesterday, I saw Nurse Betty (I’m not joking) quickly covering Tracy’s legs (propriety, you know) as she saw me coming down the hallway. Nurse Betty and I have struck up quite a rapport and she appears to absolutely adore Tracy and be providing her with the kind of attention and care that anyone would hope to have. I say “big gold stars for Nurse Betty’s crown”. As I approached Tracy’s bed, Nurse Betty said “Tracy, you’ve got company”, and Tracy turned her head toward me and offered a small smile with very soft eyes – she couldn’t speak because of the trachea tube, but there was no question in my mind that she recognized me. I took her hand in mine and Nurse Betty said that Tracy was having a very good day indeed, then proceeded to show me a photo on her phone that she had taken earlier in the day of Tracy actually SITTING UP ON THE EDGE OF THE BED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN NEARLY TWO MONTHS – another very, very, super-dooper, jumbo economy-sized good thing! I asked Nurse Betty if she could email me the photo so that I could share it with y’all, but wisely she offered that Tracy might not want that particular image floating around the ether of the Internet in perpetuity – DUH John. As observed during my visits last week, Tracy continued to move her legs constantly and I commented to Nurse Betty that obviously Tracy was doing her Jane Fonda exercises, to which Nurse Betty replied “Oh NO, she kicks FAR higher than Jane Fonda…”. I say “another gold star for Nurse Betty’s crown”. And Tracy's mother June mentioned today that a physical therapist administered some "simple" exercises (simple to whom?!) and that she (June) coached her through them, receiving glaring stares from Tracy. June also said she thinks she figured out at least a partial reason that Tracy has seemed to furrow her brow constantly for weeks - she hadn't had her glasses on in weeks - DUH all of us. So June mentioned them to Tracy, then Tracy smiled, and then after June put them on her, Tracy gave June an even bigger glaring stare through magnified eyes... Now THAT's improvement.

So folks, how’s the ride? Pretty darned good, huh?

Some final notes for this update: Tracy’s Mom and her boys really appear to be doing well right now. Additional good news is that the hospital has lifted the "under 18 years of age" visitors ban, so the boys can visit their Mom without having to duck down and sneak past the nurses station or try to talk in really deep cracking voices (ah, the joys of puberty...). They're feeling much more hopeful about things, and are very, very appreciative of all the support that everyone has been sending and giving.

I’ve mentioned to most of y’all that I’m in the process of establishing a college fund for Tracy’s sons – they are very fine boys, reflecting Tracy’s ethics, intelligence, wit and manners, and I feel so strongly that they deserve to have the opportunity to excel in life and become the kind of men of whom Tracy would and will be proud. So many of you have expressed interest in helping in any way you can, and I thought this would be one way to do that, and one that will reap long-term and I think wonderful benefits. I’ll be providing more details about the fund as soon as I finalize the paperwork with my financial advisor. In the meantime, please feel free to share the idea with others as you see fit – in this case, more is certainly better!

I hope these updates help give you the data and facts that the left sides of your brains might require, and also give the right sides a good reason to reflect a smile too. I'm lovin' the data and smiling a whole bunch!

More to come, and much love - John

Tracy Update 2

All -

I am so sorry that it's been a few days since the last update, but as you saw in Ginny's note, things have been a bit uncertain, and I think we have all felt a need to seek clarification before another note went out. So here's where things stand as of tonight.

According to Tracy's Mom, Tracy's condition has not improved despite all the various efforts of her doctors and medical staff, and they feel that there's nothing more that can be done aside from keeping her as free from discomfort as possible. The boys now are aware of the gravity of the situation with their Mom, and will meet with a Hospice representative Thursday with Tracy's mother June. I personally know and have great fondness for the Director of Hospice and Palliative Care for the Carolinas and am going to call her to enlist her help in providing the very best care for Tracy as she goes through her transition.

On a lighter note, I was able to take the boys to see IMAX "Avatar" yesterday to provide a little diversion, and we had fun. Rashan, Tracy's youngest son, insisted that we sit in the second row of the IMAX theater which initially had me swatting at the bugs in the forest only to realize that they were just 3D images - I very nearly smacked the head of the woman seated in the first row. Tracy's second son Shamel laughed at me, and I laughed at all three of them in their gigantic 3D glasses. We were quite a sight, but not alone as the theater was full of people in gigantic 3D glasses. As we left the theater, William, Tracy's oldest son, said "I hate this", and then pointed to the brown, blue and slightly green spots on his otherwise spotless white sweatshirt that matched his spotless white sneakers. Apparently his tri-blend Slurpee of Coke, Blue Fanta (whatever that is), and White Grape and had splattered on his sweatshirt during one of the more exciting scenes during the movie. So he proceeded to walk with his arms folded in front of him to cover the spots as we searched for the candy store to buy their grandmother her favorite candy, Jordan almonds. William apparently has a particular preference for the pink ones because "they taste the best", which I determined from the crunching sound emanating from the back seat of my truck due to a hole that somehow miraculously developed in the candy bag on the drive home. We didn't speak of their Mom's current situation and fortunately it didn't seem to hang heavy in the air, but of course it is ever present in their thoughts. Aside from ensuring that Tracy remains as comfortable as possible, my greatest concern at this point is the boys and ensuring that they have love and support during this terrible time, and going forward.

I apologize if what I'm about to share feels graphic and emotionally difficult to some of you, but I want to share and clarify what Andrea Farrell, Trent Thompson and I experienced when visiting Tracy this past Saturday. I feel it's important to do that because each of you knows and has experienced Tracy in your own special way, and I think Tracy would want you to know what's happening so that you can have understanding, and feel whatever you might, in your own way.

When we reached Tracy's room in ICU we could see her sitting up with a pen in her hand resting on a tablet of paper. We donned disposable gowns and latex gloves and went into the room. She both looked better, and was more lucid than we expected, and according to the attending nurse, she was more alert than she'd been in quite a while. It was obvious to me that she couldn't speak due to the tracheal tube inserted into the lower part of her neck and throat which connects to the respirator that breathes for her. The tube's placement doesn't allow breath to pass over her vocal chords so speech isn't possible. Based on my experience with my Mom and others, that's much less invasive and uncomfortable than a tube placed in the mouth. But she was awake and alert, and seemed to recognize us and was able to very, very slightly nod and shake her head in answer to questions, and speak with her eyes. She had tried to write, but there were only scratch marks on the pad as her hand wasn't strong enough to form letters. It broke my heart to see that, and yet it became such a sweet and wonderful visit. Andrea helped us determine that Tracy's uncovered feet were cold, so she asked the nurse to bring a blanket, and that helped. Trent made a joke that made Tracy cough, but she got through that quickly, and I have to admit that I was relieved that for once it wasn't me who made the joke that made her cough. I held her hand in mine and when I'd take it away, she'd move hers toward me. So I held her hand for as long as I could. At the end of the visit, we each kissed and hugged her, told her how much we and everyone we know loves her, and said we'd be back to visit again.

Initially I was heartened, encouraged and relieved, joyful actually, at what I saw, and I believe Andrea and Trent felt the same as we spoke about it afterward. However, when I spoke with Tracy's mother later in the day, she explained that Tracy had been taken off the heavy sedatives that had been used to keep her still while the staff administered treatment. Her resulting coherence was due to that rather than an improvement in her actual physical condition. The doctors have now discontinued all treatment medications because Tracy was not improving with them, but unfortunately she cannot survive without them. That was a horribly sad and disheartening thing for Tracy's Mom to have to tell me, and it was equally so for me to hear, and is to share with you.

I promise to update you with what I learn in the days to come. In the meantime, please continue to send love and positive energy, pray or whatever helps you in your sorrow, and helps Tracy and her loved ones in this time. I truly believe that it makes a difference, and I know that Tracy and her family appreciate everything you've done and will do.

My love to you all - JL

Monday, February 22, 2010

#2 - The NPR Party

Petunia, my 5lb Chihuahua, is very into NPR and greatly concerned about the polarization and stagnation of politics in our country. At dinner last night she told me about an idea she has for the 2012 presidential election - she thinks there should be a new "NPR Party", with Diane Rehm and Terry Gross as co-candidates for President, and Garrison Keillor for VP. Now, her brother Pooter, my 18lb tomcat that I affectionately call "The Grumpy Lump", said that's all well and good, but he'll only support it if Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the "Car Talk" guys, are pegged for Secretary of State and Department of Homeland Security, respectively...

Hmm... A whole bunch of wisdom, a breath of fresh air, a ton of giggles and some darned good diagnostic skills - I think they may be onto something... But I'm thinking we need a little more diversity - what do you think?

Friday, February 19, 2010

#1 - Why, or better yet, why not?

Random thoughts come to me all the time - I'm sure that must happen to you as well. Some people process them inside; you know, introverted thinking types. But, being a rabid, many times-diagnosed extravert myself, I've gotta get 'em out; "blap" right on the table, bounce them off others, hear myself speak and feel the reaction. If I don't, I can get into a loop, and sometimes it's not pretty. Just ask anyone who knows me well. I've journaled for years but think it's finally time I bit the bullet and started putting my thoughts "out there."

The title "Ponderable Postulations" came to me one night when I was updating my Facebook wall with a "what makes this so?" commentary. I've often sat and pondered, and when I'm successful at arriving at somewhat of a conclusion, however twisted it may be, it becomes a postulation. Hence the title.

I love interaction and feedback, so if the spirit moves you, feel free to write to your heart's content or your nature's satisfaction!

Here's to the beginning of, well... something!