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Funeral For A Chocolate Eternity

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Today, a spicy little twist from this Man On The Fringe.

As we enter a Northern Hemisphere summer, I’m offering up this rehash/reprint from a younger, stronger, handsomer… me.

Eight short years ago (June 2013) this week I wrote this post, a fantasized vision of my own funeral.

Morbid, maybe… but also how fun really! Let’s hit the time machine on this mini pseudo-philosophical tale…

………………

The rear swing door of the black hearse sitting in the horseshoe-shaped driveway was already gaping open like a Domino’s pizza oven, impatiently waiting for the deceased’s delivery.

.

hearse door ajar

Sun rays were prying their way between the clouds, trying desperately to make this final day bright.

Alone, I hesitated a second at the tall, heavy oak door of the generic staid but stolid funeral home – I pulled it open. Within seconds, a tall, dark-suited bespectacled man approached.

Did you know the deceased well?

He was dignified and compassionate in his well-honed professional approach to terminal matters.

Very, I said, grinning in a sheepish, modest sort of fashion.

In fact, I AM the deceased.

I spoke in a breathy whisper, hoping he would pick up on the discretion I wanted for such an unusual occurrence. He barely blinked when I said it though…

How often does this happen? This guy was a pro. He slide-stepped a quarter turn sideways and gestured with a sweep of his arm that I might like to enter the chapel.

I was worried that I would be noticed when I passed into the dimly-lit open hall so I sat down quickly on one of the empty long wooden pews at the back of the room.

Funeral chapel

Fortunately, in churches and funeral homes, people don’t turn around to look behind them. You only look left, right, or forwards. I haven’t perused the holy book lately so perhaps it’s some religious rule, maybe even a commandment–  that you don’t turn around unless they start to play “Here Comes The Bride“, and then it’s rude NOT to turn around.

Music … I love music. Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” was just ending and the distinctive guitar picking of James Taylor began softly echoing off the high wood-panelled ceiling of the chapel – “You’ve Got a Friend”… I closed my eyes and absorbed one of my favourite songs.

I was adjusting my pant leg when a woman’s voice coming from my right whispered, “Are you the dead fellow?

My eyes were just adapting to the low lights of the room. Surprised, I turned to see an elderly woman scrinching her way, sliding gently towards me on the bench. She looked familiar, but only in the way that any woman of her age might remind you of your grandmother. She was squinting at me through her thick eyeglasses.

How did you know that?

– Well, you might think its a bit strange, but I come to a funeral here every week. IF there’s a funeral on a Friday. I have bridge club on Thursday and my daughter comes to help me out on Wednesdays. The other days just don’t feel like funeral days to me. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m Catholic. Fridays feel like a funeral day.

She slid her hands slowly over the knees of her dark dress to straighten the pleats that had been disrupted on her slide towards me.

– I never know the dead person, but I enjoy a good funeral. I get to see and hear the sum of a person’s life in about a half hour. I learn a lot about what’s important to different people. Sometimes it’s all just religious rigamarole – sandwich without a filling – almost like the dead person never existed. But sometimes, there’s a whole gourmet dinner laid out of a person’s soul. It makes me see my own life better somehow. I like those ones.

She fell quiet when she spotted the man in the dark suit, the same one that greeted me at the front door, approach the podium at the front of the room.

man speaking at funeral

He paused at the metal-faced lectern, looked down quietly at his notes, then slowly looked back up, and began:

One of the great benefits of living for a number of years, is that we absorb and observe and enjoy the things that make our time as humans on earth special and memorable. We experience the multitude of stages that constitute a life. Birth, childhood, teen years, first loves, fast cars and vehicles, first jobs, the stresses and great joys of family life and interacting with people that surround us. We see beauty, and pain, in so many forms, often those things that we glance past in early years become the treasures of our later lives.

-If Larry was with us here today, if he was sitting right here in this chapel at this moment…

He glanced with a small ironic smile towards the back of the room where I was sitting.

– if he was here, he would want us to reflect on the things that mattered greatly to him and at least take them into consideration in the living of our everyday lives. 

Hallelujah brother, I wanted to yell out.

But I didn’t want to distract the modest crowd of mourners and well-wishers who had broken away from their daily existences to say a final farewell to a small piece, a fragment really, for most of them, of their lives.

Aside from close family, a funeral, at its most basic level isn’t really about the person who has passed. A funeral is about how each of us reacts in the moment, decides our own personal life course, and editorializes how we’re doing so far.

– Highly spiritual but not a typically religious man, Larry suggested in his final requests that I put in a good word about 5 things that stood out for him and that made his own existence special and noteworthy.

spiritual path
  • Love of creativity. Creativity surrounds and envelops us every day. Almost everything we touch from simple kitchen gadgets to fancy cars is there because another human conceived and made it. Our medicines, our clothes, chocolate bars. You name it, simple or complex, it needed creativity. Music, sculpture, yes even Fifty Shades of Grey… they all originated in the amazing mind. We need to observe and appreciate the good and great we’ve created and be mindful of the not so good. But more importantly, we need to be an active participant and create within our own sphere too. Create a garden, create a meal to be remembered, create a poem, create a pair of socks. Perform some idea sex and create something totally unexpected. Absorb others’ creations but take the time to make your own little masterpiece too.
  • Love of at least one other who loves you back. The warmth of another’s love and respect is what makes humans human. It grounds us, it gives us purpose. Giving love to someone else lifts up the poorest beggar to the richest monarch. It can’t be bought, it can’t be sold, but it’s more valuable than the Crown Jewels.
  • Love of health and activity. Our bodies are striated top to bottom with muscle. Bone and blood and muscle thrive on movement, active movement. Our mind muscles and our body muscles all feel better when they’re exercised and strengthened. An internal global sense of health and well-being starts with active movement.
  • Love of the unknown… fearlessness. Stepping to the edge of the metaphorical ledge makes our heart race and our soul sing. Horror movies are so popular because they take us to the edge of our comfort zones, creating a sense of exhilaration, but pulling back and leaving us drained from a cathartic high. Taking ourselves to the limit or into an area that intrigues but intimidates us at the same time is a fantastic journey that puts LIFE into life. I’m told that Larry confided once that running marathons or learning another language in a strange, exotic locale filled him with fear. But, living and pushing forward into that fear is exhilaration exemplified.
  • Love of the senses. This is a world replete with sights, sounds, smells that can overfill our senses, and yet we often downplay or ignore them. We need to learn to slow our breathing and absorb the plethora of beauty in all its forms that surround us. The smoothness of pine needles, the scent of seafood in a crowded marketplace, the roar of a jet piercing the sky overhead, the glitter of the setting sun rays caressing the lake surface at sunset. Our lives can be so much richer when we take the time to appreciate the exquisiteness around us.

– So, Larry asked that we all retreat within ourselves today and reflect on those things we feel an affinity, a love, a respect, a passion for in our days and years living this amazing miracle that brought us to this place, this time, this world that evolved from no one yet knows what or where.

Oh, and one more thing. Larry wanted me to add…  eat some chocolate … always eat some chocolate!

Life can be as simple as that sometimes.

coffin crisp

The time felt right for me to leave.

The old lady next to me turned and nodded knowingly with a small smile. Leaning in slowly, she bussed her lips against my cheek and whispered, “Thank you for the lovely soulful meal you made for me today. I’m going to think about the things that were important to you. I’m glad we had this chance to meet.

I stood and took one last look over the group of my friends, my relatives, my life.

Some were smiling, some were gently wiping beneath their eyes with white kleenex; the ladies dressed in mixtures of short and long skirts, with sweet floral smells and red lips. Men in dark suits, some in clean blue jeans and open necked shirts, a disjointed harmony of style and generation that spoke of honour and fashion.

To my own surprise, I felt good. It was a bittersweet moment knowing that my own few eternal seconds had come and passed so so quickly.

I turned and pushed my way through the door of the chapel. Instantly, a brilliant white light shone through the upper windows of the funeral home, the sun had won its skirmish with the clouds.

I wasn’t sure where the white light led but I felt a robust attraction to first one exit door on my left and then an equally strong pull towards an exit door on the right.

On each door a sign was posted prominently on its surface. The one to the left stated:

Buddha awaits your reincarnation

The sign on the door to my right said:

Chocolate Eternity

I hesitated and thought deeply.

SERIOUSLY? All of life’s philosophies come down to this?

Maybe death can be as simple as that.

I paused for a moment longer, then smiled a little smile and stepped confidently forward. I’d made my choice.

With all my strength I threw open the door.

2 more doors

Holding Back The Death Of A GrandMinstrel…

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By a number of measures, I should be dead.

I drove my 1967 Rambler American more than a dozen times while numbingly inebriated before I turned 19. The lights of Main Street were lit, and so was I.

Terrible choice, absolutely, but also – poor excuse aside – common in that era.

On more than one occasion I recall thinking to myself after arriving safely back home late at night…

… shit, I don’t remember that drive.

I wouldn’t describe it as a blackout but more a trance-like state, as if someone else had taken control of the steering wheel and magically transported me home while I hazily observed. Gage Park wobbled back and forth in my heavy eyes as I passed by…

I could have killed myself, or even more tragically, some innocent pedestrian or decent steelworker making his journey home to his family upon finishing an afternoon shift at Dofasco (my boyhood hometown Hamilton, Ontario is a well-known steel-making city).

At other times, I’ve foolishly wandered down dark alleys in seedy areas of cities (eg. Hamburg, Germany, or Granada, Nicaragua) where you could reasonably expect a grisly murder to occur… or gone home with total strangers that I know I shouldn’t have but was too polite to say “NO THANKS” (it’s that damned Canadian politeness factor)!

I’ve scuba-dived down deep… jumped from an airplane at 10,000 feet (yes, WITH a parachute attached, I’m not a TOTAL idiot!).

Minor and major life-threatening events occur to each of us throughout our days and come at us from different angles… some we anxiously avoid and some we dive into wholeheartedly.

BUT… still…

I fear death… do you?

I fear it more intensely now than when I was younger and even more witless.

Why? The fear isn’t so much about a lack of courage (although I would easily win the part of the Lion in The Wizard of Oz!) I’ve decided that it comes down to a big three for me… CURIOSITYFOMO (Fear of Missing Out) … and AMBITION.

I begrudge you death…

CURIOSITY?

Despite all the daily worries and problems out there in the big world, and certainly not for everyone, but… to me, the time in which we live is a Golden Age.

And the mountain of gold is growing bigger still.

In my murky crystal ball I foresee huge peaks of future excitement.

Technology has increasingly enlivened my days with each passing year, and the wonders of new ways of doing things, communicating, travelling, learning, and relating to the world around me.

I’m flabbergasted and invigorated with enthusiasm for what is still to come. It makes me giddy… and I don’t want to miss a thing even if I don’t understand it all. Humanity’s creativity has generated some crazy and amazing stuff.

Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood.”   Robert Greene, author

Which brings me to…

FOMO?

Add to this curiosity my relatively new (3 years) experiment as a grandfather, and again, I don’t want to miss out on seeing all the potential and wonder of who and what becomes of my young successors.

There’s a heightened level of pride that seems to skip a generation where it comes to grandchildren: perhaps there’s less intense pressure as a grandparent to micro-manage the little ones’ day-to-day direction that frees us to see the beauty and marvel of a developing new life.

What a loss it would, and will be, to miss these million milestones …

AMBITION?

This is tied part and parcel into this compulsion I have for goal-setting that I’ve mentioned here on numerous occasions.

Guitar skills, songwriting, new cooking artistry, language learning, running targets… goals towards anything that gets my heart racing for all the positive reasons related to the marvels of endorphins.

I’m a minstrel at heart who pines to become a better minstrel… and becoming better at anything – as Malcolm Gladwell will happily tell you- requires time and HOURS of practice.

I need time because… Death has a way of cutting short practice time…

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”   E.E. Kenyon, 1953

The thing is, life is short and precarious. Much of our success in living another day is as much luck as anything else.

To attain old age is akin to the way the late Bob Ross painted his quiet little masterpieces, all… “happy little accidents“…

In a breath this grandminstrel (ie. me) will be dust in the wind, a universal nomad… no matter my curiosity, FOMO or ambition… it’s preordained…

The bottom line just has to be Carpe Diem... wash your hands, eat your vegetables, live your life in high-definition, bravely, fully and well…

Let me know if you have a fear of dying, and if so, why.

PS You can put your mind at ease… I haven’t driven under the influence in many…. decades!

PPS Just one more reason to live a long time… I want to wear these clothes that are smarter than me!

The Best Place and Time to Die… Nowhere and Never…

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funeral on ganges

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The idea is to die young as late as possible”

Ashley Montagu

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The sunshine in our days is growing shorter and I’m growing longer in morbid thoughts. It’s an annual tradition I celebrate with hot roast turkey and cranberries while giving thanks.

Death is a part of my DNA… literally.

It is for you too, and so we all think about it, some more than others.

My own “bible” says that if we lived in a world with 16 hours of daylight every day no matter the season or time of year, we’d smile and never die and never know anyone who has died. That’s the power of sunshine.

This would be my Garden of Eden. No apples of temptation, no sneaky serpents, but the running around naked part stays put. I’m convinced.

The notion of death is easy to come across these days not only because of the COVID virus but also because there’s huge amounts of scientific data spewing from research labs that are shining spotlights on the aging process (eg. stem cell treatment, senescent cell removal, CRISPR technology and others) and how we can reset the epigenetic clock and delay the onset of “not living”.

With each passing month, scientists are driving us closer to a length-of-life that more closely resembles the biblical ages of such well-known celebs as Moses and Job (or Ibrahim in Islamic faith) who reportedly lived well beyond 100.

……………

John Green: “You die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence”

Isaac Asimov: “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”

Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Benjamin Franklin: “Most people die at 25 and aren’t buried until they’re 75.”

Woody Allen: “It’s not that I’m afraid to die,
I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

“I have a very low threshold of death.
My doctor says I can’t have bullets enter my body at any time.”

…………….

So while I’m hopeful that we all surpass the century mark of aging (while remaining healthy), death is our lifetime companion, like a child’s imaginary friend that we all have but can never truly share with another.

We all must die alone in the sense that we pass through the door one at a time, like a turnstile at a sporting event.

Given its inevitability, what is THE best way to die?

Death… rapid-onset, or slowly drawn-out is shocking. There is NO good way to die because the end result is that you’re no longer alive.

There’s no easy or right answer.

I bump into folks all the time who opine on the best way to die. It’s great party chatter.

I wanna just drop dead on the sidewalk… BOOM!

A lot seem to think that a sudden demise- maybe a bullet to the head-  is the perfect solution to life’s thorniest conclusion.

It’s uncomplicated and “painless”. It’s like an “Irish goodbye”, leaving quietly out the side door of a party or bar without saying goodbye to anyone.

dead chalk outline

Others prefer the more drawn-out ending where you are conscious of your final days. The downside here is that longer deaths are often wrapped part-and-parcel with agonizing pain or discomfort, sometimes a foggy confusion.

Let me lay on my death bed for weeks, get my affairs in order, and tell my loved ones how much they’ve meant to me…

Yup, there’s no happy or easy answer, and much like the unknowable question of whether a God does or does not exist, in the majority of cases, we aren’t allowed the decision.

For me, given a game-show choice – Door A or Door B – as part artist, part-scientist… I’d take the hybrid highway, Door C… no express check-out, but also no long, drawn-out painful plod to the finish line.

My own wish is for a (lucid and relatively painless) week or two to wave from the deck of my personal Titanic.

Perhaps our aging-research scientists will be the artists that one day allow us all to become the “forever 21” Dorian Gray.

Until then, I’m going outside to do my Sun Dance for a few more hours of delicious Vitamin D.

GoodDay GoodNight

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There’s nothing lovely or sentimental about a car crash (or a helicopter crash). They’re crushing and painful.

But in music, the bittersweet can be fabulous.

Most of us are drawn into sad songs as a way of dealing with our own sadnesses and knowing that others have experienced and felt the same…

I’m not a religious guy (surprise!), but I’m currently in love with a song… a set of lyrics playing on the country charts these days. It’s called Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Askin’), written by a talented young Canadian singer/songwriter Tenille Townes.

If I ever get to Heaven
You know I got a long list of questions
Like how do You make a snowflake?
Are You angry when the Earth quakes?
How does the sky change in a minute?
How do You keep this big rock spinnin’?
And why couldn’t You stop that car from crashin’?
Forgive me, I’m just askin'”

There are big questions we all have… monster-sized questions we’ll never truly know the answers to… I won’t be so arrogant as to tell you that your religious beliefs are wrong or swear that my lack of belief is right … I won’t boldly declare there is no heaven … nor hell…

But I will share my words that mark the final seconds of a life and wherever those moments take one…

Note the simple rhyme scheme… a new one for me in lyric writing.

day to night.

GOODDAY GOODNIGHT

by Larry Green

when your last breath sighs
sense the closing of your eyes
once you’ve murmured your last goodbye
heard your final baby’s cries
had all the high 5’s
lived enough years to say you’re wise
passed the tests stripped the disguise
lost the game sometimes but won the prize
Paradise

been to weddings, worn the bow ties
dipped in water been baptized
thought long and hard about euthanize
camped in forests bit by horseflies
watched the dipsy-doodle magpies
topped the CN Tower high rise
cooked some meals ate tons of fries
tasted apples Ambrosia and Sunrise
Paradise

college days spent learning blood types
years before I knew differences between bytes and disk drives
drawn in by girlish wares and fantasize
wore out jeans both Lee’s and Levi’s
drank too much beer so so unwise
scanned the northern lights in inky skies
strummed guitars and lyricized
met the girl and crooned the lullabies
Paradise

it’s chilly now on my glassy eyes
sailing back to days of mud-pies
swinging bats and catching pop-flies
street hockey games choosing sides
Heinz poured thick on Mom’s chicken potpies
steamy days steamy nights in Julys
evening breezes float cicadas and dragonflies
newspapers tossed for daily exercise
Paradise

CHORUS

GoodDay GoodNight
final frame unfrozen
running into the sun
GoodDay GoodNight

lantern

Lost Christmas

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NYC Killing 2019

Like a straight-line, linear graph (this is my lab background rearing its ugly head) …

… emotional intensity rises as we inch closer to Christmas.

Must be all that Harking and Jingling and O Holy’ing

The good, the bad, the beautiful, the tragic. The amplification soars.

I feel this intensity every year… my emotional core was struck deeply this past week by the news of a senseless cold-blooded murder of a young woman – a daughter, a sister, a student, a musician – in a New York City park.

Any parent will tell you that likely the most gut-wrenching and worrisome part of bringing children INTO the world, is still being alive to usher them OUT OF the world.

Nothing can prepare us for this.

Although I once experienced a close call many years back, I can only pretend to understand the inner devastation that cuts into a mother or father for the remainder of their days, upon the loss of a child.

So, as a kind of catharsis, I’ve “penned” a set of lyrics this week leading up to Christmas, that attempts to capture a bit of the heartbreak in losing a child, like the family of Tessa Majors … the unexpected, the shock, the despair.

Crimson Christmas

CRIMSON CHRISTMAS   (A Parent’s Lament)

by Larry Green

INTRO:

If she wasn’t young and pretty
would they care?
If he wasn’t an agitated kid dressed out in civvies
would they care?
Are thoughts and prayers enough for us
to show they care… when
the past is our only gift left to unwrap

Verse 1

Silver bells and mistletoe laugh
why would she walk those steps
in darkness alone?
gaudy glittered trees and romantic chaff
frosty wreathes over blood-stained snow
our goodbye epitaph

Verse 2

What ghostly happenstance
brought her to this savage moment
this chain of devil’s chance
from a day of season’s fa-la-la’s
from a life crammed full of plans

CHORUS

Headlines rage
screen lines scathe
tears scorching scars
ripped into our hearts
who asked for this unwanted fraternity
lasting for eternity

Verse 3

Her jacket torn and gashed askew
down feathers fill the evening sky
her heart that lost its beat
her bro that’s lost his feet
her guitar left deathly quiet

Verse 4

There’s little left inside this shell
please god I’ll bare my chest with glee
slash me deep to spare her tears
Crush my face in gravelled snow
I’ll forgo life’s wine and years

Bridge

Our morning seems to never come
Snow angels turn your heads in shame… while…

CHORUS

Headlines rage
screen lines scathe
tears scorching scars
ripped into our hearts
who asked for this unwanted fraternity
lasting for eternity

… and the past is our only gift left to unwrap.

tessa guitar

majors family

Our Inner Psychopath

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Heath Ledger- Joker.jpg

She felt the warm, wet mascara running down her cheeks.

Wondering to herself why she ever slipped into this narrow black alley at 1:30 in the morning… wondering why she left her friends at the curb as they climbed into a UBER outside the club … wondering how much alcohol she had consumed, how much weed smoked … wondering what gave her the courage, the stupidity, in a blinding snowstorm … to seek out …. eek…. it doesn’t matter what she’s looking for when a heavy quilt-shadow silently creeps up behind her…

Cue the blood spatters and curdled screams… zoom in closely on dark rivers of viscous inky fluid slowly spreading in cloudy storm patterns through the slushy snow on the ground.

And … CUT!

How many people will die on your TV screen tonight? At the local Cineplex?

How much blood and guts will be splashed via XBox or PlayStation by 10 year-olds on a basement couch?

We’re mostly wonderful people and yet, in the books we read, the movies and TV we watch, many feel the strange urge, the inner fascination that draws us with magnetic attraction towards death … frequent, violent, often gruesome.

We know that murder is bad. BAD BAD BAD!!

Irrevocably awful, terrifying and so hard to understand. We know not to do it and we know we’re meant to be really scared of it. Most of us see death as a complicated concept to try and come to terms with at the best of times, but murder?

Is there something wrong that this “entertains” many of us?

It’s the season of love and warm tidings and yet one of the most acclaimed Christmas movies, Die Hard, accumulates a body total of 23 victims by the time the end credits roll. HO HO HO! (maybe one day I’ll actually watch it following It’s A Wonderful Life … Sweet and Sour on the menu)

die hard grinch.jpg

It’s confusing because we all know the same results flashing across our TV screens from a war zone in Afghanistan or a mall shooting in Topeka is usually met with our horror, revulsion, and cries of anguish.

So, are we beasts?…. is it simple Schadenfreude…. an inner need to see others’ suffer so that we feel better about ourselves? A similar tale to why we can nastily gossip about the person who just left the room with whom we just smiled and joked?

Do we have an inner psychopath lingering in the deep recesses?

Is it an addictive need for adrenaline, like riding a rollercoaster?

It can’t be a gender thing because women appear to watch and read murder stories in numbers that equal (some studies suggest exceed) men’s fascination.

We are contradictory people, we humans.

We abhor violence, murder, rape, abuse in all its forms … and yet … here we soak up the crime shows, the murder mysteries, the Fifty Shades of BDSM Abusive Behaviour.

We are mostly able to detach and go along for the wild ride with no apparent ill effect. Not totally of course. I still harbour nightmares about the little red-coated girl from Schindler’s List.

It may just come down to the desire for guilty pleasure… the wondrous high of a sweet cinnamon bun, the juiced sensation of diving from an airplane, the taboo notion of being bound and taken advantage of sexually.

I spend my days in a cycle of bemused wonder at the complexity and contradictions of myself and the souls that surround me.

Each day we live adds another perplexing question to the immense wall that will never be totally built.

Even Alex Trebek doesn’t know the answers to ALL the questions.

Alex trebek.jpg

 

Wig Shopping With Anthony Bourdain

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end of summer

The end of summer as we know it is on the horizon – can you smell the difference in the scent of the air?

… and so … in a pretzely-twisted kind of way it seems appropriate that I’m writing a song these days about another end… death.

More specifically? Suicide.

And now here I am trying to think of a way to drill down into these depths and find some humour to share because I don’t want to be all morose and maudlin. I like to write upbeat posts filled with fun and hope and smiles.

But sometimes upbeat is hidden in a dark closet and unavailable.

My first exposure to suicide was in my teens. Luckily, his wasn’t a successful suicide.

Steve was a young co-worker of mine at the local McDonalds.

He and I weren’t bosom buddies but we did share a common cause.

Steve and I went out wig shopping together… yup, you read that right… wig shopping!

No, neither of us had cancer with chemotherapy that robbed us of our glorious hair. No, neither of us had early onset alopecia.

What we had was… 1970’s teenaged-onset long hair.

Hair.jpg

Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy…. HAIR……..

McDonalds had a firm policy that no male employee would sport tresses that fell across or over the ear.

Steve and I had a firm policy too!

My friend and I wanted the McJob but there was no way in the world we were going to allow some barber to neuter us like treacherous Delilah had done to Samson. Teenage years were difficult enough without nerdifying us into Lawrence Welk sycophantic clones.

So we trod off to a wig store on Hamilton’s “Mountain” and a very nice lady there found us inexpensive short-haired wigs that were our hair colour and … after a few dozen bobby pins and bobbles were applied… ta-dahhhh… everyone was happy. YAY!

But I guess Steve wasn’t happy inside. It wasn’t long after that when my co-worker/friend took an overdose of pills as a cry for help that sent him to hospital.

I had no idea what to do or say … I wasn’t Sweet 16, maybe Stupid 16.

I never saw Steve again.

I hope he got the help he needed and has lived a reasonably happy existence for the many years since. Maybe he’s dead. I don’t know.

My exposure to suicide over the years has been at arms-length. Thankfully.

I’ve worked in labs where on any given typical week, I would see an autopsy form tucked in the Pathologist’s In-Box that outlined the coroner’s story of a likely suicide victim awaiting examination in the downstair’s morgue refrigerator.

These cases – these people – these fellow humans – these suicides – weren’t reported in the newspapers like motor vehicle accidents. Their obituaries gave us no clue.

I know that suicide potential exists all around us.

Every one of us could be in the direct line of a close friend or relative who, unbeknownst to us is on the cliff’s edge. We may not know that until the jump happens.

OK. Back to the song I’m writing.

The recent past has brought a shocking number of celebrity deaths with suicide as the stated cause… Robin Williams. Kate Spade. Avicii. David Foster Wallace. Margot Kidder. Anthony Bourdain. These are the ones we know of and were successful.

celebrity suicide 2

According to the World Health Organization, someone on this planet commits suicide very 40 seconds. In Canada, the reported ones total about 10 per week.

Just as the expression tells us that the rich and famous pull their pants on one leg at a time… so too do they experience the depths of despair and depression. Sadness knows no socio-economic statistic that magically elevates the happiness quotient.

I’m writing an ode to the pain of suicide with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain as my muse.

Why a suicide song?

Maybe it’s because I enjoy cooking.

… or perhaps because the sheer numbers of suicide are penetrating my awareness.

… or maybe my experiences at the soup kitchen have hammered home the potential that exists in so many to write the final page in their book.

Here’s one stanza of my song-in-works (pre-bridge and chorus) :

We didn’t know
It never occurred -we never prepared
another meal might not be shared
How could we guess
Why would we think – who ever thought
the ingredients were a sign of distress.

His Days were numbered
our days are numbered too
sometimes we choose to count them down
at times they’re counted down for you
the smiles cry smokescreen
shadow normalcy through pain
when sun comes shining thru the clouds
yet nothing falls but rain.

………………………….

It’s 6 am as I write these words and the sun is still settled well below the smoke-hazed Okanagan horizon.

Soft muffled sounds of tourist cars laden with tents and coolers and floaties and sleeping children in the back, echoes off in the distance in a mix with cricket chirps.

A moth flits anxiously against my screen window, the early morning flight of the Air Canada Dash 8 rumbles overhead.

Another day. Another start. And I wonder. I ponder.

Will all those who awake in the world with me this morning find a reason to lay their head back on their pillow at the end of this day…

dog countng sheep

Sunshone On My Shoulders

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… something touched me deep inside
the day… the music died… 

Long EZ plane 2

October 14, 1997 – A gorgeous sunny late-afternoon over the ragged coast edge of the Pacific Ocean. The plane went into a steep bank, then in a surreal second, plunged downwards in an abrupt nose-down descent.

Yes, another news report, the kind we encounter from time to time as we go about our normal day.

We listen but our heartbeat doesn’t change rhythm or pace, our eyes don’t cloud up with misty tears. 

At first, rescuers could not identify the pilot’s body because the face was burned beyond recognition, but authorities were later able to identify him by his fingerprints.

But once every year or two, a report of this nature catches our interest more than others. When you get to the list of names below you’ll see what I mean.

John Denver, the singer and songwriter who was the voice of wholesome sincerity and simple country pleasures in the 1970’s, died when the light plane he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay in California.

A Rocky Mountain High battered into a deep-sea low… the day… the music died.

The experimental Long-EZ aircraft was macerated and mangled into the earth and rocks… in a momentary inhale, the metronome lost a tick of its time forever.

The death of those who’ve affected our own world, our outlooks, our philosophies, have greater meaning and impact than those of strangers. It’s natural.

John Denver

This morning I’ve been practicing one of John Denver’s 1970’s hit songs, Sunshine On My Shoulders, on my guitar.

I’ve put this tune with it’s simple melody and simpler yet moving lyrics on my set list to play at an Open Mic tonight.

The distinctive, repetitive hammer-on of the G chord into an Am7 is instantly recognizable and comforting in its lilt. Then, the chorus hook transition from Am7 to Bm to C invokes a deep inner emotional tug, stirring up smiles and tears.

Simple stuff but it reminds me of the power of music.

I’m a sucker for the purity and simplicity of John Denver’s songs.

While playing this song, my (lack of) focus veered and soared away into the clouds with the music.

Maybe it was the distressing thought of young hockey players tragically perishing in a bus crash this week.

Maybe it was the heartbreak of lost potential, the devastation of what could have been. Futures denied.

……………….

Whatever the volcanic heat and pressure that rose upwards, it brought to the surface of my mind the many other musical performers besides Denver who’ve perished in airplane mishaps over the past 50 years or so.

Ricky Nelson

  • Glenn Miller
  • Buddy Holly
  • Patsy Cline
  • Jim Croce
  • Otis Redding
  • Jim Reeves
  • Ricky Nelson
  • Stan Rogers
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd

The death of musical icons (I was crushed when Harry Chapin died in a car crash in 1981) is often like losing a close family member or a treasured pet.

A fragrant puff of smoke rises in a gypsy dance then dissipates in the breeze. Gone.

Maybe you were deeply affected by the death of Elvis or Whitney or Kurt or Michael (I don’t even need to list their last names, you know who I’m referring to).

We live the trajectory of our lives to our very own very personal soundtrack.

The writers and musicians who gift us this soundtrack meld with our soul, helping to explain us to ourselves and others.

Don’t you think every funeral or Celebration of Life should be accompanied… not just by the photos that show us what the lost beloved looked like as they grew and aged from childhood to (hopefully) old age, but…

… also the musical sounds that communicate and define that flesh and blood human in ways truly deeper than their physical appearance.

  • A devout Christian should have Amazing Grace and Rock of Ages resounding.
  • An ardent Naturalist should have bird songs and ephemeral new-age music.
  • A Spiritualist should have yoga chanting and sitar strings sending them off.
  • A deeply-felt Feminist should have the sounds of Joni Mitchell and Lady Gaga and Pussy Riot and The Dixie Chicks.

Paul, a good friend of mine in Hamilton, will need to have a week-long Celebration of Life to begin to capture his love of the musician community. It is an entity unto itself, the way we worship the superhuman skill set of a Wayne Gretzky or a Lindsay Vonn or a Michael Jordan. He was handcuffed to music, all music, all genres, at birth and the keys were tossed away.

Of course when Don McLean opined about the airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly (and Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper) and the day the music died… he was feeling that deep sadness that envelopes us when a treasured limb is cut off. The feeling of loss is cavernous and raw and slow to dissipate.

Snap to it now.

All this talk of premature dying has me down in the dumps (yeah, it’s grey and cloudy outside too!).

I’m going to pick up my guitar and raise myself from the depths with a couple of verses of Rocky Mountain High. I want to feel and hear the eagles soar…

John Denver and so many of his harmonious brethren have flown and are gone, but they’ve left us with lots of tunes to help us arise and feel the joy of Sunshine On My Shoulders.

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost all the time makes me high

John Denver with muppets.png

 

 

 

Stuck In The Middle With You…

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snowy pumpkin.jpg

I’m trying to laugh.

There’s snow and ice on the ground suddenly, just 3 days post Hallowe’en … and the ghouls of early November have laid havoc and challenge across the streets and life paths.

Cosmic jokes.

This morning, I studied a homeless woman crossing at a corner in downtown Penticton, doggedly pushing a shopping cart filled to the gunnels with who knows what.

Like a heavy lawnmower in thick grass, it was a difficult push for the poor lady dressed in an old Salvation Army coat, scarf and gloves. The small wheels on the cart were chattering like frigid teeth over crusted ice.

In a surreal juxtaposition, pea green leaves still clung to the large maple tree overhanging the street.

She may have been young, maybe older. With her head bowed, and layered up against the chill as if attired in a niqab, who knows?

Do I know this woman? – maybe she’s visited the soup kitchen on one of my volunteer days – but with her face totally covered, it’s impossible to say.

I try to envision how she finds respite and comfort somewhere in the gloomy rawness of the grey cloudy day ahead but I’m drawing blanks.

I’m trying to find some humour in her situation.

Isn’t there humour somewhere… somehow… to be found in every situation?

If she dressed like that in mid-summer, I could have a belly laugh at her comfortable eccentricity. Or… if she had a Canada Goose perched on top of her cart watching out as her navigator I could laugh.

Humor-Quote.png

Bill, a man I’ve worked for, and with, for close to 30 years died suddenly this week.

He was a man who could find humour.

He’s dead and I hurt.

I hurt like when I see a wounded animal in agony. It makes my gut knot up and cry out. I hope he felt that his life was worthy… that he had done the best he could.

A rapid, candle-snuffing heart attack stung like an angry wasp as he hung Christmas decorations at home.

The irony (but not humour) I suppose is that he spent his career skillfully slicing into thousands of cold corpses, detecting and probing for clots and other sources of cursed invaders that initiate a final breath.

The thief that stole his last breath was a tenacious clot similar to innumerable ones he’d seen over the decades.

Bill and I weren’t fast, bosom buddies, but we were friends.

When together, we talked easily about our kids’ exploits, our travels, and frustrations with medical bureaucracy.

We laughed a lot and enjoyed each other’s company. Bill’s amiable smile unearthed nuggets of humour in most situations even when he was acting his curmudgeonly best.

Bill was like raconteur Stuart McLean in real life. Bill gifted me smiles.

I’ve attempted to locate some humour in his situation.

But Bill is gone from this world.

Bill is gone from his family’s world.

Bill is gone from my world.

Bill is a ghost now in the minds of those that cared.

So where’s the humour?

If he’d had a heart attack and survived, I could have sighed in relief, then found some laughs in the dietary and lifestyle changes that might have magically transformed this big teddy bear curmudgeon into a vegetarian fitness guru.

I can burst out in laughter at the mere thought of seeing Bill dressed in tight yoga wear.

yoga man

The shopping cart lady and Bill remind me of the “polar opposites” in life.

I don’t like this life deal where some of us live in warm, luxurious comfort while others exist in stiff and frosty discomfort.

I don’t like this life deal where the delight and joy of new birth is mirrored by the shock and pain of unanticipated death.

None of us has the choice of where we begin or…  where we end.

Life is about opposites.

Life is warm and cold.

Life is joyous and tragic.

Life is hello and goodbye.

Or perhaps as Susan Sontag said, “Life is a movie; death is a photograph.

Life is…

… a movie with your beginning, your middle, then your end.

The middle? The sweet middle is all about understanding and choice.

Let’s face it, your beginning is sheer luck and random chance.

Two unrelated amorous people make a carnal choice to build a person that is you. You don’t get a vote! Nope, none…

But there’s a nugget of beauty in this story.

The diamond gem is that you and I have the opportunity to write our own middle, and how the middle shapes the ending.

The “note to self” in the street lady pushing her cart and in Bill’s departure is the reminder to constantly remember that we make the middle, the funny and messy middle, we make the proactive choices every day that shape our world, for better and worse.

Every person’s “middle” is different, but a satisfying ending is written in that middle.

Little by little, I’m still learning. Little by little I’m still growing.

Little by little I’m paying attention and keeping my eyes and ears attuned to the small stuff that all adds up to the the BIG stuff that is life.

I’m trying to laugh today, but honestly, there are small tears tickling the corner of my mouth.

inside out.jpg

How To Go Out At The Top While Growing A Pair …

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HAPPY SAD

I’m struggling to write this blog post this week.

Happy Sad Knees

 

You know that game we play with infants? Yeah, the one where we pull an open hand across our face – we start with a big smile and then … as our hand slowly passes over our face the smile turns magically into a sad sad frown.

That is the week that was.

Normally each week, I unearth a blog topic that intrigues me and the words begin flowing slowly and then the current of the river picks up in pace and rhythm. The muse kicks in and it just happens.

For me, this is a jumbled week of emotions, both positive and negative. It’s all about departures.

There are doors and windows flinging open and slamming shut for me in the windy maelstrom that is life.

As I write, someone close to me is edging silently, unstoppingly, towards the exit door of life. Cancer is having its way and it’s not pretty.

Do you have one of those people in your life that you can’t believe will ever die?

They’ve always seemed invincible, and like a 250 year-old majestic cedar in the rainforest, there is no wind or lightning storm that can cause them to topple.

Until they do, suddenly, tragically, mysteriously.

All that’s left after the fall is an ugly hole and a ragged scar in the earth until the ache slowly subsides and healing begins to take hold – eventually all returns to a new normal, a normal that never quite feels like the old normal.

Cut Cedar Stump

In the same week as this happens, my long – yes, 25 crazy years long – “planned retirement” has taken place. My co-workers happily razz me as I’ve threatened to retire since I was 30 years old.

Anyway, after 37 years as a medical lab technologist, I’ve chosen to push the employment door open and leap into the thin air … thin because there’s no longer a bi-weekly parachuting paycheque providing a security cloud to reassuredly float upon. Thin too, because it’s a major upheaval to the world I’ve always known.

I said in an earlier post that the only thing we have to do is die.

All we have to do is … die.

Everything else is optional, a choice, a decision that makes us think about where we want to be and where we want to go.

It sounds simple on the surface and utterly rational, but making choices is really one of life’s more difficult assignments.

I don’t want to expire in my office chair … either literally or figuratively. I’m not the drag-him-out-by-his-boots kind of guy.

Workwise, I’ve been expiring little-by-little as the IT role I fill loses the challenges it once held. A few years ago I woke up each morning with enthusiastic thoughts about the problems I would conquer and the great feelings associated with overcoming the blockages.

But the demanding obstructions grew fewer as I began to master the part (I guess I was approaching 10,000 hours of practice!). I slowly began to give off those fouls smells of stagnation – I still enjoyed going to the office, but now mainly for the social outlet of the wonderful people I worked with.

You and I have been conditioned from our earliest infant breaths to go to elementary school, high school, college/university, get a job, marry and settle down, have kids, grandkids, then … lie down on the sofa watching the 10 o’clock news and sucking in our last inhalation … The Story of A Life.

But it’s just one story and just one path.

Make it your story and not the one handed to you like it was the only card in the deck. I’m pulling another card from the deck. You’ll be hearing more about this in my blog posts as I stumble along.

YellowBrickRoadFork

There are forks in the road, and the right decision is taking the fork that you want and not the want being pressed on you by those around you. This is harder than it looks and it’s subtle.

What does your heart say?

What does your stomach tell you?

If you wake up and don’t remember the last time you felt like skipping to work on Monday morning, then listen very carefully because the signs are whispering in your ear.

Sure, the fear is there too. But inside of your fear is a message. It’s a cry for change.

Hear the cry. Feel the tears.

Find a creative way to take a step beyond –  where you reach forward, as if stretching precariously out over the Grand Canyon and suck in the rarified air that so few have sampled.

If and when you accept the fear and move forward anyway despite the risks, you have the best junkie high ever.

skydiving

I’m starting my new life this coming week as I absorb the painful passing of someone I love.

The only thing I have to do is die.

And when the day comes that I’m lying in my deathbed, I want to know that I loved and feared and lived.

The emotions – the good, the bad, and the ugly – have all been accepted and embraced. I’m growing a pair.

For better. For worse…

… ’til death I depart.

 

 

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