A Magic Moment

Today is Kevin’s 24th Birthday.

One of our little family traditions is that every year on each child’s birthday, they get to pick a restaurant and we go out to dinner.

Since we lost Kev, we pick a restaurant for him and go out as a family.

Tonight we went out to Fire and Ice in Cambridge.  Kev had talked about going there with his friends, I don’t know if he ever made it, but he’d been planning on it.  For those of you who haven’t been, it’s a concept restaurant where you pick food from a “market” along with spices and sauces and then it is cooked on an open flattop.  It was pretty good.  Drew and I seemed to have a knack for it (It’s all in the spice and sauce combo).

There was another “birthday” party in the restaurant and they brought out a cake and candles and sang happy birthday.

Right at that moment I focused in on the music playing and turned to Lisa.

“Do you hear the song?”

Do You Remember by Jay Sean was just starting to play on the loop.

I think Kev appreciated our choice this year.

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Happy Birthday to Me

Age is just a number they say, yet as I grow older I can’t help but look back when the number changes.

I celebrated a birthday last week, one year shy of “The Big One” and I’ve been thinking about my life since then.

I feel OK about who I am.  I’m far from perfect, there is always room for improvement but on balance I don’t think I’m a bad guy.  “Treat everyone the way you want to be treated”, not “get ‘em before they get you”.  I’ve tried to live that way; it makes it easier to be with me.  Maybe from time to time someone takes advantage of that, but at the end of the day I live with me, not them.

I still get sad these days.  In some ways I miss Kev more now than ever.  The despair has morphed into regret, not regret for what wasn’t said or done, but regret for what can never be.  It’s not that searing pain anymore, just a sense of loss that never goes away.  I miss his smile and sense of humor, I miss his company.  I regret his lost potential, not in the “greatness” sense, but in the “goodness” sense.  He might never have been rich or famous, but he would have been well loved wherever he went.

I guess the lesson I’ve learned with time is that’s what is really important.  I’ll leave fame and fortune for others.  I just hope to be well loved.

My father learned this lesson and taught me, I hope I was able to teach Kev in turn.  Maybe last week, wherever they are, they raised a glass, I raise it back.  I’m looking forward to seeing you two again.  The Lynnwood and cold ones are on me.

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This Week in Boston

It’s been a long week.  Like everyone in the Greater Boston Area I’ve been obsessed with the attack on the Boston Marathon and the aftermath.

It was heartbreaking to see the carnage on Monday.  My heart aches especially for those families who lost loved ones.  I truly know how they feel.  I hope they will each find some way to go on.  It will be a struggle, long after the news cameras and the well wishes have gone.

But at the same time I was inspired by the bravery and decency all the professionals and all of the civilians on the scene.  It was humbling; it’s easy to lose faith in humanity when an act of barbarity is committed for whatever reason.  But that one heinous act was more than offset by innumerable acts of decency and bravery.  Inhumanity didn’t win, even in those first moments, those forces can’t win, and I really believe that.

I used to get angry about these things.  I understand the rage, but I don’t feel it anymore.  I feel sad mostly, for the effected families obviously, but also for all of us.  I don’t know the answer to all this but all week I’ve have the same quote rolling around in my head.  “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”  I hope some day we as a species can figure this out.

Seeing the non-stop media coverage from places I’m really familiar with has been surreal.  Copley and Cambridge especially, it’s just too damn close to home I guess.

I glad they caught this kid, I’m glad he’s alive too.  I want to know what makes a seemingly “normal” young man decide to kill and maim innocent people.  Perhaps a lesson can be learned that will make a difference down the road.

Finally, a thumbs up to the people in Watertown who applauded the police officers as they drove off from the scene of the apprehension.  These were people who had just spent close to a full day on the front lines, having their lives thrown into chaos while living with justifiable fear of a violent criminal at large in their midst.  It was a classy move.

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It (not Quite)

I once explained in the depths of the anguish after losing Kev that I would wake up in the morning and, just for a moment, be disappointed that I hadn’t died in my sleep.  I’ve long since overcome that feeling but I thought of it again on Saturday morning, December 22, 2012.

In the weeks leading up to the solstice, that in the minds of many marked the latest potential end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)….(sorry), I had this little fantasy playing out in my mind.

Of course it was based on the idea that maybe the Mayans, or more accurately the dudes who where a little too high one night a few years back and decided that since the Mayans didn’t extended their calendar into a new era this time that the end was nigh, were correct.

I imagined waking up on December 22 and feeling great.  My feet and back didn’t hurt when I rolled out of bed; it wasn’t cold like it should be on the first day of winter.

I would have walked downstairs like I do every weekend morning, before everyone else wakes up.  Kev would have been sitting at the island in the kitchen having a cup of coffee.  OK, I know he didn’t drink coffee, but what the hell else would he be doing sitting in the kitchen alone at 6:30 on a Saturday morning.

I would not have been surprised to find him there; I would have been expecting him.

I would have asked him what he thought of the new kitchen.  We were planning the rehab before we lost him and we incorporated some of his ideas.

“I love it, especially the column” he would have told me with a smile.

I would have been a pleasant conversation.  Not really profound or consequential, but warm and comfortable, like sitting in front of a fire on a cold night.

We wouldn’t really need to talk about what happened, either to him or to me; it would be enough to just be together.  There would be time enough for everything.  I’d know that in a bit, each member of the family would wake up, walk downstairs and smile broadly.  We’d be all together again, instead of 20% missing.

It would have been perfect.

So maybe, just for a fraction of a fraction of a second, I was disappointed again.

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Why do bad things happen?  Why is there evil in the world?

I’ve been thinking about this for the last few weeks, it seems difficult to avoid, as what can only be termed a great evil befell in Newtown CT, yet some of the most transcendent acts of pure human good were performed in the unfolding of that tragedy.  The good was not just contrasted by the evil, it was caused by it.

This turned me to thinking.  How often are the real acts of perfect humanity the result of the greatest tragedy and suffering?  More often than not it seems.  In fact, I’d argue that true and honest displays of human goodness that are not the result of the most profound suffering are so rare as to be statistically insignificant.  They are the real outliers.

So, if we as a species can only be at our best in the worst circumstances it follows that the good needs the evil to happen.  Evil is the catalyst.  At those moments where evil occurs some ethereal chemistry happens and the victims of the pain either rise to the heights or fall to the depths.

The adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School reached high, they tried to protect the children, where that was impossible they comforted, and in the final moments they were just there by the sides of their young charges, guiding them across the vial I suspect, probably still standing with them even now as they adjust to their new surroundings,.

When the Nazi’s weaved their spell over Germany most were deceived, many were seduced, but a select few became fully human.  Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler, many others who never had their stories told, were it not for the evil of the regime it’s doubtful either would have done more than be competent in their trade and loving with their families.  They would surely not have risked their lives for the sake of strangers.

The twin towers, the Haitian Earthquake, hurricanes, famines, these are all causes of mass suffering.  Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech are more focused, and as they all have a single human focal point we use the word evil to describe the motivation. The word is most often used to describe a human condition, but to me the broader definition applies.  The Asian Tsunami was an event of nature, but it was just as surely a great evil.

Often poets, philosophers and preachers will tell us evil is necessary to contrast good.  Just as our eyes cannot sense light unless there is darkness to project it against, our hearts cannot know good unless there is evil to compare it to.  I’m afraid the relationship is much more fundamental.  The good just doesn’t happen without the evil.  Perhaps it’s as simple as it’s not necessary, but it seems to me it’s more profound.  It’s only in the moments where the choices really matter that the real choices can be made.

I don’t like this thought.  It seems a flaw in our wiring that we can only be fully human in moments of pain and suffering.  But I can’t seem to escape the logic.  We can live our lives.  We can work hard, struggle sometimes, coast at others, but we can’t realize our full potential unless we are face to face with pain and suffering.  We can choose to join in the evil, run from it or fight against it.  Each option has consequences, but only one is most clearly right.

I don’t see the need to personify these choices.  There’s nothing wrong with the calculus that “right” = God and “wrong” equals Satan but I don’t feel the need for it.  Right is right and wrong is wrong; it’s usually pretty clear which is which.

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As I watched the events unfold yesterday I saw a lot of familiar faces.  No one I knew, but emotions I recognized, and felt once again.

Sometimes understanding doesn’t really help.

I have a picture of Kev which I posted on Facebook, he’s getting into the car for his first day of kindergarten.  I have similar pictures of Drew and Kata.  I can’t imagine the pain of dropping them at school in the morning at that age and never seeing them alive again.

We had Kev for 21 precious years (well 19 for me).  I know the adult he was turning into.  I had a pretty good sense of the type of person he was going to be.

Losing a child at any age is unimaginably awful, but losing a five or six year old to this kind of random violence is beyond even my ability to imagine.

If anyone reads this who knows any newly bereaved parent I offer what advice I can give to you.  You have no words to make it better.  There is nothing you can do to stop the pain, but that parent needs all the support they can get.  A hug and a hand is the best thing.

It’s not going to be a short term process either.  They won’t be all better after the funeral, or when they finally go back to work, or when they can start appearing in public again.  If they have other children they will be working really hard to be there for the living, but they will still be in pain.  They may look alright, but that’s just the mask.

Be there to help, to hug, someday to talk, don’t avoid the subject of the lost child.  That child will be dominating their thoughts for years.  Pretending they never existed is a deeply painful betrayal.

Don’t forget the birthdays and anniversaries.  When others remember those days it is comforting.

Don’t ever tell a parent who lost a child “s/he is in a better place” even if you really believe it.  Don’t talk about “God’s plan” or “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle” either.  That parent is probably not “handling” it on the inside even if they appear to be on the outside.

Don’t ever, ever ask a bereaved parent when they are going to “get over it”.  The answer is “never”.  You learn to reconcile the painful reality of your new existence in time.  For the rest of this parent’s life “Before” and “After” will have a very specific meaning.

I wish I could undo the past.  Accepting that that’s impossible I wish I had some words or comfort to offer those in pain.  Accepting that that’s also impossible I offer simple condolences.  Inadequate, I suppose, but perhaps on some level a tiny ripple of comfort to someone who needs it.  If I could give you what strength I have I would.

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It’s been a while.

I haven’t posted since the anniversary, almost two months ago.

Writing takes energy and commitment, and I’ve been putting in a lot of effort at the new job.  I’m often pretty tired when I get home, and my brain is usually asking for the night off.  I feel this forum is about more than a quip or an update.  I don’t want to turn it into my substitute FaceBook wall.

For the most part I’ve been in a pretty good place.  Pretty much everything I’ve written has been introspective as I’ve tried to wrestle with one issue or another.  I haven’t felt much need for that lately.  I’ve been excited about work and mostly content at home.

It hasn’t been all lolly-pops and moon beams though.

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I sit in a decent mood and wonder when the next bout of depression will trip me up.

I keep trying to anticipate and somehow avoid the next disaster.

In one of my first posts here I wrote about having my blinders ripped off.  That hasn’t gone away.  I know how awful it can be, and how fragile the framework of our lives is,

My sense of denial, my ability to overlook the dangers of day to day life has been forever removed.

I also have a new perspective on all this.  The little things really roll off now.

I have also come to accept that the challenges we face, big and small, and how we face up to them are really what defines us as human beings.  I always thought of myself as resilient if nothing else, I think the last Twenty-six months has proven that I really am.

Twenty-six months…

It’s amazing to me that the calendar pages can flip by at light speed while a moment can last forever.

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