Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Finding Myself at Home

I asked Marty, with just a tinge of guilt and remorse, “Do you mind if I go this weekend?”

She looked at me and immediately said, “Not at all.”

“Does it make you mad, does it bother you that I’m not taking you?” I probed, trying to assuage my ever present guilt.

“Yes, but only because I’m not well enough to go.” she replied, letting me off the hook just a bit.

As I drove through central Texas to west Texas that brief innocuous conversation played in my mind repeatedly. Going to my high school reunion has always been a great trip, with Marty. I was going alone, flying solo and I wasn’t too sure how that would feel, I wasn’t too sure if I would be too sad, too melancholy, too lonesome to enjoy my return to my home town.

As the hue of the soil around me began to change from dark brown to red, as the oak trees began to shrink and diminish and the mesquite trees began to take over I got a little antsier, a little bit more anxious. “Yes, but only because I’m not well enough to go”, kept playing in my brain. I already felt a little lonesome; I already felt like I had left my wife behind and alone, I was building to a great pity party for myself.

I’m not a solo kind of guy. Marty and I have been married most of our lives and she was always a great security blanket and name rememberer at social functions. She was an anchor for me keeping my grounded. One of my best buds in school, Skip was going to be there so I designated him my weekend date to avoid the potential feelings of insecurity and loneliness. I didn’t consult him about the whole date thing, but what’s a best friend for anyway?

I discovered a couple of things at this reunion. No massive revelations, but a couple of things became clearer to me and made this past weekend almost an epiphany. I came to understand, by sitting and talking with old friends, where so many of my thoughts, feelings and opinions were born. I remembered, as we relived old days and talked of current days, how we would spend hours talking about life, about people, about God, about nonsense. I remembered how we wanted to reshape our world. I realized in this talking, in this arguing, in this exploring we were really developing our own thoughts and personalities; we were starting to become real people.

It wasn’t what we talked about so many years ago that was important, it was that we talked. It wasn’t what we argued about, it’s that we argued, it wasn’t what we discovered as we explored it’s that we explored. These people, these same people from 40 years ago helped me develop a way of thinking, a way of exploring and the freedom to think outrageous thoughts. This is where the parts of me I most value started.

I also discovered that it’s really hard to feel alone when you are with and around the people who helped shape you who know your foundations. I realized that regardless of the years and time this town, these people, has had a permanent, indelible effect on me. While feelings of loneliness are an inevitable part of all of our lives and certainly more present in mine than ever before; while I did miss Marty, while I often thought of how she would have enjoyed herself, I was with friends and felt a sense of community and common bond I have not felt in years. Personally, I had a great time.  In fact we had such a good time, just like years ago, our hostess with the mostess had to ask us to leave, both nights, it was worth it.

I lived in Colorado City for 12 years, for my first grade to graduation. I haven’t lived in this remote, dusty west Texas town in almost 40 years. I hadn’t been there for any time at all for 20 years. It’s a long way away, a long time ago, it’s in the middle of sage, cactus and mesquite trees and I have very little reason to visit. I lived there only 12 years of my life almost 40 years ago, but somehow this remote outpost of Texas is still my home, I’m from west Texas.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


We sat there together and heard it week after week, Sunday after Sunday.  We heard it from Jimmie our minister and we heard it from other ministers at virtually all of the other churches we have attended.  We heard it and were moved by it as my niece spoke the words at her own ordination.  It is one of the things Marty remembers, it is one of the things that moved Marty then, it is one of the things that still captures her.
Go out in to the world in peace;
have courage;
hold on to what is good;
return no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak, and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The charge fits at the end of the service, the time when you receive instruction to carry your faith from the safety of the sanctuary to the ugliness of the real world.  To Marty it was always one of the most meaningful parts of the service, consequently she can still recite it. 
Marty was certainly not an overly religious woman, in fact she was and still is irreverent, but she was and remains a spiritual person.  She felt a fellowship with the brokenness of the church, she was moved by the forgiveness of the people of the church and the concept of undeserved grace, and she drew hope from the teachings of the church.   She found a home in the Presbyterian Church because, as she said, “Presbyterians are like the Miller Lite of Christianity, all of the religion but a third less guilt.”  Rim shot.
She, I, am often amazed at the sense of connection felt in our church; never more so than when I sat in my sister’s church in a service of ordination for Presbyterian Preacher Kate.  I sat in the sanctuary next to my brother, next to my father, next to my sister watching my niece be ordained.  I sat in the sanctuary and listened as my niece spoke the words of the charge in her new role as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, “Go out into the world in peace.” I sat and listened to the words as Kate read them and in the background, just barely audible I could hear Marty’s hum as Kate continued, “have courage, hold on to what is good.”
I was touched by how the words coming from my niece connected me, my family, and the other people of the church to others who heard those words earlier in the day, “return no evil for evil.”  I was touched and remembered how the words Kate was reading reached Marty, “strengthen the faint hearted,” and I could hear Marty’s hum gently adding to the background of the moment, “support the weak and help the suffering.” 
I turned from where I was sitting, I looked to my right and behind me and saw Marty as the words continued to roll out, “honor all people.”  Marty had looked to where I was sitting and smiled, a smile of recognition, a smile of contentment, a smile of connection, “love and serve the Lord.”  I smiled at Marty, a smile that I hope said I love you and I’m proud of you, as Kate ended the charge, “rejoicing in the power of the holy spirit.” 
Marty continued to look at me and kept humming.  I was touched by the moment.  It was one of those serendipitous events that touch you so deeply you know as you experience the moment it will be etched not only in your mind but in your heart.  It was one of those moments where things were in balance, where the feelings of connection with Marty, with family, with church, with God, with history were in tune and clearly part of our life’s rhythm. 


Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Saint with Rhythm?

I like a rhythm to our life. While Marty was never a rhythm kind of person it suits her now. Some might call it a rut, I call it a rhythm. Having a rhythm to our life, having a time and place for doing things makes it a lot easier to care for Marty. Doing things in order, doing things when they need to be done, doing things how they need to be done makes for a little bit more predictable life for us and predictable ain’t all that bad in the care giving business.

Tuesdays I go to the grocery store, in our town it’s an HEB. It’s a great store, it’s a big superstore where you can get potato salad, zucchini, organic peanut butter or a big screen television if that’s what blows your dress up. The TVs make the place a little cumbersome but they have really good produce. I go to the store on Tuesday mornings because, well, that’s what I do to keep the rhythm in my life and keep our produce fresh.

Tuesday morning the store is populated with older folks and young women with young kids. It’s great sport to weave my basket in and out of the catatonic shoppers and crying infants as I make my way up and down the aisles.

As I was moving down the snack aisle, you know the one, the one with the chips (this is not a good area for a carbaholic) I saw a slight, older woman struggling to load an eight pack of water bottles into her cart. I pulled my cart beside hers, stopped and reached across her cart and took the water from her and asked her where she wanted it. She pointed to the front, I set the water down, she said thanks, and I continued my hunting and gathering feeling good about helping someone.

This little act helped this lady with her chores, this little act helped make my chore of gathering the weekly food supplies a little less mundane, a little more rewarding, until I got to the paper goods section. There are entirely too many paper towel options and when faced with this overabundance of choice, I choose to freeze. This is where I generally mutter under my breath that I wish Marty were here making these choices.

This frustration passed and the good feeling of my saint-like behavior returned, until the crazy lady in the parking lot almost backed over me as I was returning my cart to the cart landing strip. Of course it was her fault, would I ever wander the parking lot of HEB with my head in the clouds? Maybe she wasn’t that crazy, maybe I’m not a saint.

Doing small things for others, the somewhat trite random act of kindness is good for the soul and a proverbial poke in the eye of all of the angst and discord around us. Marty was big on doing little things for almost anyone. She could not pass the random homeless guy standing on the street corner without giving them some money, the whole “least of these” thing kept hammering her. She actually made chicken noodle soup for sick people and I think it might have cured some lame folks down the street.

With all of the bile and vitriol, the hate, the bigotry, people trying to burn books, I still see, on a daily basis, people doing small good deeds for others. I see people hustle to get ahead of Marty in her wheelchair to help with doors, I see people reach down and pick up the towel she dropped as we pass by, I see the man offer to return the shopping cart for the older woman in the parking lot so she doesn’t have to walk in the heat, I see it every day and it makes me almost forget all of the nastiness that seems to pervade so much of our society, it literally makes me feel better.

Marty sees it too. I know she is positively affected by the people who take the time to touch her shoulder and bend over to her eye level. I know she is forever changed by the kind words, thoughts and deeds we see on an almost daily basis.

I suspect we all see these small good things. We just are moving too fast for them to register in our brain; sometimes they just don’t seem to hit all of the right neurons so we remember them. We really need to make it a habit of filing these random acts in our psyche and learn to recount them for other people to feel, hear and maybe, just maybe gain a little hope.

I know I’m not the only saint in HEB, heck I may not even be a saint, just don’t tell my Momma, she still thinks I am.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Would You Have a Stroke?

I wake up most mornings, check on Marty, eat a bit of breakfast and then hit the treadmill. As much as I walk you would think I would be thin as a rail, it’s so sad, not even close, but I continue to walk. As part of the walking ritual I watch DVDs from series television shows I have missed over the years. It’s a great way to watch some pretty good shows like The Wire, Rome, Deadwood, MI-5, X-Files and on and on and on. I’ve walked and watched a lot over the last four years.

Most recently I’ve been watching a show called Six Feet Under. It’s kind of a downer really, in a funny sort of way, normal people living normal lives in a funeral home. On a recent episode one of the characters was looking at their somewhat screwed up life retrospectively and mused that they wouldn’t really change anything, because if you changed one thing it would change everything and they didn’t want to change everything.

It got my head to buzzing just a little so naturally I had to bring Marty in and get her head buzzing with me. I still love to have philosophical discussions with Marty. The conversations are more stilted and I have to lead and guide them and be more patient than is sometimes comfortable for me, but I like talking with Marty a lot.

Marty really mulls over some of my more esoteric questions and she almost always has a thought or an opinion, you simply have to wait for the words to take the long way around from her brain to her mouth; the shortcut that used to plague her and cause spontaneous verbal assaults is no longer open for her, the strokes closed the road.

I’ve never been one of those to say I would change nothing about the way I have lived my life. I’m sorry to say I have regrets, there are things I would do differently, hopefully better. But, the question is, would you make those changes if you knew it would change other parts of your life you really liked, would you then fix the regret? Would you choose to repair some damage you have done if you knew for a fact you would lose things you have gained?

I asked darling Marty, “You know how much you are loved?”

She says, “A lot.”

“You know,” I continued, “It’s the only up-side to the strokes, you have been able to see how much people care for you, right?”


This has always been a big deal for Marty. So often in life she struggled with feeling lovable, feeling loved. She always knew how smart she was, she knew she could be funny and even captivating with her stories, she saw the trappings of her success, she just never felt any real assurance of the clearly delineated self-sacrificing love she now sees and recognizes every day.

Now the real question, I asked Marty, “Is it worth it, is knowing you are loved, valued and cherished so much by your family worth what you have given up? Would you change anything?”

I waited, I watched, I fidgeted. I asked her, “Are you thinking, or do you need me to ask the question again?”

“Thinking,” she says.

I really assumed there would be no question or hesitation on her part. I assumed she would say she would rather have never had the strokes. I assumed she would choose a different path for herself and choose her normal cognition and health over the assurance of love.

She never really answered. She kind of mulled, waffled, answered both ways and gave every indication she wasn’t going to give a straight answer. I know she was conflicted, I know how important her mind was to her and how much she truly misses the ability to communicate smartly and quickly. I also know how much it means to her to see our love for her played out in so many different ways.

I recognized it was time to move away from our postulating and on to our music or a game of Strike a Match. Marty instinctively knows the best way to answer a theoretical question, a question that changes nothing, is sometimes you just don’t answer it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's Really Been 39 Years

In about two weeks I am heading to the hinter lands of west Texas for my high school reunion celebrating 39 years since graduation from dear old Colorado City High. I know 39 years has absolutely no symmetry to it; nothing like 25, 30 or 40 years. I think the oddity of it fits my somewhat out of sync graduating class and people of our particular birth year where everything we did and experienced was just a tick off center.

Marty and I were both born in ’54, dead in the middle of the baby boomer generation. We graduated from different Texas high schools in 1972 and we have always believed our classes were a kind of bridge between eras.

We were too young to be a real part of the upheaval of the 60’s, the civil rights demonstrations, the antiwar protests, Chicago, Watts and Woodstock. On the other hand we were much too close to the 60’s and we wanted to be counter culture enough to eschew the yuppie, disco crowd (thank God). It seems we don’t really have an era, unless it would be the era of being on the cusp.

Musically we bridged the psychedelic era, progressive country and bubble gum. The Beatles had broken up, Waylon and Willie were just being found, the Archies were the leaders of bubble gum and the Bee Gees were just way too, well they were just way too. In 1972 we had “American Pie”, “Nights in White Satin”, “Ben” and “Puppy Love”. No wonder we are all a bit schizophrenic.

Politically we were awash in sea of chaos and confusion. Our older brothers and sisters railed against the war and the draft or railed against those railing against it. In 1973, our first year in college, President Richard M Nixon stopped the draft. We lost that particular freak flag before we could really fly it. In that my lottery number was 24 I was thrilled to lose this marching issue. I’m embarrassed to say I cast my first presidential ballot in a very self-serving manner and helped elect a felon.

In spite of our somewhat confused era, or lack thereof, our classes soldiered on through life. We participated in and were the recipients of great change morally and socially. Women gained, freedom of expression expanded, lives became more chaotic, jobs offered less security and nothing was static.

Our era, that thing that defines you as a special generation, is simply the era of change, an era of radical, amazing, frightening change. Maybe that’s why having reunions every so often instead of 10 years suits my class just fine because we have always been a bit off center. I know I look forward to the every so often years to reconnect with those who have this era in common.

For me this reunion will be different because of Marty. She always enjoyed going to my class reunions. Over the years she become acquainted with many parts of my history and really enjoyed these trips treating them as a type of psychological archeology. A lot of my old class mates know Marty and have enjoyed her quick wit, humor and ability to keep me ever so humble.

Alas, I don’t think she will make this reunion. It would be just too hard for her and for me too. It makes me a little sad and a lot nervous to be facing all of those memories alone. When you have been together as long as we have, being alone, going solo, makes you feel like a part of you is missing, like maybe you aren’t completely dressed or your zipper is constantly down, you just feel a little out-of-sync, a tick off center; sounds about right for a 39 year reunion.