A Life Well-Lived, in Perspective

Recently, we faced the reality of the tenuous and temporary nature of life. Ralph, our daughter’s fifteen-year-old Yorkie, began acting strange. Shaking and lethargic, we faced the real possibility that his time was drawing to an end and a decision would need be made.

As we all gathered around, each taking turns holding him and trying to hold back tears, the memories of his life with us came pouring out. He’s been part of our life since my daughter was in high school, soon she is to be a mother. Ralph is part of the very texture of our life. No one wanted to let him go, but we also knew no one wanted him to live his last moments in agony. Strange how we see the kindness and necessity of this with dogs but not people.

While he didn’t seem to be in pain, it was obvious he couldn’t walk well and began to shiver despite the blankets wrapped around him. We decided to see how the night went and reassess things in the morning.

It was not a restful night as more and more memories swirled up out of the past and played in my mind.

I am an early riser, as is my daughter. By 6:30 or so I could no longer wait so I sent a message. What I heard back was what I had dreaded all night, Ralphie was no better and they were taking him to the hospital. This was the same hospital where my daughter and son-in-law had taken Max when he suffered an unexpected medical emergency.

Max never came home.

When Max, Ralph’s companion Yorkie with whom he shared a love/hate relationship depending on the mood of the day, died,  I wrote how his death impacted us. https://joebroadmeadowblog.com/2018/01/07/just-a-dog/

When I read my daughter’s message, I asked them to stop by before they went to the hospital for one last goodbye. But they had already left and she didn’t see the message.  So I woke my wife and we waited in silence for them to let us know what was happening.

Then, we got the call, and the emotions engulfed me.

Turned out it was a muscle bruise that was the cause of his problem and with the help of some IV meds and a prescription for anti-inflammatories, he’d be fine. HIs days of two mile walks were over, but his days were not.

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Mark Twain, in a letter to the editor after a newspaper inadvertently published his obituary

Now I know someday the result of that call will be different, but that is not today. Yet it also occurred to me that now is the time to write about what dogs like Ralph mean to us. How they become family members in full standing and with all the rights and privileges thereof. Talk of these things now while they are still among us.

In Max’s case, we were away and never got to say goodbye but I now know it doesn’t matter because of all the times I got to say hello to him and Ralph as they romped through our lives. Those are the moments that matter and those are the moments we need embrace.

Hellos always outshine goodbyes.

Statistically speaking, Ralph may not have 10 years left but then again neither may I.  When it appeared his time had come, the feeling of sadness was overwhelming.  It occurred to me I liked him better than most people.

A lot better.

Now I have a different perspective on the course of life with dogs.

When the time comes, there will be no reason to say goodbye because I will have embraced every one of these remaining moments of hello. That’s the thing about dogs, every day they are with you are good days except the last one.

You can’t say that about people.

When a dog like Ralph or Max pass on, it is always sad. When some people do the same, it is a relief. It’s why dogs are so endearing to us and why I will make sure I enjoy each of those remaining moments with Ralph and all the others I hold dear.

This could never happen with a cat.

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Leaves That Are Green

This time of the year, when even on a warm sunny day the first hint of winter chill swirls in the air, the leaves draw our attention with their kaleidoscope of colors.

I find it amusing how we notice leaves at just two moments in their life cycle; when they first emerge as a harbinger of Spring and when they twirl in the windy eddies of the Fall. Their yellows and reds and multi-colored spectrum are a message from nature, if we’ve a mind to listen.

We are all like leaves, with our own shapes, sizes, and colors. An oak tree in New England may differ slightly from an oak tree in southern California, but it is still an oak and still a tree. Often we focus on the differences rather than that which makes us all human.

Colors of Life

One might use leaves as a simile for what it is to be human. Through the unveiling of hidden colors in Fall, nature reveals the infinite variety of hues of humanity that are contained in all of us.

And so it is with people. We see the only differences and forget the commonality of humanity. This symmetry of leaves, and the symmetry within all humans, is not the fearful one of Blake’s The Tyger.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

The Tyger, William Blake

Yet, it is from the same hand of nature, wondrous and magical, that paints with an imagination far beyond that of us mere mortals. Though we are surrounded by leaves all summer, except for the brief moment at the dawn of Spring, we hardly take notice.

Then, as if to draw our attention to the fragility of life and to remind us of the infinite variety within it, the leaves change. The colors emerge, they bring a moment of wonder to our eyes, the colors burst forth, then, as Paul Simon wrote,

…And the leaves that are green turn to brown
And they whither with the wind
And they crumble in your hand

Leaves That Are Green, by Paul Simon

Those swirling leaves that we often curse as we rake them, scrape them from our shoes, and sweep them from our floors are trying to tell us something. Life is not permanent; within every plain green leaf—and within every human being—lies the infinite colors of life if we take a moment to look for it before it is too late.

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JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at info@jebwizardpublishing.com or 401-533-3988.

Signup here for our mailing list for information on all upcoming releases, book signings, and media appearances.

Fate, Chance, and Choices

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird by John Lennon & Paul McCartney

(Some thoughts on life and nature. Brought to you by the sacrifice of others we remember this Memorial Day)

A tiny baby blackbird, apparently fallen from its nest, drew my attention the other day. One of the adult birds, male or female I could not tell but I assumed it was the mother, attended to the little guy on the ground. I couldn’t tell if it was a scolding or an encouragement to stay brave, so I continued to watch.

Nature and Life

The adult flew off, leaving the little guy hopping and fluttering on the ground, unable to fly and pleading for its mother to return.

Often the drama of nature is right before our eyes. It is not where you look but when. I just happened to look at the moment this drama unfolded.

My first instinct was to do something. Return it to the nest, care for it until it could fly. My wife and daughter often tease me about my need to help. They say I am a boy scout. In many ways, they are correct. Something inside me compels me to do something, even when I am uncertain of what to do.

Like the case of a bird fallen from a nest and the reality of nature.

I struggled with the choice but decided I should let fate and nature take its course. The stark reality of life, and its ultimate logic, is if you can’t fend for yourself, you perish. Nature is not cruel, it is not heartless; it is agnostic to survival.

Some live, some die.

But I was still troubled by not doing anything to help a fellow living creature.

Perhaps it is not that nature is indifferent about life, about who or what lives or dies. Perhaps nature knows life is a continuity of existence that goes on forever. Whether we have self-determination—free will—to live our lives or whether it is all pre-destination, in the end, doesn’t really matter. Life preceded us, and life will continue after us.

As it would for this little guy.

In this case, the boy scout won out, and I captured the little guy, returning him to his nest. For the rest of the day, the two adults took turns calling to the little one who answered back but clung firmly to a branch just outside the nest.

If he chose not to fly, or could not, he would perish, and other living creatures would feed off his body. If he flew off, he might live a long life. I will probably never know if my interceding extended his life for just a moment or if he is now enjoying the freedom of flight.

If someday hence, I come out to find evidence of a bird’s excretions on my windshield, I’ll take it as a sign that while his life may or may not have continued, life does.

I hope the little guy gets to leave his mark on many windshields and flies long and far under a warm summer sky.

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Reaching the End and Realizing What Really Matters….

Katahdin
Mt. Kathadin…the end of the trail

This will be the last of the re-postings of old pieces. I am compelled to speak out about things and will resume doing so on Monday April 6th. But for now, I hope you stay healthy and happy and safe and I hope this makes you think about what is really important in life.

September 3, 2014

All along the trail, from Georgia to Maine, I have thought about what I would write after climbing Mt. Katahdin.

How would I explain the trail?

I tried to find words that would capture the trail’s effect on those that hike it.

I wanted you all to feel it.

I don’t have the words.

No one does.

Some things cannot be explained, they must be experienced.

I do have this to share.

In walking the 2185 miles, I’ve had time to think.

Quite a bit, frankly.

It’s given me time to realize I’ve wasted many of the precious moments of my life, pursuing things that didn’t matter, at the expense of things that do.

It’s made me resolve to focus on the important things.

The people in my life.

Family.

Friends.

We spend much of our lives on trivial inconsequentialities.

Pursuing things that no one will remember after we die.

And since we all will die, it’s important to embrace those fleeting moments while you have them.

There’s a Vietnamese expression, “Bui Doi”. Miss Saigon fans will recall it. This translates roughly as “homeless” or “the dust of life”

I think it applies to many of the things we waste time on.

We fill our lives with meaningless technology that segregates, rather than connects.

We stare at our cell phones and iPads.

We text, email, and Tweet.

All at the expense of the truly important things.

Human contact with family and friends.

Or, as I learned many times on the trail, the chance to meet the many good people on this planet.

Walking the trail gave me the opportunity to review my life.

I am a lucky man.

I haven’t always shown, to those people most responsible, that I appreciated my good fortune.

I’ve come to realize the most important moments in my life were never about career achievements, money, or possessions.

They were about friends I’ve known for most of my life and new ones along the way.

It was about meeting my wife Susan, and somehow convincing her to marry me.

It was about seeing my daughter Kelsey open her eyes and smile, moments after she was born.

It was the privilege of watching that brand new life, whose first action on this planet was to bring tears of joy to my eyes just by opening hers, grow into the remarkable young woman she is today.

Those are the things that truly matter.

Thank you, Susie and Kelsey, I am a most fortunate man for having you
In my life. I should have told you more often.

If I can give you anything in return for your taking time to follow along on this journey, it would be that you take a moment to embrace the people in your life.

Tell them you love them.

Tell them you care.

Tell them.

The day will come when that will no longer be possible. Don’t wait.

For that is what truly matters.

Use the time you have to enjoy those precious gifts of family and friends.

Not to be overly dramatic, but there are sections of the trail where one slip, one bad decision, and you end up a news blip of a tragic death.

Those are the moments you see how fragile life really is.

No one knows how much time we have.

Spend your time wisely.

I am determined, from this moment on, to do just that.

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu

DONE!

Reaching for the Stars with Old Technology

Here’s the random thought for the day.

In 1977, NASA launched two (then) state-of-the-art spacecraft called Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. After a grand tour of the outer planets, both spacecraft became the first man-made objects to leave the solar system.

Voyager 1 is currently 13,700,972,396 miles from the earth (which was accurate when I wrote this) but the probe is accelerating and adding approximately twenty-five miles per second to that total. Voyager 2 is a bit further behind.

Just as an aside, twenty-five miles per second sounds fast, but to put inter-stellar travel in perspective, light travels at 186,000 (give or take a few) miles per second. Voyager has been traveling for 42 years. If we fired a beam of light at it, the light would overtake the craft in twenty hours. We’ve a bit to go before we “reach for the stars.”

But I digress as I am wont to do.

Attached aboard each craft are these objects with items selected by Carl Sagan and a committee of scientists, philosophers, political figures, and others.

Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind, thunder and animals (including the songs of birds and whales). To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, spoken greetings in 55 ancient and modern languages, other human sounds, like footsteps and laughter (Sagan’s) and printed messages from U.S. president Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. The record also includes the inspirational message Per aspera ad astra (“through hardship to the stars”) in Morse code.

It occurred to me that a majority of people on Earth right now might not instantly recognize what these objects are, or how significant a part they played in our culture.

In just a few more years, these items might be considered evidence of alien technology. Alien in the sense that they came from a time long ago and fading away…

We’ve sent something out into space that no longer enjoys the widespread use it once did.

I can imagine, on a planet far, far way, an advanced life form examining the object and concluding that whoever sent it must be a technologically inferior species. Yet they would find a way to extract the information and copy it to their Beta tapes for distribution in their world.

Arthur C. Clark once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But what is also true, is that any sufficiently advanced technology will soon be replaced by better magic.

Passages

William Shakespeare said life is an “uncertain voyage,” and, as I add more days to my past, it seems the uncertainty grows.

Except for one thing.

timeThroughout this uncertain voyage, we share experiences. Often, we experience the most meaningful ones with good friends. It is in this friendship that life’s uncertainties can be managed and endured.

I have been most fortunate to have a group of friends I have remained close to since we first met in the 8th grade almost fifty years ago. The warranty on most things doesn’t last that long, yet we have.

Ralph Ezovski, Tony Afonso, Cam Nixon, Clyde Haworth, and I have almost five decades of being friends. During those many years, we’ve experienced the many stages of life.

High school with all it’s cusp-of-adulthood explorations of the trappings of life; girlfriends, surreptitious beers, parties, driver’s licenses, and graduation, followed by college and jobs and marriage and children and all the highs and lows of being human.

The one consistency of life is change. Nothing, no matter how permanent it may seem, remains the same.

The passing of one’s parents is one of those shared elements. For some, that experience came way too early. For others, it was spaced over the course of our friendship. Yet these shared experiences, whenever they occur, are the threads that hold the fabric of our lives together and bind us to each other.

One of the other realities of life is that parents of friends influence our lives even when we don’t realize it. How they raise their children, the expectations they set and the character they mold, affects us all. It is one of my great fortunes to have friends raised by kind, intelligent and most of all caring parents.

Firm when necessary, gentle when possible, and caring about us all.

One parent, Clyde’s father, recently passed away. He enjoyed a long and plentiful life enriched by his family and friends. His manner and example having an untold influence on this group of friends.

For that, we are all the better for it,

It is at these moments we reflect on such things. While no one can alter the passages of life, we can take time to appreciate how fortunate we are to experience them.

Friends are not something one collects or counts. Good friends make this uncertain voyage worth the journey.

Why Do All These Old People Know the Lyrics to My Favorite Songs?

The other day, while shopping for a few items at a local grocery store, the ambient music playing in the background was Pinball Wizard by The Who.

An ancient looking guy walked by, playing air guitar and singing EVERY SINGLE WORD to the song. At first, I was impressed with this older generation’s appreciation of the peak of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era.

Then I started to wonder.

But my mind drifted back to my original purpose and the thoughts receded… for the moment.

The music in this store seems controlled by whatever manager is in charge. One has a distinct preference for country music, another loves jazz, and one loves classic rock.

HendrixAs the final notes of Wizard faded, the distinctive Jimi Hendrix guitar from Purple Haze took over.  Within minutes a woman who looked to be older than dirt came by mouthing the words.

What is this sorcery?

How can all these old people know the songs of my youth so intimately?

It’s one thing to dance to the rhythm of the music, it’s an entirely different matter, one shocking to the soul, that they KNEW the words.

I decided that it must have been the older generation’s surrender to reason. Where once they didn’t appreciate the music, they have now resigned themselves to embracing it in their dotage.

That’s the explanation I’m going with. Nothing else makes sense.

Hey Joe, where you going with the gun in your hand?

 

Blizzards, Mating Dances, and Hints of Spring

Winter, like an aging boxer with vestiges of a once mighty punch, is poised to deliver a late season Nor’easter. But, if you look for them, the signs of warmer days are here.

cd61977dbf99d4efc635fc6fd4cf8796Green shoots of genetically conditioned hardy plants push their way through the defrosting soil. Male ducks, ordinarily solitary creatures even when in groups, protect and defend a female, engaging in head bobbing dances of potency and the promise of viable offspring.

The successful ones will mate, and a new generation will soon add to the population, replacing those who didn’t survive the winter.

Ducks are not the only ones engaged in the pairing ritual; cardinals, geese, sparrows, robins, jays, hawks, and scores of others join the fray. Some dance, some challenge, some battle, some strut, some brighten their colors, some sing.

All share the same goal, continuity of the species.

Old snowfall, hidden in the shadows of trees, still evading the sun climbing in the northern sky, will join the latest snow and cover the ground. But the die is cast, the sun’s rays more intense, the warm change is in the air. No matter the intensity of the storm, this soon will fade. The melting snow will feed the groundwater, nourishing the new growth, and the colors of spring will erase the grey of winter.

Two nesting squirrels, quick in their gathering of leaves and branches, hurry up and down a tree. Focused and intent on rebuilding the nest that survived the long, cold, howling winds of the winter better than the tree that held it. The tree, broken and shattered by the same winds that could not dislodge the nest, lies on the ground. Tilted upside down, but still sturdy in the branches, the nest sits as if mocking the weakness of the oak, daring it to stand again.

The squirrels’ frenzied scurrying to fulfill the evolutionary imperative of procreation more evidence of the fading of winter and the arrival of spring.

Near where I live, remnants of the Blackstone Canal parallel the river bearing the same name. It was once the main channel of commerce in centuries past. Each day, as the first hints of spring appeared, I’ve watched it shed the ice coating in anticipation of emerging hatches of bugs, feeding fish, and shy, quick to dive, turtles.

These last storms are but a temporary delay to the reemergence of hundreds of species.

Soon, the waters will warm and the turtles; Woodland box, Eastern Painted, and Common Snapping species will emerge from the mud to lay their eggs along the bank.  All summer, the warm sun will comfort the eggs until they hatch. At least the ones not found by the raccoons or fox.

The turtles will hatch, more will fall to the predators, and the survivors will make their way into the river. The ducks, geese, and other birds will hatch their eggs, adding to the parade of new life, and the cycle is complete.

The last days of winter are the best time to see the promise of spring. Like Dorothy’s first view of Munchkinland on opening the door from her gray, tornado rattled home, the contrast of colors will shock and amaze us. (This might need some explanation to many of the post-broadcast TV generation but I love that movie.)

The cycle of life that is our driving force on this planet shows its impressive power with just the simplest of gestures. One green shoot inching its way skyward bends not in fear of winter but rises despite it.

When You Say It: Unexpected Reactions to a Shared Human Element

Age has always been a minor, albeit varying, factor in my life. As children, we all go through those stages where we want to be older. Rushing what we perceive as our unlimited time. As we get older, some try to resist. But most of us eventually reach a truce with reality and just accept time’s passage.

FatherTimeA recent conversation, for whatever reason, stunned me. While speaking with someone interested in telling his life story (a complicated one involving bank robberies and prison time), He asked how old I was, wanting to see if I had any point of reference to the Watergate incident and a man named G. Gordon Liddy.

I told him I was in high school and had watched the Watergate hearings. I prefaced this by saying, I’ll be sixty-two this year.

As the words came out, it caught me by surprise. I could not put my finger on why my age stunned me. Hanging up the phone after arranging a meeting, the memories of those sixty-two years rocketed through my brain.

So, I do what I always do when something strikes me as odd, or funny, or troubling. I write about it. It is a habit I’ve developed over, incredibly, sixty-two years.

I have a misty memory of the first grade where I was sent down the long, intimidating hall to bring a book to the eighth-grade classroom. In my mind, the eighth graders were ancient ogres. I had to navigate around them like giant redwoods. They were the scary “big” kids. Old and dangerous.

Now, I’m shocked when I see graduate students from Brown University driving cars. They look so young. My grandfather used to say, when cops and priests start looking young, you’re old. He had that one right.

When I was seventeen, a group of friends and I would stake a claim to one of the many dunes of Horseneck Beach. We had our stash of fake-id acquired cold beer and plans of conquering bikini-clad young women.  At least the part of the beer being cold was true. Our tales of sexual conquest pure fantasy that improves with age as it drifts further from the truth.

On one expedition I recall a conversation, between our fruitless attempts at charming any girls, about how we would be forty-four years old in the year 2000. Both elements seemed unreal and unreachable. Here I am in the year 2018. Both 44 and 2000 are distant memories.

My daughter, her birth another life-altering event when she arrived in 1988, will soon reach one those milestones in life. I won’t say she’ll turn thirty this year, but you do the math. To some, such things are traumatic. I never found them so. How she’ll react is as personal to her as it is to everyone. Age and the progression of time is the one equal opportunity aspect of this shared life.

Age discriminates against no one. Time gives itself with little regard for anything.

I suppose it may be the reality of understanding the unknowable allocation of the time we each have left, and that we are all ticketed for the same departure event, which caused this simple conversation to shock my consciousness.

Time continues its unalterable passage. The summers of our youth will take on almost mythological alterations of reality. By holding onto these memories, we may embrace the summers of our future with greater appreciation.

We can strive to enjoy every day for within each moment is the potential to create a memory.

Age is a state of mind. But it is not what defines, hobbles, or imprisons us unless we let it.

 

Baseball Traditions amid Changing Times

America’s pastime baseball may be changing, but every March it serves as a harbinger of Spring, the smell of freshly mown lawns, and crowds of fans watching men living the dreams of little boys.

I’m not a sports fanatic. I can’t quote chapter and verse of statistics. I can’t wax poetic on baseball strategy. Truth be told, I would be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of players on my favorite team, The New York Yankees. For me, it is the occasional game at a ballpark, checking the scores periodically, often losing interest once the Yankees don’t make the playoffs.

But I still enjoy the game, even if I’m not glued to Sports Center or the Baseball Channel.

Like many things in life, my being a fan of the Yankees is a legacy passed on from my grandfather to my father to me. And like my father, I sometimes get more enjoyment out of torturing Red Sox fans than I do from a more traditional appreciation of the game.

The rivalry between these two teams is legendary. Most of the time it is played out on the field, resolved by the final score and end of season standing. Sometimes, it breaks out in bench-clearing brawls which, while immature and silly, remind us it is a game most often played by little boys.

(I know girls play sports. I know that there are likely quite a few woman who could play at the professional level. But that’s a different subject. For now, this a game played by little boys in the bodies of grown men. I also know baseball, like all pro-sports, is a business. Again another subject.)

I admit I miss the once consistent history of the baseball seasons of my youth where I could watch the Yankees in the playoffs and tease my Red Sox fans with the slightly mocking, and not the least bit consoling, “there’s always next year.”

Oh, how things have changed.

The rivalry remains. The gap between World Series won by each team is closing. Well sort of, Yankees have 27 Red Sox have 8. And I know my Red Sox fan friends will point out they have won more this century than the Yankees. True. And it is also true if the Red Sox win 19 World Series in a row, they will tie the Yankees in 2037.

Something to look forward to.

One thing baseball can do is provide a valuable lesson about the realities of life. A good season is when a team plays above .500 ball. Think about that.  If a team wins just a few more games than it loses, it’s successful.

Even more dramatic with a batter. Hit consistently above .300 and you’re a star. Teams are anxious to acquire players who get a hit one out three times at bat. In other words, failure isn’t an indication of poor performance. It is the ability to persevere in the face of failure that is the mark of success.

One of the greatest players of all time, Ted Williams (see I can appreciate Red Sox achievements), had a lifetime batting average of .344. Williams didn’t get a hit more often than he did, and he is the benchmark.

Baseball is proof positive that life’s not fair. We all will fail, often as much as we succeed. The best players understand this. They must ignore failure and learn from their mistakes in pursuit of success.

Baseball is a roadmap to success in life.

In the immortal words of the great New York Yankee Existential Philosopher, Yogi Berra. “It ain’t over, ’til it’s over.”

Just like life.

Go YankeesYankees