Thursday, January 31, 2013

From My File Cabinet - 8 Meditation on Death

Meditation on Death, 17 September 1993 (Blog Version)

Meditations on death seem to sneak into my consciousness too often lately.  Perhaps it’s just the end of summer that stirs the uneasy feelings associated with loss of youth and the shouldering of responsibilities, of being a grown-up person whose purpose is, after all, to work and pay taxes and acquire possessions but never really enjoy them and then to eventually die, hopefully without having to be really sick or to suffer.

But I think not.  I seem to think of death when I walk in the woods with Moose, my fourteen year old part Lab who has cancer and drools a thick slimy space-age-looking substance that I’m sure would make me a million if only I could bottle and patent it.  Yet the idea of making money just returns me to my ascetic thoughts.

Knowing that sooner or later I will have to decide to have the dog euthanized gives me some degree of angst.  I can’t help feeling that this is a test.  On the one hand I am a realist and I know that death is a natural thing; on the other I know how losses tear away at my very being.  Thus it is the waiting for precisely the right moment that has me on guard: for this decision must be timed perfectly.  To let go too soon would serve only my desire to get the waiting over with and substitute some of the pain with guilt; too late would be selfish and cruel and insensitive and make me grieve too intensely.

It wouldn’t be of such significance were it not for the fact that I know this is a test. Not to hurry death prematurely with despair, nor to thwart death by holding on too tightly to life.

Death seems so ugly when it is random and untimely.  Yet so often it comes as an end to suffering and is seen, on a purely human level, as a relief.  When my mother was dying it was the waiting that seemed to take its toll on me; in a sense I had been waiting for over thirty years.  It was as if she had died long ago and the only thing that had survived was her disease; as if it was the disease, not Mom, around which our lives revolved.

I left her hospital room one afternoon and drove around aimlessly as if to gather up the phlegm of anger that had settled in my chest over the years.  When I walked into the kitchen back home, I was drawn instantly to the drawer where we kept the silverware.  We always called it silverware even though there wasn’t an ounce of silver in it.  There was one setting of flatware that had a different pattern – the set that only mom used and which was always separated from the rest of the knives and forks and spoons (supposedly to protect the rest of the family from contracting TB).

My anger was powerful and overpowering; I was suddenly intent on mangling and destroying what I instantly became aware of as the symbol of my mother’s disease.  I twisted and bent the offensive utensils and expelled them from the house and into the trash.  The private drama was my declaration that the disease no longer had power over this place, or this family.  The release and relief was intense.

Mom was on a respirator due to her deteriorating ability to breath on her own and was unable to talk because of the breathing tube that forced air into the part of a single lung that she had lived with for nearly twenty years – and thirty-two and a half years longer than the doctors had once given her.

Mom was gesturing, trying to communicate her desire to have the breathing machine removed.  This was not possible, the doctors explained to us and to her – unless she was able to breath on her own long enough to meet the strict protocol for the device to be disconnected.  Mom drew on whatever strength she had left to breath once again on her own – to breathe long enough to meet the required standard.  The doctor ordered removal of the respirator and the breathing tube.

She wanted no further “extraordinary measures” to be taken, and once she was  off the respirator, the doctors were obligated to comply.  She was able to give up her spirit in peace and dignity.  My grief then was quiet and cleansing and, like a gentle rain, tapered off and ended.

It is strange what we recall from all those religious retreats and days of recollection we had to endure as teens and young adults: one Padre in a long cassock reminded us that our lives are as short and insignificant as the dash carved on a tombstone between the year of one’s birth and the year of death.

I hope I pass the test with Moose.  I suppose it’s in the timing; the timing is the important thing; to know precisely the right moment.  Not too soon; not too late; to be patient; to wait; and yet to go on as if nothing is different; to fool death, to pretend not to notice his game of hide and seek.  The timing is everything.  Ollie-ollie-in-free.  The leaves are falling and it is the end of another summer.  Another tick in the tick-toc of time.  Another microscopic chip of granite carved out of the space between the year of our birth and the year of our death.  

Suddenly summers become a shrinking commodity.  How many are left?

I wonder if there is any point to trying to do, to see, to have, to experience more; I suppose if you’re my Leon, it makes sense.  He collects memories like home movies.  I, on the other hand, forget.  Leon says that it’s a waste for me to go on a trip or to see a movie because I forget so much.  Perhaps that is my attempt at detachment.  Knowing that I am easily encumbered, I prepare for death by forgetting life.  Perhaps like my mother, I’ve already died and have to wait for it to be finalized.  God, the waiting is so tedious sometimes. And so, as meditations go, one often gets distracted, perhaps so as to avoid getting too entangled.  

We just go on to tomorrow.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Restaurant vs Home Cooking

Home Cooking
OK, so we saw this restaurant "Le Louis XV" on Giada's TV program, I'm not even sure of the name of her new program - probably something like Independently Wealthy Perky Breasted Food Network Star Eats Her Way Around Europe Without Gaining An Ounce.

So we thought we'd jet over to Monte Carlo next month and check it out.

We checked out their website, and unfortunately they're closed from February 19th through March 6th - the only time we could have possibly gotten away.

Oh, well, here's what we'll be missing - and just for your information the current exchange rate for Euros is 1€ = $1.35.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Remember Ice Nine?

Remember Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Cat's Cradle about the isotope of H2O called Ice Nine?  A single crystal could turn a lake or ocean solid.  Looks like someone's been dropping ice-nine in our waterfall....

Well, we haven't been this cold in Connecticut in several years.  Even at that, it's not as cold as I remember it being, even as recently as the early eighties.  But it is cold...enough to freeze over the local waterfall.  Hope it is warmer where you live.

We took a hike today to Buttermilk Falls to check out how the cold weather has worked its wonders... the falls are nicely frozen over - but you could hear the water running under the ice; the ice crust was pretty thick in most places, except on the flat areas between falls.  The falls are pretty in different ways at different times, and I've posted pictures of the falls before, but the icy falls are quite something.

Here, for your viewing pleasure is Buttermilk Falls, on ice:

Me and Benni

 The patterns of ice along the stream are pretty.  I suppose if you can't be under a palm tree on a beach in a tropical paradise, you might as well find some beauty in the nature you're stuck with...(hope that doesn't sound too envious).

My Honey -  Leon

Some pics of Leon and Benni on the foot bridge.  Benni doesn't seem to mind the cold at all.  He is happy to be out hiking (so is Leon, I think).
Leon and Benni

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Stonewall Moment and Richard Blanco Inaugural Poem

Richard summed up beautifully what the Obama Presidency is all about.  A lovely tribute to all of us, this diverse country and to his parents as well.  Thank you Richard.  And President Obama, the first president to acknowledge the struggle of LGBT community specifically as a civil rights issue - even mentioning Stonewall in reference to that struggle.  His embrace of all the diversity that is this country was a thing to behold. This is why we elected him and I hope and pray that he can move this country forward in the direction that he spoke of - for the rights of all of us, created equal, to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Here is Richard, a out and proud gay poet:


One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving across windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges, arrayed like rainbows,
begging our praise. Silver trucks, heavy with oil or paper --
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives --
to teach geometry or ring up groceries as my mother did
for 20 years, so I could write this poem for all of us today.
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day,
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the "I have a dream" we all keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
the empty desks of 20 children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.
The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind -- our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected songbird on your clothes line.
Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe tables. Hear the doors we open
each day for each other, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste; or buenos dias
in the language my mother taught me -- in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.
One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into the sky that yields to our resilience.
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give or forgiving a father
who couldn't give what you wanted.
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow or the plum blush of dusk, but always -- home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window of one country -- all of us --
facing the stars
hope -- a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it -- together.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Chillin' and Chilly

It's winter...we've had snow, cold, some warmer days, then cold and snowy again.  They are predicting very cold weather for the coming the 20's.  But that is not cold by past standards.  I remember often having temps in the teens and below zero.

So, doing a lot of sitting at home when not out snow-removing or hiking with Benni.  Been reading all the Gay and not so Gay news in the blogs here and there.  Haven't felt the need to repeat any of it here.  

I've applied for Medicare.  Damn, you have to be OLD to do that.  I've been on a more or less, low-fat, lower calorie diet due to the liver situation but still having some discomfort now and then.  Will be following up on that situation soon.  I've lost about eight pounds, another thirty two to go.

But to go along with winter time chillin' and winter time chilly would be a good bowl of winter time chili. 

Hum...sounds like a plan, but will my liver approve?
Relaxing in the sunroom
Benni Catching A Snowball 
Great Fun

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

From My File Cabinet 7 - The Funeral


         Father D’Agostino stood, his shiny black shoes planted on the matted grass, praying as he sprinkled the casket, the holiness of the water mysteriously penetrating it to bless the body of my grandmother within.  From somewhere beyond the field of granite gravestones the persistent howling of dogs added a mythical quality to the scene.

         “…patri, et, filio,” the priest recited the blessing, “et Spititu Sancto…”

         “Amen,” the canines seemed to reply.
         My Dad was the oldest son, so he and mom were seated next to his older sister, Stella.  My aunts, dressed in stylish black and some with veiled hats like Jackie Kennedy’s held the arms of their husbands who wore boring suits.  My cousins were interspersed among their parents and those of us who were pallbearers were lined up nervously on one side of the casket.

         My father’s aunts and uncles with wrinkled faces and names that began with “Zi” like Zi’Rosina, Zi’ Filippa, and Zi’Giuseppe sat stoically among the family.  Tall men with blotched complexions and women with auburn hair who I could not imagine ever having set foot in Grandma’s house, stood around the edge of the crowd.  “Amen.” they all answered on cue along with the dogs.

         It was the howling that held my attention more than Father D’Agostino’s Latin prayers.  I was thinking of Grandma’s front porch and the three-headed white ceramic dog with the philodendron that never grew trailing from the hole on its back.  The planter was cleverly fashioned so that three dog-snouts could share just three eyes.  The three-headed Cerberus sat on a wide ledge in front of the screened windows on the second floor porch of the two-family house, overlooking a quiet city street where the ethnic neighborhoods of Irish, French, Italian and Polish converged.

         My memories of Grandma’s front porch had no particular chronology.  Grandma and I would spend time together, mostly in summer, our two rocking chairs creaking, sometimes in unison, sometimes in turn.  Together we would scoop frozen red Jell-o from old jelly glasses printed with Scottie dogs and a red-checkered background.  We would watch the ebb and flow of activity on the street below.  It was like a balcony at the opera.  And some of the players even sang.

         One of the regular characters on the stage was the rag-man, making his rounds, either collecting or selling rags, I never knew which, while repeating some unintelligible sing-song as he went from house to house with his canvas bag.  He repeated his song, announcing his business up and down the street.  I never actually saw him exchange rags or money with anyone and could never figure out whether he actually made a living.  The ragman was a little bit scary. 

         Then there was the click-clack sound of metal horseshoes on the pavement announcing the arrival of the fruit and vegetable cart.  The vendor, with his horse and carriage was, even then, an anachronism.  He looked as though he chose his attire from a backstage theatrical wardrobe for a play set in the 1900’s.  His tired horse would complain with loud snorts that made his lips flutter as the old man also sang his inventory: “p’tatoes, t’matoes, own-ions” – he was a poor excuse for a tenor.  It was always a treat to see the horse go by, as I was not accustomed to seeing horses in town in the 1960’s. 

         “…et in saecula saeculorum.”  The priest was ending the final benediction.  “Amen,” we all responded.  The perfume of chrysanthemums and roses lingered in the air.

         After the internment I would dutifully return to Grandma’s gravesite, where she and my grandpa lay side by side.  I would bring grandma flowers at every holiday and holyday: lilies at Easter, a spray of greens at Christmas, tulips or daffodils on Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, roses on her birthday…and of course on Palm Sunday I would offer her the palms from Sunday mass, woven into crosses as grandpa had taught my father to fashion and which he in turn, had taught me.

         My trips to the graveyard continued into my twenties.  Tradition, culture, religion, family – all are powerful forces shaping our behavior and beliefs – and I reaped the benefits of the internal rewards of conformity.  I was, after all, the dutiful eldest son of the eldest son and I felt good about showing these signs of respect I had learned growing up.

         Then I had this dream about Grandma.  I don’t remember many details, but at the end we were talking, or more precisely, she was talking to me.

         “Eh, Francesc’, what-a you do-a here? I am an old dead-a woman. You are young and alive; you have-a you’ whole life-a to live.  Why do you come-a visit my grave? You should-a go live-a you’ life, eh not-a bring flowers to an old dead-a woman. Now go, figlio mio, va’ via, go live-a.” 

         Her message seemed so clear and made perfect sense.  Her words immediately absolved me of my duties and self-imposed role as standard-bearer.  Her words changed the way I would think about death and remembrance and tradition and the sacred.  Her words changed me in some fundamental way and I never went back to her grave after that.  The fragrance of flowers no longer lingers by her tomb, the dogs are silent and she can rest in peace, in saecula saeculorum.

Noah St John - Uplifting Video For Today

Thanks to Wicked Gay Blog for this great video.  Too bad the sound is not very loud.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Brief Word On James Bond, "Skyfall"

WARNING: SPOILER, if you haven't seen the movie and don't want to know the ending, read no more!

Just saw the new Bond film, Skyfall.  First time we've gone out to a movie in, probably six months or more.

Skyfall was a good flick for a date night with the hubby, but as far as James Bond movies go, Skyfall was a bit disappointing.  Very little glamour, glitz, or sex.  What there was, the casino, for example, was not glamourous but rather sinister; the sex was rather brief and uninteresting.  Even the villain was uninteresting - supposedly a computer hacker/genius, but didn't fit the part; he was more of just a creepy guy.

Bond was anything but slick or sophisticated or competent.  Supposedly that was the theme - he's an old, washed up spy who no longer has what it takes.

There were too many times where you expected him to overcome or outwit the bad guys, escape unharmed or use some fantastic new technological gadget.  They talked alot about old school, and it was.  The ending was disappointing as well, the bad guy dies anticlimactically and M, who Bond was on a mission to protect dies as well.

Personally, I don't want a washed up old spy who can't shoot straight.  Give me a Bond who can wipe out an army of bad guys without spilling his martini.


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