Saying Goodbye

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Death is our most constant companion, a threat, a fate, an inevitability we dodge, cheat, avoid, and dance with on a daily basis. The ancient Greeks believed in a group they called the fates, three women who decided the length of our lives on the day of our birth. As we travel the tortuous path of our life we each see the lives of friends, family and acquaintances come to a close. Sometimes accidental, sometimes disease, sometimes acts of violence, sometimes aging, sometimes a combination of several causes, but always bringing us to the point of finding a way to say goodbye.

It is rare to have the opportunity to bid farewell while the recipient of the blessing is aware of our comment. In the course of nature’s way, we find ourselves with a painful hole in our emotions where a dear person once dwelt. A few decades ago my father told me one of the worst things about growing older was seeing the circle of friends shrink as the years passed. I have observed the truth of this observation, and along the way have developed an understanding of why so many senior citizens seem to carry a burden of sadness; a burden shadowing their smiles and laughter. We enter the world to be greeted by the warmth and love of our mother and father, but we leave the world alone, venturing into the unknown on our own.

The belief in a life after death is a common thread in human history, regardless of race, religion, or creed. While each of us has our own reasons for believing or not believing, the hope that something good awaits us can be a comfort when we are saying goodbye to someone dear to us. My father is 96 years old and in failing health. I remember when he came home from the Korean War with a medical discharge, and a prognosis of 6 months to live. Obviously he proved the doctors wrong, and survived kidney disease (one removed), heart disease (multiple bypass), and a few more additional scrapes to live a full life of hunting, fishing, and working as a detective. He has led an active life, including acting as care giver to my mother as she spent almost two decades sinking beneath the sad tides of Alzheimer’s until she at last surrendered.

It is difficult to see the slow decline as my father has lost the use of his hands, his sight, and his ability to walk. It is painful to see him unable to take care of himself, yet unable to find his way to that final slumber he prays for each day. A long productive life is a blessing beyond measure, but a long life which offers only pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, is heart wrenching. I grew up in the knowledge that my father might not be there at any time; prepared to scatter his ashes over the land and water he loved. Our paths have separated us for most of my adult life, my careers taking me on my own journey, making our time together limited to a few days each year, and each of those visits ending in tears for us both, knowing it might be our last parting. I have said goodbye many times, but I know how much it will hurt when my brother, who is caring for my father, calls to tell me he has begun his journey into the unknown that awaits us all.

As I plan my next visit, I can’t help wondering if it will be our last; wondering if he will still be there when I arrive. It weighs heavy on my heart, even after a lifetime of preparation; one more member of my circle of friends who will no longer be with me when I say my last goodbye to him.

Why Me?

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Life, to coin an old adage, is a tough row to hoe. Consider Sisyphus, a character of ancient mythology depicting the difficulties of life. Sisyphus begins at the bottom of a hill, rolling a small ball up the slope. Unfortunately, the ball grows in size with each revolution and the slope of the hill increases. This depicts the growing responsibilities and burdens of a man as he advances in his work, his life, and age. Think for a moment of how your own life has changed as you have advanced in your job, your family has grown, and your responsibilities have increased. Ambition and determination induce you to continue to roll your own ball up the hill in spite of the increased burdens you must carry.

All may be going well, and then one day your world seems to collapse around you. You lose your job or you lose your wife, or any number of other disasters may strike leaving you wonder who you well and truly ticked off in a former life. About this time you feel like screaming in frustration. Begging for an answer. Why Me?

Confronted with a series of disasters several years ago I asked the question and got an answer. It wasn’t exactly what I hoped for, but when I thought about it, the answer was a good one because it made me stop despairing for my misfortune and set me on a path of action to do something about it. Two words echoed in my mind: Why Not?

No one is so unique or special to be above or beyond circumstance or happenstance of a brutal nature. According to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Many people will disagree when I tell them there is no panacea in poisons, whether they be prescription, over the counter, or across the bar. At the bottom line, it is inner strength which will make it possible to overcome and find inner peace.

So maybe you’re wondering how I have arrived atop the soap box and what credibility I have for the opinions I express. I was born in 1943. I am once divorced, twice widowed, and I severely disabled myself in an on the job accident in my early thirties. I have failed in business and in doing so learned how to succeed. I have survived heart disease and cancer. I am the proud owner of a titanium replacement in my shoulder. Life hasn’t always been good to me, but I have learned that when it all goes to hell in a hand basket you have a choice. You can dwell in the past or you can look to the future and what you will do in it. The future isn’t tomorrow. The future is right now. The planet doesn’t stop spinning, the clock doesn’t stop running, and the past already happened and can’t be relived, so put it behind you, keep what it taught you and move on.

Why me? Why not! You probably needed a boot in the butt and just had karma put one right there to get your attention. Pick yourself up, pick a direction and move forward into the light.

I leave you with an Irish Blessing:

May your glass be ever full
May the roof over your head
be always strong
And may you be in heaven
Half an hour before
The devil knows you’re dead.

Hidden Messages in the Stream

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Artists begin with an idea, a message they wish to convey to their audiences. This is true of painters, singers, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, and authors, each choosing a different medium where his or her unique views and thoughts are revealed. The messages are sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, sometimes obscure, but always dependent upon the viewer, listener, or reader to complete the circuit from sender to receiver.

I set out to express a particular message in Shadow Ballet, but as the characters told me their stories I discovered other important views and ideas to flavor the rather large picture I had chosen to create. By placing myself in each character and listening to each character’s words and thoughts, I became a conduit for what each had to say to the reader. In the manner of an audience member, I set my characters on stage and watched them perform their parts in the story, writing down every subtle nuance I observed, discovering inferences, attitudes, feelings, and emotions in the raw.

In this way more than a single message became embedded in Shadow Ballet. The reader can choose any of them, all of them, or may even find a hidden treasure the author may not have intentionally laid in the story, but one that speaks clearly to the reader. The beauty of art in all its forms is the ability to touch the audience, bring forth memories, inspire thought, ignite emotion, and transport you into a space you might not otherwise venture. Whether the message received is specifically what was sent or not is irrelevant. What is important is that a message is received. Even a response of indifference is still a message received. As the adage goes, you can reach some of the people all of the time or all of the people some of the time, but you can’t reach all the people all of the time.

At its heart, Shadow Ballet is about second chances, new beginnings, and an optimistic expression of hope in the midst of disaster. Each day offers the opportunity for good things to happen. Look for the worst and you will find it; look for the best and you will find it, even in the worst day. There are messages in the stream of events that make up our lives, and while being aware of them is a challenge, listening to them is the toughest challenge of all.

The shadows of despair and the light of hope dance together for each of us. When life knocks you down, and it will, the challenge is to stand up, dust yourself off, and defiantly declare: “Is that the best you’ve got?”

We don’t learn from what works, only from what doesn’t. These are the messages in the stream we call experience and upon which we work to build each day.