Honoring Bob

This past weekend, a whole lot of people gathered to honor and celebrate my brother-in-law‘s life.

I’ve known for decades that Bob was a stellar human being (one of the very best on the planet), but it was still incredible to hear that sentiment expressed over and over again. Every single speaker mentioned the very things that made me love Bob so much: his kindness and lack of judgment, the way he listened so that you felt heard and valued. His generosity and tenacity in his lifelong fight for tenants’ rights and consumer protection. How he used his sense of humor and intellect to punch up, never down. His passion for life and love for his family. His enormous heart.

I laughed and cried throughout the program.

Many comments resonated throughout, but one theme in particular spoke to me: Bob never turned cynical or stopped hoping and believing in a better world.

I felt called-out because this country’s collapse and slide into fascism while the so-called “better party” is in power has made me hugely cynical. I’ve been tempted to give up. But Bob never gave up on justice. He continued fighting for society’s vulnerable and voiceless, up until the very end of his life. If I’m to truly honor Bob’s life,  I must do the same.

I love and miss you so much, Bobaloo. Rest in power, brother.

Rest in power, brother

Late Wednesday night, my brother-in-law died peacefully after a six-year battle with illness. Bob has been in my life since I was 12 or 13 years old — the vast majority of my time on the planet — and I’m struggling to adjust to a world without him.  I last saw him in person in March 2020 right before the pandemic hit hard and while I don’t remember specifics of any conversations, I’m positive there was much laughter. Bob and I always laughed.

Well, not always. Back when I was still a kid, my younger brother and I took the train from Wisconsin to Minneapolis where Bob and my sister were living at the time. Within minutes of our arrival, I managed to knock the tea kettle off the stove and make a big mess. When Bob pretended to be mad, I took his gruffness seriously and withdrew into myself. It took a while for him to convince me he’d been joking and throughout the rest of our lives, he’d tease me about our Teapot Dome Scandal.

I found ways to get back at him, though. During one of the many trips he and my sister and sons made to Colorado, I snuck a random item in Bob’s luggage right before he left. Ha, joke was on him! Except the next time he visited, he returned with that random item and locked it to the rod in our coat closet. Eventually, he gave in and provided the combination.

Another trip, he caught a later flight to Denver than the rest of his family and while someone distracted Bob at the baggage claim area, I grabbed his duffel bag off the carousel, removed his contents, and replaced them. When Bob unzipped his “oddly light” bag, he discovered a plastic pig mask staring up at him from a bed of popcorn. (Full disclosure: Bob wasn’t quite as enthused by this prank as the rest of us.)

While our relationship was laughter-based, it was deeper than that. Bob was my safe refuge. Our interactions were stress-free because Bob accepted me for who and what I was, without judgment. (With the exceptions of giving me shit about wearing socks with my Tevas and never ironing my clothes). I gravitated toward him whenever we were in a group setting. Bob was friendly and easy to be around.

He could also be intense, as in his commitment to health and strength. We frequently ran together (Bob easily transitioned from sea level to exercise at Colorado elevation) but that wasn’t enough for him, not even on vacation. He’d also lift weights, do yoga, push-ups and sit-ups, and climb 14ers. Bob was lean and mean his entire life.

Bob mid-yoga pose in August 2007.

Bob was devoted to his family. Here he is with my sister and their sons in 1994. They came to Alaska to visit during the summer, but didn’t think to pack for winter.  🙂  (My sister and nephew are each wearing one of my hats, the other nephew is wearing Zippy’s hat, and I think that’s my oversized jean jacket on Bob — but note that he’s bare-headed and impervious to cold!) Two vivid non-Bob-specific memories from that visit: the younger nephew, who was only six, carried his own pack the entire steep hike up to the Harding Ice Field AND that hike included my only black bear sighting of the six years I lived in Alaska.

A chilly tour of Kenai Fjords

Bob loved kids — his own and everyone else’s. Here he is conversing with Zebu.

And patiently enduring the construction of a stuffed animal tower on top of his head.

Bob was also a fierce advocate for people he’d never met. He was a lawyer who used his powers for good. Even while undergoing treatment, he led tenant meetings and fought for housing justice. In myriad ways, Bob worked to make this world a better place. I admired him greatly. And loved him even more. A quick search didn’t turn up any photos of the two of us and I’m too raw right now to dig deeper. But that’s okay because his smile and voice are imprinted on my heart.

Rest in power, Bobaloo.

On death

I just learned that a neighbor died. Alone. In their home. I don’t know any details beyond that. In trying to process all this, I went in search of a quotation that might speak to me and help make sense of the situation. This, from Kurt Vonnegut, caught my eye: There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look. That sentiment felt applicable because of how the neighbor had alienated others to the extent that no one could pinpoint for the police when the neighbor had last been seen. In my mind, the aloneness had been needlessly self-inflicted over the years, destroying relationships that had once thrived. Then I happened upon this quotation from Orson Welles: We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone. Who was I to pity the neighbor when every one of us will make that final trip alone? Our neighbor was fiercely independent and very proud of that fact.

I recently read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory which was quite helpful, not only because it put death in perspective, but also for leading me to human composting. For years, I’d been telling Zippy that when I die I wanted him to toss my body in the forest so that the crows and whatever else could feast on my remains. He patiently and repeatedly pointed out how he’d probably get in serious trouble for disposing of his wife’s body in the woods. But now I have a plan that’s legal and suits my wishes. It’s incredibly freeing to know that when I die, my body will not only return to the soil but also enrich the earth. I hope my neighbor experienced a similar peace by having a death plan in place. I also hope their death was swift and painless, and that they maintained their sense of indomitability to the very end. When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home. ~ Tecumseh

This flower from my garden is a stand-in for the photos I took years ago of my neighbor’s iris. They were out of state that spring and sad to miss their garden in bloom, so I documented the display and sent it along. Remembering that connection eases some of today’s shock.

May 13, 2020

Death forces us to think more about life and how we’re spending our finite time here. Zippy and I are grateful to have our sons visiting now and we’ve shared even more hugs than usual today. If you’ve read this far, thank you for sharing in these musings with me. I’m grateful for our connection.

Wordless Wednesday now a tribute

I’d just sat down to upload a photo of our blooming Christmas cactus when my phone rang. It was Wildebeest, in tears. Young Dolph, his favorite rapper whom he listens to all the time, was just murdered in Memphis. My son cried, “He has kids! Why do people have to murder each other?”

All I could do was listen to his pain. There’s no making sense of the senseless.

November 17, 2021

Rest in power.

Wordful Wednesday

I photographed this Black-billed Magpie at the beginning of the pandemic when I escaped to the open space with a blanket, binoculars, and my camera. It’s not a particularly good photo, but it captures the elegance of a magpie’s flight feathers. I remember the emotional boost I experienced while watching and listening to this bird and the other magpies. They were so raucous that day and I felt honored when several gathered in a tree close to my blanket, squawking and carrying on.

April 1, 2020

Yesterday, I shared some sad magpie news. Today I’m filled with sorrow over that senseless death, but also gratitude for my many magpie sightings, visits, and interactions over the years. They never fail to enchant.

Thank you, Toni Morrison

We die. That may be the meaning of life.
But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
                                                               ~ Toni Morrison

She fearlessly wielded language, never backing down from truth. I’m grateful she graced the planet for 88 years, creating books that will keep her fierce genius alive forever.

Rest in power.

 

Sunday Confessional: I miss Zoey and am also glad she’s gone

As Zippy and Zebu watch football right now, this photo from my phone reminds me of another recent football Sunday. On that day in November, Zoey and Emma were Zippy’s (napping) football buddies.

It’s been almost two months since we said goodbye to Zoey and I must confess her absence has been easier to handle than witnessing her decline. I’m grateful for the years we had together and thankful she’s no longer suffering pain and confusion. (Bonus: she’s also free of all Broncos games!)

Thankful Thursday: Mary Oliver edition

Today I’m grateful for Mary Oliver who created accessible poems that were simultaneously simple and profound. Here’s one of my favorites from American Primitive.

Vultures
Like large dark
lazy
butterflies they sweep over
the glades looking
for death,
to eat it,
to make it vanish,
to make of it the miracle:
resurrection. No one
knows how many
they are who daily
minister so to the grassy
miles, no one
counts how many bodies
they discover
and descend to, demonstrating
each time the earth’s
appetite, the unending
waterfalls of change.
No one,
moreover,
wants to ponder it,
how it will be
to feel the blood cool,
shapeliness dissolve.
Locked into
the blaze of our own bodies
we watch them
wheeling and drifting, we
honor them and we
loathe them,
however wise the doctrine,
however magnificent the cycles,
however ultimately sweet
the huddle of death to fuel
those powerful wings.

vulture-275425_640

Image from Pixabay.com

Rest in beauty, Mary.

Saying goodbye to an old friend

In a few minutes, a kind veterinarian is going to arrive at our home to help us say goodbye to Zoey. She’s lived with us the past 13+ years which is more than half of Wildebeest and Zebu’s lifetimes. This morning Wildebeest said goodbye before  heading back to his home that’s a six-hour drive from here. Zebu will be with Zoey at the end.

Zoey’s last trip to Westcliffe. August 12, 2017

We’d originally hoped to say goodbye to Zoey tomorrow because it’s my birthday today. But when the vet offered to come this afternoon it seemed the best option. Zoey’s tired and has had enough, and it felt wrong to delay the inevitable. We’ve definitely made the right decision for her, but the mood is less than festive.

Rest in peace, our sweet Zotato.

Rest in power, Aretha

Today we mourn the loss of Aretha Franklin. I am grateful for the many hours spent listening, singing along with and dancing to her music. She was an extraordinary artist (and I’m just now learning about her social justice work including a willingness to post bail for Angela Davis). I am the farthest thing from a religious person, but this version of Marvin Gaye’s Wholy Holy gives me goosebumps. Every single time.

Do yourself a favor and spend your next five minutes with the Queen of Soul.

Rest in power, Aretha.

Thankful Thursday

I’ve kept a gratitude journal on and off for a number of years, but am currently in an off phase. I hope to resume my bedtime ritual of listing five things I’m grateful for, but in the meanwhile:

Today I am grateful . . .

  • my sister helped me feel more at peace about a friend’s death.
  • my critique group gifted me another week to finish the draft of my work-in-progress and that
  • I am, indeed, making progress on that work.
  • I enjoyed a calm, non-aggressive walk in the warm sunshine with Emma, even though we passed other dogs.
  • I completed my four-minute plank despite learning the hard way that Led Zeppelin’s Four Sticks is absolutely not a good motivational song. Nope, not even close.

The power of a name

Today I finished reading MY CROSS TO BEAR by Gregg Allman (with Alan Light). I was very sad when he died, and put a library hold on his autobiography. I’m currently listening to Brothers and Sisters, the first full album the group recorded after guitarist-extraordinaire Duane Allman died of injuries from a motorcycle wreck, and am listening to the music in a whole new way.

I’m feeling chock-full of Allman Brothers Band lore, but the anecdote that really gives me the chills is the one about how they chose the name for the band. I always assumed it was because Duane and Gregg put the group together, so Allman got top billing.

Not so.

Photo for At Fillmore East album, 1971. Photographer Jim Marshall.

Once they (finally) found their perfect musical combination of two lead guitarists, two drummers, one bass player and one organist, Duane called for a vote on the group’s name. The six members each wrote down the band name he wanted. Gregg chose Beelzebub (the right-hand man of the devil) and Duane, a huge Tolkien fan, chose something from Lord of the Rings. The other four guys? They each wrote Allman Brothers Band.

For some reason, that story really makes me smile.

There was also laughter

Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.
~ Charlie Chaplin

Zippy and I attended the funeral for a young woman this morning. So much sadness in the church. And yet, there was also laughter.

Rest in peace, K.

Sunday Confessional: Today I’m wishing I could have a do-over

This afternoon I randomly thought about a man I once knew and then looked him up online. Well, I discovered that he’d died about 18 months ago. He used to be married to a friend of mine, but they divorced. The man had done some stuff that ended up being unforgivable. Zippy and I had spent quite a bit of time with both of them as a couple, and we liked the man. He was smart, funny, and always made us feel welcome when we visited. But after the bad stuff came to light, my loyalty was to my friend. The man reached out once, but I didn’t return the call.

I still believe I was right to stand by my friend, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m now wishing I’d tried to communicate with him at some point. The thing is, my friend and I aren’t really in touch anymore so this news makes it feel as if I’ve lost two friends.

But, as Billy Wilder said, “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.”

Because he loved these flowers.

 

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Carrie Fisher: A mother of nature

I’ve been offline most of the day and checked in to discover Carrie Fisher has died. It’s hard to comprehend. She seemed indestructible. Tiny and fierce. A forever force of nature.

I remember reading POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE the first time. I remember thinking that Carrie Fisher was hilarious, yes, but also incredibly insightful about what it means to be human. She was so damned smart and brave. And generous. She went to her dark places and brought that scariness out into the light as a gift to us. Her writing, tweets, and interviews were a constant reminder that none of us is alone on this spinning ball, and that since we’re in this thing together, we might as well share laughter along the way.

Holding the copy Zippy bought to replace the one he accidentally dropped in a lake while reading.

This is the copy Zippy bought for me to replace the one he accidentally dropped in a lake while on vacation.

There’s lots of gold in the book’s “postcards” written by character Suzanne Vale, but this portion from the Epilogue speaks to me now:

[…I still don’t think I feel the way I perceive other people to feel. I don’t know if the problem lies in my perception or my comfort. Either way I come out fighting, wrestling with my nature, as it were. And golly, what a mother of nature it is. Sometimes, though, I’ll be driving, listening to loud music with the day spreading out all over, and I’ll feel something so big and great—a feeling as loud as the music. It’s as though my skin is the only thing that keeps me from going everywhere all at once. …] 
Happy New Year,
Suzanne

Carrie Fisher lived a life big and bold, and I’m glad her skin kept her here with us as long as it did. Wherever you are now, Carrie, I hope there’s nonstop loud music and feelings so big and great. You were one helluva writer and human being. Rest in peace.

 

 

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Waving goodbye to Gene Wilder

I was very sad to learn Gene Wilder had left the planet until I found out he suffered from dementia. Then I said, “Good.” Because fuck Alzheimer’s. But my heart still hurts knowing there won’t be any other wonderful performances from that gentle genius. I grew up on Gene Wilder movies and it’s hard to wave goodbye.

Gene Wilder accomplished the impossible: his subversive performance as Willy Wonka made me love the movie more than the book. That never happens! I ALWAYS prefer books to movie adaptations.

WillyWonka GeneWilder as WillyWonka

Thank you for the many laughs.
Rest in peace.

 

 

 

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On becoming numb and desensitized

I just saw this tweet:
adam johnson iraq tweet

I responded with this:

And now I can’t stop thinking about how for years and years I maintained an Iraq death toll sign in my front yard. Every day I looked up the death tolls for Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops, and changed the numbers on the sign. The sign Zippy and I kept chained to our locust tree after other versions were stolen. The sign that resulted in vandalism and harrassment from people in our neighborhood. The sign that was my voice after my elected “representatives” refused to listen to me and the millions of people around the globe who took to the streets to demand the United States NOT invade Iraq in 2003.

Death toll numbers as of August 8, 2014

Death toll numbers as of August 8, 2014

That photo is from a post on August 8, 2014, when Obama started bombing Iraq some more. I never put it out again despite the ongoing, never-ending death and destruction following the U.S. led invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Which brings me back to Adam H. Johnson’s tweet and my shame.

The corporate elites and imperialists count on us to be apathetic due to overwhelm, but it’s on me that I’ve let the people of Iraq slip off my emotional radar. Just as it’s on me that I’ve pretty much become numb and desensitized to every single instance of death and destruction. I don’t want to feel numb and desensitized, I really don’t. I’d rather be angry and in the streets with a pitchfork.

But everything feels like too fucking much.