Thursday, February 24, 2011

Connect, Disconnect, Snow is Coming

The rains have started; apparently overnight they may turn to snow. We are excited around here; it rarely snows. My youngest child says she can never remember a time when it snowed here, but her brothers do. Nevertheless, hardly anyone can recall a time when snow stuck to our city's streets for more than a fleeting second.

If it snows, it may provoke one of those odd and special moments when people can be forgiven for altering their usual patterns and greet one another in a new way. Old friends may connect; strangers may connect. That's the way it is after an earthquake; why not after a snowfall?

Anyway it's just a wish but I hope that happens to me tomorrow.

Tonight I inched my way home from the peninsula in a steady rain and a line of traffic proceeding en masse in slow motion. Not my favorite aspect of the west coast, as one who grew up where real seasons and real weather dominated our lives.

We know how to drive in rain or in snow. These guys don't have a clue.

Although this is where I am, part of me wishes I were 900 miles north of here, where I have a friend who would not leave me alone when I didn't want to be alone. Friends are increasingly hard to find in this life. I am truly shocked with how casually people cast aside their friends, as if any of us are going to get out of this alive.

No, a true friend is a treasure, and even when we are talking about two people whose intimate relationship has to come to an end, for any number of reasons, there is no good excuse to discard their hard-won connection in the process.

I'll state this plainly: Those who are good at forging deep emotional connections are not good at disconnecting. But those who fear and flee deep connections are very, very good at disconnecting.

There is no need to judge one another in this regard; people are different and for good reasons of family background, experience and most of all based on their deepest fears.

The most radical thing you can ever do is connect with another human being. I mean that in all senses. Do you imagine that the radical events of the Middle East that inspire so many of us would be possible had people lost the ability to connect with one another?

If a massive earthquake were to hit this city tonight, something that could easily happen, and many of us were to die, I wonder which other people we would wish to speak to in our final moments?

That is a very important question. And if you do not know the answer, you have a lot of work to do, my friend.

I know my list, and some of the people on that list might not reciprocate. But then again, I am one of those good at connecting and, oh so obviously, terrible at disconnecting.

Even given all the pain that has caused me in my time on this planet, I would not choose to trade places with anybody else. What about you?


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You're So Pretty...

...the way you are

When my 16-year-old son was a baby, he had trouble going to sleep at night. Whenever his mother was out, I had to find a way to help him relax, so...

Somehow, I found this song by the Cranberries, and it worked every single time.

You might think that he now would be embarrassed by this memory, but he is not. He may be a big, strong athlete, but he retains the memory of what it was like to be dancing around in our small house on Elsie Street in the arms of his father, to the beat of this particular song.

And you know what? He is pretty to this day. Who said that either gender has a claim on this adjective, anyway?


The Little Things

The sky may be clouding over as a new and reportedly massive storm approaches the coast, but don't tell the buds on this delicate tree. It is the picture of hope.

As I was cooking bacon recently, I remembered how my friend used to use chopsticks for tasks like that. I've picked up most of what I know about cooking from the women in my life; strike that, all of what I know.

"Your partners have all been really nice people," one of the kids told me recently. That is true, and a fact worth remembering in low moments. This is the first time in a while that I've let myself do so.

But in general, I just remember the good times, and the good things, even little things like how to use chopsticks rather than blunter instruments while cooking. It's never been characteristic of me to stay bitter or hold a grudge for long.

Instead, I forgive easily. After all, all I have to do is reflect upon my own behavior over the years to remember that I've no excuse to cast the first stone.

That said, I do miss people intensely once they are gone. Apparently much more intensely than they miss me. As much as the big things of life, though, it is the tiny details and moments that remain with me the longest.

Because those are all that are left.


Monday, February 21, 2011

What is a Friend, Anyway?

Funny how much difference a year makes.

That is a cliche, but by this time last year, I'd seen all of the Oscar finalists for best picture, and I knew my favorites. Most of those films I'd seen with my main companion of that time, someone I no longer feel I even know at all, actually. Someone who I now feel I never knew at all.

Friendship, you see, is conditional, unlike love. Friends come and go, and when somebody stops acting like your friend, they no longer are.

A friend is only a friend when she or he shows up when you need them most. Friends who disappear are no longer friends, but sadly, more like enemies. Especially, when the critical element of betrayal of trust is involved.


"The King's Speech" is an excellent movie. Finally, today, I saw one of the past year's best films. My companions were my two teenage sons, the youngest of whom truly loved and appreciated the film for its historical significance, its humor, its emotional depth, and for its ability to convey the essence of human friendship.

So you read it here first.

Colin Firth will win the Best Actor award this year, I can say with some confidence, even though I've not seen the other nominated performers yet. (I'll do my best to do so this coming week before next Sunday's awards ceremony, which my kids always come over to watch with me.)

It's one of our traditions.

The friendship that is so sensitively portrayed in the film we watched tonight, between a man who did not want to be King and his commoner speech therapist is perfect.

Friendship is intimacy. Friendship is staying connected. Friendship is being there when you really need to be there.


One of my senior citizen students last week read a story about online dating among people over 50. In it, she said that she has never met a man who really cries in movies, although apparently many claim to.

I do not have whatever personal quality it requires (courage? cruelty? selfishness?) to admit to her that I cry in movies all the time. I cried at tonight's movie, in fact, and tried to hide that from my boys, the youngest of which nevertheless noticed, I'm quite sure.

Tonight my tears were about friendships lost. And loves lost. The relationship between the Duke, then King, and his wife was something I wish I had in my life. Maybe I once had it, I'm not quite sure, but I most definitely do not have it now.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

It Doesn't Get Better

Wish I could do that. Anyone with a child who has been playing sports for a decade or more knows the feeling. A 16-year-old in top physical condition is capable of a level of play that has long since departed the realm of possibility for the rest of us, if indeed we ever could have done so.

Half an hour before game time he was so sick with stomach flu, throwing up, I wondered if it was worth dragging him out to a scrimmage in the always cold and windy Crocker-Amazon field not far from his high school campus. But he insisted so off we went.

As I patrolled the sidelines with other soccer moms, I once again realized that he is often at his best when overcoming some kind of injury or illness. I don't fully get why this is true but maybe it forces him to play with more intensity than usual, although I'm not sure that intensity is ever an issue for him.

It was easy to see he was enjoying himself, though, while guarding an opposing striker who was taller and bulkier than he is; they were well-matched. But I also could see the other kid getting frustrated as Aidan stripped him of the ball repeatedly and knocked him off the ball once or twice as well.

When they both jumped as high as they could on a corner kick scoring opportunity, the opposing kid tried to elbow him in the face. As he dodged the blow, I could read Aidan's lips from the sideline: "You don't want to do that again."

In any event the striker never got a shot off in what turned into an exciting soccer game, even though the outcome was meaningless. Oh yeah, that striker was sent to the ground twice after the elbow incident. In the second half, his coach replaced him with another forward.


It's tricky in this economy and in my present state of virtual non-employment to figure out how I'll do it, but I've gotta find the money to pay for his trip to Sweden this summer to play in the Gothia Cup, a tournament that draws teams from all over the world. I will find that way.


He was too sick at halftime to go back into the game, dizzy and weak. He took himself out of the lineup, which his coach never does, so I knew he was indeed quite sick. We spent the rest of the day together, as I got him lunch, let him sleep, and we relaxed together in my apartment.

Talking to his mother today, I articulated something that has been on my mind a lot lately. Despite what most people would consider my impressive career as a journalist, educator, and writer, none of that crosses my mind except for occasionally.

No, it is as a parent that I feel I am doing my best work. It's what I care most about. It's why today was a good day. If I get the relative luxury of a sentient moment on a deathbed at my end point, I know I'll never regret choosing my kids over my career, even with all the difficulty that has caused us at times.

Whether they're sick or well, whether it's homework or sports, whether I'm driving them somewhere or we're hanging out at home, I'm most happy just being a Dad. It actually doesn't get any better than that.