A walk on the beach and was it random?

A walk on the beach

Walking the Chicago North Avenue beach at night, moon is yellow. I smoke and put on my shades. Nice hues. Bright lights of the city all around behind me. Navy pier, Bloomingdale’s towers and the old Playboy building. Went out on pier and tried to sit, but came back because I don’t like the dark and the lights seem to be the energy of the city which is what I came for. Try to tune the high.

I am struck by the presence of lights. Are they here for safety or aesthetics, or what? Seems to be overkill.

I note to myself that I don’t like the taste in my mouth of cigar. I put mine out. Note to file, do I need this crap?

How do I describe verbally what I see? Can I capture the lights and the cars; the moon perched just above the horizon and the water reflecting a beautiful white line from the moon? The pier, the lake shore drive. It’s coming together. So I walk the lake to the new boathouse and the muscle beach. Just missed the roller hockey game. So I walk the beach and sightsee.

Lots of people out; couples, joggers, bikers. The obvious backpack versus the stripped down biker/skater distinguishes commuter from exerciser. I am alert but there are no Cholos. Where have all the cholos gone? Sung to the tune of flowers gone.

A black couple approaching acting real loud and drunk. He is a Loud mutha fcka! Such a cultural chasm on this city’s near north side.

The night can cover the blemishes of a city and they can create new ones from the day.

Here come the cops. It is curfew. They spit out the words through their loud speaker. “The beach is closed. Leave immediately. The beach is closed. Leave immediately.”

IN 1967 This Box Tops song got to  #24.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5xORduJt9Q

The city lights, the pretty lights,
They can warm the coldest nights.
All the people going places,
Smiling with electric faces.
What they find the glow erases,
And what they loose the glow replaces, and life is love
In a neon rainbow, a neon rainbow.
Moving lines, flashing signs,
Blinking faster than the minds.
Leading people with suggestions,
Leaving no unanswered questions.
You can live without direction,
And it don’t have to be perfection, and life is love
In a neon rainbow, a neon rainbow.
But in the daytime everything changes,
Nothing remains the same.
No one smiles anymore,
And no one will open his door
Until the night time comes.
And then the …
City lights, the pretty lights,
They can warm the coldest nights.
All the people going places,

“It is in pardoning that we are pardoned” St Francis

I was born into chaos of sorts. It was a fine middle-class family. There was no lack of stability. When I was old enough to know where I was, I was living on Chicago’s South Side in a nice three story house.  the bedrooms were on the second floor where I shared a room with my older brother. The maid lived in the next room over. My older sisters lived in the attic at that time. The attic seemed ok with its own bathroom.

The neighborhood was full of nice homes filled with professionals and entrepreneurs and their families. The elm trees created a tunnel over each street. My dad a college grad, had stepped into the management role in the family business, a retail lumber yard.  We had membership in a country club and we never wanted for clean clothes and good food. All the children in our family went to religious school at the local synagogue.

I never liked my father. I cannot recall a childhood moment where I liked him. I think if I ever liked him it was just 2 weeks and some days out of each year. The 2 weeks represents our family vacation. He rarely hit me on vacation and he let me read comic books for those 2 weeks, something I was never allowed to do at home.

The few days out of the year I did not hate him were the visits to Mitchell’s Ice Cream parlor. For some peculiar reason he didn’t treat me badly when we went there for milk shakes. It was a time when he, my brother and I would shoot spitballs at each other and laugh. Otherwise, I have no fond memories of my dad. I thought he was evil and mean. He didn’t beat me badly, just frequently. My earliest memories were of being afraid of him. The list of perceived harms would detract now from my tome because it is a lengthy undertaking. Suffice to say that my earliest dreams were of killing him. Those dreams finally took concrete shape when I was 10 and in the 6th or 7th grade.

I think it was early fall. I remember I was ordered to stay in the house all day on Saturday and read some periodicals my dad had chosen for me to read and write reports on. I recall after several hours, looking out the window in the afternoon and seeing kids gathered in front of my neighbor Bobby’s house, playing running bases. I loved playing that. I was relatively fast and enjoyed being a runner.

I decided to sneak out and play. My parents were not home yet and I guess I didn’t expect them soon. But as luck would have it, I was not outside long before I saw my dad’s black Cadillac turn the corner a block away. I ran like hell back to my house and threw myself into my seat where I had been working. I tried to look nonchalant, and hoped I hadn’t been seen. But we wouldn’t have much of a story if that were true. He pulled up the driveway and entered the house. I am not sure exactly what was said or in what order. But I remember being taken to my bedroom and being whooped. I remember the belt repeatedly rising and falling across my arms and legs. I remember the hate pouring out of my eyes trying to burn him alive. When he was done, he stopped and went to his bedroom.

Shortly, he called me to his room. He told me to go downstairs and get him a cup of tea. This was familiar territory because I was treated as his personal valet. Part of our daily ritual was for me to get him everything he needed to take a shower, 2 towels and a washcloth. Then I was summoned after his shower to bring him his underwear and slippers. Then I was ordered to get him something from the kitchen while he lounged in bed before his dinner. Then I was called to the dinner table to turn on the television and adjust the channel and antennae until he had what he wanted. Getting him tea was a long established practice by age 10.

This time I deviated from routine after I heated the water and poured it into a cup with a Lipton tea bag. On my way back upstairs to deliver it, I stopped at the downstairs bathroom and looked in the cabinet. I desperately hoped to find a substance with skull and cross bones to mix into the cup. I took every bottle out that I thought might be helpful. Mercurochrome, baby oil, Bactine and so forth. Nothing! So I defaulted to using something that said “do not take internally”. It was the old style 6-12 liquid insect repellant.

Suffice to say, my attempt to kill him that day didn’t succeed. He lived many more years. During many of those years I still hoped to cause his death. As I matured into my 30s, I went through drug treatment.  I began to pray for him and for me. I prayed for relief from the hate. I prayed that he would defeat his heart disease and then his cancer. I prayed for his good health. I also prayed that he would die during his heart operation. I was torn between love and hate. This differed from my youth when I felt no love and no conflict.

I spent years in therapy and would often relate the sickness I felt being his son. At various times I worked for him in the family business and tried to get his approval and hated that I couldn’t. I hated that I cared. I made a valiant effort to turn my back on anything he had to offer I began the path to independence starting at age 15. I returned to the family business for short periods only when I thought it was on my terms. It never was.

I paid for my college degree. I bought my own house and car. I asked for nothing. When I did ask, not surprisingly, his response was always that I must accept his terms. So I would brush aside any help. Fuck him.

It came to pass that he offered to pay for law school when I was in my early thirties and I was still a social worker. I was attracted to the possibility of helping people and making a living. But I accepted only after my therapist pointed out that I was so dependent on not taking his help that it was no different than if I took his help. He pointed out that I was controlled either way. I knew it was true when I heard it. So I surrendered and went to law school and became a lawyer. This was possible because my family foot the bill and because I was active in a 12 step program. One gave me financial support and the other gave me psychological support.

My dad became more docile with age. He was thrilled to have me pursue lawyering. He encouraged and supported my efforts any way he could. And when I had my law license he did what he could to get me business. He invited me to join his club and took me golfing with him often. We had a relatively enjoyable relationship going. And then he died.

Now to the point of all of this. I struggled most of my life with residual hostility towards my father. Despite therapy, 12 step recovery and maturity, I could never quite let him off the hook. I always wondered how a man like him, obviously intelligent, liberal with hints of compassion could have inflicted such suffering on his own child. Intellectually I trusted that it was not personal. Clearly he didn’t live for the purpose of tormenting me. I knew he treated others badly; I was not his only victim. But why? How come he could give himself permission to repeatedly hurt me and deprive me of the joy of childhood?

And the beginnings of an answer came to me on one of my many mountain hikes. Although he had already passed, that day I truly accepted that he had mental problems and demons I would never fathom. He had an abusive mom and he was simply incapable of rising above his own personal dramas and despair. What and how he perceived his life would never be accessible to me. He had never shared and all I had were third party anecdotes about his early life.  It was the beginning of the final phase of the journey to redemption. The rest came through the Buddhist practice of metta, meaning loving/kindness. I became a practioner and student of meditation. I ordained as a monk for several months. During that time I lived in Arizona in a Buddhist temple amongst life-long monastics from Thailand.

So a couple of years after that initial realization that I could never understand him, I arrived at a place of forgiveness. I will never forget that moment. I suddenly wished in my heart that I could have taken his suffering from him for just one day. I wished that he could have had one day free from any and all spiritual suffering. I arrived at a place in my heart and soul where I would be willing to have suffered in his place to give him that gift.

In that moment the anger dissolved after 55 years. It has never returned. I am sorry that any living being has suffering emanating from any cause. What a marvelous moment when I realized that I was capable of letting go. What a great thing to have lifted the yoke of resentment and breathed pure fresh air. Untainted by hate or resentment, I felt better about him and better about myself. Over the years I have heard the lament of many a person over the abuse, misuse and pain they have had inflicted upon them. I know they generally cannot believe me when I tell them there is a better way of life, life free of resentments. I teach others how to reflect on loving/kindness in hopes that someday they will experience the loss of their anger and hostilities. Reflecting on Loving kindness for me brought down a lifelong wall of hostility and animosity. It freed me to turn my efforts to helping others in my life who, while I didn’t have the same history as them, I still had the same result. I still bath in hatred and hostility at times.  Sometimes it seems I take out a resentment and nurture it and feed it until it is as strong as a bull. But I can now reflect on my experience with my dad and realize that I am capable of overcoming my negative  thoughts and emotions.

My pal, Chuck Horn memorial

If you didn’t know Chuck and you have come across this writing, excuse me. Chuck died suddenly. Just shy of 60 years of age, he had struggled with addiction for several years.  He died while actively participating in 12 step recovery. Likely he died of causes related to his health.  I am to speak at the memorial for him today. In anticipation I wrote of him and for him….

I assume that Chuck skated into heaven, Valhalla etc. without a glitch. But there is a possibility that there were obstacles to Chuck’s passage. Like most people Chuck had a flawed character. The most prominent flaw was his proclivity for substance abuse. In his addiction he harbored thoughts and feelings that were negative and destructive. These thoughts ate at his core and caused many a day to be spent in darkness, abiding only his demons. When these demons of darkness descended upon him, he surrendered to his defects of character. However, we would not be here if addiction summed up Chuck’s life.
What really characterized Chuck was his propensity to care for, provide for and stand by people in need. Even people who were in better straits than Chuck were treated to his grace and his generosity. No one was beneath him and no one undeserving of his affection and charity. People who I would never have lifted a hand to help because I saw no value in them, he would reach out to. In the depths of his addiction he would take time out to offer solace and sustenance. It was a remarkable thing to see and hear.
We spoke for hours about justice and kindness. We spoke about spiritual bankruptcy and the consequences. We spoke about life’s trials and tribulations. Life’s joys and life’s disappointments. He wanted to be pure. He deeply desired to be free of his resentments all the while nurturing them and strengthening them. He manifested powerlessness in every breath. Honesty eluded him and then slammed him against the wall.
We are gathered and in doing so present the argument, the defense that demands that Chuck is entitled to admission to the finest club the afterlife has to offer. The evidence of his actions in the balance persuades us to stand by, advocate for and remember our friend.
I traveled with Chuck, ate meals and meditated with him. He was no less a student of spiritual health than the Buddhist monks I lived with. What he lacked was discipline. What he lacked was focus. What was missing was the mental toughness that once came so readily to him when he was young. Of late he fought to reclaim memory, physical acuity and compassion. He battled to forgive and to be forgiven. Thus did his condition rob him of the ability to shine spiritually.
I sit in AA meetings and I hear various dead persons quoted ad infinitum for their wise homilies and aphorisms. Chuck will not be remembered thusly. His good words resonated in the moment but he wasn’t around long enough to be touted as an AA guru. But to the lives he touched, he will be remembered as a man with a strong moral compass and backbone who but for his addiction would have loomed far taller than his height restricted.
Chuck was born into a large family of 5 siblings. He often talked about how he didn’t need or have lots of friends in his early years because his family was full of kids. His mom is often described by Chuck and siblings as a rageaholic. His father as a solid hard-working man of the middle class. Chuck would excel in sports in high school and always lamented that he had to leave his high school in Amarillo, where he had friends and respect, to attend school elsewhere. He returned to Amarillo his last year but never seems to have recouped the status he felt he occupied in his earlier years. His college life was memorable for him. He loved to tell me what a great school Richland Community college was. He loved its diversity and campus life. Then it was onto U T where he created some bonds that would waver but endure the rest of his life. Sometimes described as a genius oftentimes described as a rascal, Chuck entertained and befuddled everyone in his world.
Nancy and he met early on but didn’t marry until later in life. While they didn’t have kids, they had dogs. The home would never be considered full unless there were their dogs yipping and leaping about.
When Chuck finally got sober his one certain daily task was to care for the dogs. And this he did with diligence. He knew that his wife Nanci would not abide his neglecting the dogs the same way he neglected himself. And he loved Nanci. He feared she would realize she was better off without him and leave. He fretted that his life would be empty without her. But like most people who drink and/or drug he couldn’t stop the train once it left the station. He could not help disappointing loved ones as his addiction gave no quarter. A masterful liar in the beginning, Nanci says he finally gave up the lies and just resigned himself to being an addict. Henceforth, when I met him, he would confess, upon interrogation, to his slips. I was amazed that he could relapse at night and be at a meeting the next morning. I was stunned that he could have nothing left in his addiction, no friends, money or health and yet return there after fellowshipping each morning with us. Why were we not enough to keep him sober? Who is this man to frustrate my every attempt to carry the message? Equally important is why did I bother after repeatedly babysitting him through his detoxification?
Chuck lured his loved ones back with a hug and a puppy dog face. And his sincere remorse after each slip and the guilt he expressed made me stay the course. It kept Nanci by his side. It drew everyone here to his side despite the frustration and anger we felt with each failure.
Unlike many addicts though Chuck had a distinguishing feature about him. In the depths of his addiction, despite self-will run riot, he never forgot the less fortunate and he was always willing to help a friend. When I was an addict I never had time for anyone outside my immediate family. I stayed cloistered. But Chuck would always make the offer. I would say to him, you worthless asshole, what can you do to help me. You cannot help yourself. And he would hang his head and say half apologetically, I know, but I’ll do what I can”.

And in this way did we find ourselves driving to Tucson to see my family and detox Chuck. He was by my side 18 hours a day. Trying to help and getting berated at every turn because his idea of helping was most people’s idea of hindering. He wanted to help perfectly and in so doing was a nuisance. Paralyzed by his wannabe perfection, we would throw our hands up and take the task back from Chuck. His addicted mind could not perform what his heart so wanted to do. I offered him every resource, tool, and support that I could think of and muster. He was a drowning man who could not be certain enough he wanted to live to grab the life raft. He flailed about in the water. I would get mouthfuls of splashed water trying to reach him. I would swear off trying and then swim again towards him for one more attempt.
We were both tired of his struggle. He begged me not to give up on him. I threatened to kill him for his own good. If not for Nanci and his love for her I think he and I could have reached an agreement to finish him off.
So we drove back to Dallas from Tucson. Another 17 hour ride, 1000 miles with only ourselves for companionship. He lamented how everyone near and dear to him had fucked him over. How many times I heard this lament I cannot say. But this time I spoke with conviction and heart. I told him to stop! I told him to listen to me with every fiber of his body. And I related to him that I had been put in his life by God to help him. That I was his messenger and that God could not be any louder or any clearer. That God wanted him to let go of his resentments because they were killing him.
I believe in Karma. I believe as Buddhists do, that everyone and everything comes into our life as a result of cause and effect. I met Chuck because our lives dictated it. We needed each other. I needed to be taught patience and tolerance. I needed to be reminded of the power of unconditional love. He needed someone who would amplify the message that he had been told many times but couldn’t hear. My voice broke through the background noise of Chuck’s addiction. But for Nanci though, Chuck would have slipped and died in the abyss before I ever met him. But for her steadfastness and relentless love for Chuck he could not have mustered enough concern or esteem for himself to stay alive much less thrive. All of us here who offered a hand to Chuck would never have had the opportunity if not for Nanci. He just didn’t care enough about himself to have made the effort. The care and concern he showed all of us would never have shown through his craziness if he didn’t have Nanci at home waiting with love and compassion for his sick soul.
I do not expect to ever meet another person like Chuck in my life. I know everyone feels unique and I am sure you are. But Chuck will resonate with me always. I will revere him as my teacher. I will curse his untimely demise. I will lament the briefness of his sobriety. I will always celebrate his humor and presence. I will miss him at meetings, breakfast, on the road, at the dozen movies and the myriad of other places we ventured like Hamm’s Peach orchard. His seat will always be empty at the twice weekly meditation. His car will always be missing in his parking spot. But he will never be missing in my heart.
Thus do I say to the powers that be, God or Gods, to the gatekeepers of the heavens, my friend shall proceed unimpeded into your care! He has earned his place in a way few ever will. The content of his character even in the midst of great illness qualifies him for the status reserved for the deserving. His presence with his family and friends has come to an end. Let him now reside in the sunshine of God’s everlasting love.
I imagined Chuck sharing this Irish prayer with us
Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free!
I follow the plan God laid for me.
I saw His face, I heard His call,
I took His hand and left it all…
I could not stay another day,
To love, to laugh, to work or play;
Tasks left undone must stay that way.
And if my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss…
Ah yes, these things I, too, shall miss.
My life’s been full, I’ve savoured much:
Good times, good friends, a loved-one’s touch.
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief—
Don’t shorten yours with undue grief.
Be not burdened with tears of sorrow,
Enjoy the sunshine of the morrow.

And may we pray for Chuck Horn
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

And for those he left behind
May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend like Chuck to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

Remembering September 11, 2001 is a chance to grow.

The events of 9/11 were horrific and large and brutal. If it affected you because of its brutality and because it destroyed your sense of invulnerability, then join the crowd. In fact, join a large segment of the human race. This is and has always been a teachable moment. To experience the shock of the World Trade Center destruction is to experience what tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people around the world have felt when American bombers dropped their payload on foreign soil.

I do not suggest that a single bomb was wrongly placed or morally wrong. I suggest that to be touched by the event is to experience a common experience with our enemy. Imagine sitting in the Middle East somewhere having your meal with family. Suddenly the roof collapses, bricks tumble down and death touches everything around you. Your family is dead or bleeding. Your belongings burned or blown away. Your neighbors staggering in shock and disbelief. The intensity and ferocity of our bombs can be beyond comprehension. The intended target was military. You are simply collateral damage. You are neither warrior nor opponent. You are resident/citizen of a land foreign, mysterious and alien to Americans. You are expendable because the value of the target exceeded the value of your safety. You are dead or wounded because we calculated that your health, safety and welfare was less important than ours given the possibility or probability that someday persons in close proximity to you could cause violence to be perpetrated against us, citizens of a far away land. These third world country folks don’t even imagine they will ever travel beyond there own country’s borders much less do they plan to visit and terrorize the United States.

But when the fires are out and the damage assessed, they too will never forget. They will commemorate their horror and losses and vow to do everything they can to avenge the dead.

September 11,2001 is an opportunity to grow and recognize how horrific it is to have large numbers of civilians murdered in the course of their peaceful pursuits. We should always devote this day to those  in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania, who were struck down in the attack, and those who died or were injured trying to save others.

I wish to God we had never had a 9/11. I wish I didn’t know and know of so many whose lives were touched, violated and traumatized. I am sorry if it offends you that I wish we could all share in the mutual humanity of the physical, psychological and spiritual destruction of violence.

When I was Black.

God willing, that got your attention. Sometime in my life I strove to be a young black man. It all starts when I was real young and got picked on a lot. I will not engage in the minutiae of my life but early years were filled with fear and potential violence due to my crazy dad and the crazy Catholics who hated Jews.

Along about 8th grade, my school began to experience a dramatic shift in demographics. There was a significant influx of black families. Remarkably, this change became a source of salvation. The new black students frowned on kids bullying me. They expressed disdain for those that would pick on me given I was one of the youngest, shortest kids in our class. Jeffrey Branch (JB) in particular became “my bodyguard”. He was the toughest kid in our grade school. He became a street gang leader and star athlete on the playground. And he exhibited a moral compass that had previously eluded my classmates. He interfered, disrupted and dissuaded the local bullies, white and black from messing with the weakest of his classmates. He chased away the parochial school kids who had long persecuted small Jewish kids.

When we got to high school, JB and some of my other grade school classmates were there and still willing to dissuade predators in the new school. If you look like lunch you will be eaten. In high school, being 12 years old and 4′ 11″, I looked like lunch. But even some of the black girls I went to grade school with came to my assistance. Norma Taylor and Jenina Daniels personally saved me from separate violent attacks.

I was still white at this point. But jump ahead to when I lived as a runway for months at a time. I found it was easier to hide in the inner-city than in my own middle class community. I was absorbed into the black culture that gave me shelter from the storm of my home life. I attempted to blend into my new environment. I dressed, spoke and gestured like my black peers.

I probably looked weird to blacks and whites alike. I am certain I stuck out like a sore thumb. So peculiar that I may have seemed insane at times. I became uncomfortable and awkward around white people. I lost sense of what my white peers would act like. I had white friends, mostly alternative lifestyle sorts like hippies. So I didn’t stick out as badly as if I was mingling with straight-laced whites but awkward just the same.

When I drove my car, I leaned my body hard to the right. I wore “pimp tint” sunglasses all time of night and day. I supported the Black Panther party. I wore leather jackets and carried a gun. My words came out in a quasi-southern drawl and my language was slang. I wasn’t just trying to be black. I was trying to be ghetto black. I was trying to convince the world I was a scary felonious person who wished to be left alone or else. And I learned to hide fear. I learned to take simple acts of aggression and escalate them to scary heights. I preferred to be perceived as a predator than prey. I was introduced to and and dove deep into the waters of the criminal subculture. I got a buzz from moving seamlessly through the ghetto, its bars, chop shops and drug houses.

I took my 17 year old self down to the blues lounges to hear Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy before they were mainstream. I threw back shots and snorted drugs, sitting in automobile repair shops in the deep ghetto that doubled as stolen merchandise exchanges.

I met force with greater force. My boys were tougher than your boys. My guys were better armed. We were smarter, more cunning and savvier. We didn’t fear the police, incarceration or death. In truth I feared all of it but I learned to never, ever show fear. No crime was beyond us and no consequence harsh enough to dissuade us from our tasks. We didn’t bully. We didn’t prey upon women or weaker persons. In fact we stood up for others when we saw them being picked on. Our intervention was almost always enough to alter the equation of the situation. Picking on a women was easy until we showed up.

It was crazy. It was just wild. My sisters could probably describe best how I appeared to their world. It was when visiting my own middle class family that the strangeness must have been most pronounced. The friendships made in the ghetto during those years seemed so solid and real. How could we really be different if we were all in, all the way? It took years to resegregate and observe that I was always odd and expendable. The truth at the end of the day was that I could modify my dress and voice and gestures and disappear into the mainstream. But my ghetto pals could never hide in plain view. They would never have the financial resources to protect themselves from the harsh reality of being an inner-city black in Chicago. They knew intuitively that I was a visitor. A committed one. A sincere one. But ultimately, a visitor.

Years later as I began to mature and leave the immediacy of the streets behind for the pursuit of a profession and education, the trappings of the inner-city lost their luster. While I could hide it, I could not escape the constant fear in the streets of being killed or going to prison.

My experiences have held me in good stead. I regret nothing. I learned things, saw stuff and lived with realities that most people in my world will never know. I have used my experience to help hundreds of clients as a social worker and lawyer. I learned empathy. I saw the obstacles to success quite clearly and never suffered the delusion that exiting the ghetto was simply a matter of choice. It was mostly luck. And I am a better lawyer and counselor as a direct result of my years in the inner-city. Truth be told, I never completely left it all behind and I never forget. Sometimes I set out to recall the details and write them down. Like so many other life events they seem too layered and nuanced and detailed to share.

musings

Death is so special. It is final, inevitable and for most of us frightening. My friend Chuck died, suddenly. I get it, I know it. But this morning, I looked for his car at our regular meeting place. And when I realized he wouldn’t ever be there again, I felt weird and sad. I can hold him near and dear. I can tell his story. But he will fade into the rearview mirror. One day I will try to talk about Chuck and no one will know who I am talking about. Just so, this will be my fate also.

Not only do I want the story of Chuck to be told, I want it to be my version. I am uncomfortable if I find out there is a different Chuck story out there. I want my story of my life to be the one that is told. I am afraid of the alternative version.

I want to sit with Chuck before he goes. I want us to get our story straight before it is too late. Even now I struggle with how to memorialize him and honor him. I intended to ordain in my Buddhist tradition for a short time to give my pal the best chance at a good rebirth. I want to share with Chuck how the Buddhist system works and how beneficial it may serve him. I want to comfort him that I will be there for him in death as much as I was in life. I want to talk about how he will be remembered, solidify the story such that the memorial will create itself.

I want to be a spiritual companion in death as I was in life. But reality is intruding in my wants and wishes. The opportunity to create the memorial I wish is severely limited by my lack of credentials, training and experience. It is limited by existing social structures, religious institutions and spiritual communities.

Death is just so challenging to the living. I have no clue what happens…heaven and hell, rebirth, reincarnation, mere energy, or what. I do not hold a concrete idea about after. I can freak myself out meditating on death. I meditate on how I will have a dignified exit and my loved ones will be comforted by my dignity. I want to take the fear of death out of my family’s life so they won’t have to concern themselves with scary existential issues. Let them enjoy life without fear of death. As if!

I just quit a year of hellacious entrepeneurial activity. I am stressed, tired and soul weary. Today was the first day of liberation. I am free to spend some time as I wish. I want to go back to Chicago and spend more time with my mom. At 97, she should have the gift of family. Her friends are long gone. Amazingly, all her kids are still here. And I am a bright light for her. I can sense her appreciation for my existence, which appreciation often eluded both of us.

I want to take my spouse and vacation. I want us to both feel the yolk of financial desperation lifted. Ditch the kids. Let her enjoy some time doing stuff now while she is young enough to be mentally and physically capable and present.

It is time to regroup. It was a regrouping which Chuck was undertaking also. He was making the effort to improve spiritually. He was working to be there for his spouse. Had he known a year ago of his untimely demise, he would have put the pedal to the metal. As the Buddhist say, death is certain, only the when is unknown. To be continued……