Category Archives: Life

A Life, Remembered


Today’s Music: Pete Seeger – Turn Turn Turn
Days Til Spring: 73

This is a remembrance of my father in law, who passed away a few days ago.

An ordinary man. There will be no epic novels written of him. His name won’t be remembered in the history books. But a man, nonetheless, who lived a full and happy life, and who enjoyed himself all along the way.

Dinosaurs caught the imagination of the man. The fossils, the movements, the history. He studied them and grew intimately familiar with them. As a result, for many years, he served once a week as a Docent (someone visitors could ask questions about dinosaurs of) at the Museum of Natural History.

Music caught the ear of the man. He was already familiar with music, especially all the great folkies of the 50s and 60s. He already knew how to play piano, but this time he picked up a guitar. He forced his hand into the shapes of chords, again and again. Then, pushing on, he learned the positions on the neck and began doing more intricate finger picking.
He discovered middle-age and medieval music. On any given night, you could find him puzzling over obscure music notations, trying to figure out how that translated into English, and to the guitar and lute, which he taught himself to play. He delighted in picking out a tune for the first time, then realizing how similar it was to something he already knew, by a completely different name.
The lyrics too were a doorway to a world long gone. The ballads of the bards told a stylized history of life back then – serfdom, the actions of nobles, the difficulties of daily life. All these discoveries enriched his own life.

The birds caught the eye of the man. They entranced him. He already knew what a camera was, but now he went out and got serious equipment – cameras, lenses, filters. A high end printer so the physical copies would do justice to his digital images. He studied composition, light, color, all to bring his pictures closer to what his eye and his imagination saw.
On the wall behind me are five ultra-close-up images of flowers, a riot of color and swirls, that he took.
The last car he bought, a beat up standard transmission Jeep, was so he could get out to the marshes and preserves and photograph the wildflowers and birds he loved.

The sun caught the eye of the man. In a room of his apartment, with floor to ceiling windows to let the best light in, is a drawing table festooned with pens and brushes and inks. There are dozens of drawings and paintings of birds, of the sun, of dinosaurs.

The man had once studied at seminary to enter the priesthood. It didn’t take, but it had a heavy influence on his spirituality. In the end, he came to Buddhism…perhaps because of the meditative aspects, perhaps because of the inward focus. In time, he led groups in the practices of Buddhism.

The man was concerned about the well-being of others. For many years, he worked as a social worker. In later years, after he retired, he worked in an outreach program for helping people learn English as a second language.
He was going to work in another program to encourage and help foster children to go to college.

Despite having a severe bad reaction to sugar, the man LOVED cookie, with CookieFest being a highlight of his year for several years. There was no one he wouldn’t approach and strike up a conversation with, and no one who wouldn’t engage with him.

He was married for several years. And he raised the most wonderful girl in the universe.

They say that when someone dies, they’re gone, and all we’re left with are the memories of who they were. But sometimes we’re left with an example, of how someone can live their lives, working every day, and still find time to enjoy every day – whether discussing arpeggios with his son in law, or sailing a styrofoam sailboat in the bay (and getting a wicked sunburn), or simply sitting quietly with a pad, trying to draw the reptile skull on the shelf

And we realize that someone who was just a man hasn’t only left us memories.
He’s left us an example we can follow of a life well lived – a life lived with the companionship of close friends, the security of high ideals, and the unabashed love of family.

And puns. Good lord, did that guy love puns.

And he will be missed.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Giving. (or Karma? Meh.)


Today’s Music: Shawn Colvin – All Fall Down

So this weekend, my girl and I spent a day volunteering for Sandy recovery.
We showed up at a church at 520 Clinton Ave in Brooklyn to lend a hand.

It only looks like a warm cozy environment.

We get there and spend 15 minutes waiting to sign in. We write our names on a piece of tape and stick it to our jackets. (The registration is so that we can be on the mailing list. Glad we weren’t wasting time…)
We go into the pen where we are to wait for the volunteer orientation, and we have a chance to look over the place.
Wow!
Towers of clothes, water, supplies, tools. Boxes of gear needed to clean up affected areas and give necessities to those that need them.
The entire operation was staffed by volunteers, and looked like a drunk walking – the rear foot constantly throwing the body off balance, the front foot catching it just in time, and repeat.

This is the inside of the church.


In fact, what I was most surprised by is how organized they were, and how people actually seemed to be in charge. Past volunteer experiences seemed to be more along the lines of “show up, and if you see something that needs to be done, do it”.
That seems to work well enough, since people that show up do want to help, and anyone that survives the turmoil for an hour or two becomes defacto leader until they move on and someone else takes over.
But it was nice to see an overall plan being implemented.

So after 5 minutes of sitting waiting for orientation, I learned two things:
– While I try to be open minded and not judge people on appearances, it’s very hard with hipsters.
– Especially when said hipster gets me to do something I’m not particularly keen on, and then offers encouragement wrapped around the word “jam” for the next 10 minutes.

Sitting in a chair with about 6 other people, groovy hipster comes over and shouts “Does anyone have cooking experience? We need help in the kitchen”.
Picture a simultaneously scowling and sneering El Guapo raising his hand.
While I cooked for a living for many years, it is not high on my list of fun things to do in a production environment. My girl and I had been hoping to lend a hand at the Rockaway Beach area. We surf there, and really like the neighborhood, so this would be a good “give back” kind of thing.
But this was also volunteering. And if they needed cooks…
So I said sure, gave a quick run down of my experience, and we follow the guy. Who must have seen my expression. Because i was subject to a litany of encouraging phrases along the lines of “It’ll be cool. You can make the cooking your Jam.” “Once you start, you know, you’ll be in your Jam.” “After your Jam is going, it’ll be great”.

Gee, and to think I’m not such a fan of people. Meh.

So my girl and I and one other go down to the kitchen. Sal is doing a bang up job as the chef, cranking out hundreds of meals from a small kitchen, with a 6 burner stove and 2 shelf oven to work with.
This isn’t gruel or slop. This is good food made almost entirely with donated ingredients.
But he’s weeded (ridiculously busy). And that small kitchen is hot.
Sal (after a moment of our recruiter trying to get his attention): EVERYONE WHO ISN’T COOKING SOMETHING RIGHT NOW, GET. OUT.”

Understood. He isn’t being a jerk. He’s trying to get a job done. Having been on both sides of that when cooking, I know where he’s coming from, and fade back into the small auditorium outside the kitchen, now a massive prep kitchen.
And start peeling a literal ton of vegetables.

The highlights:
– Try and donate potatoes larger than a fat thumb. Seriously. Almost more trouble than it’s worth to peel them.
– Try to donate carrots that aren’t flaccid. Also easier to peel.
– Donate peelers. Really. Having thirty isn’t helpful when twenty five of them are junk.
– Don’t slice your finger while opening pumpkins.

It was more embarrassing than painful…

– Listen to the conversations around you. At one point, Phil (a restaurateur from Connecticut) asked Heather (a Sandy regular from Vermont) about composting.
Heather launched into a detailed five minute explanataion of why they weren’t composting, how terrible it was that organic trash had been mixed with non-organic, the difficulties of finding compost pickup in Brooklyn, and how wonderful composting is.
Phil listened, and when Heather wound down, said “Oh, I don’t really care.” and went back to what he was doing.

Took me about a minute to stop laughing.

In the end, it really was a productive day. While it wasn’t my first choice of how to spend it, it was a useful necessary task. The people that will be getting the food will be very happy they did.
But next time, I think I’ll try to get in the group that’s clearing debris by the beach.

Oh, and the only sad part? After all that, I still didn’t win the lottery Saturday night.

Karma?
Meh.

(But in all seriousness, the organizers and volunteers all seemed to be working, and it was for a good cause for people that still do need the help.)

…and life goes on…


Today’s Music: Jimmy Buffett – Pencil Thin Mustache
Note on Today’s Music: I play a lot of Jimmy Buffett. One day my mother heard this and asked what it was. Whenever I put in a Jimmy Buffett tape/CD after that, she’d ask if this song was on it.

Rest in peace, Mom. The best mother a son could ask for.