Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pay Attention to the Cup

My life was pretty simple the year I first became a teenager. I played baseball, thought a lot about girls and, when at home, spent as much time as possible alone in my bedroom writing and dreaming of one day becoming a famous actor or writer, or both. And once a week I went to 7-11 and bought a slurpee in a plastic cup. The cups had an imprint of a superhero or sport legend but I really didn’t pay attention to the cup, though I kept a stack of them on the shelf anyway. My folks separated that year and divided the kids up, and useless cups and other things were tossed out. I soon forgot about innocent privacies and dreamy slurpee days.

A few weeks ago I arrived at Union Station in Washington, DC and stopped for a moment to observe the people. I imagined their comings and goings and reunions and goodbyes and then I imagined something else. I thought of Esther arriving through one of those doors. There she was looking straight at me, a beam of light pouring down upon her freckled face, bright and alive and smiling, bags in hand, home from a very long trip. I went to her and held on and in that moment I didn’t care about eternal mysteries or questions about where she’d been, I only cared that she was there with me, in that place, in that moment.

A few days later I went to the American History museum at the Smithsonian and at the end of my long visit spotted something familiar in a display case. It was the very type of plastic slurpee cup I had once treasured, something I had not seen in 40 years! It surprised me that the tears I felt on my cheeks were mine, probably the only person in that corner of the museum crying over a cup! But I wasn’t ashamed. The cups (there were many of them) presented themselves to me as friends, somehow protected from the years, safe and sound, protected by the glass. It was as if they wanted me to know they were okay and assure me that I’d be okay, too.

Love may be like that, the pure recognition and acceptance of something or someone very important to us. Friends don't care that time has passed, or that distance may have separated them. All that matters is that they are okay. Once upon a time they were with us as we got through impossible times. They are still beloved friends, and daughters and husbands and pets and sometimes things. The sacred thing. Even behind glass or in voyages of the mind, in an unguarded moment they can still present themselves, these loyal ones that once carried us, made us who we are, loved us, helped us dream, helped us believe.

Listen. Stop awhile in the station. You might just stumble upon a time machine, or a bit of magic in a plastic cup.

From the early '70's.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What Can I Do?

The Past arrived today! Younger Wayne wrote me a note two years ago on December 31, 2011 (I was following the example of my daughter Esther who had earlier sent such an email through -see my blog about that from December 2011).

I am not a prophet but what I imagined in this span of 24 months doesn’t seem to have been unrealistic or impractical. I thought by now that I’d be writing and teaching delicious college courses and celebrating the publication of Esther’s Book, and I am! It’s a gorgeous book, a living tribute to a gracious soul. I love this role as author after dreaming a very long time about becoming one (Advice to aspiring writers: start earlier and stay later). My hope now is that I am less full of myself so that I might focus more completely on my readers. I cannot change anything in the past though I can shape the future by ‘being the change I want to see’ as Gandhi said (Of course, I teach college philosophy and think I understand the free will versus determinism debate pretty well. At 20, I only believed in free will. Now, I mostly think we have little to no choice. But that’s a topic for a future blog).

Lori didn’t end up working as a K-12 educational administrator as I had expected but instead chose wisely to focus her vocational energies on the development of our foundation ( which has now resulted in the distribution of over $130,000 to many needy families! I am convinced that she’d a made a great principal, but that wasn’t her true passion. By choosing to develop our non-profit, she’s unstoppable and, on the day she oversees total gifts given of one million dollars, she’ll have only just begun.

I had hoped to be a better dad. In many ways, I think I am! But I’m not nearly as accessible as I could be. My girls have moved out –Abby to California and Evangeline to college in Vermont and I don’t expect they’ll be coming home again, as long term residents, anyway. I should have tried harder to be more of a dad and friend to these adult daughters and to my young sons. It’s not easy for me to make friends, even in my own family, maybe especially there. I admire my children immensely and feel that they will do much good as they navigate their mutual, maturing lives. If we are true to family tradition, we’ll remain a close unit, though likely geographically apart, which has its advantages -and disadvantages, some of which have tormented me a bit. Going forward into time and space, I cannot imagine a life separate from them and away from any grandchildren that we may be graced with. I do have a Plan of Engagement and am hopeful that Future Wayne will be brave enough to follow through.

I still believe today what I wrote 731 days ago as I closed the aforementioned letter to my future self. Two years on, the mystery deepens, love endures, faith and hope abide.

When this letter arrives,
if I am not there to receive it (being gone, really gone. Dead!),
note: I am not really gone
just away
if I can get through to you, my Love
I will!
If not, read my writings (which are muddled paintings of where I am now)
My last words were (probably) “I’m ready”
My first words in heaven were:

Therefore we have hope. Plunging head first into 2014 I remain wide awake to the reality that it matters little what I think or do, but also fiercely convinced that my actions and thoughts just might make a difference for someone, somewhere. I can do that much.
Family Earl at Vidcon. August 2013.