Look After [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Mike and I exchanged text messages. His mother recently passed and his clan interred her ashes a few days ago. We held services for my dad last week. Columbus’ ashes will find their final resting place in the spring.

Mike is heading for the ocean. Before leaving Colorado, I had to stand in the mountains. Both are places of infinity. Stand in our smallness. Realize the ‘bigness’ of life.

What do we do after…After.

John Irving wrote that we lose people, not all at once, but in pieces. I think we find them in pieces, too. There is so much to discover in the After. Stories are told. Quiet is necessary. An anchor goes missing and then, bit by bit, is rediscovered. Inside.

After. Bit by bit.

read Kerri’s blog post about AFTER

See The Shape [on DR Thursday]

The Balinese would call this an auspicious day. They would never perform a funeral rite on a day that was not promising. This soul will come back in seven generations and requires a providential sending.

The Greeks placed coins on the eyes of their departed loved ones. Fare for safe passage over the river Styx.

Columbus’ son will give his eulogy. His son-in-law will guide the ritual. His granddaughter will sing for him. His daughter-in-law will play her compositions, prelude and postlude, and sing a special song for him. His coins are his family. They will pay his passage. Actually, that his family will perform every aspect of his service – his sending – is testament to his earth-passage, what he did during his time while walking on this planet.

Heart.

We laughed while driving across Kansas. The day was fraught with obstacles. Breakdowns and high winds. “Columbus is making this trip eventful,” I said. He was full of mischief.

“I can see that sparkle in his eye,” Kerri responded. Nothing was going to stop us from getting to his service. Nothing. Not even mischief.

I have often been asked, “What is the shape of your day?” A curious question to ask a visual artist. “Not flat nor two-dimensional,” I think but do not say. “Certainly organic. Not geometric. My days are rarely geometric.” I never know what lines-of-thought or surprise events actually close to give definition to my day until the end, when I stand back and look at the whole. That is true for all of us. No one knows the shape of their day at sunrise.

Today, the lines have closed so we gather to look at the shape of Columbus’ life.

Heart. Big heart.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEART LEAVES

Columbus circa 1998

Feel The Empty Space [on Two Artists Tuesday]

A Double Haiku

With the harvest moon,

he waned and found his way out.

A return to earth.

His whisper, the wind.

Invisible yet present,

We hug empty space.

Read Kerri’s blog post about STAR FLOWER

Answer The Call [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I have an old iPhone. Sometimes it doesn’t ring when people try to call. The sound of the message coming into my inbox is the first clue that someone is trying to reach me. Yesterday, when I heard the alert, I was unloading stone from the car so I didn’t check it right away. I wish I had. It was my dad.

His message was 12 seconds long and most of it was confusion and labored breathing. He is famous for removing his oxygen when no one is around and, in his advancing dementia, he will sometimes accidentally dial my number when he is lost in the story-in-his-mind. I treasure these brief touches, these calls, when I hear the phone and answer. We talk. He’ll stay on the phone and, even when he is panicked, he shares his story. My goal always is to convince him to go to the door and tell someone that he needs help with his oxygen. No one can help him with his story.

I tried twice to return his call but he did not pick up.

The theme of this season is life-cycle. We’ve enjoyed the peonies bud-to-blossom-to-fade. Each step of the process has been gorgeous. In the lingering season of pandemic we are, like many people in the nation, paying attention to our backyard. We’re making it our sanctuary and have already spent many an evening sitting on the deck, the mourning dove singing to us from the trees.

We had the opportunity to visit a local college. It is a new campus. It’s the old newspaper building, transformed. This quote is stenciled on the wall: Your life has purpose. Your story is important. Your dreams count. Your voice matters. You were born to make an impact. It’s a good message for anyone but particularly students trying to find their way into the world. People at the beginning of their story.

It’s also a good message for people at the end of their story, making their way out of the world, though it is not the same as a statement of reflection as one of aspiration. It has more punch.

Were I a teacher at this college, I would tell my students, new buds on the peony, not to worry so much about mattering. Assume it to be true.

I would teach them that they might spend their whole lives trying to make a mark and none of it will matter so much as answering the phone. Your voice will matter. You will have an impact.

No story that you tell will be more important than the story you concoct to get Columbus out of his chair, to shuffle to the door of his room, so he can say to someone, anyone, “Will you help me to breathe.”

read Kerri’s blog post about LIFE PURPOSE

Make Good Mistakes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

At the front desk, we answered a long series of questions about our recent health, had our temperatures scanned and recorded. A ritual of the COVID era. Name tags rolled from a printer and, with masks on, the door clicked open and we entered the memory care facility. It was the first time visiting my dad in his new home.

We found him in his room, number 110. His bed was sharply made, something he’d done all his life. He was sitting in a cranberry colored easy chair and was, in his mind, tending the store. He breathed an audible sigh of relief when we came in. “Finally!” he said, “I’ve been watching the store all day and haven’t had a single customer.”

I learned long ago to jump into his reality rather than try and pull him into mine so we talked about his business. He was especially excited about the television and radio spots promoting the shop. He pointed to the door to the bathroom and told us it was the library and confessed that he’d started to organize it but had been interrupted so it was a fantastic mess. He laughed and the old sparkle, for a moment, returned to his eyes.

I told him I was really good at making messes. He leaned in, adjusted his oxygen tube, and spoke a lovely wisdom, a lesson from the very old that, in my opinion, should be taught to the very young, “I can make as good a mistake as anybody.” We laughed.

He was always a good teacher. Making good mistakes was, and still is, even deep in his dementia journey, the epicenter of his good teaching. Make mistakes freely and learn from what you find in the mess. Remove failure from the equation.

He walked us to the door when it was time to go, and, for a moment, he knew who we were. He looked at Kerri and said of me, “I’m sorry you have to look at that all the time. Damn, is he ugly.” In my clan, to tease is to love. “I get my looks from my father,” I replied. More sparkle.

“Keep making those mistakes,” I said, hugging him goodbye.

“I don’t think I can avoid it,” he smiled and, he turned down the hall. “Guess it’s time to close up the shop.”

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MISTAKES

Catch His Hand [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago, somewhere in the middle of the 1990’s, I painted a portrait of my dad. It is monochromatic and a fairly quick study. In the painting, he is either emerging or returning to the corn. Or both. I can’t remember why I painted him in the corn except that he was born in Iowa and wished his entire adult life to return to the small town where he grew up. Perhaps this is a painting about yearning. Perhaps it is a painting about returning home.

It occurred to me, when I found it while re-stacking paintings after the great studio flood, that I painted this when he was roughly the age I am now. For a fleeting moment I wanted to paint a monochrome self-portrait simply so I might place it across the room. We’d have a staring contest that reached beyond both of our lives.

I chucked the idea for many reasons but mostly because I had no idea what “field” I might emerge from or into? My symbolic return home would be…what? I am not connected to a single place, a tiny town in Iowa or, like Tom Mck, a ranch in California. I have been a wanderer.

I’ve always loved hands. They are, in many ways, more expressive than faces. They are not as guarded and rarely put on airs. My dad was a working man and has working man hands. He was proud of the work he did. It was hard and broke his body but he loved it. It was out of doors under the open sky. He started his career as a teacher and, although he never confessed as much, I think he hated teaching. The classroom was suffocating. He needed to get his hands in the dirt, feel the sun on his face. Even after he retired, as he aged, he sat on the porch in the mornings, he worked his garden or clipped his grass or cleaned his gutters; anything to be outside.

I had a dream many years ago that has stayed with me. My dad and I were free-falling through time. As we fell, he reached out his hand. I stretched out my arm, tried to grasp his hand, but in falling, we were just out of reach. In the dream I stared intently at his hand as I tried to extend my arm, tried to grasp his hand. I knew, if I was successful, if we could catch his hand, it might not stop our fall, but we, neither of us, would fall alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLUMBUS HANDS