Tom’s big heart

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 21, 2013 by cgeary

Tom Lore passed away in May of this year (2013) but I found out about it in September. I realized, as I was grazing through Facebook at work one day, that I had not seen anything from Tom for a while. I went to his home page to find posts from grieving friends from all over the country and barely anyone I knew.

(And here is the bizarre thing about Facebook. At the beginning of this week, I got an email reminding me that Tom’s birthday is October 16 and asking me to post something on his home page. I imagine all his other FB friends got the email too.)

 Everyone was stunned and torn apart by his sudden death, but no cause of death was mentioned. I also was stunned and worried about the cause of death. I also thought, “How could I have not known this until now?” Tom was 47 years old. There was a time probably two decades ago when I saw Tom quite often and then a time a bit later when I saw him, not quite as often but with the possibility of seeing each other frequently. I met him in the mid-90s when he was working as a caregiver and I was a volunteer at an AIDS hospice in Carrboro, NC. I was in awe of the caregivers I met there. It was about the time that anti-retrovirals were first being used to treat AIDS, but there was still a lot to learn about how to use them. The hospice went from a place where people went to die to a place where they learned to live on their meds. Residents often had some difficulties with the side effects and care could be challenging. Tom was patient and approached every situation with a sense of humor. He called everyone “sweetheart” and did whatever it took to make things better. As a volunteer I cooked dinner for the residents and caregivers a couple of times a month. Over the years I worked there I was going through a difficult personal transition, and the time I spent with people living and working there was a gift to me, a balm to ease the sting of other splintering relationships.

 I got to know Tom and his partner Todd outside of the hospice. I can remember vividly several dinners at his house and mine – hysterical laughter a common occurrence. Tom reminded me always of Jonathan Winters, but with a Southern flair. He had a sharp, quick wit, a great voice and a completely wonderful laugh. He was self-deprecating, often laughing at himself while he was making others laugh. There were other parts of Tom I was aware of but did not know so well, that balanced out the funny man I hung out with. Hyperactivity, heavy smoking, anxiety calling requiring prescription meds–I never probed, never thinking it was my business if he did not want it to be.

 At some point, but I cannot remember exactly when, we both left our work at the hospice. Tom went to nursing school and then to Texas where Todd had a job opportunity. I quit after the deaths of three residents I had known there left me heartbroken. Some years later Tom was back from Texas, to my surprise, having gotten a job working where I worked but in a different department; we talked and had lunch occasionally. Then he left the job to take care of his ailing parents. 

Tom excelled at taking care of people. He did not finish nursing school, but the job he found most satisfying was that of super administrative assistant. He knew how to anticipate what people wanted even before they knew what they wanted. He spent many years taking care of his parents until their deaths. After his mother’s death but before his father’s, one of us found the other on Facebook. It was such a joy to be in contact, even if was online. At one point after his father’s death when he was ready to find a job again – I think summer before last – we talked on the phone for a long time about job possibilities in the area. The call was great. It made me realize how much I liked Tom’s engagement with life, his ability to face the difficult things head on, his gratitude and his edgy sense of humor.

I was hoping I could help find him the job he wanted and that it would be in close proximity to me so I could see him sometimes. Before anything worked out though, I gleaned from Facebook posts that he had moved to Chicago and then he was back in Greensboro and I have no idea why he went or why he came back. Early this year I got a call from a woman in the HR department where he had applied for a job near High Point. He had given me as a reference and it was easy for me to truthfully answer her questions in a way that helped him get the job. When I saw on Facebook that he was starting a new job, I sent him a message asking if that was the job I had given him the reference for and he said yes and thank you.

My winter and spring went by in a blur — I do not remember much that was different about Tom’s posts. He was always kind of thoughtful and soulful and thankful for family and friends in his posts. He had remembered his mother on Mother’s Day and then that was the last thing he posted.

 When I stumbled onto the fact of his death, I was thinking how strange a life it is that I can feel close to someone I had not seen in person in years and in fact had few real time interactions with and that life could be so busy I didn’t notice his absence right away. A two-edged sword is this technology that mediates our relationships. If it were not for Facebook, I might not have re-connected with him at all. I read a lot of posthumous posts on his wall by people that mentioned they had met Tom through FB and never in person and that his friendship had been meaningful and dear to them. Through FB though, I was able to contact Todd who had kept up with Tom through the years and he told me that Tom died because of an accidental drug overdose.

Tom’s death is tragic and heartbreaking in so many ways, but the life he did have was a gift to those who knew him. Death is a mystery but I believe that the reality of who we are – our beings, our souls – never really go away. Whatever the bumps and bruises of Tom’s life were, it is the big, tender heart he opened to those around him that is the reality of who he is and that lives on for those who cared about him. Thanks, buddy. 

1Q84

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 19, 2013 by cgeary

I listened to 38 discs of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. This is the third book of his I have listened to and this story contained many of the same elements as his other books – magical realism/surrealism – leaving one reality to enter another one that leaves us slightly off kilter…cats…an examination of consciousness and time and memory. This book contains a story within a story. The inside story is proposed as a book of fantasy that an editor and a writer try to appropriate for their own benefit…one for money the other for what it gives him as a writer…but they end up being appropriated by the story itself which reveals itself to be true but possibly only in one dimension of realty. In the end we don’t know exactly where this dimension begins and ends, but it feels plausible that the main characters went into it and came back out of it again. It is very Alice in Wonderland like. The main character goes down the rabbit hole and finds herself in a set of circumstances subtly different than what she knows, but different enough to make her question what is going on. Everything isn’t different, but the things that are lead her down a path that takes her to her one true love.

 

At its core this is a love story between Aomame and Tengo who are now both 30 but knew each other as children. An event when they were 10 years old remained in the memory and hearts as they grew older. Though Aomame’s family moved away and they had not seen each other for twenty years, they each yearned in their separate ways for a truth they had experienced earlier. A very interesting (and much shorter) novel could have been written about this love story without the surrealistic story created for 1Q84. The use of an alternative dimension to support the quest of Aomame and Tengo to find each other is almost decoration, rather than substance. At times I was annoyed with it and other times I was charmed by it. I kept hanging on trying to understand it, to grasp what I thought Murakami might be trying to say or at least get us to think about. It certainly provided the opportunity to consider themes common to many of his books such as time, memory, consciousness, ethical ambiguity, children at the mercy of overbearing parents and cats. As in his other books, discussion of Western culture is sprinkled throughout – classical music, movies and Carl Jung. It was hard not to think of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, and Tengo alluded to Macbeth more than once. The setting in 1984 means relying on technology of that time and the plot is constrained by this feature. (Many times I thought…if only they had the internet or cell phones this wouldn’t be a problem.) There is so much discussion of the NHK (Japan’s television channel) and collectors of the monthly subscription fee, I was wondering what bad experience Murakami had with them get such a prominently unattractive role in this book.

 

There is something in Murakami’s style that makes me feel like I am in the almost dream world he describes while I am listening to it. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but it pulls me in, even when I’m feeling uncomfortable with the action or the fantasy seems to be too much. I worried that I would be let down by the ending, but I liked the ending and thought the book was thought-provoking and entertaining and I have not quite shaken 1Q84 out of my consciousness.

I surrender

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 19, 2013 by cgeary

 

I surrender my vegetable garden to the reality that

  • my yard is not a good place to grow vegetables;
  • I don’t have enough time to keep up with it properly with a full time job; and
  • I have plenty of places to buy good locally grown vegetables in season and don’t need to grow my own vegetables.

 

My yard is very woodsy and is mostly shaded. It also is a major highway for foraging deer. Last year we built a beautiful fence in the sunniest part of the yard and cut down a few extra trees for good measure. The deer of course stay out but the canopy of the remaining trees in our yard has grown to fill in the spaces that were there last year. I can get plants to grow, but few vegetables. Basil grows…some tomatoes and beans…no squash or melons.

 

As I often do, I tried to do too much, tried to grow too many kinds of plants. And the rain has made things a mess this year. My yard is big and needs a lot of work just to maintain what is there. I had planned to try to bring some order to the garden by putting in raised beds and I think I will still build the wooden structures before the end of the summer, but I will be more focused with what I have in it I have started two asparagus beds, which I will keep. I also will keep the black raspberry plants that produced fairly well earlier in the summer. The rest of the beds I will plant with herbs, which seem to go fairly well and some flowers that will tolerate the shade. The rest of my time I will focus on clearing out my yard to make it less high maintenance. Right now that means a lot of weeding in some of the flower beds, cutting out saplings and mulching, mulching, mulching…and clearing out a few foot paths.

 

This morning I took at first step toward this transition. I pulled out all my non-productive plants and cut my raspberries way back. I pulled as many weeds as I could in the time I had. I have some flowers that I hope will bloom – tithonia or Mexican sunflowers.  It looks much better already and though I still have some clean up to go, feels like a lighter load.

Sorrow and joy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on April 21, 2013 by cgeary

This has been a difficult week in America and for me personally as we try to understand the meaning of the pain and sadness and sorrow of the Boston bombings and the Texas fertilizer factory explosion as well as the despair I feel when politicians will not pass the most conservative gun control measure and when ultra conservatives in the NC General Assembly are working to dismantle our school system and basic citizen and reproductive rights.

 

This morning though sitting among members of a faith community, I could feel this despair counterbalanced by other experiences of the week. I had participated in the Switchpoint Conference in beautiful Saxapahaw, NC listening to and being inspired by young and not so young people discuss the use of innovation and connectivity for social good in the US and in developing countries. I went to a party to celebrate the career of a friend and former graduate school professor who has been and continues to be an amazing influence on everyone she meets. I saw the Playmakers Repertory Company perform Cabaret in way that was completely entertaining – at the same time it made us see it as a cautionary tale against what happens when we do not speak out against injustice. This morning at church we were uplifted by the music of the gospel choir, the recognition of 20 years of service by our very compassionate associate minister and given a space in which to process with others the difficulties of the past week.

 

In the midst of struggle there is joy. In the midst of joy there is struggle and pain. I’m often grappling with where my energy should be…how I should live between the two. It will be an ongoing tension I have no doubt. I think the answer, if there is one has something to do with being present with whatever is going on in your life at the moment and being able to let what may seem like contradictions exist simultaneously if necessary.

On reading Sacred Hunger (by Barry Unsworth) (Part 2)

Posted in Comment with tags on April 2, 2013 by cgeary

The historical theme of this book was slavery and the ways in which power of the wealthy and privileged is institutionalized in the social fabric of our lives, but it is also very impressive how Unsworth deals with the intrapsychic and the interpersonal aspects of our lives that are pervasive across time and geography. The largest arc of the story focuses on the power of intense emotion felt in one act that propels actions of one of the characters across a lifetime. In this case the emotion was humiliation and I think was very particular to how men relate to each other, though I can think of other seemingly small actions in the lives of women that could have similarly longlasting effects. I don’t want to say more for those who might want to read the book. I mention it here though just to say that part of the joy of reading the book was that it was engaging at many different levels and I am awed by novelists who can do this well. 

On reading Sacred Hunger (by Barry Unsworth) (Part 1)

Posted in Comment with tags on April 2, 2013 by cgeary

This is a very compelling, very beautifully written novel. The story was about the European slave trade to the Americas in the 1700’s, but for me, it very quickly took me on a personal journey into moral ambiguity. How could slavery occupy any gray area? I started out the book thinking, “Everyone blames America, but really it was the Europeans who started this and profited as much from it.” I was not removing blame from the Americans who profited but somehow (sadly), it made me feel a little less guilty as an American, but only for a little while. The book does an excellent job of situating the slavery into a seemingly rational way of life that helps us understand how evil is sustained. We are introduced to amiable characters who are part of the slave trade who do not seem to be monsters; there are many ways in which we relate to them, understand them. They are people trying to make a living, who love their families, who want them to prosper. This is just one of many ways they seek to grow their wealth. It seems reasonable to them. For them it is just part of the world of trade, and they believe it is trade from Africa to Jamaica back to England that propels progress (and innovation?) and improves the lives of everyone. It is easy to get sucked into the drama of their day-to-day lives and forget the horror of how they make their living. Even the most enlightened characters, at least initially, have no moral outrage against slavery. And it is not just Africans whose freedom is compromised, nor is it only the English who enslave Africans. A number of the crew were pressed into service and it was African “middle men” who captured men and women and sell them to the ship’s captain, taking a cut along the way and making things better for themselves and their families.

So, I had this rude awakening that I can’t feel better about myself because I can just blame the English in the 18th century for these crimes against humanity. It is everyone that lets this happen. Then and now, injustice is part of a system that is difficult to disentangle. Or at least that is what the people who are profiting from it want you to believe. That it is too complicated and that there will be unintended consequences…that someone else will get hurt along the way…that you just don’t understand. “It’s not that easy,” is what my father used to say when I would complain about sexism or racism or the Vietnam War. But now I believe that is all subterfuge. There has to be a way to cut through what is wrong to get through what is right.

Slavery is still happening around the world, just not as blatantly, not openly supported by legitimate governments, but undoubtedly happening with many governments turning a blind eye. And thinking about slavery made me think of every other morally reprehensible act that enables us to live in relative comfort and luxury while it causes pain to or degrades other human beings. Start anywhere…sweat shops…mining…the toxicity from manufacturing that is in our soil and water and bodies..…the tragedy of drug addiction while so much money lines the pockets of criminals and politicians and is laundered through ‘legitimate’ businesses. Think of the arms trade all around the world and think of the guns that are bought and sold and stockpiled in the United States and politicians too gutless or evil to take a stand against laws giving people the right to own assault weapons. And how pharmaceutical companies use the bodies of people in developing countries to test new drugs. Undoubtedly some benefit could accrue to these people, but not in proportion to the benefit realized from drug companies. We do not push ourselves hard enough to see the interconnectedness of everything or to figure out how to leave the faintest mark on the world. It is all complicated, and sometimes there seems to only be a choice between several evils, but the consideration of the effects of what we do on others and the intention to create as few negative consequences as possible will create the possibility of it while looking the other way will not.

The genius of this book, for me, was that the story held up a mirror to my own ability to ignore evil in everyday life and to acknowledge that the bad stuff it not “out there” but everywhere where we do not acknowledge it and try to stop it.

2012 — The year of living soberly

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2012 by cgeary

I mean this literally, not metaphorically. The last alcoholic drink I had was a straight shot of Scotch in the early morning hours of 1 January 2012.…so I have one more day left to make it a year. I started not drinking in solidarity with my husband Ron who was not drinking because of a pancreatitis attack in December, caused by a gall bladder that would soon be removed.

 

Other reasons for my self-imposed abstinence included a long term dieting goal, which had only been about halfway met by that time  — plus a vague feeling that maybe I should see what it was like not to drink. I wouldn’t have said drinking was problematic for me; I usually had a daily beer or a glass of wine, but only one. Except maybe on the weekends, which started on Friday evening. Because of my diet (begun May 2011) I had cut back on weekdays, though perhaps had more than one a day on weekends and holidays. This vague feeling that maybe I should see what not drinking was like was related to feeling that perhaps sometimes I wasn’t my best self when I had had more than one glass of wine – and that when I drank at dinner it made me unproductive the rest of the night or perhaps just tired and sluggish.

 

The idea of giving up beer and wine was painful in some ways. I love microbrew beers– especially Belgian type beers – and bold red wines – and smooth Scotch (not all at one time of course). I love the social aspect of drinking…sitting around a pleasant afternoon or evening with friends and passing the time over a bottle of wine. Unwinding with colleagues on a business trip.

 

With my favorite drinking buddy on the wagon, though, I thought it might be a good time to see what it would be like not to drink for a while. A year sounded seemed like a reasonable amount of time…going through all the seasons and holidays. I had possible milestones throughout the year to rationalize starting again if a year started seeming too long – when I reached my goal weight (I’m close but didn’t quite get there yet) – when we went to the Kentucky Derby (but didn’t drink a mint julep because I was too grossed out watching everyone else drink so ferociously) or maybe sometime during the summer, at the beach. Once I was into it though, I decided to stay with it for the year, of which I only have only about 24 hours left.

 

This is what I learned in these past 12 months of sobriety.

  • Not drinking clears out the cobwebs in your brain. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I feel much clearer mentally and I like that feeling more than drinking. This more than anything has kept me from having a drink.
  • It is possible to go to parties and not drink. I get a bottle of Perrier and nobody really bothers me about it.
  • Other social interactions can be more problematic; people want you to go out drinking so that you are on an even footing in how you are allowed to “let yourself go” in a conversation.  Paradoxically, many people decide also not to drink when they are dining with us –even though we urge them to enjoy themselves. Sometimes it almost seems that they are relieved not to drink.
  • It is somewhat boring to be the only one not drinking around people who are having more than one drink – if you have one non-drinking companion it is ok because you can talk about the others – but if you are alone it is good to have dissociative skills or a smart phone to entertain yourself.
  • It is pointless to get into an argument with someone who has been drinking if you have not; you probably are trying to use logic – they are not, and you will never win.
  • I did not realize the extent to which I was drinking in the evening to take the edge off and when I stopped drinking, my edge did not go away.

 

This last point deserves more discussion, though I will try not to belabor it. Not drinking hooked me into some self-discipline that I already had begun to experience through my diet, but charged it up a bit. I am much better with routine and goals and limits, but there is little social sanction for self-discipline these days. In fact, I would argue that people are suspicious of it and begin to use phrases like “obsessive, compulsive.” Dieting and not drinking, however, validated my need for routine and self-discipline that influenced some other parts of my life. Ron and I began an early morning walk every weekday morning. After many years of reading and saying I wanted to start meditating, in February I began a sustained daily meditation practice. (My previous attempts had been a few days in a row, at most.) Meditation is also a very mind clearing activity that allowed me to make some major decisions about life priorities. I began to see that many things I was dissatisfied with I can address myself and therefore have no one else to blame. I also became more productive at work – completing some lingering projects. Completion actually became a major theme as I decided to improve my skills in two areas that I enjoyed but had only made half-assed attempts to learn: French and tennis. I’m halfway to French proficiency (thank you Pimsleur) and am planning to take tennis lessons this spring.

 

I’ve also realized the value of staying in touch with some negative feelings that I might have otherwise tried to smooth over with a glass of wine. Sometimes they need to be dealt with directly – often in discussion with others. This is not a comfortable place for me most of the time, but it certainly is better in the long run.

 

I am planning to have a glass of champagne very early on January 1st 2013 and see how it feel and think carefully about my alcohol consumption in the future. I imagine I will be an infrequent drinker, but then possibly I will let it go altogether. It’s all a work in progress.

 

Happy New Year!