Monday, January 26
A grinding halt
If stretch my mind a bit, I can vaguely remember a time or two sneaking around late at night with my dad. We were in the old truck, a brown Ford Ranger, the one I rolled 2 weeks after I got my drivers license. The one with a giant plow frame that never seemed like it belonged there. The cab smelled like him. There was always an old peanut butter jar, washed, then filled with chocolate and other candy for "emergencies".
The late night run was for my great uncle. He was terminally ill with little to no time left. I wasn't sure what we were doing at the time, but we would stop at the store first, the one that had the bottles in the back. My dad would pull in the driveway and leave the brown paper bag outside, near the basement window. I'm not sure if he hid it under some leaves, or left it out in the open. I don't know if it was a time sensitive mission or an "I'll drop it off one night this week" sort of thing.
I don't remember exactly how my dad explained to me what we were doing, but if he were to explain it now I'd imagine it would go something like this:
Life is complicated. It's not black and white, and people don't always agree on what is right. Life is short...but it doesn't feel that way until it's too late.
Eventually...we will all meet our end. Nowadays it is rare to meet your end with the dignity we all had imagined we would take our last breath with. Loss of mind, loss of body, loss of control...a complete and utter decimation of the person we used to see in the mirror. This man deserves a god damned drink if he wants one, and that's what he's going to get.
My dad provided reprieve. A simple pleasure to ease suffering, and for that I am proud.
My aunt passed away a few days ago, and my heart aches for my mother. When I was a kid my aunt lived across the continent. One of my first memories of her was dropping her off at the airport with my mom. Everything seemed fine. My mom bought me a can of mini coke at the Canadian airport cafeteria. I remember because it was the first time I had seen a miniature can. It wasn't until we were in the car that my mom let her tears fall. Being a kid, I had to ask why she was crying...it didn't make sense. When a continent separates you, visits are few and far between, and always too short. Time was never on their side.
Today while writing this I got a phone call from a client. A newly discovered lump, desperation and disbelief in her voice. Yesterday she was just like me, just like us...oblivious. Today, life has taken a decisive turn, a more ominous urgency rather than casual certainty.
I saw a client at the grocery store...not an hour after getting off the phone. After the normal pleasantries he informed me that his wife was in hospice care. She was at home, but her lungs were failing and that it wouldn't be long. I didn't know what to say. I never do. What are you supposed to say? I heard myself blurting out how sorry I was before I could help it, but what I really wanted to do was give him a hug, lie to him, and tell him it would be OK. Tell him that eventually the sting would lesson and life would once again appear normal without her. It just so happens that this man possesses more grace than I could ever pretend to have, and his response of "it's ok...this is part of life" was almost too much to handle. His face. His god damned face. His wife. His god damned wife. We all make this deal...but it's not really a deal. It is a mutually exclusive relationship, life and death.
One of my greatest fears is that as I lay on my death bed I will be haunted by my decisions. Not the little decisions, but the ones that matter. Have I been myself? Have I let anyone know who I am? Do my kids know me, does my wife know me? So much time wasted on trivial things, too many harsh words, not enough patience. To many "I can'ts" and "too busys" and not enough "why the hell nots".
My grandpa is sitting in a nursing home as I write this. He's been there about two weeks. Of all the people I've known, he may be the grumpiest. He also happens to be one of the quickest people to tell a joke, embellish a story, or try to get a smile. In all the years I've fished with my grandpa, I don't think I ever saw him once catch a fish on a fly rod. He was the first in our family to pick one up, and may have been throwing dry flies at salmon for all I know...but he never gave it up, never complained that the fish weren't biting, and never resorted back to his spinning rod.
I took my son in with me to see him the other day. Within minutes he was sharing one of the coolest stories I think I have ever heard. How much of it is true, I don't know, but I choose to believe it all. I will do a poor recording of the events here:
The person he was sharing a room with at the hospital the week previous was "a goofy bastard....nice...but different." It was about the second night there that they hatched the plan. "Want to blow this joint with me tonight?" the roommate asked. "Damn straight." my grandpa grunted. They set an alarm, 2 am sharp. Their bags were packed and they were primed. My grandpa had a car but no license, the roommate had a license but no car...a match made in heaven. My grandpa was awoken that night by the roommate, "still comin'?" and they "crept" out of the room and down the hallway. They made it about as far as the nurse's station where they were inevitably stopped. "What in the hell do you guys think you're doing?" they were asked. "It's time for us to go" was the reply. "We're going to have to call security if you don't get back to your room" the nurse replied. "I don't give a good god damn if you call the National Guard, we're getting out of here!" A battle cry.
Eventually, after enough threats, the roommate was convinced to head back, so my grandpa was left with little to no choice but to retreat as well.
I couldn't stop laughing...at least at first. Later, I couldn't get it out of my head.
Relentless, determined, single-minded and unwavering...disheartened, defeated, crushed...despair. Too many feelings. Fleeting and temporary, the body betrays the mind. Even more devastating to watch, the mind betrays the body...and there you are.
Chase contentment, chase trout, but don't wait.