Sweet daughter has been reading a story about a family of four girls having to deal with the death of their mother. It’s set in Mexico, mid 1900s.

It’s a story written by a woman, for girls about the age of ten, as mine is. As a manly man (ahem) nearing 40, this does not represent my favorite oeuvre. Nevertheless, it sparked a brief conversation with said offspring about death and how to handle it.

We don’t do this very often, as Americans. Death seems to still be a rather taboo and unseemly topic of conversation, which reeks of irony considering what we actually do talk about. (I’m looking at you Richard Sherman.) But we need to talk about it. Not dwell on it, mind you. Let’s address it as we would any other topic about which we need to teach kids.

So that’s what I did. We talked about grief. We discussed how the idea of an afterlife confuses the survivors, for if we’re going to see our loved ones again, what’s the point of being so sad? Sweet daughter seemed to grasp without much trouble at all the concept that when someone dies, they’re gone and that’s it. Most importantly, in the midst of grief we have to believe that we will be happy again.

The pain we feel isn’t for the one passed. It is for ourselves and for any other survivors. As such it is something that we can deal with. We need not pretend that the dead live on and so “watch over us” or take interest in what we do. Our lives are our own, and we need not live them for the departed. We can honor those gone, but we don’t need to be ruled by them in any way. Consequently, we must acknowledge that happiness can and should return when the grieving is done.

Looking back on those I’ve lost, this perspective fills with me with a great sense of freedom. It feels healthy to miss them from time to time but–in the main–to take joy in having known them. They do not look down on me from Heaven. Instead, their lives have left an indelible (I hope) mark on my life, for the better.

Life, short as it is, seems much sweeter, much more precious, when its brevity is fully comprehended. And while it hurts to lose someone–indeed, the pain can sometimes make us feel as if we will never breathe again–we must remind ourselves that the pain will pass and that happiness, happiness is the whole point of life.

My hope is that when my daughter experiences for the first time the loss of someone close to her, she will grieve well…and then move on and grasp the fullness of joy that life has to offer.


Some months ago I decided to no longer post on Facebook my thoughts that I record in this blog. The impetus for that had two components.

First, from perusing Facebook, I had collected over time a well of frustration relating to various religious, political, and deepity type mental emesis that was threatening to overflow. That would be healthy for no one.

Second, it seemed that I had a talent for alienating friends simply by sharing my thoughts. In fact, a couple of them had been quite dismissive and insulting, intentionally attacking my character. After some challenge to them, these folks decided to withdraw from the conversation, cutting me off entirely. This did not tend to augment anyone’s happiness levels.

So I drew the conclusion that I’d rather not alienate any more friends. The result was that I largely just ignored Facebook for a while, checking in here and there to make sure I didn’t have any private messages, and that I would no longer share my (apparently) controversial thoughts in that forum.

But then two things happened.

First, I managed to alienate another friend anyway, completely apart from Facebook and blog ramblings. In fact, through a quirk of circumstance, I happened to find out precisely how much my friendship was worth to this other person: $130. (As usual with me, in my last communication I left the door open to reconciliation, but the other party simply deemed it not worthy of a response.) This told me that I didn’t need Facebook or the internet in order to lose friends. I seem to be able to do this no matter the medium. (Lest we think I’m having a pity party here, I’m not. I’ve made several friends over this same time period, and many others have shown meaningful support to me simultaneously. But I think these observations are relevant.)

Second, I just happened to get on FB recently and have a look back at my own page from the last year. Reviewing the pics, the short discussions, the funny or random articles, I realized what a great scrapbook FB is. That is, in the current solipsistic age (or blog post, as you deem) FB may stink as a medium for engaging friends, but it makes for a nice record of activities.

So here I am, back on FB posting pics, submitting comments, and, yes, linking to my blog. I have considered the price that I have to pay for being myself, and it seems worth the trade — at least for the moment. I cannot promise restraint or lack of controversy or that I won’t offend you, personally, dear reader.

But I will be myself. And I sincerely hope that is something you end up valuing, too.


I speak of love. You hear anger.

I talk of encouragement. You hear argument.

I encourage empathy. You hear “too soon.”

I challenge your views. You hear nothing.

So I become angry.

I argue.

I harden.

I turn into nothing, a nonevent. No voice, unworthy of attention. A burr in the sock, a goad in the side, a blister on humanity. Dismissed.

But I am not nothing. I would love you if you would let me. Who knows? Your life might be the better for it.

I offer to improve your life. You hear arrogance.

I am dismissed.


Just learned that an old friend lost her young boy. Her only child. Kid was about the age of my son, maybe 6 or 7 or so.

Car accident. An all-of-a-sudden thing. Everyone else involved is apparently ok, physically. Organs donated. Someone’s life possibly saved by this child’s unwitting sacrifice. God’s hand at work, I guess.

But here’s the thing. They say that God is almighty, omnipotent. He can do anything and everything. If He so chooses.

He’s omniscient, too, according to the prevailing view. So He knew this was coming.

Did He choose not to spare this boy and his family? Or was He unable to do so? Set aside the “good” that came from the tragedy, the boy whose life may have been saved by the donated organs.

Consider my old friend. Did God choose to allow her to experience the deepest pain one can imagine? Or was He impotent to prevent it?

People say God exists. They say He is good. And they say He is almighty. These three assertions cannot all be true, given the current circumstance of my friend.

Perhaps He is not almighty, in which case He could not save the boy.

Perhaps He is not good, in which case He is not worthy of praise or adulation.

Or perhaps He is not there. In this case the tragedy is no less painful. But it is understandable, given our imperfect world.

With no God there, we each become that much more important to each other. We are all we have. We can love and cry and hurt with each other in times like these. We can encourage and sympathize and simply care for one another.

And eventually, we can live and smile and laugh together again. We are not almighty, but we do have power. We have the power to love each other.


September 2001. The wife and I are looking forward to a fishing trip in Montana, just a month away. Smith River, wilderness. The scent of spruce needles, fish scales, and B.O. wafting merrily about as we and friends match wits with small-brained icthyoids.

But you know what happened. Deluded zealots crashed some planes and shut down the country. Though planes would be flying again in time for Montana, our friends cancel, and we look for something else to do.

“How about a bike trip?” says the wife. “Why not?” say I, and off we go to New Hampshire, via Boston’s Logan, of all places. We meet up with an eclectic group, including four moms from North Carolina on a girls retreat, an interesting and friendly nearly-retired couple from Arkansas, and a creepy single guy from Florida, among others. It turns out that guided bike trips tend to attract an older sort of crowd. My bride and I are the youngest there by about a decade. “No matter. It’ll be interesting,” we think, and we were right.

And so we rode New Hampshire’s and Vermont’s byways on dorky bikes, braving fast-moving cars and seriously sore nether-regions. The idea of the trip was to experience New England’s fall foliage while getting some exercise, and then relaxing in various inns and B&Bs along the way. Most of the places we stayed were pleasant, but one stands out — an old New Hampshire estate postured on top of a nice little hill.

The centerpiece of the grounds was a log cabin embodying a character of the sort you just cannot re-create these days. Upstairs were about eight guest rooms, all sharing two toilets and adorned with the most magnificently ancient red shag carpet. Downstairs was the dining room sporting a table big enough to sit about fifteen. Around the corner a hearth the size of a small Buick managed to warm everything within a radius of eight feet and nothing beyond.

The estate had been subjected to several abortive attempts at commercial viability. Among the earliest, some time in the 1930s, was a downhill ski resort. Keep in mind that this was New Hampshire, not the Rockies. Apparently the prospect of whisking jovially, but not quickly, down nearly two hundred vertical feet of fairly shallow slope, then grasping a rickety-looking tow rope and repeating the process did not a make for a solid business operation.

The subsequent owners, recognizing the flaw in the previous business plan, thought to install a cross-country ski resort. Unfortunately, cross-country skiers — at least the kind that would stay in a resort — tend not to heartily embrace trudging not-so-jovially up nearly two hundred vertical feet at the end of the day to get to their warm beds.

So the cross-country skiers were replaced with boys whose parents thought they needed a good old-fashioned camp experience. How a boys camp could fail to make a profit year after year takes little imagination, once you consider the costs associated with boys. The damage caused by ignited flatulence alone could put you (and some of the boys) in the red.

By the time we arrived, however, it seemed that this fine hilltop had found its niche. An elderly couple ran the inn with flair and dispatch. The husband tended a huge garden whence came many of the ingredients in the delicious meals crafted by the wife’s expert hands. Fresh chocolate chip cookies — better than your grandmother’s, I’d wager — greeted us on the second floor balcony that overlooked a lovely rolling landscape. The beds were clean, the grounds were mowed, the food was exquisitely down-home, and the whole place just felt like a throwback to a halcyon yesteryear, the kind that never existed except in our collective white-washed imaginations.

Yet something was off. The husband-wife team were not so much a team. She was a pistol, quick with a verbal crack and consumed with a pessimism so grating one could not be sure of its sincerity.

He was a beaten man, looking as if he had tried to tame the shrew and lost. The practiced, ornery banter between them was the kind that had obviously been nurtured and aged, like a good wine, to achieve that perfect blend of biting wit and resigned frustration. In the hands of less-skilled combatants, such exchanges may have resulted in divorce many years before, but these folks were masters. They relished their grumpy repartée and wore their ornery as one would a too-heavy parka on a not-quite-cold-enough day. Throwing it off would be too much. Keeping it on leads to overheating and a rising temper.

Watching the interaction between these two former lovers made me wonder about the devolution of affection. Presumably, they were once a man and a woman, each impressed with the other. They had a first kiss, a first night together. He confessed his love, she opened her heart. And now, years later, they bicker constantly.

At the very top of the hill stood a flagpole, the Starts and Stripes still flying at half-mast. The flag, if nothing else, is a reminder of history. The history of this patch of ground was one of missing the mark. What is it that they say about history?


To my readership (both of you):

I may deviate from the topic of religion and belief. Why? Because I want to. And because I don’t want to go through the trouble of setting up another blog. I hope you don’t mind.

That is all.