Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Waving and not drowning.

  I was watching a documentary about FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and Eleanor and I kept noticing the way people waved goodbye back then, in those less selfied days. 
  They'd hold out a hand, palm down and shiver their fingers as if they were practicing piano or shooing something away. Big smile. 
  There's FDR waving to the crowd. He looks like a matron airing out a hankie. Even Teddy. Wave like a sissy and carry a big stick. Only Eleanor looked like she'd take you out with the back of her hand. 
   My dad waved like that. He'd stick his arm straight out and wiggle his fingers at me, smiling and fluttering, as I left for summer camp, after he took me to a party in High School, as he dropped me off my first day at college, smiling even after I'd slept the entire 12 hour trip to Providence, saying nothing to him, driving no share of the way, jammed next to the window because I'd stayed out till 5am with my girlfriend the night before and then lain next to her, us curled like dogs under the dining room table, my gear piled about, waiting for the grownups. 
  He smiled when he said goodbye even after some of our worst fights. Screaming rants, humiliation, brutality meted out in the meager family arena - but give it a few hours, he'd deliver me to where I had to be and he'd smile regardless and wave that wave like it had all been a game, something extraneous and silly to be shooed away, unimportant compared to ....compared to nothing sadly... as there wasn't much else between us beside fighting and waving. A few shared jokes. Some tv shows. We both loved cats. Christmas. The rest was silence. But when he took me to a train or to the airport, he would always wave and he always stood there, waiting, till I had left his sight.
   Synod Hall. Pittsburgh. I was listening to a famous quartet. Old instruments; early versions of a violin, a cello, a flute, and a viola. As one movement began, the Doppler wail of an ambulance sped by on the same note as the music. Harmony between the post-industrial age and the baroque. A duet 400 years in the making. Time folding it's hands around me. 
   Before the concert, I'd sat in a pew in the church next to the Synod. The City's grandest Catholic parish. Walking by, I'd seen the lights on, the inner doors not locked. I entered, crossed myself with some Holy water, which was for sale by the liter, sat down 20 feet from a seriously elaborate Mary surrounded by candles, also for sale, and soon realized that the church was open because it was confession.
   The center of the church, the grand mass under the nave, was nearly empty but directly behind me stood a silent row of the faithful come to petition their Lord. Like they were waiting for their grades from an angry headmaster. 
  The huge space, the candles, a few people praying. Why not? Why not tell them, why not tell Him, what you'd done. What I did. Why not? I thought about it. Just bow your head and tell him, Father, what you'd done. But I was sure I'd be found out, I'd blow my lines, the Protestant in me would protest and I'd get tossed out on my ear. Dad would have approved. Lapsed Catholic that he was, the rituals never got a good word. 
   I did listen. Heard some whispers, some shuffling, the soft click of a well made door, what sounded like a phrase I recognized from somewhere. But I didn't go in. I watched the candles burn down. I breathed in the emptiness and the quiet. A man and his two young sons prayed to Mary, after he explained who Mary was. The one boy staring intently as if she might move, as if there had to be a film about this where he could get the real story.
    The concert was mediocre. The quartet past their prime. The audience clapped for themselves and their good taste, their contribution to Culture in tough old pragmatic Pittsburgh. I watched some music students in the cheap seats trying to be polite. I wanted more - to feel it in my heart, but it didn't happen and I left before the encore. 
    We do that though. We applaud for those who show up. We thank ourselves. We forgive the present with the glories of the past. We attend. Especially around Christmas. We do a lot, we labor at that which in the holiday moment delivers all the thrill of a joke too often told, a story a close friend can't remember's confiding to you again and again. Ritual in this casual world, in our reform age, doesn't pack the punch it used to.
     We ask too much. And we give it no credence.
    We pay no homage.
    I think somewhere along the American line we suddenly decided we deserve all these feelings. That they should come to us upon demand. And when they don't don't, something out there must be wrong, something's missing.
   What's missing is you don't get to call the Gods down from on high when you need them. You don't put your Muse on hold. The Spirit doesn't show up just because you do. Walking in the door and taking your reserved seat isn't enough.
    I don't know why we've come to think it's that easy, inspiration, or when we copped out. And by you of course I mean me. 
    Like the priests and the self help gurus say, on both sides of the socio political aisle, Marriage takes work. Which is a way of saying, Love takes work.
   If you love Shakespeare you gotta read him more than once. A day. You love music, you gotta practice like a person who if they weren't practicing an instrument would be diagnosed autistic. You want the runner's high? Go hurt yourself. The Right Stuff, the Real Thing, the magic doesn't descend around us in the dark, until we work. The Gods don't smile on us until we suffer for them.
   And if you love each other, your family, your friends, your people, and it's the Holiday season....what? What does it take? Suffering and Christmas? 
   After the concert, I walked a little ways to the car in the cold and I thought, what did I leave undone this Holiday season and who did I forget to tell?
   My father's dead now half a decade. He can't tell me. He never could.
    I wave at the parents of a woman I almost married. I nod at people that recognize me or I went to grade school with, I can't tell the difference anymore. 
    Blocks from the theater my truck's parked across the way from a bicycle chained to a street light. Painted pure white. A girl died here. Run over by a commuter anxious to get home. She died on the pavement and her friends and family built this ghost sculpture. Its wheels lit by strips of tiny lavender bulbs. 
     I drive home on streets I could close my eyes thru. The last Christmas lights have come down. Collectively, homeowners deciding a fortnight was the limit. God, how dim and grey everything seems. How cleared out. The deep blue black of the City landscape regaining its hold on the shadows. 
    I must love the season. For a month or so, collectively we all lean toward worship, or kindness, or whatever keeps us from killing each other. And then it's the long climb toward Summer. It's like being dropped out in the ocean where you can't see the shore and being told, "Swim.That way. Have faith."


  1. Elbow, elbow, wrist wrist wrist: repeat! That's the wave I know. The Portland rose festival wave, perhaps the Queens wave? the Grace Kelly wave. I'm ready to hire you as a writer :)

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  3. It is sad that you didn't get along with your Dad as well as you would have liked. I believe, however, he smiled because even though you may have fought, he treasured the times he did spend with you. I am an Oncology Nurse and have learnt long ago to treasure what little life God has given you. Go out and enjoy yourself; your family and friends; enjoy the moment. It's amazing if you open your eyes what you can enjoy in life. The way a friend laughs or makes you laugh or love them. Seeing a little boy or girl hold their parents hand with such blinding trust. Maybe sometime you can even wave like your Dad at someone for the fun and rememberance of it.

  4. Your last few paragraphs express exactly how I feel every January here in Cleveland. Thanks for sharing, it seems a little less dim knowing I'm not the only one.

  5. Do you, have faith? That summer will come, that the lights will go up again next Christmas or that next year's quartet has suffered enough of the year that they will be better next time. I guess you don't have to be famous to wave at people who you really don't remember where you know them from just to be courteous. "Forgive me father for I have sinned, it's been x amount of time since my last confession." Those are the lines. "My father's dead now half a decade", wow, I'm terrified of getting there. "Time heals all wounds" I think heal is the wrong word, maybe covers would be more correct. I don't know how to accept, I sometimes actually love to revel in my sadness, it makes him not seem so far away. And he loved to laugh and fall asleep in church and sometimes lie in confession just to hear the uncomfortable response of the priest and he loved Christmas, so no matter what I will too, every year I will too and I'll look forward to it, sadness and all, maybe it'll make the quartet in my town sound better;)

  6. So nice--as usual. Thanks. Again.

  7. You are a good writer, ur blogs are wonderful to read. As I 'm sitting here thinking, especially since his birthday coming up, the last time my grandfather waved was when he passed away, which was 18yrs ago, still remember him looking at his watch and waving goodbye. Although i'm catholic, the last time I was at church was 2yrs ago at my grandmother funeral. I will say the Christmas eve mass is beautiful, I've attended them in the past. I was reading an article the other day that someone cut out from one of the Philadelphia newspaper that a local resident had wrote awhile ago in which he quoted "where did hello go in Philadelphia, did people become to afraid to say hello" and" there would be fewer strangers in the world if everyone just said hello" this is just briefly what it said.

  8. It's never easy having a strained relationship with a parent, or with anyone for that matter. It's emotionally exhausting. It was for me anyway, but maybe I'm just speaking for myself. I hardly remember my biological dad. He wasn't around much when I was little. My mom was married to my stepdad for 14 years, but no father-of-the-year award goes to him either. Sounds like your dad showed affection when it seemed like the right time to do so. My stepdad served affection on a silver platter (so he thought), but really just caused pain to everyone that knew him. Shame that he never saw that. In his world his actions were never wrong. You wouldn't see him in confession. But he also considered himself an Atheist.
    I'm Catholic, but I'll admit, I haven't been to church in a long time. I've never been to confession either. I should probably go at least once in my lifetime. I do believe in God, but I believe more in myself, in people. I believe things happen because we as individuals make them happen, not God or fate. The choices we make defines us. I believe that because had I let what happened to me tear me down I know I wouldn't be where I am today. I did have to swim, but I wasn't alone. I thank my stepsister and her husband for saving me.

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  10. I read your words and can feel your agnst calcifying. Pure love is not work, it just is. Whether like your next breath or a caught of guard sneeze. It's in you and it's yours.

    1. - "but give it a few hours, he'd deliver me to where I had to be and he'd smile regardless and wave that wave like it had all been a game, something extraneous and silly to be shooed away, unimportant compared to ....compared to nothing sadly..." Dave - This bit stayed with me through the day... and with some wine, bubbled to the top of my thoughts... for me, with my sons, the infinite love I feel for them transcends whatever shenanigans go down in the meager family arena. I could see myself, like your dad, shivering my fingers post battle, in a wave with every ounce of love I've ever felt for them. Ever. The shenanigans are extraneous and silly when weighed against a parent's love for their child. Like Thor's hammer's...only a parent can heft it, wield it, and live by its infinite power. Love is, was, and always will be yours. Embraced or not, it still is.

    2. I saw this on FB and thought of your words on love, and mine. I think Jeff nails it... I hope all is well with you and your next chapter return to Pittsburgh...
      Carpe Diem David!

      Jeff Foster (www.lifewithoutacentre.com)

      Love is not a feeling.
      If love were a feeling,
      it would come and go,
      like in a great drama.
      Love is not a thought.
      If love were a thought,
      it would have an opposite.
      Love is too huge to be contained in thought.
      Love is not a belief.
      If love were a belief,
      you would doubt it.
      And who would believe that?
      Love is not a state.
      If love were a state,
      you could enter or leave it.
      Or fall out of it.
      Love is not an experience.
      If love were an experience,
      it would begin and end,
      and you would long for its return.
      Love is not something you find.
      If love were something you found,
      you could lose it too,
      so you'd have to cling to it for dear life.
      Love is simpler, kinder, closer, less dramatic.
      Less urgent, more present.
      Love is the space in which everything appears.
      Every thought, every sensation,
      every feeling, pleasurable and painful,
      blissful, boring, erotic, gentle and intense,
      all are held in love's vast embrace.
      Yes, YOU are the space for it all,
      spaciously intimate with every breath,
      in love with every beat of the heart,
      every sound, every smell,
      every sensation in the body,
      every moment of life.
      Feeling like you're in love
      or not feeling like you're in love,
      either way, you are in love
      with the bliss and the boredom of existence,
      with the certainty and the doubt of it,
      with the pleasure and the pain,
      with the success and the failure,
      with the seeking and the resting,
      with every sacred movement
      of this astonishing dream-world.
      All that can be held, can be lost.
      All that you can gain, can be taken away.
      All that you can build up, can turn to dust overnight.
      All that can be created, can also be destroyed.
      Only love remains. Only love.
      Not a feeling, not a thought, not a belief,
      not a state, not an experience,
      not something that you 'have',
      not something that you're 'in' or 'out' of,
      not something that you 'get' from others
      (despite the romantic myths we are sold),
      but the endless embrace of all of this.
      Love is you. You, before you were named,
      before you were even born.
      You. You are the One.
      The One you have always sought.
      The unsilenceable call of the heart.
      The cry from deep within.
      The fragile silence in the middle of the night.
      You will never abandon yourself again.
      Be my Valentine, world.
      - Jeff Foster

  11. Memories...nostalgia...our beloved parents... - although we may not always be in agreement, our hearts seem to know how to speak to one another...Great post...Great read...similar to life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

  12. You bring up many memories for me. My dad having raised 3 girls always seemed distant to me. He loved us but had a hard time showing it. I was raised Catholic. But after really reading the Bible, God tells us not to pray repetitive prays and speak directly to him. He is always there, just talk to him. Glad I found your blog. Very enjoyable to me.

  13. I have one child (a son) who is fourteen months younger than you, David. He has always been talkative and very good at expressing his feelings. When he was somewhere around five years old he started telling me that he thought I should say "I love you " to him. Although I loved him more than anything in my existence, I didn't realize I had not said " I love you " to him. When thinking about it, I could not remember my mother or my father ever saying that to me. I had never thought about it before (It was just the way it was.) Even so, I felt that they loved me , even through the problems that arose in their personalities.
    We unconsciously carry baggage from one generation to the next,( like we should not show our feelings.)
    IT was very hard for me to tell my son something that I completely felt from my soul because of what I picked up from my parents(I don't blame my parents, they didn't know just like I didn't know.)Even so, everybody hurts.
    I cannot tell you how glad I am that I was able to say those three little words to my son because even though I was always kissing and hugging him he needed me to say what he had heard others say to each other. I cannot tell you how happy I am not only for my son but for myself as it opened that place that was closed off. The love I feel is so much better when I communicate my feelings with words.
    Although my niece tells me that she don't see me so much religious(as related to the different beliefs of churches)as she thinks of me as spiritual, the following is something that helps me in my life...
    Thirst after the knowledge( eternal life)from the living word(Gods literal word),drink(believe)which will quench your thirst(suffering).

    Or thirst after eternal life which you find through knowledge from Gods living, literal word which later became Jesus, believe through drinking which will quench your suffering or thirst.

    I enjoy trying to figure out the meaning of your thoughts...like I didn't know if you were talking about the gods other than God or about God also...just something I thought about when reading this.

    1. I should have said I didn't know if you were talking about the gods of mythology or our Christian god or both.

  14. Still catching up on reading your blog. Life's been hectic for me this past year. We lost three family members in 2015, two of them died from cancer at only 57 years of age. It's a lot to wrap your mind around when that happens. It just feels wrong, like somebody wrote the wrong storyline and you want to edit it, but sadly you can't. I've come to realize that much of life feels that way. We just go through it, not really living it. Much the same can be said of love, we just go through the motions, but never really feeling it. I guess it's just easier to observe life than actually participating in it. Experiencing the loss I experienced and watching my sister suffer immensely at the loss of her husband has got me rethinking everything. I mean everything, the way I love my loved ones, the way I receive (accept) love, my faith, you name it I've thought about it. I guess that's what loss and even change can do to a person. Just like when Christmas ends and the next thing you look forward to is counting down until the first day of spring (or summer like you mentioned). Only this time I'm not sure what to look forward to next, but I think I'll "Swim. That way. Have faith." Because I'm not getting any younger and why not.

    Thank you. I really love reading your blog, I hope you continue writing.

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